Editor's Note: Understanding consumer behavior can help you as a clinician and business manager. DVM Newsmagazine asked five veterinary market leaders to join this year's DVM Newsmakers' Summit at CVC East in Baltimore. Following is the
second of three excerpts from the panel discussion; the final one will be published next month.
They include: Jim Flanigan, AVMA; Dr. John King, Minnesota state board; Howard Rubin, Brightheart Veterinary Centers; Dr. Richard Timmins, Association for Veterinary Family Practice; Dr. James F. Wilson, consultant and attorney; and DVM Newsmagazine Editor Daniel R. Verdon.
Verdon: In the past year, AVMA and other groups have put together some groundbreaking research on consumer attitudes. Jim, could
you help us build a profile of veterinary medicine's most loyal clients and least loyal?
Flanigan: The people who are most loyal are the people who go to a veterinarian who communicates well. The bottom line is, if the client
believes that the veterinarian has explained to them why certain procedures are necessary, the client is more likely to be
more loyal. If the veterinarian has explained to the client what the potential outcomes are, if the veterinarian interacts
well with the pet and if the experience at the clinic is one of value in which the client perceives that the people are compassionate
and communicative, then the client will be loyal. Clients don't expect veterinarians to be high-tech — just high-touch. Those
are the people who are going to be most loyal.
It has nothing to do with their capacity to pay. It does have something to do with the human-animal bond.
James F. Wilson, DVM, JD
People who are most bonded to their pets and who found a veterinarian who's willing to share that concern for their pet are
the people who are most loyal. Loyalty's important, because loyalty leads to compliance. The more loyal a person is, that
person will be more compliant with the recommendations of the veterinarian. Ultimately this increases the quality of care
that a pet receives.
People with higher incomes have greater disposable income and therefore spend more on veterinary care. That's true. However,
it's the bonded owners who actually spend more. When you compare people even at the lowest levels of income ($20,000 or less
annually), those people spend more on veterinary care per year than unbonded owners or people less bonded with their pets
(who earn $60,000 or more per year in income). The human-animal bond is a critical component of that.
Where do we see the greatest bond? We see it in families with children. Very high percentages of families with children own
pets, and most of them own dogs. Most of the spending in the United States for veterinary care for companion animals is for
dogs. But we do a disservice to the veterinary profession if we said there's this target market you really need to be going
Jim Flanigan, American Veterinary Medical Association
One of the interesting things that came out of the Brakke study years ago asked veterinarians to make medical recommendations
to clients. The only difference was how the client was described to the veterinarian. Medically, there was essentially no
difference between the cases presented. Based only on the client description — that the client was unable or unwilling to
pay — veterinarians made different recomendations. I wouldn't want to suggest that, based on certain demographic factors,
veterinarians simply tailor their recommendations to a low-cost or high-cost solution. In reality, a bonded owner may come
from any income group, either gender, he or she may have children, may be single, may be divorced, may be older or younger.
The fact that they're bonded to that pet means they're looking to the veterinarian as a source of information and a source
of care for that pet.