Veterinarians Created Dr. Google

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How veterinarians let internet searches and other outlets erode market share – and how they can get it back.

Veterinarians created Dr. Google. Google didn’t create a product called Dr. Google. The industry, by its unwillingness to make veterinary expertise available at clients’ time of need, created Dr. Google. More specifically, customers who had questions and wanted immediate answers turned to Google search, because they didn’t want to wait for a call-back from their veterinarian, or they didn’t want to navigate the cumbersome process of trying to reach their busy veterinarian. Customers have questions and concerns about their animals, and just like getting answers on other topics in their lives, they expect to get an answer NOW!

The industry took their position as most influential in areas regarding animal health to animal owners for granted. As a result, many non-veterinary resources and solutions have eaten away at market share over the past 15 years, because those solutions made themselves available on the web in some form. The form and content weren’t necessarily the best information, but it was the most immediate and most accessible, so customers started those conversations and over time, many turned elsewhere for their solutions, which eroded market share or perhaps mindshare for veterinarians. In addition, based upon recent market research, that erosion is escalating in numerous segments of the market, primarily food and some pharmaceuticals.


Engaged customers

The erosion of market share is an indication that customers are seeking and choosing solutions that they prefer over those they’ve received in the past. Customers drive this change. Failure to adapt to customer demands will result in an even greater loss of market share and opportunity.

For years, the veterinary industry bristled at the sight of clients bringing articles they found in a Google search to the clinic, often proposing the diagnosis and treatment that is needed even before the veterinarian had had a chance to examine the animal. However, more recently, many veterinarians now view these instances as an opportunity to educate and as a true indicator of a committed and engaged customer. Every business should wish for engaged customers because customers who are actively engaged in seeking solutions are typically willing to spend more and are more committed long term to the value proposition that is at hand. The growth in the use of Dr. Google should have been an indicator of customer demand for immediate answers to questions and concerns, but still today, most veterinary clinics do not provide an immediate solution to simple questions for their customers.

The most important question

The most important question that should be asked by the veterinary industry is: “What do customers want?” As far back as 2015, the Banfield Pet Industry Summit presented data that showed a great disconnect between what veterinarians believe is important to customers compared to what their customers actually want and expect.

First, pet owners want to be in control of their pet’s care. They see themselves as the primary caretaker of their pets. In contrast, veterinarians viewed themselves as most important in maintaining the health of those pets. This is a very disturbing fact when you consider how much time the average pet spends at the veterinary clinic each year. Generously, if we assume two visits per year to a veterinarian for each pet, and again generously, if we assume a one-hour visit each time, the average pet spends two hours per year at their veterinarian’s clinic. That means that the average pet spends 8,758 hours per year away from their vet, and only 2 hours per year at the vet’s office. This time differential illustrates how preposterous it is to portray the veterinarian as most influential to the health of the average pet over that of the influence of the pet owner.

Second, pet owners see appropriate care as including much more than veterinary care. Proper nutrition, safety, daycare, behavior training, socialization, and other general lifestyle attributes are very important to pet owners that are often not provided by their veterinarians to a level or frequency that satisfies them.

In addition, pet owners want competitive pricing on the products they purchase for their pets. They don’t expect to pay less from their veterinarian, but they do expect pricing to be competitive. If pricing is excessive compared to other sources, customers then conclude that if they’re getting gouged on pricing for products they purchase from the vet, then they’re most likely getting gouged on services as well. This perception has created much distrust for veterinarians when this situation arises.

To summarize, the answer to the question “What do customers want?” should include:

  • Access to expertise and genuine care at their time of
    need (immediately)
  • Total care and support that goes well beyond illness and injury care
  • Competitive pricing on products needed to ensure a healthy pet

Therefore, we should be watching and listening to our customers’ trends in what, how, and where they seek care to recognize opportunities to grow and maintain mindshare and market share with customers. If we fail to do this, other solutions similar to Dr. Google will further erode our role with pet owners.

Providing immediate access to veterinary expertise does not have to be provided by you or your doctors, as your time is more valuable being allocated to in-person care for your customers.  Services such as Ask.Vet or MyPetDoc are structured to specifically provide an exemplary customer experience that includes access to a licensed veterinarian by text, chat, or voice in less than 3 minutes. It is designed to satisfy the immediacy component of pet owners’ needs. In addition, it is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, which is impossible for most practices to provide by themselves. When a customer needs to come to the clinic, the service refers them to you with notes related to the entire discussion that has occurred previously. Your customers see this service as an extension of your clinic, and they’re very grateful for that access.

Veterinarians must be proactive in providing the care that their customers want, or they will find that customers will go to Dr. Google and end up somewhere else!

The engaged customer

Every business should wish for engaged customers because customers who are actively engaged in seeking solutions are typically willing to spend more and are more committed long term to the value proposition that is at hand.

By the numbers

If we assume two visits per year to a veterinarian for each pet, and again generously, if we assume a one-hour visit each time, the average pet spends two hours per year at their veterinarian’s clinic. That means that the average pet spends 8,758 hours per year away from their vet, and only 2 hours per year at the vet’s office. This time differential illustrates how preposterous it is to portray the veterinarian as most influential to the health of the average pet over that of the influence of the pet owner.

Photo credit:  istockphoto.com/shutter_m

Edward L. Blach, DVM, MS, MBA

Dr. Ed Blach works as a business and market specialist in veterinary medicine. He has a unique background that combines veterinary medicine, market research, business development, and management. Dr. Blach is also an inventor whose professional passion is innovation and improvement. He is co-founder of two current startups: Ask.Vet and IsMyPracticeHealthy.com.