Roll back your veterinary client discounts
I want you to be honest with me for a moment: Why do clients visit your veterinary hospital? Is it because your team has a reputation for providing quality medical services and great customer care—or is it because you offer the best discount on the block?
If it's the latter, then I'm afraid pet owners are coming to your practice for the wrong reasons. I really believe that discounts send the wrong message to clients. It's like you're telling them, "Normally we charge too much—sorry about that—so now we'll charge less." Not to mention, you're undercutting yourself and your hard-working staff. In my opinion, offering discounts is unprofessional and demeaning to our profession—frankly, I don't understand it.
It hasn't even been proven that discounting benefits your veterinary practice. Let me give you an example. Another recent trend in veterinary practices seems to be offering wellness packages—which normally are bundled veterinary services offered at a discount to the client. Well, I know a few practices that offer wellness packages at the normal price (gasp!), but allow clients to pay for those wellness services each month over the course of the year. The practice may also offer incentives other than a discount, such as one or two free grooming services, or a few days of complimentary boarding or playtimes during the year.
Your prices aren't the problem
If veterinary clients complain about your prices, it's not your costs they're complaining about—it's the lack of perceived value. I think that veterinary medicine is one of the best bargains out there. Look at what you charge for hospitalization, look at what it costs to provide this service and tell me it's not a good deal to begin with. Unfortunately, discounting has far-reaching consequences on our profession and on those who we employ.
It's no secret that we pay our team members less-than-adequate wages. My son got a summer job at a fast food restaurant. He was paid more an hour than licensed technicians in my area. That's unacceptable. We ask our employees to support our efforts to provide excellence in medicine, yet we pay them a wage most people can't live on. Veterinary school students are graduating from graduate school making at least $40,000 less than any other medical professional. Why? We give our services away.
Develop a strategy with no discounts
It's time to revisit your fee schedule and develop fair fees based on your cost of doing business. Charge those fees with pride, knowing that you provide an excellent service at a fair fee. When you do get complaints (and you will), look at where you failed to educate the client. If you wish to help clients who can't afford your services, set up a charity account for your doctors and fund that with $1,000 or $2,000 a year. Charity is a good thing, but a charity account will help to control how charitable you are and keep it within reason.
I don't want our profession to be known as the "discounted profession." Instead, add value to the services you provide and exceed your clients' expectations. Be proud of the fees you charge because your practice is worth it. And you're worth it.
Mark Opperman, CVPM, is owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm based in Evergreen, Colo.