Emotional price points: The real reason for dropping client visits?

Emotional price points: The real reason for dropping client visits?

Veterinarians haven't paid enough attention to this phenomenon when setting fees. Now they have to.
Jul 01, 2011

Steeple Creek Animal Hospital, 10:30 a.m. Dr. Jamie McPherson looked at the report. She compared it to the year before. Her brow knitted. She pulled up the practice software on her desktop and requested the year before that. She tapped her foot, nervously. The hourglass on the screen turned over and over.

"This computer moves like molasses," she said to the ceramic Dachshund on her desk. Finally, the report's numbers scroll down the screen.

"Drat, the same thing," she said. "Our number of routine surgeries is down for three years in a row." She leaned back in her chair and sighed.

Just then, Dr. Sandra Parker walked in, taking a long sip from her coffee cup. It dribbled a bit and Sandra's hand reflexively shot forward to stop the drops from hitting the floor.

"No spill, Sandra—you get an A-plus for body technique," Jamie quipped. Jamie smiled at her new partner and then her face grew serious. She asked Sandra to sit down. Sandra had been with the practice for only three years but had already agreed to start buying into the practice.

"Sandra, have you noticed we don't do the number of surgeries we used to?" Jamie asked.

"Not really," Sandra said. "But I guess I need to pay more attention."

Jamie went on. "I also checked our number of visits and office consults from last year, and they're down too. Our gross income numbers are holding steady, so I never really looked beyond that for some time now. I just don't know what to make of it."

Jamie got up and quickly moved to the reception area. Donna Biondi sat at the desk filing charts.

"Are we done for the morning, Donna?"

"Yes, doctor. I had several calls and made one appointment for next week. The others haven't called back."

"What about for this afternoon?"

"You have one recheck, a rabies vaccination with no exam and Mrs. Nelson is coming in for her usual nail trim."

Jamie looked glum.

"You look down," Donna said. "We were busy last week—remember?"

"I remember. A litter of 6-month-old pit bulls with parvo and Mrs. Johnson's German Shepherd with a full-blown torsion at 6 p.m. last Wednesday. What we need is a little more standard fare."

"I'll do my best," Donna chimed.

"I know you will—you always do."

Jamie head back to her office. Sandra had her nose stuck in an article in a veterinary journal.

"Hey, Jamie. This article says that at one time the profession was thought to be recession proof. It goes on to say that maybe there's more price sensitivity than most consultants thought."

"Well, I think they got it right this time. It sure seems that way around here."

"What do you mean?" Sandra asked.

"I mean, we've raised prices to keep up with expenses and improve our bottom line," Jamie said. "While doing that, our gross has stayed the same but our real numbers—the ones that count—are going down."

"What real numbers?" Sandra asked.

"The real numbers are client numbers and whether the clients are coming in or are slowly draining away," Jamie said, back in her seat and poring over the three years' worth of reports again. "They're either going somewhere else or just not going anywhere. If they're staying home, it means that, in the long run, we're training our clients that general care is unaffordable and they'll only come to us as a last resort."

"Won't they come back?" Sandra asked, hopefully.

"Many will, but a percentage will stay on the sidelines for a while," Jamie said. "They're all watching their finances closely. Some say 20 percent of clients would spend their last dime on their pets if they had to and that seems true here in our practice. It's the remaining 80 percent that worries me."

Just then Donna poked her head in the door.

"Dr. McPherson, I need your authorization," Donna said. "We had two new requests for medications from an Internet pharmacy."

Jamie looked at the requests. They were from two of her best clients. She showed them to Sandra.

"There wasn't a class on this in vet school," Sandra lamented.