Bridge the veterinary client communication gap
1. IMPROVE ACCESSIBILITY
"How exasperated are you when about all you can hope for from your physician is a call back eventually from an assistant or a nurse?" asks Dr. Mike Paul, a founding member of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and past president of the American Animal Hospital Association. Your clients want more from you.Dr. Paul suggests assigning a veterinary technician or other team member to make sure phone contact is easy and fast for clients. Someone who can field questions or punt them to a veterinarian is a perfect choice, allowing you to be the expert you are when clients need you.
2. TALK ABOUT DRUG PRICES
We know you're fighting an uphill battle when it comes to cost. The problem is, clients want to discuss it. More than 60 percent of pet owners said they wanted to talk about the cost of drugs, but only 31 percent of veterinarians thought it was an important topic.
Face facts, says Fritz Wood, CFP, owner of H.W. Wood Consulting in Lake Quivira, Kan. Your shopped-for drug prices need to be competitive.
"If pet owners think you're overpriced on products, you'll lose that product sale," Wood says. "The far greater risk is, they'll think you're out of touch and your other prices aren't a good value either."
The good news is, you might be competitive without even trying. Wood compared prices on a common flea-tick preventive and found that his local clinic—thanks to free doses—beat big-box and online competitors.
Whether you beat the price, match it, or come close, when you broach the topic of drug price with clients who ask, you're building trust that you're looking out for their pet's health as well as their pocketbook. Be the veterinarian who recommends expensive products and services when necessary, but doesn't nickel and dime. Wood even suggests you direct clients to $4 generic drugs if they'll work as well as the ones you would dispense. What you might lose in a single product sale you win back in goodwill and trust, he says.
"A client's attitude shifts to, 'You guys know the competitive field you're in. You recognize it. You're pointing out to me that I can save money," Wood says. "Clients see that you have their best interests in mind, that you're trustworthy. Suddenly, everything else you do is beyond reproach."
And once you know you're competitive, shout it to the rooftops. Wood recommends mentioning it on printed receipts and outside signage.
3. BETTER EDUCATE CLIENTS
Survey says you've got topics you want to cover, but the message isn't getting across to clients. In some cases, you may need to think of new ways to incorporate important medical information into your practice protocols. (Start with behavior at http://dvm360.com/boostbehavior.) But in other cases, like weight management, the medical reasons that matter are likely entrenched and recognized by you, just not the client.
You know talking about fat is not always so easy. "Much of the general population is struggling with weight issues," Dr. Paul says. "How we frame the issue of weight control can create very uncomfortable conversations because of how it's presented."
Dr. Paul suggests a softer approach, with questions like: How do you feel about your pet's weight? Do you have any concerns or questions about your pet's weight? How can I help you with your pet's weight?
And always make sure to use words the average client would understand. "A term like 'azotemia' means little even to educated clients compared to 'a build-up of kidney waste products,'" Dr. Paul says. "And doesn't 'mid back' convey more than 'thoracolumbar' to clients?"