The 40-30-20-10 veterinary client countdown

Woe is the day if the 10 percent of animal keepers become the majority at your veterinary practice
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Sep 01, 2010

Veterinarians' clients can be divided into four categories: consumers looking for a commodity, animal caretakers looking for high-quality veterinary care, animal owners who seek care sporadically or as needed and animal keepers who seek care as a last resort.

4. 40 percent of our clients are pet care consumers seeking a commodity.
These individuals view their local veterinary clinic as a place to get vaccinations, buy medications and get pets neutered at reasonable prices. They often consider all providers of veterinary services as virtually the same. Their method for selecting a veterinarian is to find the provider at the lowest cost within a reasonable distance from their neighborhood. These consumers will seek medications elsewhere (Internet and discount houses) if it is convenient. Ironically, this group is not price-sensitive during an emergency. Many of these clients have been missing in action during the recent recession.

Your response to these consumers should be to provide client education to move them into the animal caretaker category. This group will respond well if you lower the markup on materials.

3. 30 percent of our clients are animal caretakers seeking high-quality veterinary care
These are our good clients. They seek our services often and never squawk about fees. They depend on our expertise, and many will write a check on a weekly basis and seldom look elsewhere for help. We should want all our clients to fall into this group. We can't survive entirely on the income from this category of clients, but it would be nice if we could.

2. 20 percent of our clients are animal owners seeking care sporadically or as needed
This group is happy to come to the clinic based on their schedules. They are often late, appear to be in a hurry and respond poorly to reminders. They are nervous if they need to wait in the exam room and sometimes will leave “for another appointment” or to “pick up the kids.” Compliance is always an issue, and many will spend good money after bad when pushed into a corner. They are not price sensitive, only time sensitive.

This group needs educating. When a client has to be fired, they usually are in this group. We need this group, but making them into animal caretakers is unlikely.

1. 10 percent of our clients are animal keepers seeking our services as a last resort
These clients will always be with us. They call at closing or on weekends with details of the horrific medical issues of their pets. They often want immediate care but are often unwilling or incapable of paying for services (there are notable exceptions). They constitute less than 10 percent of our client base but may occupy as much as 10 percent of our time—much more if the emotional drain is considered.

If the government ever pays for pet healthcare, this group will constitute 50 percent of our patients and shorten the time we can spend with animal caretakers. Veterinarians would opt out of clinical practice in large numbers if that ever happened.