Sticker shock: Stop scaring clients with your veterinary fees - Veterinary Economics
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Sticker shock: Stop scaring clients with your veterinary fees
Veterinary fees have outpaced inflation. Make sure your clients understand the better medicine they're receiving, and tackle client pushback with bundled services, payment alternatives, and—gasp!—discounts.


Show clients what it's worth

Now don't assume that the solution is to run right out and reduce your fees. Clients may simply not understand what their money is buying them in terms of medical care. In order for pet owners to accept your recommendations, they must first understand them—and value them more than other things they could spend money on.

The first area to focus on is communication of value. For example, it's not enough for a doctor to silently examine a pet in front of the client, even if it's an expertly conducted exam. You must speak the results of your exam out loud in layperson's terms. Then move on to recommendations, treatment options, and prognosis. Many clients don't understand the need for a physical exam for their pets and are barely aware when it's happening right in front of them. (See "Clients feel uneducated—by you" at right for the troubling statistics.)

A 2003 article in Harvard Business Review focused on client service and value at the Mayo Clinic, probably the best-known brand in human medicine. The Mayo Clinic communicates value to clients extremely well, spending little money on traditional forms of advertising. Everyone at the clinic, from the janitor to the doctor, knows that everything they do makes a difference in the client experience. Mayo patients note that care is organized around their needs, not doctors' schedules or hospital processes. The authors note, "When a company's offerings are hard to judge, customers look for subtle indicators of quality." In other words, average people can't judge the quality of medicine a practice offers and focus instead on what they can understand: the service experience and the ability of medical staff to communicate with them.

Use judicious "discounts"

While communicating value is critical, so is the amount you charge for a service and your practice's overall pricing strategy. Now, it's true that many experts consider discounts, permanent fee reductions, and other fee changes a very bad thing. However, when used judiciously, they allow clients to provide better care for pets—and increase practice revenue and profits.

When the subject of discounts or the moderation of fee increases comes up among veterinarians, it's not uncommon for them to say, "My pediatrician doesn't do that—why should I?" But human medicine isn't the same as veterinary medicine; many people have health insurance and wouldn't consider skimping on care for themselves or their children. And, in fact, physicians do deal with some of the same issues. A hospital here in Dallas recently advertised a sale on colonoscopies: 50 percent off, with a free exam from a gastroenterologist thrown in!

Bottom line: A practice's pricing strategy can't be composed solely of large annual price increases. Consider your options. Here are a few:

Wellness plans. Pet owners in the usage study responded very positively to the idea of a payment plan where they would be billed in equal monthly installments for a year's worth of regular veterinary services. (Click here to read how one veterinarian does it.) This plan would cover all of the pet's routine healthcare for a full year, qualify them for special discounts or free visits, and eliminate large invoices at the time of routine-care visits. (No sticker shock!) The plan wouldn't cover diagnostics or treatment for unexpected illness or injury. Pet owners liked the predictability of the payments and knowing in advance what kind of routine care they needed to provide annually.



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