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Veterinary Forum September 2007 (Vol 24, No 9)

Editor's Note: It pays to ask

by Marie Rosenthal

    I hear it all the time: "My clients won't pay for …" You name it — from nutrition counseling to digital radiography, veterinarians think they cannot charge for their services.

    Yet, a recent article in Business Week (Aug. 6) tells me you might be misreading your clients. The article "The Pet Economy" says that Americans spend $41 billion a year on their pets, and trust me, some of the choices — such as fake testicles for the neutered dog's self esteem —might seem frivolous.

    If clients will pay $919 for a pair of prosthetic testicles (Neuticles), what makes you think they won't pay for good medical care?

    Dr. Lowell Ackerman, whose many degrees include an MBA, says that people are value shoppers, and they will only pay for things they value. To sell a service, a veterinarian must explain the value for the patient. "I want to do baseline blood work, so I can better monitor your pet's health each year." "We live in an endemic area, and I think you should use a preventative all year long." "This drug costs a little more than XYZ drug, but it has fewer side effects."

    Digital radiography is a good example, he says. Most clients see that digital radiography is more advanced and useful for the hospital but don't see the value for the pet, including clearer images so there will be fewer repeated films and the animal will need less anesthesia. Unless you explain this to clients, they think they are paying more to save time for your staff. But they might be more willing to pay if it benefits their pet.

    Ackerman uses the example of a new car: Why would anyone buy a car that takes less time to fix if there wasn't also a benefit for the purchaser? "Why would you pay money for a product that ultimately provides more value to the mechanic than to you? In fact, digital radiography provides great benefits for pets and owners, but these are not often detailed to clients. Clients don't care if the main points are that it is faster and saves technician time. They need to hear the rest of the story," he says — that it is better for the pet.

    And that is the point. My old dog, Genesis, suffered terribly with bad teeth in her old age, so I know the value of yearly cleanings and products that promote dental health and hygiene. Because I know their value, I am willing to buy them and take the time to brush both of my dogs' teeth. But other clients don't understand the value — not unless you tell them.

    I think a lot of veterinarians assume that people won't spend the money. Perhaps it might be a good idea to let your clients decide how they want to spend their money. Tell them what the product or service does and why it is better for their pet, and then let them decide if they will pay the few extra bucks.

    You may be surprised. If they will pay $1,200 for a Hermes dog collar, they might pay extra for something that is really worthwhile.

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