As any good veterinarian, we can look at the report as part of our SOAP (Subjective, Objective, and Assessment). However, it is the PLAN that will eventually determine the outcome of the case. Here are my thoughts on the treatment needed to address the findings.
In review, there are six major findings that influenced the decreasing number of client’s visits to the veterinarian. They are:
Fragmentation of veterinary services
Clients don’t understand the ‘need’
Clients feeling ‘sticker shock’
Feline resistance—cats are under-served
Let’s address each ‘diagnosis’ individually.
Although we cannot do anything to impact the global aspects of the recession, veterinarians can take action to deal with the psychological aspects of the recession. Your mindset about the economy will either positively or negatively impact your business. If you let everything going on around you drag you down, your practice will suffer. If you take this opportunity to improve your practice and yourself and use it as a way to strengthen your practice, you and your practice will thrive.
ACTION: Decide NOT to let the current economic environment have a negative impact on your mindset. Decide to fight through the recession by improving the way you go about leading your team.
FRAGMENTATION OF VETERINARY SERVICES
The horse is out of the barn, so to speak, and it will be hard to put it back in. Thus, the question arises-Fight’em or Join’em or Improve on’em. Vaccine clinics, internet pharmacies, spay-neuter clinics, and shelter provided healthcare are here and having an impact. What is that they do for pet owners that you can’t? Once that question is answered, then you can decide what is the best thing to do. If the answer is price, can you compete on price and still be profitable? If the answer is convenience, what is it that they offer that is more convenient than you offer? And, can you be more convenient? If it is a pet owners desire not to deal with a veterinary clinic for their pets, then they may be relationship averse. What can you do to change clients; to get clients to engage with you and have a relationship?
ACTION: So, it is your choice—do you want to compete on price? Convenience? How can you create a relationship? Don’t ignore these variables; just identify how to best position yourself to deal with them.
With the amount of information doubling as rapidly as it does and with the ever increasing growth and utilization of the internet, this presents a challenge. Anybody can purchase a URL, get a website creation program and create a web presence with whatever information they want to share. This allows for consumers to have access to a plethora of un-reviewed information that they may hold as gospel. It is imperative that the veterinary profession either individually or as a group start to take control of the information that is being shared and provide a ‘seal of approval’ that information is correct, accurate, and in the best interest of the animal.
ACTION: You can either create your own website and content; or use your own website to post accepted information from other sources about conditions, diseases, surgeries, wellcare, etc. Information posted by the veterinary profession should be easy to read, credible and useful and, most importantly, come up high on the search engines. To combat Dr. Google, you must BE Dr. Google!!
CLIENTS DON’T UNDERSTAND THE ‘NEED
Somehow we took the most basic discussion and messed it up. If pet owners do NOT understand the fact their pets NEED to have an examination to assess their wellness (or sickness), we neglected to do our jobs as a professional and as a profession. And even more frustrating, unlike the past where we could just tell a pet owner that a pet needed a blood test and they would say ‘fine’; at present you MUST explain the BENEFITS of the actions that need to be taken. It is no longer just the WHAT, it is the WHY!! For example:
Why do pets need to be seen annually, semi-annually, etc.?
What is the benefit to the pet if they are seen?
What is the benefit to the pet owner if the pet is seen? Are there costs savings by seeing a pet more frequently?
Can you support the need with examples, studies, stories of cases that were seen for routine visits that allowed you to diagnose a disease early, set up a treatment plan, and extend the quality of life of a pet?
ACTION: It is YOUR job to explain the need to your staff and to your clients so that there is a complete and thorough understanding of WHY PETS NEED the care to be provided. By doing this, you will add value to a relationship that is starting to become more and more tenuous.
CLIENTS FEEL ‘STICKER SHOCK
The theory that veterinary medicine is recession proof has been dis-proven based upon this survey. We always heard a portion of clients commenting about the cost of care. This portion has been steadily increasing. If the family pet and human animal-bond are still so strong, then the cost of care issue must be associated with the value proposition. So, without decreasing fees, what can you do to add value to the experience that the pet owner has in your practice? Is there anything that you can do to increase the level of service that your practice has to offer? What can be done to strengthen the relationship between your practice and your client?
ACTIONS: Some thoughts:
- Spend more time with your clients in the exam room. Time is perceived as value. Besides if your appointment book is ‘less full’, you have the time.
- Spend more time educating and teaching your staff about the importance of providing world-class service. Hire people that have a service background—“people people”.
- Learn about relationship marketing and customize your communications to your clients so that they feel that they aren’t just one of the reminder cards you sent out this month they are the ONLY reminder card that you sent out this month.
- Provide multiple financial options to give clients the ability to pay for care and take euthanasia off the treatment list.
CATS ARE UNDER-SERVED
Cat owners have always been unique. They have just become ‘uniquer’. Bringing cats into the veterinary clinic was always the job for a cat wrangler—why do you think the term ‘herding cats’ developed. Now, with the economy being tough, the internet providing free advice, and the cost of care seemingly an issue, cat owners have all they need to NEVER set foot in the veterinary hospital AGAIN!! The ongoing decrease in visits for cats does not bode well. It means that dental disease and its associated pain goes along untreated. It means kidney failure cats are presented way too far along in the progression. It means diabetic kitties are going to be much more expensive to regulate. ACTION:What can be done to make your practice more Feline-Friendly?
- Cat Comfy Clinics—the open waiting area is great in most cases, but it is completely uncomfortable for the cat that prefers the quiet of the laundry basket. Is it possible to create a Cat Quiet Corner for your Feline Fur Balls?
- Cat only hours—no cat likes to look out of their carrier at a slobbering pit bull.
- House calls—if you can’t bring the cat to the practice bring the practice to the cat. Again, if you have fewer clients, can you carve out some cat housecall time to differentiate yourself in your community
- Cat Specific Communications can help you engage and strengthen your relationship with your cataplexic clients.
The discussion above is designed to get your brains working to find ways to attack the issues rather than to continue to fall victim to them. By correcting any issues NOW, when the ship has righted, you will be in a position that will put you ahead of the game. So, rather than letting the news get you down, create your own news and impact your own destiny. Start finding answers to YOUR questions and then don’t hesitate to make them happen. Looking forward is a lot more rewarding then looking back!!