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Pet care plan helps maintain competitive edge whilst improving compliance

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01 May 2013, at 12:00am

MARK HALLAM explains how the introduction of a pet care plan to his practice boosted client compliance and also provided a cost-effective solution to the costs of treatment

WHILST the primary motivation for most vets remains caring for animals, being competitive whilst doing so is vital for the survival of veterinary practices.

This is of particular significance in today’s economic climate where clients are looking to cut costs in different areas of their budgets and are prepared to take their pets and their business elsewhere if the price is right.

At Hallam Veterinary Centre, we wanted to encourage client compliance on vaccinations and on-going flea and worming treatments, whilst providing a costeffective solution to treatment costs.

We found that the introduction of a pet care plan has enabled us to do both: clients who were looking to move to other practices or even buy products directly from pet superstores in order to save money have taken advantage of the practice’s preventive health-care plan and are now following up on a wide range of treatments, including vaccinations, six month checks, annual blood and preventive screening tests, as well as flea and worm treatments.

Family affair

Our practice is a family affair employing seven vets and was taken over by my now-retired father in the 1950s. In 2002, the practice stopped seeing equine and farm animal patients to concentrate solely on companion animal health and we currently have more than 10,000 active clients on our books.

We introduced the Premier Veterinary Alliance (PVA) Pet Care Plan in January 2012, after an increasing demand from clients themselves. We had already noticed a drift of custom to practices with other plans in place as pet owners felt this was a better option.

We realised that in order to retain clients, we had to come up with a way of remaining financially competitive whilst maintaining our high levels of animal care.

Times and plans have changed a great deal since we first looked into loyalty schemes many years ago. At that time, we decided against them as we didn’t think they offered us any business advantage and might well have increased our costs.

We were also worried about extra administrative workload. Pet health plans, however, have progressed enormously since then so we were able to consider a variety of different plans until we found the one that would work best for us and our clients.

The PVA Pet Care Plan was tailored to our practice’s needs so we were able to provide clients with exactly what they wanted. It has helped us retain clients and improve our cash flow because it gives us a guaranteed monthly revenue.

The consultants at Premier Vet Alliance combine veterinary expertise with business knowledge and came up with practical solutions for our business, meaning that our worries about taking on extra administration tasks associated with the PCP were unfounded.

Compliance of vaccinations, flea and worming treatments has improved automatically through implementation of the Pet Care Plan (PCP) and our rate of compliance is now up to 90% of those within the plan.

More frequent visits

The PCP suits a wide range of customers and is as popular with those who were previously reluctant to spend money on their pets’ health as it is with those customers who want to do everything and more for their animals.

Whereas we used to see patients on average once a year, we now see them at least every six months. This has huge benefits for the animals, in terms of preventive health and routine check-ups which can identify illnesses which might otherwise have gone unnoticed by their owners.

Feedback from customers has been excellent and we have seen a marked increase in uptake on flea and worming treatments compared to before, when customers would frequently buy the wrong product from pet shops and supermarkets, with potentially negative consequences for their pet. Our plan also offers an extra six months’ cover free, which is understandably popular!

The PCP has pretty much sold itself to clients and many prospective clients ask whether we have a plan in place. PVA provided training for all practice staff about the plan, its benefits, how it works and how best to sell it.

Our practice receptionist tells clients about the plan in the first instance and we also provide leaflets explaining how the scheme works. The PCP is further promoted on practice reminder cards sent to all active clients at six monthly intervals for their standard health checks.

For us, the plan is a win-win scheme. It is beneficial for all animals to follow a preventive health-care scheme and our customers like the fact that they can budget for pet care by paying in instalments, as well as taking advantage of reduced rates for medication and treatments.

We have seen an increase in new clients as a result of the scheme and existing clients remain bonded to the practice.

Another advantage is that it can be very time-consuming to repeatedly explain the importance of compliance to clients but with customers on the plan this isn’t necessary as they don’t want to miss any appointments they have effectively already paid for.

We are extremely pleased with the success of the PCP, which has enabled us to continue to provide an excellent standard of preventive health-care for animals whilst maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction.