Bridging the Generational Divide


by Kristin Youngberg, Vetel Diagnostics

Millennials have recently supplanted Baby Boomers as the largest pet-owning population in the U.S. However, there are still many pets owned by Generation X, The Boom Generation, and some of the Silent Generation. Each generation has a different style of pet-ownership, and communication preference with their veterinary practitioner, than the one before it. Cater to these preferences and adapt to your client’s viewpoint, and you’ll have a client loyalty base that is second to none.

The Silent Generation (born 1925-1942, now age 75-92)

The Silent Generation grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. They were the seen-but-not-heard children of the conformist culture raising them. They were too young to be war heroes but too old to be the free-spirits of the cultural revolution. Don Draper of Mad Men was of the Silent Generation, a “rebel without a cause” with tough masculine exterior.

Now in their elder years, the silent generation is experiencing a greater payout (pensions, healthcare, social services) than any other generation has or will. They are retiring into unprecedented affluence, and though many do not still own pets, those that do have expendable cash to invest in them.

My grandparents, in their mid-80s, had a wheaten terrier named Teddy until about two weeks ago when he became too frail to hold down medication or get up on his own. Like many Silent Generation pet owners, they treated Teddy well and he went most places with them, but he was still a dog, not to be treated like a child. They went to the same vet for all their dogs since 1980, and trusted that he would not recommend more treatments than were necessary. Teddy mostly went in for vaccinations, and when it was obvious he was uncomfortable in old age, they let him go without months of suffering on his part or continually advanced treatments to keep him alive. Those of the Silent Generation want no-nonsense, tell-it-how-is communication from their veterinarian. They will not opt for new technologically advanced treatments but are conscientious clients who will bring their pet in routinely and follow your advice.

Treat those of the Silent Generation with respect and do not push new medical advances on them. They are incredibly loyal clients and responsible pet owners, but will tell you after all, “he’s just a dog.”

The Boom Generation (born 1943-1960, now age 57-74)

Baby Boomers came of age during a consciousness revolution. Their G.I. Generation parents raised them with a post-war indulgence and optimism, eventually leading to their stereotype as the “me” generation. They added passion and violence to the civil rights movement.

Boomers were the first generation to make pet ownership common, bringing pets into the home as family members instead of having outdoor working dogs or cats on a farm. Now that many Boomers have empty nests, they are filling them with more pets. They often take advantage of the multitude of services available to pets, not limited to veterinary care: the groomer, doggy daycare, and pet psychologists. Some seek additional medicinal options like homeopathic remedies or homemade treatments for their pets. No expense is spared as Boomers often anthropomorphize with their animals.

If you’re making a reminder call (which is probably unnecessary for a proactive Boomer pet-owner), Baby Boomers value face-to-face communication or a phone call over any message sent via email or social media. Their overwhelming commitment to their pets’ well-being make them enthusiastic clients who want to know all their options and what’s best for fido. Make sure to cover all the possible treatments for their pet in addition to supplemental care for ongoing health.

For Boomers and their furry family members, acknowledge the significance of their pet and offer them the works.

Generation X (born 1961-1981, now age 36-56)

Xers grew up in an unstable world of failing marriages and schools. The collective welfare of children was nationally a low priority and children were portrayed as demons and troublemakers in popular culture. They learned to distrust institutions and prefer free agency over corporate loyalty; thereby becoming the greatest entrepreneurial generation in U.S. history.

While Boomers are more likely to be dog owners, Xers are more likely to own fish. Their tumultuous childhood and adolescence may have kept them from taking on the responsibility of an animal until later in life. Now entering middle age, they more likely to have pets on their children’s behalf.

Xers are a stereotypically pragmatic, street-smart, and frenetic generation, distrustful and skeptical of others and hold a belief that life holds no special favors. They will not be the most conscientious group of pet owners, suspicious of their veterinarian’s motives and believing they must “break a few rules to win.” They will not invest in a treatment that they cannot understand is absolutely necessary.

The most important aspect of communicating with an Xer client is gaining their trust. Explain the needs of their pet in a way they can discern and encourage them to follow through with your advice, listing the benefits to their pet if they do. Xers tend to be self-reliant and will avoid bringing their pet into the practice unless they are unable to take care of an issue on their own. Respect their need for autonomy and make suggestions for care that they are able to carry out themselves; only schedule future appointments that are absolutely necessary while you build trust with an Xer.

Once you earn the trust of a Gen Xer, you will have their loyalty for life.

The Millennial Generation (born 1982~2005, now age 35 or younger)

The Millennials came along when America believed kids needed a new sense of structure and protection. Unlike Generation X, kids were viewed in a positive light, “Baby on Board” stickers appeared in minivan windows. As they enter the workforce, large numbers of millennials seek a meaningful career with flexibility, immediate feedback, and a work-life balance. They have been viewed as entitled and unprofessional by other generations, and are also closer with their parents than any other generation has been in the past.

The financial crisis and student debt have forced a number of millennials — the most educated generation yet — to live at home with their parents after graduating from school. They are also putting off marriage and children longer than any previous generation; 22% of millennials are currently married compared with 30% of Gen Xers and 40% of Baby Boomers at the same age. Instead of starting a family, many are becoming pet owners earlier.

Millennials may not have the extra income to spend on their pets, but fido will eat before they do. Millennials like to try the latest new products and services, value customization, and are likely to seek advice on how to best care for their animals. They generally protect against risk and are responsible about bringing their pets to the vet for preventative care. Millennials are likely to use social media to connect with services and will read reviews and ratings on a veterinary practice to choose the best one for them. Feel free to ask them for Yelp reviews or to tag your practice in their posts about their pet’s experience.

I once worked for a vet who would text his clients updates on their pet’s progress if they came in for a procedure. We sent photos and care instructions straight to their cell. Millennials will appreciate the ease of information access and want a vet who is flexible and available immediately with a knowledgeable response to their inquiries. Just like their Boomer parents, these pets are part of the family, and in the case of millennials, are a surrogate family until they are ready to start their own.

Once you can cater to each generation’s style of pet-ownership, you will have a loyal and satisfied customer base that will be keen on keeping their animals healthy and following through with your recommendations. After all, it’s all about doing as much good as you can do for the animals in need; and connecting with their owners is the first step to ensuring their future health.