Your customers have a lot on their minds. Here are some ways to help.
Like most professions, the animal health field has its share of stress and pressure, but the majority of us chose this line of work because we truly enjoy it. Obviously, many individuals enter the veterinary field because of their affinity for animals. On the surface, what could be better than working every day with the animals you love, keeping them healthy and strengthening the human-animal bond? The reality is that having to deliver bad news, interacting with difficult clients, dealing with animal cruelty or neglect – and particularly – handling ethical dilemmas like performing euthanasia all contribute to stress in the veterinary profession. Studies in the United States and abroad show high levels of anxiety and depression, and a suicide rate amongst veterinarians approaching seven times the general population.
Recently, dvm360.com published the results of their triennial survey “State of the Profession: What’s keeping veterinarians up at night?” They asked veterinarians what they feel are the top challenges facing the profession right now and listed their top responses. They include:
• Rising costs and the affordability of veterinary care
• Competition from nontraditional service providers, such as big box retailers and online pharmacies
• Client non-compliance
• “Dr. Google” and other sources of misinformation
• Slippage of veterinarians’ strong reputation
• Maintaining wellness/preventive care for pets
• Emotional stresses such as work-life balance, compassion fatigue and burnout
I mentioned the issue of veterinarian stress and anxiety in this column not to be dramatic or depressing, but to show how as an animal health sales rep, you have the ability to use your knowledge to make recommendations that can positively impact your customers in many of their areas of concern.
Where your services/products can help eliminate stress
The problem of rising costs was the number one survey response from veterinarians, and while you can’t control inevitable price increases, you can help your accounts get the most value when they order. Knowing your clinics’ purchase history and alerting them to promotions for free goods, rebates and volume discounts; helping project seasonal purchases so they don’t over-spend and have too much inventory – or purchase too little and miss out on the best deals – saves your clients valuable time and money. Knowing your product lines and offering generic or lower-cost alternatives when appropriate, and letting your
customers know in advance about upcoming price increases will help their bottom line. Work with your outside reps to check clinic inventory for short-dated product to make sure it’s returned before the manufacturer cut-off date.
Many of the challenges on the survey list are closely related and are areas where your input and suggestions can make a real difference. The issues of competition from nontraditional sources, pet owners using “Dr. Google” as their primary source for medical advice, and concerns about the reputation of veterinarians all point to providing the best quality of care, excellent customer service, and addressing changing customer needs.
Does your company offer home delivery services that would benefit those clinics losing revenue to online sales? Be prepared to discuss the time-savings, efficiency and convenience to both clinic staff and to their customers, and of course the added profits this valuable service may offer. Have those same discussions about any other online solutions your company provides, such as email reminders for products and services and special offers that will add value to the clinic in the eyes of pet owners.
The appeal of using the internet as the first source of veterinary information for many people is the convenience and availability. With a smartphone or desktop computer, they can have nearly instant answers to questions about their animals. They may skip a veterinary visit altogether or come to the appointment armed with inaccurate internet advice. You can help your clinics educate their customers by helping them source online educational materials, fact sheets and handouts.
When 30 percent of pet owners in a recent Bayer study stated that just “thinking” about taking their pet to the veterinarian is stressful, it’s no surprise that these people may also avoid the vet and turn to the internet for medical information. Asking what your companion clinics are doing to market themselves as “fear-free” practices and recommending products that can help them promote a low-stress environment can help get those patients in the door.
Fortunately, most pet owners rely on their veterinarian and clinic staff as a trusted source of information, but unfortunately, some are falling short in providing it. Recently, a friend posted on Facebook that during his dog’s annual vet appointment, he was shocked when the doctor told him that his pet was 30 pounds overweight. The vet simply told him to “cut back on food and treats” with no other recommendations, so he turned to social media to ask his friends for advice.
By failing to give professional advice and guidance, the doctor missed several opportunities: To provide quality preventive care and assure compliance (two other major concerns on the survey), grow practice revenue, and strengthen the bond with a client. Asking some questions his veterinarian failed to ask, I learned my friend has been feeding poor-quality, big box-labeled food and treats (a big miss by the vet to start the dog on a high-quality weight loss diet sold by the clinic), that the dog scarfs down his food (another missed chance to recommend a slow feeder bowl or Buster Food Maze to aid digestion), and that he gets no regular exercise (a failure to discuss a walking and exercise program and schedule future appointments to monitor compliance and progress.) This lack of service is not only detrimental to the health of the pet, but to the clinic’s bottom line.
Nearly 70 percent of the respondents to the dvm360 survey reported that they work well over 40 hours per week, so it’s no surprise that they are literally “up at night” and concerned about work-life balance and professional burnout. By taking an active interest in your customers and making it easy for them to do business with you, you’ll save them time and stress. Understanding their needs and providing ideas to increase business, lower costs, and provide excellent care makes you a valued partner in their success.
Dawn Singleton-Olson has over 25 years of experience in the animal health industry, including distributor sales, manufacturing, practice management, and as a zoo supervisor. She is a volunteer, fundraiser and board trustee for several humane organizations and the Omaha (NE) Police Mounted Patrol.