Pet healthcare plans: five steps to success

01 June 2013, at 12:00am

MATTHEW PYKE continues his series on healthcare plans for pets with a summary of the steps to be taken to ensure that whatever plan you introduce to your practice is successful

THE benefits of pet healthcare plans have been well publicised and their popularity has risen dramatically in recent years, but there is still uncertainty amongst practice owners about how to get their customers to sign up in the first place.

Where large veterinary groups benefit from good sign-up rates, smaller practices worry that a plan will be a drain on resources without delivering the promised income.

Here are five ways to succeed with your pet healthcare plan.

1. Do your research

As with many opportunities, success relies on effective planning. Planning for the best and worst case scenarios helps you set realistic goals and plan for all eventualities.

Before you start creating your plan, have a look at your books and calculate the total number of existing customers you have who could join your plan. In marketing this is called your total target market size.

From this you can develop segments of customers who may be more likely to join your plan. You can then calculate how much you want to charge and your projected income.

You may also find it useful to see whether your competitors offer a healthcare plan and what they include in it.

This way you can create a plan which offers something different to theirs. Marketers call this a “unique selling point”.

2. Talk to your customers

Your customers are more likely to join your plan if it meets their needs.

Asking your regular customers whether they would be interested in the service and what they would like from it helps you develop your plan accordingly. They are the people who already like you and your practice and who will be happy to give their opinion.

3. Choosing a provider

Administering a plan in-house takes a great deal of time and effort which you or your practice manager may not have.

There are many companies which offer different levels of service at different prices. Take your time choosing a provider. You need to be confident their service will deliver and make your life easier.

If you’ve had a good experience with the company in the past, it bodes well for any ongoing relationship you have with it.

Most plan providers offer the administration of the plan, training for your staff and an element of marketing materials you can use to promote the plan. The detail of these services can vary as can how much they charge.

Some administrators charge a percentage depending on how many customers sign up to your plan (the incentive being that the more people who sign up, the lower the percentage), while others charge a monthly cost per patient.

In addition, some will charge a set-up fee to cover the expense of graphic design and printing of promotional materials.

As a small practice, you may feel more confident in launching your plan without having to pay anything upfront.

Fortunately, there are providers who don’t charge set-up fees so you won’t have to pay anything until you’re earning money.

It’s also worth considering what your plan will offer: some providers insist on including certain treatments or appointments.

If you would rather have complete control over your plan, you’ll want to find a provider who allows you that flexibility.

4. Incentivise your staff

Once your staff have been trained to sell your plan, motivate them with targets and prizes. A bit of friendly competition in the team can do wonders for sign-up rates.

It can also help keep momentum going once the first rush of the launch has died down. Anything from a half-day holiday to a bottle of wine can give your staff the boost they need to sell your plan.

5. Let them know!

You’re customers can’t sign up to your plan if they don’t know about it. Every time you have any contact with a customer, mention your plan.

If they call to make an appointment, ask them if they’re a member, if not would they like some more information?

When they walk in the door of your practice, have posters advertising the plan benefits or when you send out notices for annual vaccinations; all of your communication should involve some mention of your plan. You can also involve your website, Facebook page and twitter.

Don’t forget…

Believe in your plan. As a practice owner, how much time and interest you invest in your plan will make an enormous difference to its success.

You’re the one who knows your practice best and you have the power to keep your staff invested in selling your plan.

Your plan provider will be there to give you continued support and advice whenever you need it.