Is a Loyalty Program Right for Your Veterinary Practice?

By Stacee Santi, DVM

Loyalty programs are all the talk these days. You don’t have to look very far to find a business with a loyalty program. Coffee shops were one of the first businesses to discover the value of client retention with a loyalty program but now all sorts of business have jumped on the band wagon- online shopping, airlines, and even human healthcare now have customer loyalty programs. And the question arises, should you be offering this in your veterinary practice? Here is an overview to help you decide.

Client acquisition vs. Retention

There are two important activities that every vet practice should be focused on when it comes to their clients: getting new clients into their practice and keeping their current clients happy. However, most marketing programs in our hospitals are aimed at new client acquisition, e.g. referral programs, your website, and online reviews. Veterinary practices tend to be less focused on what they are doing with their current customers to keep them engaged and loyal.

Why does this matter? Your revenue is directly impacted by the number of clients you have. It makes sense then that getting new clients is a focus point for most clinics but you also have to monitor how many clients you are losing each month. And, no surprise, it’s typically much harder to get new clients than it is to keep your existing ones happy.

Think of it this way: Client Acquisition is like going out on a first date – it’s labor-intensive, you have to dress up, put a lot of effort into having a good conversation, and put your best foot forward to make a good impression. Client Retention is getting to go on a second, third, fourth, etc date where the conversations get easier and you have a real relationship. That’s where the real value is for practice health and the goal is to get to this stage with as many clients as you can where they, in turn, become a vocal reference client for your practice.

Loyalty programs are powerful because they are one of the easiest marketing tools to address client retention. When you have a mobile app with a loyalty program, you have essentially created a captive audience for your business and a mechanism to actually show appreciation and give perks to your existing clients. For the pet owner, the better job they do, the more rewards they get. And just like our animal patients, our clients like to be acknowledged and rewarded for good behavior.

Secrets of successful loyalty programs

Not all loyalty programs are the same. The average consumer belongs to over 25 loyalty programs, but they only actively participate in a handful. What makes those attractive for customers to participate in? Five key factors make these different, but what is similar in all of these is the concept of gamification, i.e. they bring in points of game-playing (such as point scoring) to encourage engagement with a product or service. When a loyalty program is gamified, they drive revenue and can significantly boost the average client transaction and number of visits.

To do this, there are two key points you must be able to engage on:

Interaction at the point of sale. It means there is some awareness by the consumer that if they change their behavior (and spend more) they will be advancing towards a goal (or reward). The most powerful interaction at the point of sale is your front desk staff. Just like forward booking, when the receptionist engages the client at the checkout and encourages them to round up to get more loyalty credits, they are very motivated to purchase additional products such as parasite prevention or diets from you, their veterinarian (rather than big box or online retailer). But if it’s over-automated and they aren’t reminded at the point of sale, then the ability to generate revenue is diminished and your loyalty program may become a discount program.

Fear of missing out. (FOMO) on an opportunity is a very strong driver in behavior. Whether you are constantly checking your FB so you don’t miss a post or comment, or you buy 2 for 1 T-Shirts, you are under the influence of FOMO. Loyalty programs that can harness this psychological tactic are much more powerful than their counterparts.

Whatever your goal for implementing a rewards program, be sure that you are carefully measuring the outcomes of the programs. If you’re looking to drive revenue and visits, measure the ATC and annual client visits before and after the program is implemented. It’s important to check in often on the data to ensure the loyalty program is working for you!

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