Keep costs affordable

Keep costs affordable

When money's tight, clients might decline care. But with thorough education and a little flexibility, you can ensure this recession doesn't cost pets their health.
Apr 01, 2009

Pam Weakley
Our clients' spending behaviors are changing. At our Battle Creek, Mich., practice, we've noticed that many pet owners are no longer buying a year's supply of heartworm and flea and tick preventives. Or when they do, they're coming back to return some product a day or two later. And they're putting off that dental cleaning or vaccination for just a little while longer.

But even though the economy is suffering—and our clients are looking for ways to save—our clinic's financial numbers have remained strong. Why? Because we've adapted to the changes our clients are making. Here's what we've done—and what you can do—to help keep veterinary care attainable during these difficult financial times.

Illustrate the worth

Lesson one is this: The main commodities veterinary team members sell are information and peace of mind. To do this well, client education is paramount in every single case. Pet owners need to understand what they're spending their money on and why the treatments and services are valuable to their pets. Take the time to explain this to clients. If your practice is seeing a slowdown, use the extra minutes to your advantage. Increase the length of your appointments so you're able to spend even more quality time with your clients.

Consider this example: A few years ago, we only recommended Bordetella vaccinations for show dogs, hunting dogs, and dogs that were regularly boarded. Then we started seeing more cases of kennel cough. So we changed our vaccine protocol to include Bordetella for every dog. When making this new recommendation, in the same breath we told clients about the increased incidence, noting that doggie day cares, dog parks, and pet stores that welcome our four-legged friends increase the chances their pets will be exposed.

It's important to approach every recommendation this way, regardless of whether your protocols have changed or the client you're talking to is new. It can be monotonous to tell the seventh client the same thing you told the first six, but explaining the reasons behind your practice's recommendations is essential. Doing so shows clients why they should part with their precious dollars: It's the best thing to do for their precious pets.

Also give every pet owner the opportunity to ask questions about your recommendations. Answer completely so they understand the treatment or service, as well as its value. Offer to give related handouts or brochures. Take-home information provides an added benefit: When clients get home, they'll be equipped to answer the question, "What did the doctor say?" Encourage pet owners to call if a family member wants to ask anything more about the pet's visit.

Parcel out products

As I mentioned, more of our clients are returning purchases. We accept returns, no questions asked. We're not worried about whether pet owners are returning a product because they made a mistake or decided they couldn't afford it. We just want to offer excellent client service.

One way to do this is to break up packages and sell one pill or tube at a time. (Be sure to follow EPA guidelines for relabeling and keep in mind that Internet pharmacies usually only sell 6- or 12-count packages, so clients will opt to buy from you because of your flexibility.) Then send stickers home so pet owners can put reminders on their calendars to come back later and buy more product. You could also call clients or send them e-mail or postcard reminders when it's time for them to restock. These strategies help clients stay compliant and help you offer top-notch client and patient care.

A few generic products are now available, and they provide clients another affordable option. While our practice doesn't advertise these products, we do stock them in case a client asks.