How to compete with E-commerce, Dr. Google and Non-traditional Veterinary Care Services

Doug Long, WTA Veterinary Consultants

You have probably noticed that technology is running full steam ahead with no signs of slowing down.  Companies like Amazon delivering products, Chewy delivering diets & medications, 1-800-Pet Meds delivering medications, WhiskerDocs providing telemedicine and mobile clinics providing low cost services are taking your revenue.

So, how do you compete with the new marketplace? 

Kurt Green, CEO of Vetsource suggests “One way for the veterinarian to win is through cultivating a personal relationship with your client and patient.”  Clients want personalization more than ever these days.  Practices can do this by using their data on the client and patient to be more personable with the client and create customized breed-specific diets and medical plans for the patient.  Be creative and find ways to create an experience and a connection.  Clients are more likely to stay loyal if they have a personal relationship with your hospital, a customized treatment plan and a great experience that is different from the neighboring hospitals. 

More than ever it is important to focus on the client to keep them and attract others.  Make your clients feel valued and not processed.  The goal is to elevate your client’s experience in a way that encourages them to not only come back, but also tell their friends and family.  Doing something unexpected is a good way to make your clients feel special and tell others about their experience.  An example of doing the unexpected is to take a picture after surgery with a stuffed animal to send to the client or stopping by a patient’s home to check on progress.

We all have favorite businesses because the people who work there know us and treat us well which leads to a good experience.  Work to make your practice a favorite place to go.  Be overly friendly.  Strive for excellence and not just good or satisfied.  When clients are present, the whole practice should be customer service focused, remembering the staff is the host and the client is the guest.  Be engaging and make every effort to get to know the client.  Focus on the details.  Refer to clients and patients by name. Research them and their chart before appoints so you can mention something to make them feel valued and connected.  Add special notes about the clients and patients in their file and set alerts in your PIMS for special occasions.  Send letters of congratulations, cards, offer concierge services, snacks and beverages.  It is the unexpected that creates the memories that will be shared with family and friends.

Build a loyal following by going the extra mile with your clients. 

Spend more time with them to develop the personal relationship and build trust.  Offer different options for communication such as a phone call, text, email, video and photo.  Baby-boomers may like a phone call while millennials may prefer a text and photo.  Send flowers when appropriate, hand write notes, visit a client’s home, take creative pictures and follow up multiply times on a patient to reinforce the VCPR bond.

It is also a good idea to educate your clients about the risks of buying medication online outside of your practice.  A handout with cautions and warnings about the dangers of receiving counterfeit medications and incorrect dosage could be given as standard practice with every prescription.  A brief reference to note your brochure could be part of the prescription “template”.

Pay extra attention to your first-time clients.

  The first-time client visit is an opportunity to earn loyalty.  Make them feel special.  Loyalty comes from the client’s personal experience.  Strive to identify new clients and patients so the staff can treat them like a VIP while they are in the hospital.  One way is to put ribbons or scarfs with your logo on the patient to identify them while they are at the practice so staff can pay extra attention to them and it is a nice souvenir to remember the practice and share their experience.

According to a study done by Merck, the veterinarian only sees their patient, on average, 16 minutes a year.  That is not enough time to develop a personal relationship with you client and patient.  The practice needs to be more involved in a pet’s life throughout the year. 

So, what are some ways to increase interaction with them.  Membership models for telehealth and wellness plans that combine service and products are a good way to increase interaction with your patient.  When you include products, diets and HWFT, it creates multiple connections with the client throughout the year.  Wearable monitoring devices are another way to keep in touch.   By having a way to monitor the pet, you will be able to notice problems and have an opportunity interact and advise the client throughout the year.  This not only keeps you on top of the pet’s health, it builds value for the client.  Also, loyalty programs are good because they give incentive for clients to spend money with you rather than going online and helps client retention.  One example of a cost-effective incentive is a couple days of free boarding or free nail trims if the client signs up for automatic reorder on diets and HWFT for a year.

Another way to compete is to offer some form of telemedicine.  Telemedicine extends the practice’s reach into the community and provides way to promote your practice.  It gives the clients another option that is a better experience than Dr. google.  Plus, this gives you a platform for clients going online to come to you instead of other providers.  It is also a great way to educate your clients to come in for an exam or buy a product. 

Statistics show that millennials are the largest group of pet owners and will soon make up most of the workforce.  Technology is their preferred method of communication.  Also, the majority of people want access to virtual care and would switch providers for the ability to communicate virtually with their healthcare provider.  So, if you do not offer telemedicine, the new clients will be shopping elsewhere.  Telemedicine is here to stay.  Today Kaiser Permanente sees more patients online than in person.  If you do not jump on board you will be left behind.  Look at what Uber did to the taxi industry. 

The bottom line is technology is disrupting the traditional brick and mortar veterinary hospitals and if you don’t adapt you risk losing revenue year after year.  I overpaid for medication at the veterinary hospital where I take my dog compared to 1-800-PetMeds, but I didn’t care because I value my veterinarian’s care, they treat me and my dog well and I did not have to worry about getting the wrong medication.  Most of the changes I mentioned are inexpensive and require minimum effort.  So, make the changes and thrive in today’s competitive market!

Contact us for more information.