Client education offers abundance of marketing opportunities


Dr. Nan Boss shows how client education programs can lead to practice growth by offering new services and products.

Marketing is essential to the practice of medicine, and educating your clients is essential to marketing. Your clients won't buy products and services they don't know about - even ones that could save their pet's life. It's part of our job responsibility to teach our clients about heartworm disease, dental care, vaccinations and all of our other great health care offerings. That's client education - and it's marketing as well.

Client education offers abundance of marketing opportunities

News to clients

My philosophy is that if a patient of mine dies of a disease for which I had a preventative that I never told my client about, that pet's death is my fault. Only when the client makes an informed decision about what level of care they want for their pet is it their responsibility. Clients don't take Pet Care 101 in high school or college. Most clients don't subscribe to Dog Fancy magazine or the Cornell Feline Newsletter either. The only way my clients usually learn about pet care is through me - and I take that responsibility seriously.

The average person needs to hear about a product or service five times before they will purchase it. So you're not off the hook if you mentioned feline Heartgard?? to a client once. You need to have a program of client education that presents topics multiple times. It's also essential to get your entire team involved. If you are all helping to support each other in your marketing goals, by mentioning topics over and over to clients, clients will get the repetition they need to agree to the dental prophy or parasite control you recommend for the pet.

Group effort

This gets more and more complicated, doesn't it? You have to include staff training and education in your marketing plan too! Team members can't promote products or services they know nothing about, any more than a client will purchase a product they've never heard of. Team members who understand how good medicine benefits both the patient and the practice will work together to promote that good level of care to the clients.

The neat thing about client education and marketing is how great the opportunities are for us. I have about 1,800 active clients on file. Those clients bring their spouses, children, friends, parents, boyfriends and girlfriends along with them into the veterinary hospital. In my little practice alone I probably have the opportunity to educate over 5,000 people each year about pet care - what to feed their pets, how to avoid or treat behavior problems, how to prevent diseases and parasites. The number of people you can reach is pretty amazing when you stop to think about it, isn't it? The pet care topics you talk to your clients about are accompanied by products and services that bring income to the practice. Best of all, they help your patients live longer, healthier lives.

Continued education

In my practice we give new clients a three-ring binder full of pet care information at their first well-patient visit. We customize it for the age, species and risk factors of the pet. We go over it with the client in detail. Then we add to it at each yearly visit. We choose a topic for each year, and we give the client a handout on that subject along with their report card at their annual visit. This ensures we remember to present it to every client - that each pet owner has the opportunity to learn something new about pet care and to take that information home to their family members who weren't present for the exam. Topics we've covered have included feline heartworm, Lyme vaccination, Bordetella, choosing chew toys and treats, feline vaccination sarcomas and nutrition. The core of my marketing program is not the yellow pages or fancy gimmicks - it's to teach clients what I offer and how their pets could benefit from these services and products.

The veterinary team needs to relay information on new products and services several times to clients before they will decide to purchase them. Offering this material in different venues will help the client gain a better understanding of the message the practice is trying to convey.

We train our team members using the same materials we give to clients. Part of the required reading for a new employee at my practice is the sets of three-ring binders for puppies, kittens, adult dogs and cats, and senior pets. We make sure everyone knows exactly what we recommend and why. This ensures the clients are getting consistent messages, no matter which team member they talk to, about care for their pet. We reinforce these messages with newsletters, exam room videos and reminders.

Keep training wheels turning

We use other training materials as well. For two hours each week we have training for new staff members that we call "Quizzes." These are sets of questions such as "What vaccinations are required before a pet can enter the hospital for a spay or neuter?" or "What vaccinations are included in our puppy and kitten packages?" How would your staff answer when the client asks, "Why does my pet have to stay overnight after surgery?" or "I've heard that spaying my dog will make her fat." We give answers and scripts for hundreds of common questions and situations for parasites, vaccinations,

surgery, dentistry, anesthesia, basic business topics and much more. I throw out a question and they try to answer. They have an outline to write answers on and at the end of each module they take a short test on what they've learned. Getting through the whole program takes six to eight months. At the end of that time, the employee will have a basic working knowledge of most aspects of the practice.

Work in progress

We don't stop here, either. More advanced team members go through another two-hour per week class, this time using Dr. Steve Garner's "Pillars" training materials (see Suggested Reading, p. 20). These go more in depth on topics such as dermatology and behavior. Once they've completed this class, staff members should be able to explain the reason for an ACTH stim test, draw a picture of blood flow through the heart and solve common behavior problems with clients. Their knowledge and expertise then makes it possible for the doctor to take care of other cases and generate more income for the practice. Weekly rounds and further training during general staff meetings on both scientific and customer service topics creates a motivated and focused team who can work together to promote and explain your services and products to your clients.

Extending the length of a new patient visit or annual exam to educate clients on the health of their pets will be rewarded by clients selecting new products or services based on the information they received during their visit.

Added income

A lot of time and effort? You bet. But the result of this program in my practice is a clientele who visit an average of 6.4 times per year and spend about $516 in those six visits. In other words, my 1,800 active clients generate close to $1 million in revenues, because they have a good grasp of our products and services and are willing to provide those things to their pets.

My clients love the extra time and information they get from us, and they are very knowledgeable about their pets. They are more likely to follow our recommendations for care because they understand them. They also know they can ask us anything and we'll have or find the information. Because we spend the time to educate the staff as well as the clients, clients also don't have to wait for the doctor to find the answers they need.

Sound like a win-win situation? It is! So start today - invest two, four or even six hours a week to educate and train your team. Assemble a set of handouts in folders or binders. Then extend your new client visit time by 15 to 20 minutes and your annual exam visit time by five to 10 minutes. You'll be amazed at the dividends it will pay, how much better your level of medical care will be, and how proud your staff will be to work at your hospital. Client education is by far your most powerful marketing tool. Use it well.

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