The veterinary community has witnessed a subtle cultural shift, as more people consider their pets cherished family members rather than personal property. The veterinarian is seen as another “family doctor.” The best way to attract new clients is to provide extraordinary service from the very first pediatric appointment.
Success in business depends largely on an effective marketing strategy. Although the veterinary practice is primarily a medical facility, practice owners must be cognizant of the need for good salesmanship. And while having a strong online social media presence is important, the most effective form of advertising is word of mouth. In fact, 64% of people aged 18 through 34 said they would choose a brand recommended by someone they trust.1 A firsthand report from a familiar source is, after all, the most convincing form of social media.
WHAT IS YOUR CLINIC’S STORY?
When new puppy and kitten owners begin the search for a veterinary practice, most will heed the recommendations of those they trust. Because pediatric pets require more care, new owners will seek a practice with a reputation for being responsive and attentive. Clients do not want to be treated as if they are on an assembly line, and perception of value decreases when they are treated this way. Before their first visit, pediatric pet owners will likely also conduct online research. For this reason, the practice’s website must be attractive, informative, and current. Moreover, clients want to know what makes a practice unique. Storytelling is an effective marketing tool, according to Phil Tucak, BSc, BVMS, a veterinary communications management consultant in Perth, Australia.2 Clients are attracted to a practice whose story is relatable and aligns with their beliefs on a personal level.
During the first few months of their pets’ lives, new clients will come to the practice an average of every two to three weeks. To promote loyalty, the practice must address the client’s concerns at each visit. Rather than following predetermined protocols or a “cookie-cutter” approach, the veterinary team needs to create an individualized preventive plan based on the pet’s and client’s lifestyle. Compliance improves when clients understand the benefits of the team’s recommendations. By using a tailored medical approach, the veterinary team reinforces its role as pet health advocate.
CLIENT EDUCATION FROM ALL TEAM MEMBERS
Every member of the veterinary team must be prepared to answer client questions during their pets’ pediatric life stage. For this reason, all team members must be able to communicate appropriate information. Commonly, puppy and kitten owners want to know why their pets have to be examined so often. They may not recognize that because of their pets’ relatively rapid growth rate, more frequent examinations are indicated to identify developmental abnormalities. Clients may also question the practice’s vaccine booster protocol. A simple explanation of the pediatric immune system may be necessary to ensure compliance. Understanding leads to greater trust.
By educating the client during the pet’s first months, the veterinary team creates a sense of partnership in promoting good health for the life of the dog or cat. Clients are more likely to follow instructions when they believe the veterinary team has their pets’ best interests in mind. This is especially important in the early life stage when clients have so many concerns. Often they will turn to the internet for answers, but much of the information found there is unreliable. The veterinary team can help clients avoid the pitfalls of internet misinformation by offering educational handouts during pediatric visits. Forward-booking pediatric appointments is another effective method of client retention because it stresses the importance of continuity of care and makes scheduling easier. Clients are less likely to miss appointments when they have ample time to prepare.
Throughout the course of pediatric visits, the veterinary team must reiterate the importance of disease prevention. With so many different philosophies on vaccination, it is reasonable for clients to have questions. The veterinary team will succeed in gaining their clients’ trust if they can communicate the importance of appropriate and timely boosters. Client confidence in the protocol depends on their understanding of core versus “lifestyle” vaccines. If the team recommends a vaccine protocol tailored to the individual pet’s needs, the owner is more likely to see that the practice is focusing on the pet and not profit.
While most practices engage in extensive client education about vaccination as a way to prevent disease in pets, they must also inform clients of zoonotic risks. Clients will then have a greater understanding of how pet health affects human health. The veterinary team is responsible for conveying to owners the risk of zoonoses to themselves and their families.
Their next task is to prescribe appropriate preventatives. If clients understand how and why to use a product, they will be more likely to give it as directed. Many new clients will come to the practice with their own opinions of which products are best. They may be influenced by friends and relatives, or they may prefer a recognized brand. Television, radio, and magazine advertisements deliver convincing messages about the effectiveness of one product over another. Consumers do not always recognize the information is promotional, not necessarily factual.
Some pet owners mistakenly believe their pets are not exposed to parasites. From a client’s point of view, it is difficult to understand how something you cannot see can be so harmful. The Companion Animal Parasite Council is a great resource for parasite prevalence maps and prevention guidelines. Information presented on the website (capcvet.org) is intended for practitioners and pet owners alike. Every successful practice carries preventatives indicated for the parasites endemic to their particular region. By educating clients about the importance of prevention, the veterinary team affirms its position as an advocate for the well-being of pets and owners alike.
TRAINING AND SOCIALIZATION
Puppy and kitten owners need to be educated on effective training methods. The first goal of training is socialization, as this is the basis for a well-adjusted pet. Unsocialized pets tend to be more fearful, anxious, and difficult to manage. Often, these animals become a liability for their owners. Many pets are surrendered to shelters, or abandoned for displaying undesirable behaviors. Properly socialized, well-behaved pets become cherished family members, enriching the lives of the people around them.
Pet owners have different goals when it comes to training. Some want a pet who will learn a new trick every week, while others just want one who will come when called. The level of complexity is unimportant; the act of working together to achieve a desired result is the key to strengthening the human-animal bond. By advocating for well-mannered pets, the veterinary team is reinforcing a relationship that benefits the animal, the owner, and the practice.
A reputation for attentive care will attract quality-conscious clients to a practice, but loyalty will be earned only when the veterinarian is seen as a trusted advisor to a concerned pet owner. Rather than turn to the internet for answers, a loyal client will ask the practice. By addressing these questions from pediatric through adult and geriatric life stages, the veterinary practice becomes the pet’s advocate for a lifetime of good health. Furthermore, the practice supports the well-being of clients by strengthening the human-animal bond. When clients recognize the benefits of pet ownership beyond mere companionship, they will value the veterinary practice for promoting their own well-being as well.
1 Schwarz R. The power word-of-mouth has in advertising and how to cultivate it. forbes.com, 2020.
2 dvm360 staff. Episode 29: Using storytelling to retain and attract new veterinary clients. dvm360, 2010.
3 McFarland M. The pet effect. habri.org, 2017.
4 Clower TL, Neaves TT. The health care cost savings of pet ownership. habri.org, 2015.