Why Owners Like To See the Nurse and Why This Is Good For Business Too
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2008
Alison Lambert, BVSc, MRCVS
The Old Vicarage
Horbling, Sleaford, UK

The role of the primary care team is crucial in your business. Previous sessions have looked at the role of the reception team and their part in creating a fabulous customer experience.

The pet owner has a growing number of choices for advice and information and, more importantly, veterinary products. As a pet care business, you will need to ensure that all the pet owners in your area are aware of the goods and services you offer. This requires the primary care team to fully appreciate that pet owners really don't see the vet as the place to go unless the pet is ill.

Owner Behaviour

So, how do we encourage owners to visit the practice for care and advice at other times with or without the pet? An understanding of owner behaviour is key. Owners see their pet as a seven-year-old child and have a similar relationship. The pet is a key family member and accounts for a significant sum of disposable income and leisure time. The owner is driven to do the right thing by the pet and wants to be able to have a long relationship with the pet in the family.

The challenge is that the owners visit the vets on average once a year and they visit pet stores weekly and go online daily--so where are they getting advice and products from?

We are back to footfall--owners need a reason to visit you for advice and then they will access the services and quality pet care products you may have chosen to stock and sell. Crucial to this role is the nurse--the nurse in the human healthcare sector is a well respected part of the primary care team, caring for the family children in particular.

When there is a reference set from human health care, which is a well trained and qualified nurse, the pet owner doesn't need much persuading that the veterinary nurse or technician can be equally part of pets' health.

Research shows that the vet nurse is respected and trusted when the owner can see they are qualified and trained for the task in hand. This is really important as owners need to be reassured your staff are fully qualified. Make a point of showing photos and certificates with qualifications and interest areas and responsibility in practice on your board or TV so owners can see who does what. This will then allow the nurse team to become respected in the role they play in senior pet management or diabetes cases. The reference position is that of the human nurse role. Owners are happy to see the primary care team for those situations where they believe the nurse can help.

Again, research shows that the puppy and kitten stages are recognised by owners as key and they have a preference for a vet to see the 'baby' pet first. However, as the pet matures and as long as the pet is well, in the owner's mind they will happily see a nurse for consultations and advice.

Role of the Nursing Team

So what can your nurse team do? Most practices have utilised the nurse for those things the vet really isn't that interested in anymore so, over time, nurses have picked up the reins of diet clinics and made them their own.

The owner's compliance rate, where the nurse has responsibility and a high degree of control of the dietary regime, is better than when the owner is left to their own devices.

So, where else can the nurse play a role in delivering care and making commercial sense too? The first two years of life are key for you as there is a 'bath tub' distribution of spend in most practices. With the very young and the very old accounting for most consultations and spend, the middle years of healthy adulthood are when the pet drops off the veterinary radar.

So, where the nurse is most effective is when the owner already visits as they have decided that they need to see a pet care professional, hence why old age clinics tend to be less successful as the owners do not recognise their pet as old at age seven--try again age nine or ten!

It is easier to provide a service when the owner themselves have recognised the need. So, the role of client education, puppy classes and kitten evenings, ensures that all the key aspects of the growing pet are covered in such a way that the owners then develop a relationship with the nurse team. Key areas are food, parasite control, vaccine regimes, behaviour, appropriate leads and accessories, toys, bedding--all the things puppy or kitten will need and the owner would have bought elsewhere.

And for those who recommend a pet insurance policy, this time is crucial. When a pet has been diagnosed with a problem that requires ongoing checks, e.g., diabetes or allergies, the nurse again is the interface the owner can relate to.

Once you have made the pet owners aware of the primary care team and the services the nurse can offer, you will find it will grow. A key area to the owner is choosing a service provider for their new pet. A new pet often triggers a change in vet practice and it is a time to start afresh, so owners will often try a new place. Where the nurse carries out free welcome checks, research has shown the owners think the practice care more than those who don't. After all, the practice is showing as much love for the new family member as the owners--see it from the owners' point of view. The welcome check carried out by an enthusiastic nurse will reap its own rewards. Owners will then recommend your nurse team and the service you offer and you will have motivated staff members as well as they enjoy this aspect of their role.

For every person who rings around for vaccine prices, if you are the only practice in town who offer a service for a nurse to do a welcome health check then price becomes less of an issue.

So, for you to thrive and for owners to feel you are the place to go for their pet, utilise the primary care team and offer nurse consultations and an integrated care approach.

The key steps for success though are the support of the vet team. They need to respect the nurse and the role they play. So, at the end of this session you will have five things to do in the first five days back at work.

List here your five things to do:
1. _____________________________
2. _____________________________
3. _____________________________
4. _____________________________
5. _____________________________

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

Alison Lambert, BVSc, MRCVS
The Old Vicarage
Horbling, Sleaford, UK