Clients' No. 1 complaint

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Sep 01, 2009
By dvm360.com staff

Pet owners say money is their biggest beef with their veterinary practices. So what's the best way to minimize the cash clash?

Do you sometimes feel like money gets in the way of a beautiful relationship with your clients? It's true. Like newlyweds in the first months of marriage, money often causes most of the controversy with clients. So what's a practice to do?

First, recognize that a cost complaint may not mean as much as you think. "It's amazing how many people will complain about their bill but will still pay it," says Rachael Hume, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and receptionist at Southway Animal Clinic in Lewiston, Idaho. "And they'll come back." Why? Because they value your services.

Next, consider how you present the estimate. Pam Weakley, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich., says many misunderstandings with pet owners occur if you're too vague when you present your estimate. Consider this example: The doctor recommends a surgery and when the client asks about cost, the response is $200. "But this cost doesn't include the anesthesia, the catheter, the pain medications, the fluid therapy, and so on," Weakley says. "So the client comes in to pick up his dog and the bill is $400. And he says, 'Well, the doctor said it was going to be $200.'" You can avoid this conflict with a specific quote that shows clients the total cost.

Besides surgical costs, routine care can also present a financial challenge for clients who are on a budget. Crucial preventive care may fall by the wayside unless you're able to offer clients a viable alternative to a huge financial outlay at the veterinary appointment. To do this, Weakley says her practice handles parasite prevention with a two-pronged approach. They start by sending a brochure in the springtime that lists the recommended products and the cost. Then they recommend prevention again when the patient visits.

"We work with our clients," Weakley says. "If they can't afford to buy a year's supply, we'll break a package and only sell one or two at a time. It's all about doing what's best for the pet. Just make sure you send the product insert sheet home so clients know how to properly administer the products—and so you comply with EPA regulations."