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
To help more pets get the care they deserve, veterinary teams need to respond to trends in pet ownership. One of the biggest involves millennial pet owners. Check out these statistics:
- The millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, makes up about 29 percent of the U.S. population, having surpassed baby boomers, who are about 25 percent. Millennials were born from the early 1980s to mid-1990 and are approximately 25 to 39 years old.
- According to the American Pet Products Association, Generation Y is the largest pet-owning demographic, at 35 percent of U.S. pet owners compared with baby boomers’ 32 percent.
- The market research firm Packaged Facts reported in early 2018 that pet owners ages 18 to 40 accounted for more than half of the growth in the pet owner population over the past decade.
- Another research firm, Mintel, released a survey showing that three-fourths of Americans in their 30s have dogs and 51 percent have cats, compared with 50 percent dog ownership and 35 percent cat ownership in the overall population.
- Research sponsored by Merck found more male dog and cat owners among millennials than in previous generations.
- At the end of 2017, the pet health insurance company Trupanion released a poll of 1,250 pet owners across the United States and Canada. The survey revealed that 40 percent of millennials had moved into a new home, condo or apartment in order to live in a more pet-friendly environment.
Given the increase in the number of millennial pet owners, practice teams need to adopt communication strategies that engage this generation of clients. Here are three things to consider:
1. Communicate and Connect
While face-to-face interactions with the veterinary team and phone calls will always be relevant, millennials prefer to communicate via email and texting whenever possible. Most practices regularly use emails and text messaging to send client reminders and notifications. But don’t forget that email can be used to send lab results and educational resources.
Another way to use texting and appeal to millennials is to send updates and photos of their pet. This might include short messages that their hospitalized pet is doing well, updates about a boarded pet and notifications when a prescription is ready.
2. Social Media
Having a strong presence on social media is necessary if you want to stay connected with millennial pet owners. Start with Facebook. While most practices have a business Facebook page, many times the page isn’t used effectively to engage clients. If you post less than three times a week and most of your posts are about sharing scientific articles or cute photos, then you won’t engage younger clients.
Strive to be creative and personal so you connect with followers. Photos taken at your hospital are ideal. These might include showing the team in action with new equipment, a client’s new pet, an interesting case or news about a team member’s work anniversary. Encourage clients to post photos of their pets on their birthday or in a Halloween costume.
Ask questions on Facebook to get people to engage with your posts. Examples include “What three words best describe your pet?” or “How did you come up with your pet’s name?”
Another way to engage millennials is by posting short, interesting videos on Facebook. You will know which posts are the most engaging by determining which ones result in comments and shares, not just likes.
3. New Solutions
Using technology in client communications is a growing area of innovation in the veterinary field. One of the most popular must-have technologies involves apps. Companies such as Vet2Pet, VitusVet and PetDesk offer apps branded to the veterinary practice. Depending on the company, app features might include client loyalty programs, appointment scheduling, reminders and notifications, texting and prescription requests.
Other new technology solutions that promote client engagement and compliance integrate with practice management systems. For example, FuturePet sends texts to clients before an appointment to gather details about the pet’s health history. Since millennials like convenience and using their smartphones, they will undoubtedly appreciate being able to provide their pet’s medical history in advance.
Another company, BabelVet, has a communication platform and app that allow veterinary teams to stay connected with all aspects of their patients’ lives. Owners use the app to keep track of all their pet’s service providers as well as medications, diet information and activity levels. The veterinary team has a dashboard and access to the patient’s information.
Telehealth solutions appeal to millennials due to the use of technology, convenience and perceived value. Companies offering access to a veterinarian via text, email or video chat include WhiskerDocs, Fuzzy’s Ask-A-Vet, PetCoach, Live DVM and Ask.Vet.
A Desired Style
Be cautious not to stereotype millennials and make assumptions that they all want a specific style of communication. As with any client, veterinary teams should strive to adapt their communication style to one preferred by the pet owner.
Research suggests that millennials prefer communication that is straightforward and concise. Rather than lecturing, which millennials might find boring, find out what they want to talk about and which questions they have. Millennials want to interact with trusted advisers and make emotional connections. This is great news because achieving this goal helps to build client loyalty and increase compliance.
Be sure to use communications skills that demonstrate you are a guide who will help millennial pet owners make decisions. Use open-ended questions to create a dialogue about the pet’s care. For example, you can ask, “Tell me what concerns you have about Sophie?” or “What questions do you have about Jake’s diet and supplements?”
An Array of Interests
We know that millennial clients, just like other generations, have a strong bond with their pets and want excellent veterinary care. We also know from surveys and research that they view preventive care a bit differently. They tend to define their pet’s health and well-being broadly and include all aspects of the pet’s lifestyle. As a result, they are more likely to care about nutrition, socialization, exercise and stress-free veterinary visits. Therefore, it is important for veterinary teams to create conversations about all aspects of the pet’s health and care.
Another characteristic of millennials is their focus on values and making a difference in the world. They want to do business with companies that share their values. So, be sure to explain why you love veterinary medicine and communicate the core values of the practice as well as any involvement you have in helping the community.
Your Call to Action
Now is the time to evaluate your communication strategies and determine how well you are doing at adapting to the preferences of millennial pet parents. Investigate new technologies and decide which services are the best fit for your practice and clients.
Strive to take one or two action steps in 2018 that will help your team connect more effectively with the millennial generation. These actions will be worthwhile because they will help attract and retain millennial clients. Moreover, you will help give more pets the care they deserve.