DVM Newsmakers' Summit: Exploring the consumer psyche - DVM
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DVM Newsmakers' Summit: Exploring the consumer psyche
An exclusive DVM Newsmagazine panel disucssion


Often veterinarians need to make a choice on the protocol or procedure. What we find often is that veterinarians are going to be held to the highest standard of outcomes, regardless of the medical protocol. If you do a surgical procedure without all the pre-operative work, and there is a negative outcome, the client is not going to be satisfied if you say, "Well, you didn't give me the authority to go ahead and do the blood chemistry or the EKG." They're going to write to the licensing board and say the outcome was not satisfactory. That's all part of it. That all connects to the expectation.

Veterinarians need to understand what's going on in regard to changing attitudes. Clients are demanding more from this profession.

Timmins: Back in early 1991, Dr. Tom Catanzaro reported on a study that he did of military veterinarians and their clients. He was asking the question, "Do veterinarians understand the relationship of the client to their pets?" He asked the clients questions like: "Do you celebrate your pet's birthday? Do you take the pet on vacations?"

He then asked veterinarians what percentage of their clients answered yes to those sorts of questions.

He found that veterinarians, across the board, underestimated the social dependency clients had on their pets. Nearly 20 years later, one of my students wanted to find out if that was still the case or had veterinarians improved in their understanding of that relationship. We did a study in Sacramento of veterinarians and their clients asking those same questions. Veterinarians still underestimated the relationship. You need to be aware of what that relationship is.

Another thing we need to remember for upper-tier clients: They think of pets as part of their families. These individuals are now concerned about their own medical costs. They're going to be extrapolating their concerns to the concerns of medical costs for their pets. The comments Howard made about value propositions are extremely important. We need to be able to explain what it is clients are getting. And we need to empathize with the client about the cost.

Wilson: We talked about this communication gap. In teaching students, I've found that most have a major fear of rejection. This fear frequently drives this communication problem, and the client starts challenging costs. So many younger veterinarians get out there and are afraid to offer options because of this fear of rejection. That's where they run into that communication problem. They're anticipating a negative because there's fear.

King: I agree. There's fear of being rejected. We don't have full opportunity to explain why we're doing it. Those type of things lead to client satisfaction. The vast majority of clients are thrilled with the care they receive from veterinarians. But there are some people who are not happy and need to find a way to express the dissatisfaction.

Rubin: I'd like to expound on the notion of being empathetic about pricing. It's very important. All research shows empathy is a big reason veterinarians are such a highly respected part of communities.

At the same time, we need to understand the layers to have something this expensive. Just because someone believes something is really expensive doesn't mean they're unwilling to spend the money for it. We all know that in our own personal experiences. We take our families to a great meal. We get the bill at the end saying, "Oh my gosh, this was so expensive." In the next moment, we are planning the next event because it was a great experience.

Yes, great veterinary care is costly. But, by explaining the steps and having people understand what it takes to deliver that kind of care doesn't mean they're unwilling to spend the money.

Flanigan: The average consumer spent $356 on veterinary care in 2006 according to the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographic Sourcebook. That's not a lot of money, especially when you consider that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spent $143 on women's shoes, $400 on beer and alcohol; $43 on gambling losses; $550 on personal-care products and services (such as fixing their hair). They spent $2,600 per household on their own medical care. The $356 on veterinary care is not very expensive, especially when you consider the relationship between veterinarians and clients and the services provided to their pets. The most price-sensitive person in that relationship is the veterinarian, not the consumer.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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