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A balance of power

The relationship between pet owners and veterinarians is a two-way street. The digital age and the transparency it created has turned clients into pet care partners.

A balance of power
If pet owners think they hear from you only when you want them to spend money, their trust in you can diminish.

If you’re old enough to have been raised without information and technology at your fingertips, then you remember the days when consumers had blind faith in medical professionals. Today, however, as the digital-age generation takes over, instant access to information about pet health is having a huge impact on how clients engage with veterinarians and their staffs. The good news is that this is an opportunity rather than a threat.

A recent study conducted by Trone Research and Consulting for Diggo LLC concluded that accessibility is a key driver of loyalty to a veterinary practice and that clients who feel empowered about the care of their pets are more likely to consider their clinic accessible. Accessibility is defined as the hospital providing three key things:

  • Transparency
  • Regular communication
  • Proactive patient care

Breaking It Down

Transparency is a big deal. It means transparency about the cost of veterinary care and talking about the cost upfront. It means talking about what clients can expect and what their options are beyond what the clinic might offer. Transparency creates a feeling of empowerment that is critical to building the client relationship.

Regular communication in this instance means interaction with the client at least every quarter or, if possible, every six weeks. The communication needs to be personalized and not always selling a service or product. It can be an email, text or Facebook message that says, “Just wanted to check in and see how Ginger is doing.” That’s an example of regular communication.

Put yourself in the pet owner’s shoes. You take your cat to the veterinarian routinely, but the only communication you receive is about the next visit, a promotional offer, the obligatory happy birthday, and the generic and obvious email blast about pet health education. These are all wonderful, but they don’t carry the same weight as an email that makes you feel like the practice actually knows your cat.

If pet owners think they hear from you only when you want them to spend money, their trust in you can diminish.

Proactive patient care is important in driving the perception of accessibility. It’s not just about preventive medicine like vaccines and parasiticides or the moment when the veterinarian diagnoses osteoarthritis and begins a pain-management regimen. Pet owners want to know what’s going on with their cat or dog, what to expect throughout its life and what to prepare for. Talking to a pet owner about a newly adopted Labrador retriever puppy and how to  minimize the risk of OA as he ages creates trust. It tells the client you’re going beyond the basics and helping prepare for the future. Fast-forward to when the Lab turns 7 and is beginning to show signs of OA. The diagnosis isn’t a surprise and the owner knows you’re not just trying to sell something.

The same holds true for more routine things like oral care. If you educate clients on the need to keep their pets’ teeth clean at home and begin regular cleanings at the clinic, then they are not surprised if the pet requires a tooth extraction because they weren’t compliant. You are being transparent and proactive about their pets’ health care needs. Don’t be afraid to tell clients that you are trying to help them avoid major expenses in the future.

Empowering Pet Owners

So, is Dr. Google a threat? Is the online environment hurting your business?

We suggest that “Googlers” are your best clients. They are knowledgeable, hungry pet owners. Today, they have more information at their fingertips than ever before, but not all of it is reliable. Data proves that people are more likely to seek information from Dr. Google than their veterinarian but that their trust in their veterinarian far exceeds their trust in Dr. Google.

While the “Googler” mentality might seem counterintuitive, pet owners want to be part of the conversation in the clinic. They want to be an active participant in the care of their pets. And when they are empowered to be a collaborative participant in pet care, they become your best clients.

Our data scientists created an algorithm to determine how empowered pet owners feel. We took this empowerment score and looked at how it relates to advocacy for a veterinarian. Keep in mind, advocacy is directly related to providing word-of-mouth endorsements of your clinic. The more empowered your clients feel, the more they become advocates for your practice.

A low empowerment score directly correlates to a lower accessibility rating. The less accessible your hospital is, the less likely a client will be an advocate for your practice and the less word of mouth you will receive. And you will have less loyalty.

Check out the following list. Clients who say “yes” to all five feel completely empowered about the care of their pets. Zero out of five is the lowest empowerment score.

  • I have more opportunities to save on pet medication than ever before.
  • I have more options regarding where I buy pet medication than ever before.
  • I have more information about pet care at my disposal than ever before.
  • I am more empowered than ever before as I make pet product decisions.
  • I often seek information about pet care from alternative sources instead of my veterinarian.

net promoter scoreWhat Is Your NPS?

Further proof of the empowerment score’s validity is its correlation to your net promoter score. NPS is commonly used as a measurement of how well a company is performing. A low score indicates room for improvement and thus more growth opportunity. The core of an NPS is based on asking consumers a simple question: “How likely are you to recommend [insert company or service] to a friend or colleague?”

In this instance, we asked pet owners if they would recommend their veterinarian to a friend or colleague. Pet owners then provided their veterinarian with a rating between zero and 10. A zero indicated they would not recommend and a 10 meant they would absolutely recommend. A ranking of zero to six is considered a “critic,” a seven or eight is “neutral” and a nine or 10 is an “advocate.” The percentage of critics is subtracted from the percentage of advocates, yielding the NPS. A score of 30 is considered the overall average and thus “doing well.”

When we look at the correlation between the empowerment score and net promoter score, we find that the more empowered a pet owner feels, the higher their veterinarian’s NPS. Clinics associated with highly empowered pet owners get an NPS of 55.

Put It All Together

The more empowered your clients feel in the care of their pet, the higher the net promoter score and their advocacy for your practice. Advocacy comes from a pet owner feeling that your clinic is accessible and that they are empowered to make the best decisions in the care of their pet.

Don’t be afraid to guide clients to places you recommend for online pet care information. Ask what they are reading so that you can correct any misinformation and reinforce accurate information.

If your clients don’t feel empowered in the care of their pets, you’re likely not considered accessible. The good news is that by making some simple changes in your approach to pet owners, you could see substantial growth in your practice.

Diggo is a quarterly research brief that provides actionable market insights for veterinarians seeking to better serve today’s pet owners. For more information, visit dig-go.comKimberly Ness is senior vice president of insights and marketing for Trone Research and Consulting. Dr. Kim Cameron is director of research.