Talk the Talk columnist Dr. Amanda L. Donnelly is a speaker, business consultant and second-generation veterinarian. She combines her practice experience and business expertise to help veterinarians communicate better with their teams and clients. She is the author of “Leading and Managing Veterinary Teams: The Definitive Guide to Veterinary Practice Management.” Learn more at amandadonnellydvm.comRead Articles Written by Amanda Donnelly
Do you get frustrated when trying to convince clients that flea, tick and heartworm prevention is not just a seasonal issue? We know that pet owners need to give preventives year-round to maintain efficacy and ensure pet health. But clients still walk out the door without purchasing products. Or they buy one to six doses and neglect to come back when they run out.
Organizations and companies have reported that half to two-thirds of dogs are not protected from heartworm disease and that half of pet owners don’t treat year-round for fleas and ticks. This is particularly concerning given that human tick-borne diseases are on the rise and the incidence of pet heartworm disease is up. In response to low compliance, pharmaceutical companies and professional organizations assist veterinary teams to better educate pet owners about the need for year-round prevention.
Let’s consider how veterinary teams are doing with client education. How many veterinarians and other team members have visited the American Heartworm Society and Companion Animal Parasite Council websites — www.heartwormsociety.org and www.capcvet.org? How many are familiar with the resources on these two websites, such as staff education materials, videos, client handouts, infographics, incidence maps and FAQs, such as what to say when a client asks, “Why does my pet need to be on heartworm prevention all year long?”
How many practices are familiar with the Think 12 campaign? This American Heartworm Society initiative provides articles, fact sheets, posters, videos and other tools to help pet owners understand the need to administer heartworm preventives 12 months a year and test for heartworm annually. I wonder how many teams tell clients about CAPC’s pet owner website, www.petsandparasites.org.
Sad to say, but veterinary teams as a whole aren’t doing enough to increase compliance. Which is not to say they don’t care or don’t try. They just miss the mark because practices haven’t adapted to the changing landscape of client parasiticide communications. Today’s pet owners frequently look for information about parasites and preventives on the internet. And of course, some clients purchase the products online, making the team’s job even harder.
Rather than giving up, you should leverage the talent on your team and improve training so that team members can do a better job educating pet owners.
Here are strategies to help your team be more successful.
1. Connect Before You Convince
I encourage veterinary practices to think about when and how they recommend preventives. Here’s a typical scenario I see:
- The front office team member asks a client if (but not how much) medication she has.
- The veterinary nurse or assistant asks the client how many doses she wants. More often than not, the team member assumes the client wants three to six doses.
- The veterinarian makes a product recommendation and then says, “You can get that at the front desk when you check out.”
What was wrong with the scenario? Everyone sounded like a salesperson. All too often, teams fail to build trust and engage clients before a product recommendation is made.
One solution to improve compliance is to teach team members to connect before they convince. That means a conversation about the actual purchase of preventives needs to occur after the client feels heard.
There are two basic ways to connect before you try to persuade a client to purchase a 12-month supply of preventives. The first is to engage in dialogue to show that you understand the pet’s lifestyle and the owner’s thoughts about preventives. Teams should avoid assuming that the only barrier to year-round usage is money. Other barriers include misconceptions about products or medical conditions, a lack of understanding about the life cycle of parasites and the value of products, and a need for more convenient options.
Open-ended questions can reveal why a client is reluctant to give preventives year-round. Here are excellent questions to ask:
- “What questions do you have about parasites and preventive products?”
- “Tell me what you know about heartworm disease.”
- “How familiar are you with Lyme disease?”
- “Tell me about Scooter’s lifestyle and his activities when he’s not at home.”
- “Mr. Smith, you seem reluctant about starting Elvis on [preventive brand name]. Tell me your concerns.”
By connecting before you convince, you have greater opportunities to educate a client about the value of specific preventive medications and the need for year-round usage. This leads to the second strategy.
2. Focus on the Benefits
Another way to connect with pet owners is to bring benefits to life. Veterinary teams tend to focus client education on the product description and how the drug is administered. They might say, “We recommend [brand name], which is a monthly treatment for [type of parasite]. You should give this year-round.”
To better educate the client, think about what is satisfied when a preventive is given — the wants and needs. For example, people want their pets to stay healthy and they need to avoid flea infestations at home. They want their pets to live long and they need to avoid costly heartworm treatments.
Here’s an example of how to focus on product benefits:
“We recommend [product name], which you’ll give every month to protect Daisy against heartworm disease. The need for year-round prevention is due to the life cycle of mosquitoes. [Provide further explanation.] Your investment in monthly parasite control helps ensure that Daisy doesn’t contract this potentially fatal disease, which is very costly to treat.”
Remember that people generally learn and retain information better if you augment verbal messages with visual tools. The American Heartworm Society and CAPC websites have multiple client handouts. Be sure to check out “The Do’s and Don’ts of Heartworm Protection” at http://bit.ly/31DS50w and the CAPC incidence maps.
3. Help Clients Afford Care
The cost of monthly flea, tick and heartworm prevention can cause sticker shock. We know people are cost conscious and love convenience, which is why they check online for cheaper medications. I imagine they rarely buy a 12-month supply when they shop online.
Rather than giving in to frustration and internet pharmacies, here are a few ways to fight back.
- Create a reference sheet that compares your prices with those of online pharmacies. The key is to show clients the value of manufacturer rebates and discounts. Of course, the comparison will work in your favor only if your prices are competitive. Look at your markups to see if they are reasonable in today’s marketplace.
- Implement a protocol of handing preventives, preferably a year’s supply, to clients and checking them out in the exam room. This allows the technical team to fully educate pet owners and address any concerns they might have about the cost of care.
- Brainstorm ideas on how you can incentivize pet owners to buy 12 months of preventives. For example, one idea is to reward pet owners with stamps in your client loyalty program based on the number of doses purchased. Or maybe you could offer another free or discounted product, such as treats, if they purchase a one-year supply.
- Remember that clients crave convenience. Stock your online pharmacy with preventives, and consider mailing products for a small fee.
Here’s my challenge for your hospital: Implement two or three new communication strategies or client-education tools with the goal of improving adherence to year-round preventive recommendations. Your efforts will grow your practice and get more pets the care they deserve.