Make eye contact. Shake hands. Get to know your clients, and become the trusted veterinary authority you should be.
Last month, we identified some professional problems facing the market. This month, it's time to explore solutions that will set your practice apart.
First, reduce the price of the "super product" such as parasite control products. Veterinarians have generally applied the same pricing structure to a 2-cent tablet of prednisolone as they have a packet of parasite control products. Some arbitrary multiplier of say 2.5 times—the product cost plus a dispensing fee. That pricing is simply not competitive anymore and price matching for the occasional client who complains simply emphasizes the perception that they are being gouged.
Second, make it convenient. It shouldn't take 30 minutes to pick up a product for fleas. It sure doesn't take that long at the box store. And while they are there, they are slowly eroding the habit of looking to you for a product. Be competitive and be convenient.
Third, and probably most important, is to provide value. Veterinarians have a huge competitive advantage. Your education establishes you as an expert in all things animal. Know the life cycles of various parasites. Be able to offer advice for additional steps in prevention. These are things that a sales clerk cannot provide. Make a specific recommendation for a specific drug or product and advocate for that product because of your experience and knowledge. Don't encourage the client to make their own decisions based on the picture on the box. (Remember how many clients chose a dog food because it had a picture of their breed on the bag?)
The word doctor should be defined as teacher. Re-establish your role as teacher to your clients. I know the flea talk gets boring, but it is often breaking news to a pet owner that those cute raccoons in the yard are flea infested and are playing a role in the infestation you are fighting. Know when supplemental treatments would be helpful. Flea sprays are still a very important part of flea control.
When the various super products were introduced to the market, they were heralded as a great tool to bond your clients to your practice. After all, at the very least clients had to come to your practice to buy flea- and tick-control products to give them an opportunity to ask questions, schedule that dental procedure or maybe just say "Hi." If your client shops at a box store (they all do), they will have plenty of opportunity to purchase a "me too" product or in some cases the same product you offer. That means they won't be coming by just to say "Hi" nearly as often.
Most importantly, refocus and recommit to the relationship with your client. Give them what they won't get elsewhere. Be pleasant. Capitalize on each interaction to let them know you are happy they are there. You don't have to say it, but you can demonstrate it.
Make eye contact. Shake hands. Carry out a bag of dog food. Call and ask how their dog is after the knee surgery. (I'm not talking about a technician call back, either. I want you to make the call!) Ask about their family if you are comfortable. I think it is important to know as many clients as possible. Whose daughter is getting married, whose son is leaving for school, whose spouse has been ill. Not only will it blow them away, it will make you feel good!
So, don't compete on price; you will lose. In fact, you have already lost that battle.
Compete by building and cultivating a relationship. Compete on service and compete on value. You are positioned to win.
Dr. Paul is a veterinary consultant as well as a founding member and former executive director/CEO of the Companion Animal Parasite Council. He has served as president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He now lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.