Building loyalty

pets-vet-waiting-room_webThink about your clients’ needs and your business will benefit. Johanna Bennett finds old-school loyalty programs have been updated, and are now focused on more subtle ways of attracting and retaining customers

Loyalty programs are all about the customer. However, this way of looking at the world doesn’t always come naturally to veterinarians.

Yet such programs do a lot for animals’ owners by making them feel special, and the benefits flow on to the vet business.

“It’s all about making your customers feel welcome—like you would when you invite someone to your home,” says loyalty marketing expert Tim Simons, who ran technology company Sony’s loyalty program for several years. “It’s good manners really. If you invite someone for a meal, you make them feel welcome. You need to create that sense of ‘specialness’.”

Translating this into loyalty programs isn’t just about, say, discounts on pet dental care—unless this is part of the value you’re offering program members, says Simons.

Today’s loyalty benefits are only limited by the vet’s imagination. “They could include a members-only consulting time between 9:30 and 10am,” suggests Simons. “Or you could acknowledge how important a customer is by sending them a present on their pet’s birthday.”

The ‘unconscious marketing’ here is that you become top-of-mind and stop the person googling other vets in the area.

A good loyalty program is a medium to long-term investment that can take years to pay off in terms of increased sales.

So, you need to think about your aims, says Simons. He advises first asking customers what they would like from a loyalty program. The results always surprise, he says. “Once you know what people want, you can give it to them. But don’t start by thinking about what the business wants.”

Listen to your clients

Melbourne veterinarian Dr Rod Graham bases his practice on asking what clients want and “helping make it easy for them to manage the life of their animal.”

“One man asked if he could see his pet’s blood test results online, so I have included this in the online information I make available to customers via V:Vet,” says Dr Graham. “Clients can also check out when their pet’s next flu shot is due.”

His marketing underscores Simons’ view that you need to think about clients’ needs and make dealing with you easy. Being able to look up your pet’s medical information on your smartphone falls into this category.

Dr Graham also regularly posts out the medication clients’ pets need to have to protect them against parasites.

“People forget, so I help them help their pet,” he says. The practice bears the postage cost, recouping it from
bulk discounts.

“I don’t sell the product; I sell the solution to remembering to put it on the dog. We don’t charge postage because we are selling on service, not price.”

Partner for subtle advertising

Old-school loyalty programs tend to be big on partnerships—think supermarkets and frequent flyer points. Dr Graham does something similar, but updated, with his local pet shops, by running a commercially affordable preventive program to protect puppies and kittens against giardia and coccidiosis. He charges very little, he says, but in return not only are the animals healthier but the pet shops recommend a new puppy vet check at his surgery. “Once we get them through the door, they stay.”

Partnerships like these, which involve dealing with those whose values align with your own, are very important, says another marketing expert, thinkSMART Marketing’s director, Janine Pares. She suggests partnering with, for example, doggy daycare centres. The point about such partnerships isn’t really any discounts you might offer, but getting you in front of potential new clients.

Jennelle Ferrier, who is the practice manager at Sydney-based 4 Paws Vet, says she is always looking for new ways to reward “our platinum and gold clients”. The latest was a pet photo offer, in partnership with a local photographer. “A number of people took it up and liked the idea. But even when people don’t take up a particular offer, they like the feeling it gives them to receive a nice offer.”

The surgery regularly brainstorms new ideas and is presently considering rewarding clients for referrals.

Loyalty has evolved

Vet marketing coach Dr Diederik Gelderman, who runs the Turbo Charge Your Practice seminars, thinks loyalty has evolved. He also thinks vets need to look closely at the numbers involved. Currently, wellness programs are popular, he says. They can involve offering loyal clients discounts of up to 55 per cent. But research has found they only increase the spending of A to C clients by six per cent, while the spending of D to E clients goes up around 512 per cent.

“If you have a busy practice, you don’t have time to do wellness [programs], because it creates busyness, but not necessarily profitability. But if you are a new clinic or a start-up, it’s great, because it will make you busy.”

Dr Gelderman thinks vets should be more innovative. He tells how one of his clients devised an Eftpos card in his clinic’s colours that acts as advert for the clinic. The enticement is the card comes pre-loaded with $25 or $50 credit. Referrals see another $50 loaded onto the card.

But what about the competition from pet product chains? These companies now charge much less than many vets for vet-approved pet food in particular. David Hogan, of The Loyalty Group, which runs card-based loyalty programs for smaller vets, says cards help here. Clients accrue points that then trigger discounts on pet products or surgery when they reach a certain number. Prize draws for vet retail customers are also an option.

The Loyalty Group handles the marketing and back-end of such programs. For example, it can send out SMS messages about, say, a nail clipping offer, or mail
out vouchers.

An Eftpos terminal installed at the practice tots up clients’ points and collects data. The service costs around $200 a month—so what results can you expect? Hogan says you could see sales increase by around 35 per cent on average.

So, traditional or new-style loyalty—both have their benefits and costs, but both focus firmly on the client.

Vet Practice magazine and its associated website is published by Engage Media. All material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission. Explore how our content marketing agency can help grow your business at Engage Content or at YourBlogPosts.com.

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