Anyone involved in presenting financial estimates, or treatment plans, to clients in the veterinary practice has been exposed to “negotiation fatigue.” You’ll recognize the circumstances—you develop an estimate of the charges involved in whatever the veterinarian feels needs to be done with that pet and walk in to explain the fees. The client winces, comments about how expensive veterinary care is, and proceeds to ask, “Well, do we have to do everything on that list?” You freeze, trying to figure out how to respond.
A veterinary professional that I recently came across explained an interesting concept; to provide the best medicine the client seeks, not necessarily the best medicine that is recommended by the veterinarian. While I understand that this flies in the face of all the advice we’ve been given to offer only the best medicine, we all understand that in reality, we often have to come down a notch or two to also fit the client’s financial restrictions.
We know that sometimes Plan A will be rejected, and we need to have a Plan B and Plan C readily available so that we can provide at least some medical care to that pet. You’ll figure out which plan fits the client’s needs when you walk in with that estimate, but wouldn’t it be even better to have an idea ahead of time of what the client will want and need? Perhaps have a few options by the veterinarian noted on the estimate?
So we prepare ourselves by exploring the human-animal bond between this specific animal and person; in short, this same veterinary professional advised to discover the relationship between the pet and client. For example, a client bringing in a barn cat may not be in the market for the full load of options, because that cat is likely a “working cat” and is not as far up on the totem pole, so to speak, as perhaps the cat that lives indoors and sleeps on the client’s pillow every night. The relationship with these two cats is obviously different, and while the house cat may get Plan A, the barn cat may be lucky to get Plan C.
How do you determine this relationship? You can do this with a few simple questions at the start of the visit. While the client typically fills out paperwork indicating how old the animal is, ask a more important question, how long has the client shared a life with that particular pet? Perhaps on that initial paperwork you can ask where the pet sleeps, how much time it spends inside, or outside, and how they came to own this pet. A kitty who sleeps on the pillow and was adopted by this client when his or her father died, leaving the cat behind, is going to have a different place in that client’s life then a dog who spends its day out back in a kennel and doghouse, and was just found roaming the neighborhood a few months ago.
Digging a little bit into this relationship can help us know what to expect when it comes time to discuss finances. We are also quick to judge—admit it, we are—when we think a client isn’t living up to their responsibilities as pet owners. Perhaps if we better understand the relationship, we will better understand our clients’ choices.