As essential service providers, veterinary practices have fared reasonably well throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns and social restrictions to date. Most practice owners I’ve spoken with report that their schedules are busy and that pet owners are using government allowances and superannuation advances to book in surgical procedures such as dentals, lump removals and desexing.
It’s reassuring to know that so many pet owners are prioritising health care for their pets, however that bubble is about to burst when JobKeeper and JobSeeker end in the next few months.
Australian employment figures indicate that there has been a slight increase in the availability of part-time positions since the beginning of the pandemic, however full-time hours are much harder to find.
Today (17/7/20) Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australian workers hungry for more hours that they would have to endure underemployment for some time, as having a job at the moment “comes at a premium”.
What does this mean for the veterinary industry?
In short, it means that we can’t afford to be complacent.
Our status as essential service providers offers our industry some degree of stability, however it doesn’t make us completely recession-proof. The continuing spread of COVID-19 in Australia means that lockdowns and restrictions will be a way of life for some time to come.
If you are the only veterinary clinic in your town or suburb your practice may be more resilient during tough times, however the majority of veterinary clinics in urban areas are competing for the pet owner’s dollar within a much smaller geographical boundary.
Pet owners WILL price shop.
What should we be doing?
Labour and operating costs are fixed and it’s difficult to cut these without compromising your quality of service and patient care.
So – how do you compete on price without lowering your standards?
In-clinic promotions are an ideal way to attract new clients and to prevent leakage from your existing database to your competitors. Consider running a promotion with a discount or value add that will improve compliance from pet owners and encourage them to choose you and not the veterinary practice down the road.
Effective promotions don’t have to cost the earth either. Speak to your industry reps and affiliates to see if they will sponsor an in-clinic promotion.
Get your team on board with some creative ideas and choose a client offer that will earn you a quick return for high-value services, or a short and sharp increase in volume for routine visits.
Remember: Running a promotion is not a sales gimmick. A genuine saving will be a big helping hand to a financially struggling client and give your patient access to the care they need. Be open and confident in your recommendations.
Staying in touch with your clients has never been more important.
You want to let pet owners know what you are doing to help them and their pets during this time and make it easier for them to reach out to you.
Social media posts are a cheap and effective way to engage with your clients but it has to be consistent to be effective. Post on your Facebook and Instagram pages at least 1-3 times a week, offering healthcare tips, advice and reassurance to your clients. Happy pet photos and smiling team members will also strengthen the emotional connection between your practice and your clients.
Publish a newsletter to your clients every month so that they continue to see you as a trusted health care provider for their pets. Showcase your expertise and knowledge and let them know about discounts and special offers to help them through difficult financial times, letting them know how they can minimise pet care costs at home.
Client Follow Up Calls
From personal experience I can tell you that pet owners LOVE to receive a service call from their vet! A quick call to follow up on a dental estimate or to let them know about an overdue vaccination shows that you care. I cannot count the number of times that a client has thanked me for calling, as they had completely forgotten the service was due, or they had questions or concerns. Some clients are hesitant to call us if they think their question is silly or that we are too busy. A friendly service call is a warm and empathetic way to connect where an sms or email may have previously failed.
Health Care Packages, Pet Insurance and Payment Plans
If your practice offers a health care plan with genuine savings for pet owners, now is the time to follow up renewals and to sign up new members.
Not only will you be providing reassurance to your clients that their pet’s preventative health care is taken care of for the next 12 months, but you may also even have some extra cash flow to see you through tighter economic times or to leverage quantity buys of particular products.
Encourage pet owners to take out pet insurance if it is within their means and offer payment plans for clients who are temporarily unable to pay for treatment.
Practice owners need to be plotting a course NOW to steer their clients and subsequently their businesses, through the tough times ahead.
As a veterinarian and a business owner, you owe it to yourself to plan ahead as much as changing conditions will allow. Be there for your clients and your patients when they need you most. And when our world starts to return to normal you will have a thriving practice with a full complement of staff and a loyal, engaged client base that wouldn’t consider taking their pets anywhere else.
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