When we were young and idealistic about getting into the veterinary field, we felt that vet med would be a job of passion and purpose. Our chance to make a difference. And then boom….. We realized that our job and the medicine we provide has a price tag attached to it. We had to figure out how to talk about money. Sometimes with complete strangers. Or with people who were scared, stressed or didn’t see the importance of even the simplest recommendation.
It's always been extremely awkward for people to talk about money. I remember a time I went to the dentists. After my oral exam, radiographs were taken, and they quickly addressed a small cavity. I walked to reception to schedule my follow up appointment. A receptionist scheduled my appointment and told me about my total for the day. I owed about $600 for what was done at that visit. I felt the wind knocked out of me and my mind raced about how I was going to pay rent. Buy groceries. Pay day seemed a long way away. I paid the total because I was too proud to explain that this bill was not what I as expecting. I never went back to that dentist office again. I felt blindsided and embarrassed.
How we talk about money is crucial in building trust with our clients. Let’s talk estimates. At times we think that we don’t need to discuss cost for what we consider “the basics”. Wellness visits, vaccines, and flea/tick/heartworm prevention. The average owner doesn’t know the cost associated with basic care. It is our job to educate them. We have to ensure that when we have an appointment and rattle off how to take care of Fluffy that we have a consistent message. Providing an estimate and being able to explain why we do what we do is crucial. We must do it in a digestible and non-judgmental way. Discussing costs begins with when owners schedule appointments. Your CSR’s should be able to discuss what is included in an exam, quote for vaccines and explain the value in monthly flea/tick/heartworm medication. It sets the expectation of what clients can be expecting financially and helps avoid sticker shock in your exam rooms.
After the physical exam, create an estimate and go over costs and the reason we make our recommendations. The typical owner doesn’t understand why we recommend heartworm testing. They may not realize that due to a lapse in time their pets vaccine may need a booster. You would be surprised how many people think that a dog’s vaccines are totally completed once their puppy’s initial vaccine series is done. It’s our job to educate clients with the why in our treatment plans. Creating an estimate gives a client a game plan for what they can expect and the cost associated with that.
Remember that sometimes people need to sit with estimates to process their next steps. Give them space and let them know you will come back in a few minutes to answer any questions. If an owner isn’t able to afford what is being offered it’s best to know that now than when they are checking out and their card is declined. Be willing to inform owners of a plan that works with their budget. Offer resources like Care Credit or Scratch Pay. Let them know just because they can’t afford the gold standard doesn’t mean they love their pet any less. We are all doing the best we can.
Above all, how we advocate, speak and offer resources can either eliminate trust or create it. Some days our job is to play “Let’s Make a Deal”. But above all transparency is what keeps our clients coming back to us. Trust can take years to build and can be shattered in a second. Building trust by discussing finances allows us to get to know our clients and how we can work to help their pets.
Talking about money can be uncomfortable. But the more you do it, the more trust you build and the easier the conversations will become. Be yourself. See the value in what you offer and remember if most clients can’t do everything you recommend, they can usually meet you in the middle. Transparency and authenticity are what clients need to feel safe. We all are doing the best we can. As veterinary professionals and as pet parents.