How to Counter Fee Feedback
Your clients (and team) sometimes don’t take kindly to what you charge. A little education goes a long way.
Has a client ever said your prices are too high or remarked, “I could buy a house with what you charged me today”? How do you and your team members respond to such comments? While I believe that veterinary practices undercharge for their services, sometimes your clients’ perceptions of value is poor, so they do not understand the quality of what you provide. Take, for example, a spay or neuter in which the client drops off the pet on the morning of surgery. The owner might not hear from the practice in the hours that follow but will return in the afternoon and receive a $400 bill. Does that seem like a lot of money? If the client doesn’t appreciate all that went into the medical procedure, yes, $400 might seem like a lot. But if pet owners could tour your practice and see what goes on behind the exam room doors, maybe they would not consider the cost excessive.
Or how about this? Instead of getting a hospital tour, the client watches a video that:
- Explains the spay or neuter.
- Emphasizes that the pet has pre-anesthetic bloodwork done, has an IV catheter placed and is maintained on IV fluids.
- Shows a typical procedure or surgery and the patient in recovery.
All this information helps educate the client about the value of your services.
You need to look at your fees in two distinct ways:
- Shopped and exposed
Shopped and exposed fees are what clients call around to discover or look up on the internet. Examples involve spays, neuters, vaccinations, wellness exams and dental cleanings. Products that are shopped and exposed are flea and tick control, heartworm preventives (other than injectables), and food. You might be price sensitive about those items, but I am not convinced you should be. Services and products that are not shopped and exposed are less likely to get pushback when you raise prices.
Your team needs to learn what to say when a client comments on your fees, especially after a price increase. Be sure to inform your employees when you implement a fee hike and explain what went into the decision. They need to understand that the cost of running a veterinary hospital increases over time and that pay raises can’t be given, equipment purchased and retirement plans funded without price increases.
In my discussions with veterinary teams, I talk about overhead costs per minute. In other words, every minute the practice is open and the doctors are scheduled to provide services costs money. Typical overhead costs per minute per DVM range from $3 to $4, which means that just to break even, the practice must generate $3 to $4 for every minute a doctor is scheduled. That concept can be an eye-opener for team members.
Not Always a Laughing Matter
Next, your team members need to know what to say to clients put off by your fees. You might hear a client’s off-handed comment, such as “I think I just paid for a new wing of your hospital.” I have responded in those situations in kind by saying, “Yes, you might have; we need to name it after you.” My response usually breaks the tension, and we both laugh.
When the complaints are more serious, I bring clients into an office or exam room and ask what aspect of the bill they think was expensive or unreasonable. I actively listen so that the clients know they are heard, and then I respond by explaining what goes into the particular medical procedure. I might offer to show them around the hospital and, in the process, educate them as to its quality and excellence. The simple statement I have used is, “Our fees allow us to provide the quality and excellence of service that your pet deserves.”
You never will please everyone all the time. Some clients will never be happy, regardless of whether you charge $10 or $10,000. Those clients are just not a fit for your practice and need to find another hospital.
When a pet owner calls about a spay or neuter, use a script to communicate the value of the service succinctly.
Here is an example: “Mrs. Jones, I would be happy to inform you about the cost of that service. First, I want to let you know that all patients undergoing a surgical procedure in our hospital initially have pre-anesthetic bloodwork done. This is to make sure your pet is healthy and can safely undergo surgery. In addition, patients will have an IV catheter inserted and are placed on IV fluids to maintain hydration and blood pressure. Our licensed veterinary technicians will be monitoring your pet during and after the procedure as well.
“So, let’s see, you wanted the cost of an ovariohysterectomy. It’s $585. Do you have any questions, or can we get Fluffy scheduled for her surgery? I would be happy to send you an itemized medical care plan.”
A Two-Step Approach
You can do two other simple but essential things to avoid client fee complaints.
1. Offer a medical care plan, which is my preferred phrase for an estimate. I don’t like the word “estimate” because it sounds like what you get from a car mechanic. Instead, a team member can say, “Would you like us to prepare a medical care plan to inform you of the costs of services we will provide to Fluffy?”
When presenting the medical care plan, don’t say the total will be $585 (or whatever amount), but instead itemize the services. Clients need to know what the pet will get and the cost breakdown. The total amount might seem like a lot, but if clients grasp each service and its price, the invoice becomes more reasonable and understandable.
2. At the pet’s discharge, the receptionist must offer to itemize the statement again. All too many times, I hear a customer service representative say, “It will be $830 today,” which can be a sticker shock to many clients, especially if they were not the person who saw the medical care plan. Instead, the receptionist should say, “May I review the services provided to Ben today?” If the client says yes, the CSR needs to go over each service and the associated price and then give the dollar total. If the client initially responds, “No, I was already informed of the cost,” the receptionist can process the payment.
Paying team members, increasing salaries, maintaining the clinic, purchasing new equipment and enhancing profits require you to increase your fees. Your employees need to learn the value of your services and how to communicate the value to clients.
Practice Smarter columnist Mark Opperman is the president and founder of Veterinary Management Consultation Inc., director of veterinary practice management at Mission Veterinary Partners, and founder of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. His column won first place in the Florida Magazine Association’s 2020 Charlie Awards.
BY THE NUMBERS
The average charge for the neutering of a 25- to 50-pound dog was $256.37 in 2019, according to “The Veterinary Fee Reference, 11th Edition.” An ovariohysterectomy performed on a dog in the same weight range averaged $314.06.