Why You Need to Walk a Mile in a Pet Owner’s Wallet

Four tips to make the “payment” talks with clients less painful.

Originally published in the October 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Enjoyed this article? Then subscribe today! 

I recently had to have a plumber and an electrician out to our Almost Heaven Ranch to work on our well — on, of course, a Sunday night. I live in a very rural area where both of the service professionals were friends, but let me tell you, I expected the bills to be high, and I wasn’t wrong.

We knew we’d be able to pay the bill, or at least put it on a credit card, but I admit I swallowed hard when they handed me the invoices at the end of a long night. The experience made me think about what clients must experience at the veterinary hospital.

Like electricians and plumbers, we, too, are service providers whose services don’t carry a visible price tag for easy consideration of value. Also like them, veterinary bills very seldom add up to less than expected! However, problems with the plumbing or wiring don’t carry the emotional impact of those with the beloved pet on your exam room table.

This brings me to the subject of fear. As most of you know, I’m leading an incredible team of experts working to make veterinary visits Fear Free. That doesn’t just mean Fear Free for the pet, but for the owner, too.

And since money is a huge part of the owner’s anxiety at our practices, we need to walk a mile in their wallets as we think about how to communicate the financial aspects of pets health care.

Think about it: Owners are already stressed about taking a reluctant pet to the vet, and on top of that, they might be worried that something is wrong even if it's only a wellness visit.

I can say with confidence that the majority of pet owners worry a great deal about how to pay for veterinary products and services. They worry they’ll be judged, ridiculed or embarrassed if they can’t say yes to the veterinarian’s recommendations.

I mean, I just had a 75,000-mile service on my Honda CR-V, and if I decline to get the fluids changed, I don’t have to worry that someone will think I’m a monster.

But turn down services for a pet? They’ll think you don’t care … right?

So while a member of the veterinary healthcare team is laying on the recommendations and getting ready to present a quote to the client, pet owners are mentally tallying the costs. They’re not really listening, because they’re thinking about which recommendations they can afford and which ones they can't.

They’re wondering what their spouse will say, whether they can delay something else to pay for this, and if they have room on any of their credit cards. This financial dance is so stressful to the vast majority of pet owners that it can be a make-or-break moment for the family, pet and veterinary bond.

What can you do to make this exam room moment more like a tango and less like a break dance? Here’s a four-step routine that should do the trick!

1) Promote pet insurance to every client.

Pet owners with pet insurance visit more often and spend more money. Importantly, with these clients the conversation is not about what they can afford, but what’s in the best interests of the pet.

I say this over and over because it’s so important: Do a one-time sale on pet insurance and you’ll never have to sell the pet owner on the financial value or affordability of your recommendations again.

2) Start with the heart.

Here’s another one of my tried and true tips: Strum the emotions before strumming the intellect. Connect emotionally with the pet and the owner. Make them feel they’re a priority to you.

Pet owners will feel (with certainty and authenticity) that you’re making these recommendations because you care about their pet, not about making payroll.

3) Explain the pain away.

I’m talking about pain in the wallet. Don’t just say, “We need to get a CBC and chem profile.” Rather, explain in detail what you are testing and what you’re looking for.

For example, I’ll often say something like this: “Mrs. Smith, we have the zip code on Sparky’s illness, but we need to get the exact address. To help me zero in on the problem, we’ll need to draw a small blood sample and run a battery of tests. These tests are like a picture window on your pet, allowing us to look inside and see the functioning of all the major organs, such as the liver and kidneys.

“Based on what the results are, we’ll tailor our treatment plan to the exact problem and this gives us the best chance of success.”

4) Provide extreme value.

Economics 101 tells us benefits divided by price equals value. The more benefits you provide, the higher prices you can charge and still give value. Remember, we’re talking about benefits perceived and received.

Were you on time for the appointment? Did you remember the genesis of their pet’s name (or ask), and have the correct gender? Were the wait, exam and treatment Fear Free? Did the veterinary healthcare team find something to sincerely compliment the pet owner on? Did someone call back to see how the pet was doing? Every positive thing you can check off for a pet owner on each visit increases value.

Notice nowhere here did I suggest you give your services away for free, cut your prices or offer a payment plan.

While as veterinarians we may donate our work to a good cause, and as business people we may need to take a look at pricing and payment strategies, those aren’t necessary to be successful. We can serve our patients, clients, businesses and selves well as long as we focus on putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes — or, most accurately, wallets — first! 

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