Bring a bit of Vegas to your veterinary practice


Offering prepaid veterinary services via wellness plans and loyalty programs can be like converting cash into casino chipswith money out of sight, clients are able to better focus on their pets care. But which one is more likely to yield higher winnings for your practice?

Shutterstock.comIf you've ever gambled at a casino, you've probably noticed that a mind-bending transformation takes place when you convert your cash into chips. With those chips in hand, it can feel like you're not spending real money.

The same can be true of prepaid veterinary services like wellness plans and loyalty programs that convert cash into future appointments. But does one yield higher winnings than the other?

Wellness plans: Worth the gamble?

The concept behind wellness plans is excellent. Once a service is paid for, clients don't feel the financial bite at the time of the service and find it much easier to bring their pets in because it won't cost anything-or it costs much less. With money on the periphery, clients can focus more fully on their pet's health.

But if wellness plans are such a great idea, why aren't more practices using them? In my experience, it's because they just aren't easy to use.

For example, wellness plans that have monthly fees present several administrative headaches. One of the greatest is the need to educate clients on which services they have and haven't purchased through the program. Clients often confuse wellness plans with insurance, so when they present their sick animal they're upset to find that their monthly charge doesn't cover the treatment needed.

Processing these monthly payments presents another nuisance, particularly for smaller clinics. While large corporations have the infrastructure to process these transactions automatic, smaller clinics have to make each of these transactions by hand every month. And unfortunately, it's not uncommon for clients to sign up for the wellness plan, receive the bulk of the services and then cancel the card.

As hinted at earlier, another major downside of wellness plans is that they only address the routine care of healthy pets. Though some do offer unlimited office visits, by and large, these plans don't address the needs of a sick or injured pet.

Loyalty programs: Jackpot?

Like wellness plans, loyalty programs can carry the advantages of prepayment. But unlike wellness plans, they can be much broader in scope and can encourage owners to make multiple visits to the practice and increase client retention rates.

There are several companies offering platforms that make administering loyalty programs easy for the clinic. These companies keep track of the loyalty transactions, and some even offer a phone app so clients can keep track of their rewards. 

There are two main loyalty program approaches. First, you can offer the program as a buy-in benefit. For example, the client could pay $95 annually in exchange for three veterinary exams for any pet in the household and 5 percent cash back in pet points that can be “banked” and used against future veterinary services-but not on products.

Another school of thought operates on the belief that every single client should leave the clinic with a membership-either a complimentary membership or a VIP paid membership.

A complimentary membership might include a free nail trim and 1 percent cash back earned on all transactions. Then as the client relationship grows, you can offer the client a paid upgrade to a VIP membership, similar to the $95-a-month program detailed above.

Putting clients directly into a loyalty program can help clients bond to a practice more quickly and can boost client retention rates. It can turn a price shopper into a loyal client, because the client receives immediate rewards for spending money.

Exams offered in paid-for loyalty program memberships are provided on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. Clients receive notifications (from the loyalty program company-not you) of how many exams they have left when they're near the close of their membership year, and they get reminders to use these exams before they expire. This encourages clients to bring in their pet and, in some cases, bring in a pet the practice has never seen before, just to take advantage of the free exam.

The cash back that they've accumulated is something they keep from year to year, though they must continue renewing their membership to access it.

The intent of wellness plans and loyalty programs is essentially the same, but the effort required and return on investment can be very different. So if you tried wellness plans in the past and didn't love them, perhaps it's time to bring a little Vegas into your practice in a different way.


Tracy Sheffield, BS, LVT, CVPM, is practice manager at Wimberley Veterinary Clinic in Wimberley, Texas, and a 2016 finalist for the dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year.

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