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How to get through tough money talks with veterinary clients


Feeling blown away by clients frustrated with the cost of care? Use these tips and scripts to calm the storm.

Fluffy's sick. Please help!" A pet's emergency often sparks feelings of fear and frustration for clients—especially when the care their furry friends need exceeds their ability to pay. Communication is your best tool to head off stormy reactions from clients.

"When we get into trouble with clients, it's almost always because we haven't communicated well," says Nancy Potter, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and the practice manager at Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan.

Forecast the cost

Your first step is to prepare clients with estimates. If the pet's ill, you'll usually start with diagnostics to uncover the problem.

"We always start with treatment plans," Potter says. "The times we've experienced upset clients have been when we haven't presented a treatment plan before we offer any care for the pet."

So your goal is to present your plan to clients, item by item, for the pet's situation, and explain why each part of the diagnostics and care you recommend is necessary. When you're presenting a treatment plan, focus on these elements:

> What the pet needs

> The cost for the pet's care

> Why the pet needs the care.

Treatment plans also work for planned care, such as spays and neuters.

"If we communicate with clients what it's going to cost before we offer the care, then they're often on board with it," Potter says. "They buy into the care and it's a joint agreement with them that this is what we've decided is the best care for their pet."

Offer an umbrella

Start by educating pet owners at a pet's very first visit about pet health insurance as an option to help clients afford future care. Then, to clear the skies, plan up-front discussions about how pet owners will pay for any recommended treatment plans.

Accepting options such as credit cards and third-party payment plans present alternatives for pet owners who need a little extra help. Potter says her practice allows pet owners to call for credit approval from third-party payment plans while they're at the practice so they know if they're approved.

"It's so important to communicate what the expectations are for the patient and educate the client on what we're doing and why we're doing it," Potter says. "And we have so much better compliance because we take these steps."

Another important point: Never judge what you think pet owners are willing or able to pay, Potter says, because you will be surprised every time.

Provide updates

With procedures like dental cleanings, you may offer a treatment plan, then an additional handout to explain costs that might occur during the treatment. For example, the veterinarian may identify extractions that weren't in the treatment plan. So the benefit of an additional care handout is to explain other care the pet may need and the related cost.

During pick-up time, Potter says pet owners also receive a pre-invoice to review before they pay. Then the doctor spends a few minutes with the pet owner to review the care you offered the pet.

"Face time with the doctor, who explains the care the pet received, helps clients see the value," Potter says.

Finally, remember to focus on communication. Taking time for discussions may head off many storms and bring the sunshine back to your work.

Portia Stewart is a freelance writer in Lenexa, Kan.

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