Increase Your Services with a Senior Pet Program
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2003
Philippe Moreau, DVM, MS, DECVIM-CA, DECVN
Limoges, France

Recent surveys have shown that in France for example 55% of the homes have at least one pet; in the USA, a standard family is considered one of 2 children and 2 pets; 70% of the people in Japan regard their pet as a family member.

It is widely accepted that pets serve many functions in our society. Not only dogs are guard, but also loving companions for man & children, a child or family substitute, an incentive to exercise, independence and help (for handicapped & blind person). Pets have been shown to improve human animal health (pets may decrease blood pressure for example) and longevity. It is well known that veterinarians can dramatically influence their clients in their decisions but also in their attitude regarding their pet. If a pet is treated as an animal, the owner satisfies essentially the pet's basic needs. If the same animal is treated as a child or a family member, the owner will do everything to ensure its optimal health. What are the benefits to the human family? Hopefully more years added to the pet's life. More love and happiness from taking care of a living creature, part of the family, part of home. Benefits for the veterinarian? The possibility to apply proper care regardless of the cost therefore a form of professional satisfaction connected to a true potential financial success. This is referred as "emotional wealth". Benefits for the pet? Obviously animals should receive the best quality care and life. It is always important when veterinarian look at a service or product that he or she can suggest for an animal that these three major components of the animal health practice would benefit from that service or product. These 3 major components are firstly, the animal; secondly the owner and thirdly the veterinarian or the practice. It is wildly recognized therefore that, as a profession, we should not discourage this human-animal bond special relationship, but to the contrary embrace it fully. How can veterinarians ensure that pet owners treat their pets like children or family members?

 by proactively facilitate that relationship

 by embracing this concept and maintain at the same time our leadership position in animal health (rather than yield to less qualified people)

 by not allowing lack of concern & indifference to weaken our leadership role

It is well accepted that these concepts are exacerbated as the pet ages and reaches seniority, simply because of the "special bond" that has developed through the years and the natural wish of the owners to take care of their "old companion". In the face of unprecedented competition, the veterinarian and his/her team must provide their patients & clients the best scope of medical and surgical care but also a variety of services and products related to their pet's wellness. For most pet owners, these services and products are expected to be provided by the veterinarian. They wish to find at the veterinary practice all necessary advice, but also products and animal health services. It is therefore mandatory that veterinarians know and try to match as closely as possible their client's expectations.

Also clients are often looking for specialized and customized services and high quality products, this is again the reason why they select premium products and services provided by a professional, by their family veterinarian... This is the basis for establishing a loyal and faithful clientele. The clientele that will use the practice service not only for the sick and injured pet, but more so for the healthy one. The American have even invented a new word for their dictionary: "wellness".

In order to make loyal clients, veterinarians and their team need to possibly do everything that is required for the people to be happy and to come back as often as possible. This is more than meeting client's expectations ...It is exceeding clients expectations. Marketing surveys have shown that a loyal client to a veterinary practice visits the clinic about 2.8 times /year and spends about $140/year (excluding pet food). Therefore there is indeed a direct economical impact as well as an emotional one since it is rewarding and motivating to work with clients that follow your suggestions. I believe that this is an important reward in our busy days of labor. A form of work satisfaction. I like the following statement that came from one of my favorite author: Walt Disney! "we will do what we do so well, that the people who see it will want to see it again, and bring their friends"

Isn't this an excellent way to summarize what veterinarians should achieve when it comes down to creating a loyal client base. Offer services that are adapted to the client needs and expectations and achieving excellence in client service is one of the major key to succeed in a veterinary practice. This requires planning and setting appropriate guidelines among the team. It is not sufficient to have the strong desire to do well, it is necessary to work at it and as one of the managers of Lockheed Industries once said: "quality will be judged by its use, not announced by its maker"

We are all consumers and as such we always wish to receive what we consider is a value for our money. This does not mean the cheapest possible product or service but one that we feel is giving us an expected value, our expected value. Usually the highly satisfied client will feel he or she has received a high quality service. To the contrary the dissatisfied client will be disappointed by the service quality. This is true when establishing for example a "senior pet program".

A survey produced by Iddex in 1997 showed that pet owners spend an average of 184 $ / year when a dog is less than 10 years of age and an average of 277 $/year in dogs older than 10 years. Another survey from the AVMA (1998) demonstrated that, as it is in people, the average pet population is aging and about 25% of the pets are over 8 years. In other study (Pfizer 1999), 75% of senior pet owners believe that their animal would benefit of more than one clinical exam per year and 43% think that their veterinarian can improve their pet's quality of life.

It is important to know how people consume services. People don't buy services as they buy products.... they buy how they image using the service will make them feel..." For example, when the veterinarian sells Petfood, is he selling something for the animal to eat? Or is he selling the known selection of the best nutritional program?

It is also important that veterinarians and their staff embrace the service they will offer and fully adhere to the value for the pet and for the owner. In fact services veterinarians think their clients don't want, most clients won't want... because they simply don't know these are available. In other word it is critical that vets and clinic staff communicate with the clients about the senior pet program and that this communication is initiated even before the animal is a senior.

What extends people's life? Studies shows that once a person reaches 65, his or her likelihood of surviving to 80 is: 35 % hereditary dependent ...65 % diet, lifestyle and medical care ... What extends the quality of a pet's life?

 Early disease recognition

 Timely treatment

 More diagnostics

 Appropriate balance diet

 Owner & Veterinarian preventive care

An efficient way to plan and develop a senior pet program starts at the annual visit, often called the "vaccine" and try to reinventing the annual visit. We all know that the vaccine protocols change... and that there is a shift where pet owners focus from vaccines to health...

So the idea matches one of the pet owner's expectations: to conduct health centered visits for a total well-being of the pet.

Another feature of the senior pet program is related to the return on your "communication investment" simply because pets are puppies and kittens for 1 year and at the same time pets are seniors for 4 to 10 years.

On a practical way, there are 9 steps to follow to plan a senior pet program:

1.  be convinced of the value of this new service

2.  convince your staff and colleagues (team effort and coherence of message)

3.  define who is the senior pet for your clinic (age, profile)

4.  review your tools (communication tools, brochures, videos, scales, posters, equipments, etc.)

5.  communicate with the owners on a systematic basis

6.  establish your "marketing strategy" for that service

7.  bundle the service to some benefit for the pet and the owner (join the senior check-up to a dental treatment, a surgery, an annual examination

8.  start the program slowly (start with your "A" clients)

9.  review the program (change, adapt, modify, on a regular basis such as once a year for

10.  example)

Developing a senior pet program is a valuable service to produce that generates multiple rewards for the pet, the owner and the vet. It is a client expectations, it is a health and wellness generating concept and it is a elegant way to develop your practice for many years to come.

Speaker Information
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Philippe Moreau, DVM, MS, DECVIM-CA, DECVN
Limoges, France

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