© 2023 MJH Life Sciences™ and dvm360 | Veterinary News, Veterinarian Insights, Medicine, Pet Care. All rights reserved.
The veterinary dating game
Veterinary practice is more like the search for a significant other than youd think.
You remember dating, don't you? Or maybe you're still looking for that special someone. One thing you know though is that not every person you pass on the street is a match for you. Just like not every veterinary client is a match for your practice either.
If you think of creating a veterinarian-client-patient relationship like any other relationship, you can start questioning your methods and motives. Some people who are dating aren't really interested in a long-term, committed relationship. (Sound like some of your clients?) Some people truly seek their soulmate and have specific goals for the relationship. Neither of these people are wrong. But if you tried to match one of each type together, it would be a recipe for disaster.
It's important that you understand yourself and know which kind of relationship you seek before you ever fill out that online dating survey or agree to go on the blind date your friend has been dying to set you up on. What kind of practice do you have-or what kind of practice do you want to have-and how do you tailor your search for the clients that are right for you?
Playing the field
Some veterinary practices aren't seeking committed clients. Their goal is to see the maximum number of patients in a given time and perform the minimum care. These practices provide a valuable service to owners matched to that model. Many pet owners want the minimum care that will meet state laws and that will cover the most basic preventable diseases and parasites. These practices cover their overhead with sheer volume. This is a valid business model, especially if you're the type of person who thrives in a fast-paced, “low touch” kind of workplace.
The staff and veterinarians at these practices focus less on making clients feel “warm and fuzzy” because they know the attraction for the relationship was based on the “basic needs only” plan. Doctors, managers and team members can get a warm and fuzzy feeling themselves because they know they're helping a large number of animals get crucial care.
As veterinarians, we've been told to think we must provide state-of-the-art care to every client and patient no matter what. But if the entire profession does that (and charges appropriately for it), an entire segment of the population of pet owners will be underserved and some pets will get no care at all.
Practices that strive for a committed relationship for the life of a pet are the ones whose focus is on building a strong healthcare partnership with the owners. These doctors and team members want to ensure a long and healthy life for the pets and a happy family with a strong human-animal bond.
This type of practice is harder logistically, requiring longer appointment times and highly trained and highly motivated staff members who are aligned with these big goals for pets and clients. Time is needed with each client to address every facet of pet healthcare. These are the practices making extra effort to minimize patient stress and are more likely to need a large, well-appointed facility. Not every client wants or is willing to pay for this level of care. This type of practice covers its overhead by charging more per transaction because the overhead is high.
Many practices are a hybrid of the two extremes above. Most of them have business models that work, and when properly managed, all can show profit. But just like dating, you have to ask yourself: What makes you happy? Does playing the field make you feel empty because what you really long for is a committed partnership? Is all the effort to build a relationship tedious because you just want to help lots of pets and then go home?
Think about who you are and who you want to be in your practice. Make the necessary changes to your mindset and that of your staff to reflect your practice culture. If yours is a “Playing the field” practice, make sure everyone knows it by advertising discount and specials. People may not want to admit it, but they know deep down that they get what they pay for and they should not be expecting a committed relationship from a low-cost spay and neuter practice, for example.
If you're a “Committed relationship” practice, highlight special, long-term pets and clients on your website. Make sure your staff are customer-focused. Practice and recommend the best medicine. Manage your schedule so that appointment times are never rushed. Spare no expense in making your facility look and smell perfect. Offer tours any time. Plan events and open houses. You're looking for a long-term commitment from these clients-show them what you have to offer in every way. Woo them!
And don't worry too much about which practice model you decide is right for you right now. As life happens, you might change your mind. The bottom line is, for your happiness and success, you need to know what type of practice you have and what you're really looking for from the entire client interaction. With some thinking, some planning and some intention to find the right client partners for you, maybe you can fall in love with veterinary medicine all over again.
Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns and practices at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, and is the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People.