Stepping into the calm of The Harrogate Vet’s surgery from the busy Leeds Road, pet owners might wonder for an instant if they’d come to the right place.
They will get a warm greeting from the receptionist and be offered a drink and a comfortable chair while they wait. Absent are austere white walls, bright lights, white coats and a whiff of disinfectant, but the clues that this is a veterinary practice are there. A small statue of a dog on the front desk, a display of animal leaflets and on the wall, a map of Harrogate helpfully pinpointing independent dog-friendly places and local dog groomers and walkers.
The map, reception room and friendly welcome are all part of founder Katherine Jacklin’s vision of the “perfect practice”; where customer service is the “number one thing” and people are looked after as much as their sick or injured pets.
Katherine says her desire to set up on her own and do things differently came from working in other practices and feeling the emphasis wasn’t always on providing the best service possible. She says: “I found it frustrating as an employee to have little control over this [customer service] and it made me think of how I would do things differently and how I would like to be treated as an owner bringing my own dog to the vets.”
She qualified at the Royal Veterinary College in London and worked as a vet in Suffolk and animal hospital intern in Hampshire before moving north to Harrogate a few years ago with husband Ben who comes from Wetherby. Dogs and cats are her most numerous patients but she has also treated rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and the occasional chicken. She has chickens herself and two dogs.
That it’s a vet’s surgery becomes more apparent once through the door at the back of reception. Up narrow stairs and around corners, the surgery becomes two consultation rooms, an operating theatre, dog kennel, cattery, isolation room, x-ray and ultrasound area and Katherine’s desk. The high-tech equipment not only does the job but also supports Katherine and her all-important customer service. For example, she can get blood test results immediately, so no anxious wait needed on the part of the owners.
The vision of the perfect practice brings benefits for Katherine and her team as well as her clients.
She says: “I enjoy meeting people. I get loyalty from clients and a relationship develops, they always come back to see me. More corporate practices use locums so owners could go back and not see the same vet.”
She continues: “As I grew up and learnt more about it, I realised that being a vet is just as much about people as it is animals. It’s fantastic working with animals but meeting new people every day is also a huge part of why I love my job.”
She also recognises that Harrogate with its large number of independent businesses is a good place to be and as her branding boldly states, she is “proud to be independent”. In turn, Katherine supports other independent businesses, hence the map on the wall.
Of course, being a vet means giving bad news as well as good. It’s a hardest part of customer service and Katherine feels it.
She says: “In the majority of cases you know that you are ending the animal’s suffering and that for the animal it is the right thing to do.”
She continues: “The more challenging part for me is dealing with the human grief involved, seeing somebody say goodbye to a loved companion and member of their family is very hard and does not get any easier with experience.
Katherine has also developed her customer service in other ways so The Harrogate Vet sells its own brand pet food.
She says: “We spent a long time looking at the quality. We didn’t want to slap a logo on any old product. There’s a high meat content and less grain which is usually used to pad out food.”
Katherine is upbeat about the future. She will stay in Harrogate on the Leeds Road where she is not close to other vets and is surrounded by houses, she may take on at least a second vet. Most importantly, she is making her vision of the perfect practice a reality.