How veterinary professionals can break free from the dreaded national pet dental health month
Sometime in the early 2000’s, veterinary practice consultants began advising that veterinarians could increase their dental compliance and keep busy during the slowest month of the year if they offered a discount during one month… alas, the concept of “National Pet Dental Health Month” was born.
I’ll be honest, it seemed like a brilliant idea at the time but it turns out we were creating a monster and now we’ve got ourselves in what my mother would call “a pickle.”
In most veterinary practices, Pet Dental Health Month looks something like this:
Let’s cram all of our business for the year into the month of February because God forbid we have a slow month to relax and prepare before heartworm/summer season. Let’s work ourselves ragged including our techs.
And, let’s discount it all by 10-20% which for most practices is the entire profit margin of the procedure. And because clients love it so much and there are only 24 hours in each day, we will start it in January and extend it through March.
Sound familiar? Let’s explore why clients respond to dental month in the first place. It’s not all about the money.
Why clients respond to Pet Dental Health Month
FOMO – The fear of missing out
This is one of the strongest influencers of consumer behavior. If you have ever succumbed to “two-for-one T-shirts” then you have been under the influence of FOMO.
The flash sale mentality
When the pressure of scarcity sets in, the concept of if you don’t take action now you will forever miss out, the consumer is more motivated than ever to act now. We see this each year at Black Friday where crowds mow down people for the once-a-year chance to save big bucks.
The reason dental month works is because it is only during one month each year with 11 months until it happens again. One time, a very successful vet told me that dental month was so successful at his hospital, that he extended it from January to October. Unfortunately, by doing this, you remove the scarcity motivator and now your promotion will fail to perform the way it was when only offered one month out of the year.
If your marketing program can give the impression that “everyone is doing this” then it is likely more of your typical non-motivated clients will fall in. That’s because people like to belong to a group. They like to be classified with a certain group and nobody likes to be the kid left behind.
So what do we do? How do we get out of this pickle? Here are some solutions to consider that will spread the dentals throughout the year and not break the bank.
3 ways to break free from Pet Dental Health Month
1. Get a loyalty program and allow one of the rewards to be your dental benefit.
For example, my favorite loyalty program is allowing clients to earn one stamp for every $100 spent per invoice. If the client collects 16 stamps, they earn $100 towards a future visit. But, we can add a mid-tier reward to drive dental compliance— use 8 stamps to unlock $50 off your pet’s dental.
In this situation, the client feels they have earned the reward and it is theirs to enjoy. Most people hate leaving any money on the table. (Personally I still have a $2 scratch off on my desk that I fully intend to redeem next time I’m in Georgia.) If the client has a pet that needs a dental, as soon as they hit the 8 stamp level, they will be motivated to redeem their reward. This can happen all year long, not just February.
2. Set a short sale time limit.
A great idea is to tie the perk to a timeline. This creates a sense of urgency for the client.
It looks something like this: Anytime a dental procedure is recommended at the wellness visit, allow the client to enjoy a discount if they book within 7 days of the recommendation. They just have to book in 7 days, the procedure doesn’t have to be done within 7 days. This is a great way to give a slight nudge and get the dental on the books before they leave the office.
3. Offer a promo on your terms.
It isn’t necessarily just February that veterinary practices are slow. There are other times sprinkled throughout the year where the surgeries load is light. A great benefit to having a mobile app for your practice is that you are in control and can send push notifications to your clients on a moment’s notice. We would routinely tell our clients, “Be sure you have our mobile app because we send out VIP promos throughout the year and you won’t want to miss out.”
In my practice, sometimes I would arrive on Monday morning to find the surgery schedule dead for the entire week. UGH! I would start to panic as I knew how much revenue the practice needed to generate to meet our expenses.
I would fire off a push notification through my mobile app to all of my clients with the message “VIP Alert! $50 off dentals this week only. Mention the app special when you call. Expires Friday.” My team and I would stand back and the phone would start ringing. We would fill up our entire week’s surgery schedule in about 10 minutes. And, once we were full, we put clients on a wait list.
This reinforces the FOMO for the next time.
A success tip: Once your schedule is full, let people know that unfortunately all the appointments are taken. I know you may be inclined to not turn anyone away that is willing to give you money but trust me, you are playing the long game and reinforcing to your clients this has a limited capacity so they will be even more motivated to take action for your next promotion.
If your practice still wants to celebrate Pet Dental Health Month, fear not. Here are four creative ideas for promotions that won’t tank your practice.
4 Pet Dental Health Month promotion ideas
Give a discount.
By far and away, clients will be most responsive to a discount on an expensive procedure but be sure to give a flat set discount, for example $50.
Avoid giving a percentage discount. While 10% off may sound more appealing if the invoice is under $500, you will quickly find yourself giving more than $50 away for the more complex cases…the ones where you are working harder. At the very least, if it’s a flat amount, the challenging the case is, the more profit you are generating by working so hard. Plus, it’s my general feeling that most people don’t understand the value of “10% off” whereas $50 means something.
Have a raffle.
Consider raffling off a $500 Amazon gift card or a Furbo to one lucky winner that has a dental that month. I love this idea because you aren’t devaluing the service you are providing when you offer an unrelated reward and you have a capped loss.
Allow clients to choose their perk from a jar.
Load a jar with pieces of paper where each paper has a unique perk, such as a free bag of treats, free dental care kit, $20 off dental, $50 off dental, free dental x-rays, etc. Load one or two big prizes for excitement, such as a $500 Amazon card or a free dental procedure.
Everyone loves winning. When the client checks out, they get to draw from the jar. Super fun!
Create a kissing booth in your lobby.
Promote dental awareness by only allowing animals that have clean teeth to take their photo in the kissing booth. Then have a contest to vote on the cutest and the winner gets a nice prize.
Regardless of what promotion you end up focusing on for dental awareness, never forget the most important thing you can do is to congratulate your clients when they take the necessary steps to get their pet’s teeth cleaned.Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is routine, because if you’ve ever had your BFF go under anesthesia for a routine procedure, the thought of losing something you love for an optional procedure is very stressful. Click To Tweet
Brag, brag, brag on your clients (especially if you are the doctor), make them feel special and state the benefits: being kissable, living longer, no longer in pain, just to name a few.
“Mrs. Smith, I just want to tell you that I think you are an awesome pet owner. Fluffy is going to be so much healthier now and happier. Great job! I wish every pet had an owner like you!”
A great way to seal the deal on this one is to send your dental patients a “gift box” in the mail after the procedure. Place an edible bone (or Greenies for cats) wrapped in ribbon and tissue paper and a handwritten thank you card in a mailer box. The trick to this idea is to actually MAIL it to the pet. It will both surprise and delight your client when they receive this in their mailbox. You won’t get as much bang for your buck if you give it to them while they are in the clinic.
However you celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month, be sure to make it a memorable experience for your clients and a positive experience for your practice.
Stacee Santi, DVM is the CEO and founder of Vet2Pet, where she and her team developed the only customizable, all-in-one client engagement platform for veterinary practices. Regarded as a key opinion leader on innovative strategies to connect with clients and improve patient care and client service, Stacee is a renowned national speaker and author. She’s also the former roller skating champion of New Mexico. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.