This has certainly been an interesting time for us as a company. Even though our parent company TVM is based in France, TVM UK has complete autonomy over its operational strategy. The message from France was to follow UK regulations and to do what we thought was best based on the most recent developments so we had to adjust quickly and crack on as we entered lockdown.
The first conversation we had was about keeping our own team safe. In that regard, we were really lucky because we already had a system in place which allows the whole company to operate remotely. For example, we were already using a VoIP phone system and all our servers are cloud-based. We had set this up mainly as a contingency plan in case of an emergency such as a fire or a flooding. As we often deal with technical enquiries from vet practices and deal with healthcare distributors, we knew that we needed to be able to offer undisrupted support regardless of whether we could access the office. We never really imagined a pandemic scenario but having that system in place definitely helped us to transition more smoothly into this new way of working.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the veterinary industry and the market, our main priority was to support our customers which are primarily vet practices. It was vital for us to understand how the practices would be affected. Right at the beginning of lockdown, we got together on Team Meetings and said ‘OK, what’s happening? What information do we have? How are our clients’ needs going to change?’ We realised very quickly that one of the new rules of the game was that unless it was absolutely vital, pet owners were being discouraged from taking their pet into a vet practice.
One of the key areas we work in is poisoning so we knew that with more of us being at home all day and with kids off school, pets would be exposed to more poisoning dangers as people were eating at home and less careful about putting food out of reach of pets. We also saw a spike in poisonings from tremorgenic toxins because bin and food waste collections weren’t as frequent in certain areas. We wanted to help vet practices to decrease footfall so we decided it was crucial to put out more information about what to look out for and what to do in case of a poisoning case.
The next issue we had to deal with was carrying on with our educational programmes for veterinary practices. We wanted to ensure that practices kept their CPD activities going during lockdown. We would normally organise in practice ‘lunch and learn’ sessions but in March, we decided to go down the digital learning route by digitalising the sessions. Digitalising the educational and support materials was something that we were already working on but the pandemic certainly accelerated the process.
As part of this journey, we gained some really interesting insights which I believe will help us in the future. I think, in the beginning, we anticipated that the virtual education would become the predominant model moving forward but interestingly the more people have used remote educational tools, the more it has become apparent to us that they see the limitations of digital learning and still enjoy the physical interaction. I think as soon as it is safe for practices to receive the team in-house, we will go back to doing it the traditional way.
As the furlough scheme was introduced, we had to turn our attention to our team. We consulted with the team early on and we were very lucky because our team’s varied skillset meant that we could make some structural changes to support our new way of working. As a result of the changes we made to our operations, certain team members became overwhelmed with work while others had a reduced workload so we decided to look how we could balance the workload. A great example of this was our three vet nurses, who were in our territory management sales team. As they had both the knowledge and experience required, they were moved to the first line of response, dealing with direct vet practice enquiries. This meant that we were able to deal with client queries straight away and avoid unnecessary delays in helping our clients.
We had to furlough the rest of the sales team and it became very clear to me from the beginning that furloughing staff could potentially lead to a divided workforce. We really didn’t want to create a divide between people who were working and staff that were furloughed. Being furloughed came with its own set of psychological challenges and so did working under difficult circumstances. The big question was: how do you treat a team at opposite spectrums of a situation fairly? We ensured that furloughed members of the team were kept motivated and made to feel a part of the team and working staff were being listened to. We had regular check ins with everyone to make sure they were OK. We didn’t get it perfect from the start, but we kept an eye out for everyone making them feel comfortable to share any worries with management.
We have certainly taken away some valuable lessons from this difficult time. We think it will be a while before we are able to resume any face-to-face interactions with our customers so we will continue to look into new ways to support them in their mission to help pets.