Show millennial pet owners that 'classic' still rocks
Ernest E. Ward Jr., DVM
Believe it or not, millennials might not be the only problem here. If your veterinary practice is reminiscent of a current-day classic rock show, you may need to cut the leather and leopard print out of your act and get with modern times before your show gets cancelled.
You're ready to rock. Are your younger clients? (Photo: Shutterstock/Paper Wings)Editors' Note: This is part two of a two-part series. You can find part one here.
Love Dr. Ward's take on young adult pet owners? Sick of the millennial hate? Have your own two-cents to contribute on the topic? Still think classic rock and metal bands can rock leather and studs? Tell us in the comments below or email us at email@example.com
Want more on the new generation of veterinary clients? Check this out.
One of the more awkward affairs to follow is an aging heavy metal band. Bare chests, bravado and body-hugging buckskin decay into pruned pouts, blank stares and mom jeans. I wonder if hip millennial pet owners sometimes look at today's veterinary practices and liken us to Iron Maiden rocking the local Travelodge? Millennial pet owners are here and poised to dominate the future of veterinary medicine. It's time we transition from a Boomer-centric practice model or risk looking like out-of-shape and out-of-touch geezers to a new generation of clients.
Millennial caregiving: These go to 11
63% of Millennials agree that pets should be pampered and treated as family members with 76% reporting they're likely to splurge on luxury items such as clothing, custom beds and expensive treats. Over 75% prefer pet supplies made from natural or organic materials, are BPA-free and hypoallergenic. Right or wrong, 86% feel “natural” pet food is essential and favor retailers and brands with a socially- and environmentally-responsible platform. In other words, younger pet owners are choosing clinics and companies committed to protecting our planet and people. Take note of this and use it to your practices advantage.
I recently saw one of my all-time favorite 1980s New Wave bands play. They'd just released a critically acclaimed album and embarked on a North American and European tour-together 30 years and still making vibrant, contemporary music. One of the cool things they did that night was soliciting song requests on social media. I hashtagged my treasured tunes, along with about 200 other concertgoers.
After the show, the guitarist told me they ripped the idea from a (much) younger band earlier in the year and wanted to keep current. “If you stop growing, you're dead,” he told me.
Veterinary clinics need to actively include millennials in decision making. While Boomers relied on doctors to decide what was best for their pet, the Internet Generation was raised on choosing for themselves. Baby Boomers were told what to do as children while millennials were brought up being asked what they'd like to do. This is a significant shift and directly affects how veterinarians should engage young clients. Shared decision-making strategies have been around for years; they're no longer an option. Vets must allow millennials to feel they're in complete control of their pet's care and provide extensive information, resources and time to choose.
Be cool with instant second opinions
Millennials fact-check you constantly. As soon as you exit the exam room, young clients immediately consult the infamous Dr. Google to authenticate your advice. This is one reason I started offering clients an iPad with a website to review whenever I needed to leave them alone. I realized they'd be searching online behind my back so I figured I'd at least lead them to a trusted track.
You're a millennial? Are you rolling your eyes yet?
Do you hiss when you're talked about like a rare species being observed by a Steve Irwin type from a safe distance? Do you hate the stereotypes you've been lumped together with involuntarily? Hey, there are millennials everywhere-including dvm360 that agree! Have something to say? We're here.
We need to do a better job of explaining our examinations (“actively articulate your actions,” I like to say), providing written diagnostic rule-outs and offering treatment options. If you neglect to mention a common alternative test or therapy, millennials will find out on their own. Don't fear this; embrace it. This generation values education and information, our professional strengths. Shift your communication style from dictums to discussions and enjoy the strong bonds you'll forge.
Embrace a wireless stage
Roughly 87 percent of millennials report their smartphone never leaves their side and they surf the web using two to three devices a day.
Strategic online marketing is essential for future success. Your website must look fabulous on multiple platforms, tell your story in a succinct and compelling way and offer ways to interact at the virtual push of a button. This includes online shopping, appointment booking, communications and pet records. Regardless of what is or isn't possible, what has or hasn't been done, and what you feel you can or can't do, young pet owners are demanding these services and more.
How are we going to handle virtual vet visits, nonveterinary medical care and opinions, and the avalanche of bad online pet care advice? The veterinary profession must solve these economic, legal and ethical challenges and create safe and effective methods for veterinarians to provide the services of the future. Quickly. If veterinarians don't, outside providers will continue to win the hearts, revenues and smartphones of tomorrow's pet owners.
Better be social
One of my dear college buddies is now head of Facebook Media Partnerships, where he helps develop Facebook's news delivery. That's important, because 88 percent of millennials get their daily news from Facebook. More than 40 percent say they check Facebook “several times” a day, and 36 and 33 percent, respectively, prefer Pinterest and Twitter to learn about their world. Newspapers and television are so 2000.
Need a “poke” in the right direction?
Social media seems pretty simple, but it's actually much more complex once you break the surface. Don't worry, we can help you get started on each platform to better reach out to your clients that use social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Here are tons of posts and tweets-already written, free of charge-for you to use to educate or reach out to your clients with. We even have a toolkit specifically designed for social media-check it out here.
You probably already dabble in social media. It's time to deep dive. Collaborate with your team and experts to determine your social media strategic objectives, deployment, monitoring and measurements. Resources dedicated to social media are necessary to remain competitive in today's online world. If you're unsure how to proceed, seek outside help. Time is too precious to be wasting it posting content that doesn't generate results. You also don't want to go viral for something stupid. “Leave Britney alone!” anyone?
Make your peace with passive-aggressive anonymity
You've probably heard horror stories about disgruntled clients who went on social media to viciously attack their veterinarian. The cyberbullying of vets got so bad in the 2015 “America's Favorite Veterinarian Contest” that the contest had to be cancelled. A single “F” or one-star rating is sometimes enough to scare many prospective clients from trying a veterinary clinic.
Millennials take online reviews, rating websites and crowd wisdom very seriously. Many report they trust online advice over recommendations from friends and family. Studies show younger adults believe anonymity promotes greater honesty. I think they're probably right-until I personally get dinged with an unfounded and unsubstantiated negative review or comment.
Online reputation monitoring should be a part of your daily routine. It can be as simple as creating free Google alerts for your clinic and team or as comprehensive as using a professional service. If you've already received a few harmful reviews, you should probably hire a pro to help. If you haven't, you may want to go ahead and purchase some peace of mind. I hate to tell you to spend money on this sort of thing, but I've seen too many clinics suffer the damage a handful of haters can cause.
The great news: Online reviews can also boost your practice. Don't be afraid to ask clients to rate you. I instruct my receptionists to subtly slip in, “It was great meeting you today! If you're happy with how Fluffy did with Dr. Ward, we'd really appreciate if you'd tell your friends or rating us on our Facebook page.” Sometimes that gentle nudge is all it takes to get five stars.
Iron Maiden and Judas Priest are still touring. Ozzy is a TV star. I don't view them anymore as doddering doofs donning denim and doling out drivel-I see them as teachers. You can continue doing things the same ol' way and probably get away with it for years to come. The greatest hits will always be hits. But if you want to grow, evolve and remain contemporary, you've got to change. The millennials are coming. It's up to each of us to write new songs or be content playing our greatest hits.
There will always be an opening at Travelodge on Tuesday night.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Ernie Ward is the founder of Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C., a National Practice of Excellence Award winner. Dr. Ward is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences, including CVC Washington D.C., CVC Kansas City, and CVC San Diego.