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5 Tips on Talking to Veterinary Clients About Money

March 23, 2014

Karyn Gavzer, Veterinary Practice Management Consultant

If there’s anything in veterinary practice that most team members wished they didn’t have to do, it is talking to clients about money!  And yet, in this day and age, there’s no getting around it.  Good veterinary care is a good value, but it costs money to provide and we have to have those conversations with clients.  Here are some ideas and tips to make talking about money a little easier:

1.  Do not assume that the client will say no because of money.  If cost is the only thing stopping a client from saying yes to needed care for their pet, then work on helping them solve that problem.  Ask the doctor if the pet’s care can be staged overtime; for instance, could they do the laboratory work today, and the dental or other procedure a month from now to bifurcate the costs into two easy pieces?  If not, do you offer third party financing that the client can apply for to cover the needed care?  If you do, ask the client if they would like to do that.  Let them apply for it in your office so that you get an answer today.  Finally, if there are no other options, ask the client who could help – friends?  Their parents? Would their employer give them an advance?  Could they call their charge card company to ask if them to approve the charges?  Many clients aren’t aware these options exist and it’s always worth mentioning them when money is the barrier to the pet getting the care it needs.

2.  Studies show that clients who have pet insurance tend to spend more on their pets, probably because insurance will cover a good part of it when health problems arise.  An easy way to let pet owners know about pet insurance is to ask them when they are checking  in, if they have pet insurance, so you can put it in their pet’s record.  It is amazing how many clients do not know that there is pet insurance. Asking them when they check in gives you a way to let them know about it.  Before you do this, be sure you have a handout on pet insurance to give them because once they know about it; they are likely to want more information.  Finally, if they have pet insurance, enter it in the pet’s record so that you can print an extra copy of the bill for them to send to their insurance company.

3.  Pay-by-the-month pet health plans are used by some practices. The plans break the cost of care down into 12 easy monthly installments, making preventive care more affordable for pet owners.  If your practice offers plans like this, the easiest way to talk to clients about it is when they arrive for their pets’ appointments.  The conversation would go something like this, “Mrs. Smith we’re are doing something new here at the practice that I think would be perfect for Snuggles and a good deal for you.”  Then tell them about the plan that fits Snuggles the best and ask if they’d like to sign up today so that they can use it for today’s exam.  One other thing that is important to do is to differentiate preventive healthcare plans from pet insurance.  A good way to explain it is to say, “It’s like pet insurance only it’s to help you keep your pet healthy. One of the best things about it is that you know you will use it because it is designed to cover the preventive health care services your pet will need anyway.”

4.  It is amazing how often clients complain about their bills and just asking for payment after a pet’s appointment can be challenging.  It always a good idea to verbally review the bill before asking for payment.  Hotels do this routinely and we should, too. Reviewing the bill before you ask for payment reminds them of all that was done. It might sound like this: “It looks like Smitty had an exam, his X, Y, Z vaccinations, and a fecal test today.  And we’ve got his heartworm and flea prescriptions ready to go home for him, too.”  If there is a manufacturer’s discount for buying a year’s worth of product in advance, make sure that you tell the client they’re getting a discount:  “I’m giving you a 12-pack so you’ll have everything you need to take care of Smitty and it’ll save you money too because you get 2 dosages free when you buy the 12-pack.”  Clients appreciate getting a good deal and they appreciate that you are looking out for their interests.

Finally, is there anything more that you can do add value for the client?  Could you set them up for reminders to help them remember to give their pet its monthly preventive medication?  (Or let them know they can request reminders on your pet portal, if you have one.)  Clients aren’t going to get this kind of help from the big box stores or online pharmacies and it’s a nice way of setting yourself apart with service.

5.  Conversations about money don’t just happen in the office.  Pet owners call everyday wanting to know how much it cost for “shots” and other common services.  It’s important to handle those calls well because it may make the difference between that client choosing your practice or going someplace else.  Have you ever considered that clients might be calling about the price because they want to make sure they have enough money before they get there? I think it happens a lot.  Think about it.  When clients come to a practice it is as if they’re going to a restaurant that expects them to order from a menu without any prices.  They only find out at the end what they’ve spent when they get the bill.  It’s like that in our practices.  Clients say yes to a recommend vaccine, or procedures or lab work and too often, they only find out at the front desk, when the exam is over, what they’ve spent.

I believe that clients who are “price shopping” really are looking for a guarantee of a price they can afford.  Why not give it to them?  Let’s say a client called for “shots” for her dog.  You should, of course, ask for the dog’s name and use it and ask if there are any special health issues. This will give them a little taste of the kind of care and attention they can expect if they choose your practice.  Then, tell them that there are 1-year and 3-year rabies shots and it will be up to them and the doctor to decide what is best for Harley.  Tell them the office charge is $54 and anything else is up to them and the doctor to decide. This gives callers a guarantee that they will spend $54 if they come there, but nothing else unless they decide they want it. It puts them in control and it really is the only guarantee you can give them because only the doctor can tell them what their pet needs. The important thing from the client’s perspective is that they can now decide if they have $54 to spend on their pet (most do!) and they have the peace of mind that they won’t lose control or be surprised at the end, because whatever else they do will be up to them.

© 2014 Karyn Gavzer

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