Make Digital Client Service Stick
Keep pet owners and the veterinary team happy by continuing to digitize six key services.
The COVID-19 pandemic radically altered operations at veterinary hospitals. Some of the sudden changes will undoubtedly have long-term effects, especially when it comes to client expectations. Veterinary clients, particularly PetGen (millennials and Gen Zers, our profession’s No. 1 consumers), are looking for increased levels of digital service.
The WellHaven Pet Health family of practices has experienced this firsthand. Ashley Hansmann, CVT, practice manager at WellHaven Pet Health Maple Grove and WellHaven Pet Health Coon Rapids, said most clients who are new to the Minnesota practices request appointments digitally, either via the practice’s website or affiliated pet health mobile app.
Digitizing services not only attracts clients but also better supports the team.
“Communicating with clients digitally allows team members to plan and manage time,” Hansmann says. “Speaking on the phone requires team members to stop what they’re doing and toggle around on the computer to figure out details in the moment. Sending an email or text avoids that stress and gives us the chance to get the information straight before responding.”
As consumers become more accustomed to services like online ordering and contact-free delivery, they’ll begin to expect similar accommodations from their veterinary practice. Continue your practice’s technological transformation by extending these six digital services:
Giving clients the option to schedule appointments via the practice website or mobile app is one of the most beneficial services WellHaven offers, Hansmann said. The system WellHaven uses allows clients to request a specific date and time or a general day. Receptionists receive a notification about the appointment request and can check the schedule when they have a break in the day. The system automatically sends responses to the client based on whether the receptionist confirms the appointment or suggests an alternate time. The whole process is handled without anyone needing to pick up the phone.
The simple move to text-message reminders gives clients an easy, low-stress way to notify a practice of scheduling changes. It also helps the team manage no-shows. Hansmann said her practices faced a surge of no-shows. To help, the team lets clients know that appointments must be confirmed at least 48 hours before the scheduled time, otherwise the time slot might be given to another client. “By sending this need for confirmation via text, we’ve not only gained the ability to confirm appointments with ease, but also to fill appointments that don’t get confirmed,” she said.
Automated text-based confirmations also free up team members’ schedules. “Before digital reminders, one receptionist would literally be tied up on the phone all day making calls,” Hansmann said. “By avoiding this, receptionists are able to address more clients at one time and focus more on giving clients who are present for appointments a better experience.”
Client Questions and Appointment Follow-Ups
Hansmann and her team rely heavily on digital communications to respond to client inquiries. Getting doctors and team members off the phone saves hours each week. “When we weren’t using email to communicate, every night we’d have a bulletin board full of notes about clients who needed to be contacted,” Hansmann said. “Doctors didn’t have time during the day to respond, so they would stay late with some team members each night to make phone calls. And phone calls always take longer than they should.”
Email and text messages are efficient ways to share diagnostics and to check in after standard procedures. If diagnostics are normal, Hansmann’s team emails the results. When patients need spay or neuter incisions checked, for example, her team asks clients to email or text a photo. This allows the doctor to review the photo at a convenient time, and the team can get back to the client afterward with next steps.
Many skin issues can be identified and addressed by sharing photos, though some require further investigation. Hansmann’s team encourages clients to share a photo of a pet’s skin issue so that the doctor can do an initial evaluation without the client or pet needing to leave home. By looking at the photo, the doctor can determine whether the patient needs further evaluation. Then the team can reach out to the client to continue the dermatological evaluation accordingly.
Veterinarians and team members simply don’t get enough time to address all topics with all clients. Conversely, clients can feel rushed into decisions during abbreviated appointments. Solve both challenges by sending pre-appointment information to clients via email or an app. Before clients walk in the door, Hansmann’s team emails clients with a rundown of the appointment process, as well as an outline of the WellHaven care plans and associated costs. “If pet owners know what to expect during their appointment, they’re a lot happier,” Hansmann said. “We used to hear that clients felt overwhelmed by information during appointments. Now their minds are in the right place when they walk in the door.” She said the emails have shaved an average of 20 minutes off of new client appointments.
Pet Health Tracking
People’s connection with technology and the businesses that use it has deepened as it’s moved onto smartphones. Unlike with software or websites, consumers connect with mobile apps because they can own the experience by adding personal details, photos and more. Capitalize on the connection by providing clients with a pet health app that creates a convenient partnership with your practice. WellHaven does just that, and Hansmann said the pet health app gives clients six key benefits:
- The ability to personalize the app with the pet’s information.
- Instant access to vaccine and preventive testing due dates.
- The ability to set reminders for administering medication and monthly preventives.
- The ability to request medication refills and appointments.
- Instant messaging for two-way conversations with the practice team.
- Automatic appointment reminders.
“It’s nice for clients to have a single application with all of these capabilities in one,” Hansmann said.
Choosing the right technology partner to continue your practice’s integration of digital services is key. Find a company that provides stellar service both for your team and your clients. The company should help your practice integrate and customize the system to meet your needs. The best companies also provide clients with technology support, so your team members don’t have to add “IT troubleshooter” to their job descriptions.
By working with the right partner, your practice won’t need to overhaul your processes to implement long-term digital services. You’ll be able to make small tweaks to your communications, like adding two-way digital messaging, that make a big difference. The end result will be a practice that gives clients what they expect, makes your team more efficient and maintains business success during COVID-19 and beyond.
Dr. Bob Lester is chief medical officer of WellHaven Pet Health and a founding member of Banfield Pet Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves as vice president of the North American Veterinary Community.
In the Trenches Communication Tips
Ashley Hansmann, CVT, practice manager at WellHaven Pet Health Maple Grove and WellHaven Pet Health Coon Rapids, both in Minnesota, said the following simple approaches to digital communications help solve complex challenges.
- Provide variety. “Our biggest learning is offering all forms of communication. Texting and emailing clients saves time because we’re better able to reach clients in a way they want to be reached.”
- Ask about preferences. “When we meet a pet owner for the first time, we ask them their preferred way of communicating: text, email or phone. We note their selection in their file, and we do our best to respect their choice.”
- Try alternatives. “If you’re calling a client and they never get back to you, try emailing or texting instead. Using different communications options has helped us get more clients in to comply with the services they need for their pets.”