Communicating value in difficult times (Sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)

What you say and how you say it can encourage clients to pursue preventive care—even when money is tight.

Both the American and world economic climates have seen better days. Practice owners, employees, and clients alike are concerned about what is going to happen next and what their cash flow is going to look like in the near future. For those clients who are struggling financially, providing care for their horses isn't even a possibility right now. Even those who still have some discretionary cash are cutting back on optional expenditures and re-evaluating spending on those things generally considered to be necessities.

In good economic times, clients may accept your recommendations without fully understanding them. But when they have to prioritize spending, they need to know more in order to make the best healthcare and financial decisions. It's critical that they understand the real value of your services and the long-term impact of not providing preventive care for their horses. Good quality communication is essential to helping clients understand both the medical and financial ramifications of not providing necessary care.

Veterinarians and their staff, however, sometimes are less than diligent about communicating the value of routine services to clients, simply because they are routine. But routine doesn't mean unimportant.

Communicating value can be done in a number of different ways. You'll get the best results by attacking all fronts. Communication is both about what you say and how you say it. And communication is not just verbal; your actions are also critical to getting the message across.

Consider the following ways to communicate value:

1 Recommend preventive services—vaccinations, deworming, Coggins testing, and dental care. The client may have received these services from you for years without really understanding what kind of diseases they are preventing. Take the time to explain each—just one or two sentences about western equine encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus, deworming, the benefits of dental care, etc., is enough. It doesn't take long, but it helps clients understand there are real consequences for not providing this care. Educate your staff so they are equally comfortable in talking to clients about these services. Don't just say, "We recommend that you vaccinate your horses for West Nile virus." Instead, say, "West Nile virus is a potentially fatal neurological disease transmitted by mosquitoes. We've seen outbreaks of it in this area in the past. This vaccination dramatically reduces the likelihood of your horse becoming ill."

2 If a client hesitates over a recommendation, don't be afraid to bring up the dreaded money word. For example, you could say "Mrs. Smith, are you hesitating about these vaccinations due to cost? I can certainly understand you wanting to avoid unnecessary expenditures these days, but this is really important to your horse's health. Without these vaccinations, Trigger has increased risk of coming down with one of these diseases. Not only are these difficult to treat, they are expensive. Even though you're spending a little bit of money now, you're helping insure Trigger's future health and reducing the likelihood of large future expenditures."

3 If you don't already have one, consider designing a client handout outlining your preventive care recommendations for foals, adult horses, broodmares, etc. Briefly discuss each of the disease processes you are trying to prevent and your care recommendation. Include graphics and pictures. Adults all learn differently; some do so best by hearing things, others by reading or seeing visual images. Using different styles of communication reinforces your message.

4 Focus on the patient when you are performing the procedure. Because you perform these services all the time, it's often easy to do them with only part of your attention. If you're chatting about golf while passing a tube, the message you send the client is that this is easy and doesn't have value. By focusing on the task at hand, you set the tone for the client's understanding of the importance of what you do.

Karen E. Felsted is the CEO of the National Commission of Veterinary Economics Issues (NCVEI). For more information, visit http://www.ncvei.org/.