Offering a Health Care Warranty in Your Resort
By Suzanne Locker
In 2001, I heard a presentation by a very wise man named Jim Krack, who was a prominent pet resort owner in Colorado and founder of the American Boarding Kennels Association. His session was called “Do You Want to be Right or Do You Want to be Happy?” The basic premise of his talk involved the frequent mishandling of customer complaints regarding occasional pet injuries or illnesses that can happen while boarding.
No matter how safe your facility, how perfect your cleaning protocols are, or how expertly trained your staff is, anything can happen while a pet is staying with you. Such as:
- Dogs pawing at fencing can pull their toenails out.
- A dog can strain a muscle, get a puncture, or scrape themselves while happily jumping and playing in the yard.
- A 5-pound dog can wriggle right out of a sweet staff member’s arms and fall to the ground.
- A dog that has contracted canine cough at the local dog park checks in to board (but isn’t symptomatic yet) and spreads it to several dogs in your facility before you see any signs of an illness.
The possibilities are endless!
When events such as these happen in your resort, you may need to seek veterinary care. It is common practice to call the pet owner or emergency contact to let them know about the situation and to explain what steps will be taken to help their pet. During the process of discussing the situation, the pet parent may remark that the resort is at fault and should pay all expenses. Both sides may become defensive, escalating the conversation. All the conflict resolution training in the world doesn’t make this an easy thing to deal with. I wasn’t happy at all trying to rationalize why my pet resort was not responsible for these matters, even if I was right the majority of the time!
Many times in our drive to justify our procedures or actions of the staff, we alienate our customers with our “no fault” arguments. A prime example of this is when there are several dogs in the facility that contract an upper-respiratory illness, and we must explain to the pet parents how this happens. A common explanation of why the resort shouldn’t be responsible for little Fluffy’s vet bills might sound like this: “It’s just like when you take your child to school and they contract a cold”. The obvious implication is that a human parent wouldn’t blame the school for making their child sick or ask the school to pay for the doctor visit.
Although the example and comparison to children in school is actually very true, it has been my experience that having these types of conversations with a pet parent is extremely stressful. Just because you are right, most pet parents aren’t happy that they must now deal with taking their pet to see the vet, pay for the expense, and listen to several days of that horrible honking cough.
Instead of arguing with your customers about who is at fault, Mr. Krack suggested a revolutionary solution. Pay the veterinary expense and simply say, “We’ve taken care of that for you.” This made sense to me, and in 2001, after ten years of trying to explain and educate the customers and hours of investigating pet incidents and injuries, I took this advice to heart and created our Healthy Care Warranty program.
Many resorts offer this service without a fee or include it in their boarding rate. However, it was suggested in the seminar that a small fee of between $3 and $10 per visit/per pet should be charged to offset veterinary expenses you incur. I was apprehensive about introducing a new fee, but only a handful of customers complained about it. Now, years later, we never hear complaints. It is not offered as an optional program, but parents understand and accept it as a policy that is beneficial.
Be specific in your agreement about how much you will cover per incident. ABC’s Health Care Warranty has a $500 limit paid for each incident. Exclusions for coverage are:
- Pre-existing medical conditions
- Injuries caused from fights between family dogs when sharing an enclosure.
Fifteen years later, the warranty program has been a huge success for ABC. The program fees are more than enough to cover the veterinary costs incurred. In fact, we have never had a year when costs exceeded income for this program. In 2015, we netted almost $25,000 from the HCW program.
Taking care of pets is such a privilege and a huge responsibility. The situations can still be very hard to explain to a parent, but it’s satisfying to be able to say, “We’ve taken care of that”. I encourage you to think about adding this service to your business. You will definitely be happy you did so and most times you will still be right! n
Since 1991, Suzanne has owned and operated ABC Pet Resort, a multi-service pet care center located in Houston, Texas. Throughout her career, Suzanne has been involved with creating safety and operational standards for the pet industry. With her husband Al, and his design/build construction company Turnkey, Inc., Suzanne continues to share her experiences and insights as a consultant for start-up pet care facility owners.