Proactive Care can strengthen Practice, Client, Pet Bond

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All the positives of pet ownership and new adoptions during the pandemic do have a downside. Here’s how to help your veterinary clinics overcome the negatives.

No doubt you’ve heard it time and again from your customers over the past year: “We’ve been busier than ever!” After the initial shock of the pandemic, veterinary clinics got to work reinventing their practices by adapting to new protocols, making curbside service the norm, and finding new ways to communicate with their clients. Then many of them started seeing new patients as people stuck at home with plenty of free time, unable to socialize with friends and family, turned to pets for comfort and companionship.

When the virus initially struck, pet lovers stepped up to foster and adopt pets, in part to help shelters before they had to shut down. The sudden surge that started in mid-March became a tidal wave by mid-summer with shelters, rescues, and breeders seeing demand far exceed the number of puppies and dogs they had available. So many new pets translated into an increase in average daily clinic revenue of over 14% from July 1 through the end of August, according to industry tracker VetSuccess. Trupanion reported a 29% increase in insured pets by the end of June over 2019 numbers.

Client perspectives

I know half a dozen families that adopted dogs during the pandemic, so I asked them a few questions about how their veterinarians are handling appointments and client communication, how proactive the staff is at recommending products and services, and how they feel about the changes in the clinic’s protocol. Overall, they feel confident that their pets are receiving the same level of care, but miss the face-to-face exchange. As one responded, “Trying to ask questions at a distance just doesn’t work.” A friend who adopted an older rescue dog expressed concern that not being with her dog during those first exams may cause him to have higher stress levels now and for future appointments. All were happy with the communication from their vet after the appointment.

I was surprised to learn that none of the clinics mentioned a wellness plan, made any product or preventive care recommendations, discussed behavioral issues or the importance of socialization, offered online ordering and home delivery, or are using social media or their website to provide educational content or updates for their clients. Even with such a small sample, it’s disturbing that these clinics aren’t being more proactive at giving pet owners information that could help strengthen the bond with their new pet and with the practice.

This fact is especially concerning since all the positives of pet ownership and new adoptions during the pandemic do have a downside. A recent study showed that 78% of working pet owners are concerned about their pets’ anxiety when they return to a normal work schedule. Many are facing financial challenges with 61% concerned about paying for their pets’ expenses. A Merck survey revealed that a whopping 73% of new pet owners who adopted a dog during the pandemic have considered rehoming it!

We can only hope that the number of surrendered pets won’t be anywhere close to that number, since it would be damaging to the well-being of so many animals, a huge burden to shelters and rescues, and a loss of clients and revenue to vet clinics. It’s an important topic worth discussing with your customers since their efforts can make a big difference in keeping new pets with their families.

The results of the Merck survey are likely due to a lack of knowledge about animal care since one in four owners said they don’t have enough information to properly care for their pet. Almost 60% said they wished taking care of their pet’s health took less time, and nearly a third were surprised by the cost of care. Seventy percent of respondents said they’d like to learn new ways to keep their dog healthy. Who better than to provide this guidance than their veterinarian?

It can be hard for vets to create a bond with a pet owner they may have only met through a car window, or maybe haven’t met in person at all, but this is where even more communication and maximizing connections in unique ways is so important. Rather than assuming new pet owners will ask questions or even know what questions to ask, veterinarians need to be proactive both in making recommendations for optimal health care and asking pet owners about their concerns. After the veterinarian discusses those issues, staff can reinforce the information in a variety of ways, from something as simple as handouts and samples (that you can help them source) when the pet is returned to the owner, to texting or emailing video links. A follow-up call from a staff member to ask how things are going and if the client has any questions is invaluable to building customer loyalty.

So many new pets have enjoyed almost 24/7 attention from owners who may be returning to work and a “normal” schedule soon. Are your customers having conversations about preventing the potential for separation anxiety with their clients? Now is a great time to prepare a list of the calming products you offer and make recommendations to your clinics.

Are your clinics using your direct shipping options and promoting online ordering to increase compliance and revenue? How can you help them get set up or optimize their existing service?

For clients concerned about the expense of pet health care or many who may already be struggling financially due to the pandemic, are your practices offering wellness plans to help spread out the cost while ensuring optimal care? What about bundling products or services at a reduced cost? This may be especially helpful for senior pets who are particularly at risk for surrender since they often require more care and more expense.

Veterinary practices have had to take unprecedented steps to continue providing excellent care for the past year. Your help and knowledge can help them provide exceptional customer care to ensure that pandemic pets become lifelong pets.