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A spoonful of service makes the veterinary clients come 'round
Use these tips to provide that sweet service and smooth out payment and compliance problems before they pop up.
In the 1964 Walt Disney classic, Mary Poppins used a spoonful of sugar to persuade a young child to take medicine. Along those lines, we thought sugar could be the perfect symbol of great veterinary service. Here are recommendations for remarkable service—drawn from examples from the country's Well-Managed Practices—that will make pet care easier for clients to swallow and keep them coming back to your clinic.
Keep it simple
Do clients' thinking for them. Offering too many choices for medical care will overwhelm clients and make it more difficult for them to make a decision. One or two recommendations is usually all a client needs or wants. Clients look to veterinarians for their medical knowledge and expertise, so be decisive about the care pets need.
Another way you can do clients' thinking for them is by being proactive. Offer automatic refill and heartworm preventive reminders. Schedule the next appointment at the end of the current one; if that isn't possible, call the client the next day to schedule. If a client has multiple pets, review medical records of the other pets to talk about any necessary care that might be due. Also, always ask clients if there are additional pets at home that aren't being cared for by your practice.
In the exam room, take the time to talk with clients about pet lifestyle. For a new kitten or puppy, discuss wellness or budget plans and stress the importance of socialization. This is also a great time to address any behavioral issues. In addition, you might present your client with spay and neuter considerations. For older pets, start educating your clients on the benefits of semi-annual exams. Go over weight management and nutrition, quality of life, behavior and activity level.
Make it affordable
Keep your payment options open. To help clients budget for pet care, consider offering monthly payment plans for preventive wellness that can be managed in-house or by an outside company. Other options include pet insurance (particularly for clients with multiple pets) or third-party payment services. You can also create multiple plans to find out what the best alternative for your client is. Plan A, since it is presented first, should be your absolute best recommendation for care. Give the client time to consider the option. If they don't have the money for the necessary care, express your understanding and offer an alternative: Plan B. This is a pared-down version of Plan A. If that still doesn't work for them, offer a Plan C, which is your "at a minimum" suggestion. Use your best judgment to come up with an affordable option that still has crucial benefits for the pet.
Use a reward system based on tiers. For example, after five visits, a client's pet receives a complimentary nail trim at the next visit (keep clients coming back with the redemption approach versus an immediate reward). Another example: after purchasing 10 bags of food, a client receives a free bag of pet treats. A company, Rethink Veterinary Solutions, provides another spin on reward systems with customizable reward cards.
Be warm, friendly and helpful. When clients enter your doors, know who they are and why they are here. By getting to know your clients, their pets and their needs, you're building relationships, which leads to better and more personalized service. Take a good, objective look at the intangibles that your practice offers. Are you giving your clients a reason to return? Make sure your receptionists get up and greet clients rather than wait for clients to come to them. Help carry pet food to clients' cars. Keep an umbrella handy for rainy days. Open your doors to the community by hosting an open house.
Cross-promote with local businesses. Offer loyalty rewards. Consider joining forces with other local businesses for cross-referrals. Not only will it benefit your clinic, but it will also keep more money in your community.
Dr. Kaaren Howe, medical director at Minnetonka Animal Hospital in Minnetonka, Minn., is a big fan of cross-promotion. Her neighbor is a baker, and she has her make delicious bite-size cookies or bars for her clinic's annual open house. That way, both the clinic and the local bakery get positive attention.
Don't be afraid to hear "no." If at the end of the day you have educated your clients and recommended the very best care at a cost that reflects that care, you may still hear that two-letter word. Remember, the answer's always "no" if you don't ask.
So put yourself out there. Implement these recommendations and find new ways to get your clients to say "yes" to the care their pets need. By listening and getting creative, your service scheme has the ability to sweeten the deal not only for your clients and patients, but also for your practice—in the most delightful way.
Denise Tumblin, CPA, is president and owner of the veterinary practice consulting firm Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates. Christina Materni is a financial analyst at the firm.