You face it daily:
A constant flow of client excuses for noncompliance. After a while, you could be tempted to tune out the chatter. But be careful.
What might sound like a put-off could really be the sign of a much deeper issue—one you can overcome with insight and careful
communication. Rather than being disheartened by the next line a pet owner feeds you, strive to get to the heart of the matter.
In the process, you'll build better client relations and provide better care for pets.
"I can't afford it."
What clients mean: "I choose not to afford this." "I can't afford it."
The undercurrent: "Affordability is extremely relative," says Pam Stevenson, CVPM, director of Veterinary Results Management Inc. in Durham,
N.C. "There are times when people honestly can't afford a treatment. Other times, the problem is an allocation of resources.
And sometimes, this excuse really isn't true; it's a cover because clients don't want to talk about why they're refusing veterinary
How to overcome it: Resist the urge to X-ray clients' pocketbooks in an attempt to determine whether they can pay for treatment. Instead, work
to ensure that clients understand their pets' needs and the options available. Stevenson relates the example of a construction
worker who found a kitten on a job site. One of the kitten's eyes was out of its socket. "Even doing the required procedures
at cost would have been hundreds of dollars," Stevenson says. "The Good Samaritan said he had no money at all, but no one
thought to offer him ideas." (In the end, the construction worker opted for the minimal humane treatment. The kitten is now
doing fine and the construction worker has adopted him.) When clients truly can't pay, try to help them by providing a handout
on fundraising ideas, such as asking for donations from team members or people in the community. Consider submitting their
case to the AAHA Helping Pets Fund. Also, veterinary clinics need to offer and clearly explain options such as third-party
payment plans, loans, and pet health insurance, Stevenson says.
While you'll meet indigent clients, you'll also encounter those who possess the means but choose to use their funds for purposes
other than pet care. Getting through to these clients requires smart conversation, says Louise Dunn, owner of Snowgoose Veterinary
Management Consulting in Greensboro, N.C. "If team members hear, 'I can't afford it,' they need to say, 'This is a treatment
plan your pet needs and deserves. I can appreciate that you weren't planning on this expense, but there are options.'" After
this, it's once again time to talk about pet insurance and third-party payment plans. Don't be pushy, Dunn says, but clearly
communicate just how important the treatment is and that there are financial options. After all, if you tell a client that
the payments would break down to $20 a month, that makes a large sum seem much more affordable.
Don't forget to drive home just how costly treatments can become if a pet's condition worsens, says Dr. Dennis Cloud, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member, Medical Director of VCA Cloud Animal Hospital in O'Fallon, Mo., and owner of Rock Road Animal
Hospital in St. Louis.
"We saw this situation just the other day with a dog that was showing signs of diabetes," he says. "The owner was debating
whether to have the dog admitted and started on fluids. I told the owner, 'If we wait, the dog may have to be hospitalized
for eight to 10 days. Reacting now could save your dog, as well as quite a bit of money.' Faced with an option of an expense
now versus a much larger expense down the line, most clients will usually choose the former."