"Every single day, without a doubt, money plays into the decisions pet owners make about their pets, and it limits the care clients can offer," says Dr. Andy Roark, a veterinarian who practices in Greenville, S.C., and who is the founder and managing director of the veterinary consulting firm Tall Oaks Enterprises. "It's a tragedy when we're not able to do what's best for the pet because the owner doesn't have the money."
In some of these cases, pet insurance can help pet owners afford the care their pets need. Consider these 10 steps to create a robust education program that teaches pet owners about pet insurance.
Step 1: Focus on education. "Pet insurance is all about educating the client, not about selling a service," says Dr. Amanda Donnelly, owner of ALD Veterinary Consulting. "Team members play a very critical role in helping educate pet owners about payment options."
Step 2: Make it a team effort. "In a lot of practices, we assume that someone else has talked to the pet owner about pet insurance," Dr. Roark says. "Without a coordinated plan that involves the whole team, you might miss having this important conversation with pet owners."
Creating a plan your whole team can get behind improves the chances pet owners will hear your insurance message. For example, Dr. Roark says your plan might be to talk to clients during their first visit with a new pet. (Click here for advice on how each team member can talk to pet owners about pet insurance.)
Step 3: Select a few programs to recommend. Dr. Roark says it can be confusing to clients when you simply offer brochures for all of the pet insurance companies in your new pet packets. A more effective approach, he says, is to demonstrate that you're a resource on pet insurance topics by offering recommendations for a few companies you trust.
It's important for every team member in your practice to know which companies you recommend, how their policies differ from other pet insurance policies, and why you recommend the companies you've selected. "Because is a very powerful word," Dr. Roark says. "We need to say, 'We recommend this because...' and then give our reasons." Your reasons can be simple statements, such as, "Many of our clients have reported good experiences with this company," or "We recommend this policy because it's a great value." Or your recommendation can focus on a success story from your practice where pet insurance helped clients offer the care their pets needed. "We recommend this company because we saw it work for Trixie when she swallowed a foreign body last year."
Step 4: Develop a marketing plan. One of the biggest mistakes that practices can make, Dr. Donnelly says, is failing to create a strategic marketing plan that focuses on how you're going to promote and increase the usage of pet insurance in your practice. A successful plan, she says, will include specific initiatives—tactics and action steps for how you will drive the goal. For example, you may set a goal to increase the use of pet insurance among clients in your practice. To make this goal specific and measurable, you might add an amount and a timeline: We plan to talk to 10 clients each week about pet insurance.
Step 5: Select a point person. Choose a pet insurance coordinator to lead your practice's program. In many practices, such as Bowman Animal Hospital in Raleigh, N.C., a receptionist or customer service representative serves this role, because receptionists commonly take the lead in financial discussions with pet owners. (See the related articles Your practice needs you: Be a pet insurance coordinator and Sample job description for pet insurance coordinator.)
Step 6: Create a protocol. "Your practice needs to set up a protocol and know who's going to be responsible for talking to pet owners about pet insurance and when these discussions will take place," Dr. Donnelly says. She says every practice will need to set its own protocol, based on who's available. The key, she says, is to make sure you define each person's role and ensure there's always someone available to talk about pet insurance and answer clients' questions.
Step 7: Plan consistent conversations. A consistent plan to educate pet owners is key, Dr. Roark says, and this means every member of the team needs to know what to say. For example, if technicians introduce pet insurance discussions, when the doctor enters the exam room he or she can ask an open-ended question, such as, "What questions do you have about pet insurance?"
A simple way to follow-up at checkout is for the receptionist to ask if the pet owner is using pet insurance, says Dr. Roark. "What that says to the owner is, one, this practice sees a lot of pet insurance, and two, your peers are using pet insurance," he says. "That's a powerful psychological message. And that makes it a much more real option for a lot of people." (To see how consistent communication can flow throughout your practice, see the interactive map Pet insurance conversations.)
Step 8: Share personal stories. "I had a friend who had pet insurance for her older cat, and the insurance allowed her cat to be seen by a specialist and have chemotherapy and cancer treatment that my friend might not have been able to afford otherwise," says Dr. Donnelly. "Sharing your personal stories can be a very powerful testimonial that demonstrates other clients use pet insurance and it's helped them afford care."
Step 9: Offer a call to action. Every client who leaves your practice should step out the doors with a mission. Dr. Donnelly says giving pet owners a next step to take will make your recommendation more successful. For example, you might talk with pet owners to decide which of the pet insurance companies you recommend most closely meets their needs. Then hand them a brochure for the pet insurance company and tell them to call the company at home to ask specific questions about cost and coverage for their pet. You may also send pet owners home with a form they can use during their discussions with representatives at pet insurance companies, such as the one here.
Step 10: Offer pet insurance as a benefit at your practice. "A practice will never be very successful in getting clients to embrace and sign up for pet insurance if the staff doesn't believe in pet insurance," Dr. Donnelly says. And to believe in pet insurance, team members need positive experiences with pet insurance. One way to develop positive pet insurance stories is through personal experience. That's why practices like Bowman Animal Hospital offer one or more pet insurance policies for each employee, depending on their tenure.
"The ability to personally use and benefit from a pet insurance policy makes our employees more comfortable with the pet insurance claims process," says Christine Akers, a receptionist and insurance coordinator at Bowman Animal Hospital. "They can use their own experiences as an avenue to explain just how important it is to have a safety net for those unforeseen circumstances."