Serve up easy estimates

Discussing money with clients can be downright scary. Learning to present an estimate with poise takes the fear out of this critical task?and improves the odds that clients will say yes to your treatment plan.

Maybe you'd rather clean out the kennels or scoop poop on the practice's front lawn than tackle the task of presenting an estimate to clients. You may feel intimidated because you suspect the client may not be able to afford treatment or may decide the pet doesn't need the care your doctor recommends. Take heart. These steps will help make money discussions easier for you and for the client.

1. FOCUS ON THE VALUE YOU OFFER. You need to describe the service you'll provide and explain how Fluffy will benefit. Some clinics call their estimates treatment plans to emphasize the value of the care the practice offers. And it's equally important to convey value when you discuss the procedures the doctor recommends. For example, if the first item on the estimate is a complete blood count and chemistry panel, don't just say, "This blood work will cost $112." Instead, point to the item on the treatment plan and say, "First we need to analyze some of Fluffy's blood to diagnose her problem and make sure we select the right anesthesia for surgery." You don't even have to state the cost. The client can read—she will see the price on the plan.

2. OFFER DETAILS. A thorough, easy-to-digest explanation will help clients understand the true scope of the procedure. What you don't want to do is walk into the exam room and say, "This surgery will cost about $2,000—is that OK with you?" Clients will think that sounds very expensive, and they won't understand all of the elements of the care you offer. Instead, if your treatment plan lists a charge of $700 for hospitalization, explain that this includes fluids, nursing care, and a daily doctor's exam. You might even jot key points on the plan to help clients remember.

3. UNDERSTAND THE PROCEDURES THE DOCTOR WILL PERFORM. If the treatment plan includes a bile acids test and you don't know what that is, ask before you present the plan to the client. You don't have to be an expert, but if the client asks about the procedure you want to be able to say, "This is a blood test that will help us determine how well Fluffy's liver is functioning."

4. ENCOURAGE CLIENTS TO ASK QUESTIONS. Clients may feel intimidated and overwhelmed by complicated medical procedures and may hesitate to ask questions about the parts of the diagnosis and treatment plan they don't understand. So ask: "Do you have any questions about what I've said or what we plan to do for Fluffy?" Remember, better-educated clients are more likely to make the right decisions for their pets.

Tough money discussions

5. DON'T GET DEFENSIVE. Clients may make comments about the cost. Sometimes it's just a time-filling comment while they think about what you've said. Or perhaps it means they don't fully understand the value of the care you offer. So if the client says something like, "Gosh, that seems like a lot of money," don't immediately assume that they're pissed off and won't agree to the treatment plan. Most of the time, the client's comment means he or she wants more information. You might respond, "Yes, it is, but Fluffy is a sick kitty and we want to make sure we figure out what's wrong with her and offer her the best care possible. Is there something in particular you have a question about?"

Listening improves compliance

6. BE EMPATHETIC. Show your concern about the pet's health and approach clients with a friendly, relaxed attitude. Give them time to think and ask questions. If they say they need to take the plan home and talk to their spouse, give them your name and tell them you'd be happy to answer any additional questions they have later.

7. DON'T USE GUILT TRIPS. If clients tell you that they can't—or won't—pay for the treatment you recommend, accept their decision. Offer to talk to the doctor about other treatment options that won't cost as much and give them the doctor's alternatives.

Help clients pay

The key to making these conversations easier is to remember that you and the client are on the same side—you both want to do what's best for the pet. Clients expect to pay for services (in most cases!), and it's your job to help them understand the treatment plan and the value of the care you offer. After all, when clients say yes, everyone wins.

Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, is a consultant with Brakke Consulting in Dallas. Please send your questions or comments to firstline@advanstar.com

Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM