A Tale of Toilet Rolls

Not so long ago, we were at a really interesting meeting, discussing the concepts of ‘value’ and ‘price’ with a group of Irish horse vets. Of course, the subject of cost is perhaps universally seen as a bit of a thorny one, by practice managers and reception teams working across the UK and in every type of practice. We often hear that clinicians and customer care teams alike are almost apologetic about discussing money, afraid to present large bills, sometimes ruling out treatment options because of perceived affordability issues for the client.

Which is where the toilet roll comes in. We all need to buy it, but we all value different things that influence the type we choose:
• Ply
• Softness
• Brand
• Environmental impact
• Pack size
• Colour
• Aloe vera
• Pattern
• Quilting

So many choices! The product does the same job, but the value we each place on it varies enormously, across a wide range of prices. I can’t tell by looking at you what your preference is. I can’t tell you which option has the most value – that’s an emotional and rational calculation that you make yourself, for your own reasons. Just as you can’t know which aspects of your service your client will feel are good value without communication and understanding.

Price is a fact. Value is a feeling
In the average practice it’s hard to get away from the sense that cost is a ‘big thing’. There are laminated price lists at the reception desk, notices in capital letters telling clients there are no credit facilities, printed estimates run to several sheets with every single canula and bandage itemised with product codes (with and without VAT). It all feels very transactional. It’s easy to see how clients may feel that vets are only interested in the money – after all, that’s mostly what they talk about. Facts, percentages, fees – as scientists, these can be what clinicians choose to focus on. They are objective and tangible.

But owners need emotions more than facts. They may be stressed, worried and sad about their beloved family pet and they want the best for them. Sure, they understand that it will cost, and they know that you are an expert, but they need to feel valued, respected, cared for. How you communicate is more important that what you’re saying, especially in highly emotive situations. One member of the team has a close friend whose beloved Miniature Schnauzer was recently and unexpectedly put to sleep – in a very long conversation about the multiple visits and calls to the practice that led up to this, not once did the owner mention how much it cost. And it would have been a lot. Money that they don’t really have. Instead she spoke about how lovely and caring the vet was, how he understood exactly what emotional turmoil the family were going through. How flexible and accommodating the team were for the dog’s needs. That’s value, right there.

Finding common ground
If vets are about facts and owners are about feelings; when the practice sets a price but the client needs value, the common ground both sides share is the patient. Great care happens when practice and client collaborate, when clinicians talk about outcomes before cost. We need to tell stories, build narratives about the benefits of the care we provide. It’s not just removing a cracked tooth, it’s helping Mavis enjoy her food again and maintain a healthy weight.

As always, this narrative needs to run through every client touchpoint, so it starts before you’ve even met the patient. Web copy and social media feeds the put care front and centre. Show that you understand, you get it and you’re open and honest. That you’ll always do what’s right for the animal. A great way to do this is with fixed pricing for everyday items and common procedures. Clients know that a hip replacement costs £xx, a spay for a large Labrador costs £xx. No scary range of prices, where there can be hundreds of pounds between best and worst case. No estimates running to several pages. Just one fee – you do this often enough to know what these things cost. You can come up with a price that covers your costs across the range of patients you see. Several referral hospitals and orthopaedic centres already offer this, not to mention an increasing number of small animal practices. Clients prefer the knowable, especially at a time when so much else might be uncertain. When you have a relationship based on trust, they understand that your price is fair, they can see the great care the whole team provide that gives them value.

“Price is what you pay, value is what you get”
Warren Buffett knows a thing or two about running a successful business, and his much-quoted mantra is so relevant to every veterinary practice. Make your pricing simple and honest, show care and compassion at every stage of the client journey and you can’t help but prove the value that your team provide.