How to Develop a Senior Pet Program
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2006
Philippe Moreau, DVM, MS, DECVIN, DECVIM-CA
Medi-Productions, Limoges, France

Importance and Value of a Service

Offering services adapted to clients needs and expectations and then provide excellence in the delivery of these services, here is one of the key of success in a veterinary practice. Such development of services requires preparation, management, marketing and communications tools, training, internal set-up, and a proper launch. It is not enough to offer a service, it is needed to study the manner it will be perceived and accepted by clients. It is crucial to study the value that will be associated with the reception of the service by the client, as well as the return on investment for the practice.

For example a senior check-up service will only satisfy a demand from clients if it is well documented and explained to clients. By the same way, such a service will only be valuable if it generates sufficient revenues for the practice and is worth the time and efforts.

Setting-Up a New Service

People don't buy a service as they buy a product. It is necessary to point out the value of the service for the client (and for his or her pet). For a product it is easier because it is tangible, a service has less objective value and you need to communicate on such important value. It is the case of course for all services. The example of a senior program (including a check-up) is easy to understand. I have seen veterinarians that are embarrassed when the results are normal! It should be the opposite! Remember we are taking care of a normal animal, not a sick or injured patient. We are dealing here with a form of preventive medicine...

TO best present the value of a service to a client, one should detail and list the features of the service (various aspects of the check-up, including a complete physical examination, some essential blood work that will allow to survey most internal organ functions, thoracic radiographs, etc...). Once the features are listed, or at the time they are detailed, one should explain the benefits that each of these tests will bring to diagnose possible anomalies in a elderly patient for example...

In parallel to these explanations, it is always a good idea to show through documents, images, the various aspects of the service. For example show the documents, forms, folders, etc... that will accompany the service. All these documents bring an important feature to the service: these documents transform what was intangible and subjective in a action that now is tangible (through the reports and documents) even if these brochures, these reports look basic to you, they add crucial value to the perception of the service.

It is also important to go over the materialistic aspects of the service (how much it will cost, how the pet will be handled and what would be required from the owner practically...). When approaching cost, it is our advise to present the price as a benefit because of the "package" format of the service. Another important feature of a service and a real value, is to point out that all preventive diagnosis will contribute to detect abnormalities at the early age and therefore will allow to treat sooner and often better and for a reduced cost. Better results, better prices...

Examples of Services to Propose to Pet Owners

There are several services that would contribute to a better medicine and at the same time would contribute to practice growth. Some of these services would also correspond to clients expectations. It is the case for example for a "senior pet " management program. The human-animal bond is such that there is a deeper affection for older pets, and a true need and demand from clients to keep them happy, with no pain nor suffering, and as long as possible...

A Senior Pet Management Program

A senior pet management program is an important service to place in your practice routine. If you haven't done yet, consider it today! If you start such a program, you should talk to all clients, even those who have a young animal, even if it is just quickly mentioning it..., because they will become adult and soon senior pets before you know... and such a program will therefore be a natural and normal step and the annual follow-up f their pet...

The efforts that pet owners are willing to take to help their older dog or cat to feel better, to live happier and longer, are often immense. A survey by Idexx in 1997, showed that pet-owners in the USA were spending $184/year for their dog less than 10 years, and $277 for pets over 10 years of age. Another study from the AVMA, showed, as in man, that the pet population was getting older and that 25% of pets were older than 8 years.

Some Practical Aspects of a Senior Pet Management Service

Once you plan to set up a senior pet management service, it is crucial that the entire clinic team, the veterinarians, the technicians, the staff, the receptionists, become part of the service and adopt it. The clinic team should understand and communicate around the value of such a service for the pet, for the owner. Such communication should be part of the daily messages to clients and it should obviously start before pets enter the "senior category". Why? Simply because if you explain and make the clients understand that their pet, once reached a certain age, will require different sort of preventive management and check-up", it is natural that these services will be applied almost instinctively at that time. It is often the clients that will even remind you that time has come to enter the "senior pet management" program. You set the senior program, and it becomes a natural and normal step in the lifetime follow-up of the pet. The various "check-up" and services associated with the program do no longer require any deep and detailed explanation and convincing communication. This is the reason why it is important to communicate early about a service and as a team with the same energy and conviction.

The Senior Pet Program and the Annual Health Examination

An efficient method to set-up a "senior pet management program" consist to start with the annual visit, often referred as "the vaccines" and try to reinvent such a consultation. We all know that annual vaccines protocols are getting more and more controversial and that these common annual vaccines may change as less and less boosting of these immune protection will be expected in the future.

This is the reason why it is important to start today to present the annual visit as the "annual health check of the pet" (during which some vaccines may be given as needed) instead of the "annual vaccinations". The entire communication should change and reinforce and focus on the annual examination of the pet instead of the vaccines. This include the reminder cards or letters that are sent to clients and should emphasize the clinical examination vs the vaccines. Once such system is progressively put into place, with the annual examination placed into the center of the service, focusing on the clinical examination and associated services, it is natural, once the pet becomes a senior, that such annual visit will include additional clinical tests, associated with the pet's age.

The Financial Return of a Senior Pet Program

Not only following closely a senior pet is a good medical practice, it is clear that such a preventive program generate a positive financial return. Some would even call it a good "return on investment". Indeed pets are often "senior" for several years and these years are important to manage well. There is a significant difference with the services that are developed for pets during their growth, which is a short period of their life. Think of the time and efforts that are developed to communicate with clients about their pet's growth needs, nutritional, behavior, external and internal parasites, pet's vaccines etc...all these aspects of pet care during the first 10 to 12 months of their life are important and require several period of time. Think that when it comes to a senior pet, the follow-up services related to the senior will be needed much longer, usually several years.

The Various Steps to Start a New Service

To set-up a new service for example a senior pet program, one could adopt the following steps:

1.  Be convinced of the service, its value for the pet, the client, and the practice

2.  Make sure that the entire team is convinced as consolidate the coherence of the communication about the service

3.  Define who are the clients that you will select and target for the service

4.  Develop the appropriate communication tools that will be needed to market the service

5.  Prepare the launch of the service...(date, practical details, logistic, tools, staff meeting, etc.)

6.  Initiate the communication toward your clients, starting with your "fan club"

7.  Establish a developmental strategy for the service (where is it going to be in 5 years and what do you need to do to get there...?)

8.  Associate the service to others and try to bundle the offers into "packages" that add value for the clients

9.  Start the program and make sure every details are covered prior to launch

10.  Evaluate results (surveys) and make appropriate changes as time go by

Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Philippe Moreau, DVM, MS, DECVIN, DECVIM-CA
Limoges, France

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