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Practice Management

It’s the Web—Do You Know Where Your Clients Are?

by Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, MCP
    Girl and cat with computer

    Ever wonder how average American pet owners spend their time online? Here are nine pet-related online activities that your clients probably indulge in, along with some suggestions about how your clinic can use them to connect. Of course, all the sites mentioned here are just a taste of what’s out there. You can use them as jumping-off points in your own online explorations—just like your clients might!

    Pet owners:

    1. Love to shop for their pets. According to the 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, US pet owners were set to spend more than $50 billion on their pets in 2011—but only $14 billion of that was in the veterinary category. Fashion—whimsical outfits, new toys, and grooming products—continues in popularity among pet owners. Special designer wear for the best-dressed pet is now coming from a long list of style creators, including Coach, Harley Davidson, and Old Navy. Do you see four-legged fashionistas in your clinic? Consider catering to them and their accessory-conscious owners with a fun selection of leashes, collars, special bandannas, and other doggie “bling.”

    Food treats are another popular item among pet owners. The APPA survey determined that dog owners spend an average of $70 per year on treats for their canine friends—more than one-quarter of the $254 they spend on food. If you have a nearby “doggie bakery,” perhaps you could offer some of their goodies in your clinic. In return, might they be willing to have your business cards on hand for their customers, or a flyer for your clinic on their wall?

    2. Want to talk to other pet owners. Whether their pet has itchy ears, hairballs, litterbox woes, or a serious illness, owners want to know they are not alone in their problems. And while many pet owners turn to friends or family for support and advice first, their next step is often to go online and join communities with other owners facing the same issues. Chances are, they’ll use a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing to find those communities. So if you want to attract the attention of pet owners in your area—and maybe have them talk to you instead of strangers on the Internet—why not set up an ad on one or more of these sites?

    3. Want to see other people’s pets and have other people see theirs. It seems like everyone wants to watch chunky tabby Maru try to squeeze into a tiny box on YouTube, or see Internet sensation Boo’s latest adorable picture on Facebook. And if Maru and Boo can be world-famous, why not any other pet? A UK study found that one in 10 pets is on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.1 Pet lovers love to turn up the cuteness and share their pets’ antics—in videos, photos, blogs, you name it! Why not ask your clients if they have photos or videos of their pets that they would be willing to share on your site or Facebook page? Or, if you want to get more organized, have a contest—for example, the best rescue story, the cutest video, or the “biggest loser.” Use your imagination, and make it something that brings clients back to see what fun you have found for them.

    Maybe you don’t have the resources to get and post material from your clients. Don’t worry! There are enough other sites with sweet kitty faces or happy puppy antics to absorb hours of the day. Find some favorites and link to them from your site (you may want to ask permission from the site owner first). For an example, check out Military Reunions with Man's Best Friend: Dogs Welcoming Home Their Owners from Deployment. Over 800,000 viewers can’t be wrong! As a bonus, links on your Web site can improve your Google rating.

    4. Love to go high-tech. These days, owners can track their pet on their mobile phone, get tweets from their dog, or see the world from a cat’s-eye view, thanks to new electronic gadgets. Several companies market GPS “pet trackers” that can be attached to a collar and provide geographic coordinates to help find a lost pet. Or, for dog owners who want to stay updated on their pet’s activities, there’s a collar tag that can sense what the dog is doing (e.g., barking) and use WiFi to send out a related message on Twitter. And for those who want to actually see what their pet has been up to, a tiny camera that clips to a dog’s or cat’s collar allows them to download a video of the day’s exploration. (Of course, there are some parts of the day that might be better left private!) What kinds of technology might you be able to use in your clinic to engage your clients and keep them in touch with their pets, or show them what a clinic visit is like from a pet’s perspective?

    5. Ask veterinary questions. Along with owner support groups that may or may not have input from veterinarians, in the past few years, a variety of Web sites and blogs have begun to offer answers to veterinary questions submitted by pet owners. Some even provide individual consultations. The reliability of the information supplied by these sites, however, may be difficult for owners to determine. On the other hand, your clients already know and trust your clinic, and you know their pets’ health history. Have you ever considered offering your clients the ability to contact you online with questions?

    6. Adore travel and dining with their pet. Pets are traveling by car, by plane, and by boat, but most importantly, they are traveling with their owners. These owners are looking for the best place to stay, a café with outside pet-preferred seating, and a trip that is safe, happy, and memorable. Have you been to the pet-friendly hotels and restaurants in your area? Investigate them, and be sure to take your business cards and brochures. Don’t know which ones they are?  Check out Web sites that your clients might use, such as PetsWelcome and DogFriendly. Imagine the boost your practice could get if your local pet-friendly hotels and restaurants recommended you to their guests for all their pet needs—especially the frequent diners at that nearby restaurant.

    7. Want to remember their pet. Sadly, all pet owners eventually have to face the loss of their pet, and it can be a devastating experience. Looking to the practice for support and sharing their feelings with others online are ways for owners to find solace. Training for all team members on handling grief and supporting one another is essential in being compassionate to and counseling grieving pet owners. You may also want to recommend pet memorial Web sites, such as Rainbow Bridge or Peternity, or online grief support resources, such as those listed at the Argus Institute and the University of Pennsylvania.

    8. Read reviews of veterinary clinics. Arguably, online reviews are having more impact on small businesses than anyone ever expected. Check out what people are saying about your clinic by searching for veterinary clinics, pet care, or animal hospitals in your area and reading the reviews you find, whether it be on Yellowbook, Citysearch, Angie’s List, Yelp, or a site for local businesses. At least one Web site, Vetratingz.com, is dedicated to rating veterinary hospitals. This is how you are being portrayed online for all the world to see! Is it an accurate picture? Know that you can often dispute reviews that present inaccurate information.

    Keep checking regularly, and don’t be hesitant to ask clients with good experiences to go online and share them with other pet owners. You could even give clients a card with the addresses of the review sites or have a computer right in reception to have them do the review as they are invoicing out. Make it easy, and it will happen.

    9. Want to connect with you! What do clients want from you? All of the above! Clients want you to be a participant in their online experience. How many of the activities mentioned above might start at your clinic’s Web site or Facebook page? If you have the information or links your clients are looking for, they won’t need to go to other, perhaps less reliable sites—or worse, other clinics’ sites.

    Some clients, of course, are looking for new doctors for their pets. You can help them (and help them find you) by providing information on your site such as a checklist of “questions to ask to find a great veterinarian” and suggestions of “how to get the most from your visit to the vet.” In fact, the latter might be useful even for your current clients!

    Think about what kinds of online resources you can provide to your clients, and know that you don’t have to do everything all at once. Just make sure you keep your clients up-to-date on your latest developments so that they know to check them out! Once they know you have what they want—whether it be timely tips and information, helpful links, or just a dose of fun—hopefully, they’ll keep coming back.

    Reference

    1. One in ten pets is on Facebook. The Telegraph July 13, 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/social-media/8633183/One-in-ten-pets-is-on-Facebook.html. Accessed December 2011.

    didyouknow

    Did you know... 95% of veterinarians surveyed believe that dogs and cats require at least one well-visit, or physical examination, annually and that 72% of veterinarians believe wellness exams are the most important services they can provide.Read More

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