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Cash-strapped customers want to provide proper veterinary care for their pets, and many are open to frank discussions about money. Be prepared to offer some financial options.
Make sure that at least a few employees on each shift are experienced in presenting treatment plans and payment options.
Looking at the recent economic and unemployment reports, I’m concerned that we may not see cash-strapped pet owners more in the months to come. Customers may not be able to afford health care for their pets. Some might not be able to afford routine preventive veterinary services, which means they might not respond to appointment reminders. Here’s how to help pet owners who are facing financial constraints.
When pet owners make it clear that they have limited funds or cry when presented with the bill, veterinary teams are likely to come up with payment options. But what about when pet owners say “OK” when a customer service representative calls out charges over the phone or a veterinarian nurse presents a dental treatment plan? When, as a consultant, I make phone calls from mystery shoppers to practices and observe communications with exam room clients, I often witness missed opportunities to determine if pet owners need help. ‘financial assistance.
Hospital teams who proactively talk to pet owners about money can help more animals get the care they deserve. But to be successful, team members must understand the firm’s financial care protocols, including the hospital’s payment options. They need to know when to propose a payment plan and what solution to recommend given a customer’s personal situation.
Of course, it is not enough to have protocols. Team members should feel comfortable having candid conversations about the cost of veterinary care. Ideally, everyone should be trained in this skill, but the starting point is to make sure that at least a few employees on each shift are experienced in presenting treatment plans and discussing options. of payment.
Practices tend to discuss finances only when an animal is sick and the treatment plan is expensive. But what about the pet owner calling to ask for the cost of preventative care? Or the client who checks up and needs heartworm, flea, or tick preventative treatment for her dog but is hesitant to purchase one? This is when a customer service representative should bring up the subject of payment options.
During difficult times such as the Great Recession and now the pandemic, vets need to be more involved in the financial conversation when clients cannot afford the recommended level of care. Doctors must step in to discuss priorities and treatment options. Likewise, physicians can determine whether services and costs can be spread over multiple visits.
You may ask, “But what about the risk of client delinquency?” Will it seem like all that matters to us is money? These things can happen if team members don’t know what to say and don’t communicate the value of the services.
It’s always respectful to simply say, “This treatment plan is the best way to find out why Sophie is vomiting and correct her dehydration.” We know that veterinary care, like human health care, can be expensive. We would be happy to review your payment options. “
Most people enjoy having a face-to-face conversation about money, as it helps allay their fears and uncertainty about how to pay for care.
Dealing with accusing customers
The pandemic, economic problems, social unrest and the November 3 elections are undoubtedly a source of stress for people. They experience isolation, fear, uncertainty and anger. Veterinary teams are overworked, exhausted and tired. Difficult customers are nothing new, but now more of them are behaving ugly. What do you do if the owner of a pet says, “Why can’t you help me? I lost my job! ”Or“ All that matters is money! ”
Here are four tips to help your team respond appropriately to customers who are going on emotional rampages.
- Assume the best of people and ignore ugly remarks. Remember that anger is often a secondary emotion expressed by people who are afraid or sad. Reacting defensively, discussing what has been said, or becoming brooding does not help the situation. Better to ignore nasty comments and respond with empathy.
- Express your empathy by saying, “Ms. Jones, I can see you’re in pain and I know these are tough times. Often less is more. A considerate gaze and an open body posture, accompanied by one or two affirmations, is enough. You cannot solve a client’s personal situation or financial problem.
- Demand reasonable behavior and don’t accept abuse. Ignoring angry untruths is different from tolerating abusive behavior. Team members should report any verbal attacks from the client that are degrading or threatening. A team member can say, “Ms. Jones, I am uncomfortable with your hurtful comments and feel attacked. We’re all in a tough spot and I’m trying to help you and Jake. My request is that you stop these types of remarks. “
- Build a bridge to a solution. Giving clients time to let off steam is important, but people are ultimately looking for solutions. Focus on what you can do when talking about payment options. Say, “Let’s explore your payment options” or “I would like to look at some payment solutions. Would it be okay?
Offer multiple options
Only the rare practice does not offer some sort of payment plan, such as third party financing. If you don’t have a lot of cash-strapped customers, this is probably the only one you need besides credit cards.
However, having multiple options is a better idea, especially if your practice is to see more pet owners who have financial limitations. Companies such as VetBilling, Scratchpay, CareCredit, and VitusVet, as well as all pet health insurers, offer products designed to help pet owners afford care. Preventive care plans also help clients by spreading ongoing costs.
While extending credit to customers through an in-house payment program is generally a bad idea, it might be a reasonable consideration for customers who are temporarily strapped for cash.
Charitable funds are another option. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation, for example, has the Veterinary Care Charitable Fund, which you can join and ask your clients to contribute.
No one likes talking to pet owners about the cost of care, but your team members will be less stressed and better prepared to help a client if they are trained to have proactive, positive discussions about money.
Remember, better financial care means better patient care, and more pets get what they deserve.
Talk the Talk columnist Dr. Amanda L. Donnelly is a second generation speaker, business consultant and veterinarian. She is the author of “101 Practice Management Questions Answered” and serves on Today’s Veterinary Business Editorial Advisory Board.