Imagine that you are at your local dog park and join a conversation where one dog owner is asking another for a veterinary recommendation. Instead of replying with the name of the veterinary practice she brings her dog to, the dog owner being asked says, “I am a member of Best Vet Animal Hospital. I highly recommend them – you should really consider becoming a member too!”
This sounds odd to you, so you ask, “What do you mean you are a member?” In response, she explains to both of you that she pays a monthly fee to belong to the practice pet care club and in return she has all of her pet’s preventive care services covered and gets other membership benefits as well, like included additional examinations, and promotional offerings on services not included in her plan. In fact, she tells you, she and her husband just used their “weekend away” benefit and boarded their dog and got one day free as a first-time boarding user of an affiliated kennel. All as part of being a member of the club. Wow, you think, what a great idea – I would love to belong to a program like that for my dog!
What is the point of this story? That it is time to consider inviting pet owners to literally ‘join’ your business by creating and offering a membership model. Why? Because a membership model is a business model where individuals pay a recurring fee to access the value an organization or business creates. In return, the practice not only achieves a recurring revenue stream, but the loyalty and additional spending that comes as a result, and they see growth in other areas, besides preventive care. And once someone becomes a member, it elevates the relationship far beyond just that of a service provider to a consumer.
For veterinary practices, wellness plans are an example of a core offering that puts the membership model into action – pet owners pay a monthly fee to access services (a value) having peace-of-mind knowing that everything that is supposed to be done, IS being done (another value) for their pet. And therein lies the key – the success of any membership program is whether the consumer perceives that there is enough value being offered for them to commit to joining and becoming a member.
To give you an idea of understanding value consider the difference between Amazon Prime and other online retailers. When you are an Amazon Prime member you pay an annual membership fee to receive exclusive benefits that are considered very valuable – free shipping, easy buying process – including simple return policy, access to streaming content and much more. In fact, Amazon Prime keeps adding benefits to ensure continued loyalty, creating the “VIP Member effect” of exclusivity. There is a clear and distinct value that members receive and they are reminded of this value through almost daily interactions. And while the consumer feels that they are getting incredible value for their $100 dollar annual investment (which they are), we all know who is taking it to the bank – Amazon. In other words, it is a win-win relationship.
Compare Amazon to other online retailers whose concept of membership is to obtain your email address in order to send you coupons and specials to encourage your loyalty. If you are in the market for a specific item, or in the mood to shop, you may take advantage of it but will usually ignore it (people create junk email addresses for this very reason!). Even if you are interested, there is a good chance you will check with your membership organization (Amazon) to see if it is available faster and cheaper (plus the ability to one-click order rather than fill out forms makes it that much more enticing). You get the picture.
While currently, most practices have not yet created “the VIP Member effect,” with a little work and ingenuity they can easily provide the type of value that makes becoming a member of the practice a ‘no brainer’ for pet owners. When added value is perceived, loyalty and trust result, leading to members that choose to spend more of their discretionary pet dollars at your practice. Everyone wins – the pet, the pet owner and the practice.
If you need help figuring out how to add the value that takes your wellness plans to the level of a true membership model, start by thinking of your mission and value statement, as well as what makes your practice unique. Focus on some of the things that are valuable to pet owners and consider how your membership model can incorporate these: education, access to advice and care, preferred pricing and recognition of the bond that they share with their pet. For example, maybe you offer a special gift to each pet on their birthday, or with every plan sign up include promotional offers to other services you provide, such as grooming or boarding. If you refer those services to a preferred provider, ask your partner if they would be interested in becoming a part of your club by providing a special offer. Thinking outside the wellness plan ‘box’ allows you to create more value, grow loyalty and increase usage of services your clients need and want.
We must continue to look outside our industry for progressive ways to grow our businesses and successfully engage with today’s pet owners. Promoting behavior based on a special offer (think dental month or senior bloodwork discounts) is nice and will provide a spike in revenue, but will have little impact on loyalty or compliance with other recommended services. In contrast, a membership model offers ongoing, consistent and memorable value with each interaction a pet owner has with your practice. By providing the value that pet owners are seeking, not only will they eagerly become members of your practice, but your growth may just exceed your wildest expectations.