Dont shy away from specials and discounts
Kathryn Primm, DVM
Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, but has a growing career as a writer, a speaker and an online voice for veterinarians and pet owners alike.
Its well known that veterinary professionals undervalue their time and services, but your clients might notif you play your cards right.
When I was a new veterinary practice owner, the practice consultants were all saying that we, veterinarians, were undervaluing our services. We were offering too many discounts and had created the bed we were lying in, where our consumers also undervalue our services.
This thought process is not wrong. Veterinarians are givers and fixers. I still stop myself at the end of an expensive case from taking off small charges to decrease the overall bill because I feel sorry for the owner. This type of discounting is fundamentally a bad idea. Devaluing performed services that the client has already agreed to is like shooting your practice in the foot. But has the discounting climate changed?
We all know our clientele has changed. On any given day, my team and I will see clients from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. All clients, regardless of generation, have been impacted by internet marketing. They are used to making snap decisions based on the information gained from a virtual window into the business with no charge. They are used to seeing websites, reading reviews and feeling like they have inside knowledge of the business. Of course, your practice is already doing these things, right? You have a great website and you ask your clients for reviews. But what about the view into what your clinic offers?
Today's consumer is used to “free trials” and cheap introductory rates. They are used to travel sites that seek out the competing offerings and give the best price. The implication is that the competitors are identical and the choice is only based on price. Veterinary practice is very different. We are not all the same and not every practice is right for every client. So how can we get people in the door to find that “right” client?
Being a scientist at heart, I decided to do a test. My team and I discussed offering a $20 New Client Checkup to see if we could get some new faces in the door to try us out, thinking that our ideal client would feel a bond with us. Honestly, I thought it would be a bust. Every time I have experimented with discounts, I felt like only those who seek “something for nothing” show up. But I admit that I have not tried anything like this for a while. My customers have been evolving. I was game for this adventure.
We posted on social media, our front sign and all the postcards that go to new home owners in the area that we were offering $20 New Client Checkups. We set a time limit of 6 weeks and we started tracking every client who took advantage of the offer.
At the end of the time period, we printed a report of the clients who had utilized the service. We also printed the previous year's new client numbers and the average per-client transaction and number of visits over the same time period. We saw a 33% increase in new clients during the promotion. Amazingly, the per-client transaction, which saw an early drop, recovered and grew by the end of the offer.
A team member looked at the report and totaled the entire expenditure of each client gained in this way. We found that although I was not completely wrong in that some people would take advantage of this offer and want something for nothing, the majority of the new clients were converted to valuable, lasting clients. Many returned and spent more, taking even better care of their pets after meeting us.
In the end …
… we learned that things have changed. The veterinary marketplace is a very different world than when I started writing for Veterinary Economics back in the day (now Vetted, of course). The “take-home” message is that discretionary discounting may have a place in our modern veterinary market. It cannot be random discounting that clients never realize, like me sitting at the workstation feeling bad over a big bill. It has to be defined, limited, publicized, and trackable. You have to be able to tell if you are happy with the results. And don't forget, you can always scrap the plan if you have set a time limit.
I will probably do the $20 New Client Checkup again, maybe twice a year, since my goal is growing my associate's new client base. Decide what your goal is and be innovative. Just don't base your decisions on your impressions. Make sure that your decisions are based on actual metrics, and don't forget the marketing fundamentals-defined, limited, publicized and trackable.
Kathryn Primm, DVM, the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee. She is a frequent contributor to dvm360.com and other publications, and she was the nation's first Fear Free certified professional.