Socially Acceptable columnist Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, is the founder of The Social DVM, a consulting firm helping veterinary professionals learn to manage and grow their social media, online reputation and marketing strategies. She earned her DVM from the University of Illinois and is a recipient of its Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Before stepping back to focus on her marketing passion, she served as medical director for a large hospital in St. Louis. Today, she divides her time between practice, consulting and writing. She is the author of the “Social Media and Marketing for Veterinary Professionals” textbook.Read Articles Written by Caitlin DeWilde
Your clinic’s phone rings again. Email notifications pop up. The Messenger tab flashes. You haven’t checked your app dashboard yet. Everybody wants an appointment. You throw back coffee, take a deep breath and respond to clients by flipping back and forth on the appointment calendar, offering time slots and sending confirmations.
Client A responds to your email with her choice, right after you booked that time for Client B, who called in. Client C didn’t mention in Facebook Messenger that he can come in only on Tuesday evenings, so you provide other options. Clients D, E and F through Z call for appointments, all before lunch. The phone doesn’t stop ringing.
There is a better way, and it’s called online booking. By using a multimodal approach, just as you would when managing a complex disease, practices can direct clients to an online booking system. The options (most of them free) from Facebook, Google, Instagram and others can drive clients to make appointments and keep them.
Why It’s Important
Online appointment booking solves the frustrations felt by pet owners and staff members. Clients who visit your hospital’s website, social media channels and review platforms can schedule an appointment at their convenience, even when your office is closed. Your receptionists are freed up for other tasks and your practice can accept appointments 24/7. Client engagement and satisfaction, along with practice revenue, improve when pet owners can book appointments at their leisure and receive digital confirmation.
Don’t have real-time booking? No problem. Ask your website designer to add a “Request an Appointment” contact form. Alternatively, create a free online form using Google Forms or JotForm, each of which generates a URL you can use. Be sure to include specific form entries that might decrease the back and forth, such as “Do you have a preferred doctor?” and “Tell us your top three preferred appointment days and times.” Or try Facebook’s native scheduling tool, another third-party option. All these provide practices with a clickable web link that can be used on social media, review sites and your mobile app.
Here are your options.
Facebook facilitates multiple ways to book appointments.
1. Your Facebook page’s main call-to-action (CTA) button is the blue one just below your cover photo. It redirects visitors in a variety of ways. Choosing the “Book Now” option will allow you to add your appointment booking link, set up appointments using Facebook’s native tool or connect another third-party scheduling software.
Linking to your online appointment portal or “Request an Appointment” form is most common. Remember to click “Finish” to save your changes, and test the button by clicking on the CTA button and then “Test Button.”
BONUS: Facebook will auto-generate a post when you configure a “Book Now” button.=
2. Do you hate getting Facebook messages asking for an appointment? Using Facebook Messenger’s automated response feature can save time for you and your clients. It even supports interactive questions and answers. To get started, go to “Page Settings” and then “Messaging,” “Automated Responses” and “Set Up.”
3. Facebook Appointments is a free tool for page owners. Clients can schedule appointments within their app in real time based on availability and the settings your practice selects.
“We’ve been using the Facebook appointment scheduler for almost a year now,” said Liza Ledet, DVM, the owner of Mandeville Animal Hospital in Louisiana. “It’s a great tool, especially for new clients who don’t currently have our customized hospital app, and it also conveniently allows people to book anytime and from anywhere, even using a mobile device.”
Facebook Appointments integrates with Google Calendar but not with practice management software systems, so veterinary teams will need to confirm times and monitor Facebook regularly to prevent double booking.
4. With a little marketing spend, Facebook can help you target clients demographically. Consider boosting Facebook posts that are original to your practice. This might inspire pet owners to book an appointment, and it will create a clickable “Book Now” button at the bottom of each post. Practices also can run Facebook ads independent of a post. Just click “Promote” and then “Get More Bookings.”
Claiming your practice’s Google My Business profile is essential for search-engine success, monitoring online reviews and sharing basic information about your practice. Also, you can add an appointment link. The option is clickable directly from search results when a pet owner uses Google to find your practice.
To add it, navigate to your practice’s profile and then go to “Info” and “Appointment Links.”
Are you seeing more traffic on your practice’s Instagram page? Do you hate featuring a great post and then hoping that visitors will figure out how to book an appointment? Here are three workarounds for Instagram-savvy clinics:
- Use a promoted post. Choose the “Book Now” button and edit your link in the promo settings.
- Have your website designer create a specific Instagram page on your website to facilitate multiple links instead of just one.
- Try a third-party tool like Linktr.ee to create multiple clickable links directly from your profile, and add your “Book Now” button at the top.
Bonus: Veterinary practices can send automated “Quick Replies” to direct messages received on their Instagram account. Consider including the appointment link in the automated message. For example: “We’d love to see your pet! You can book an appointment anytime, from anywhere, online at [ ___________ ].”
Review platforms like Yelp and Nextdoor offer businesses the ability to create posts and buttons with clickable CTAs, but it comes at a cost. Because of limited data about the efficacy of such an expense, your money is better spent and monitored on paid Facebook and Instagram ads. That said, you can add your website link to your practice’s profile and consider adding photos that depict your online booking options. Remember to add the appointment link in the caption.
Putting It All Together
A multimodal approach allows clients to easily book online in a single click from whichever platform they use. This increases appointments and reduces labor.
Setting up appointment links on your platforms is often a one-time effort that requires little or no maintenance. The result will be more appointments and revenue, reduced client and front desk frustration, decreased phone ringing and, of course, more pets getting the veterinary care they need.
DID YOU KNOW?
In the world of human medicine, 68% of patients say they’re more likely to choose a provider that allows them to go online to book, change or cancel an appointment. To learn more, read the Accenture 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey at accntu.re/3drZXZ1.