Eric D. Garcia
Socially Acceptable columnist Eric D. Garcia is an IT and digital consultant who works exclusively with veterinary practices and speaks at veterinary conferences around the world. He founded Simply Done Tech Solutions to help veterinary practices improve their services and marketing communications efforts. He is a member of VetPartners, an association for veterinary practice development. He was named Practice Management Speaker of the Year at VMX 2020. Learn more at ericgarciafl.com
We all know that technology is accelerating, but do we also know how to take advantage of these breakneck speeds?
While veterinary practices may have learned to leverage the digital sphere by creating a stunning website loaded with compelling veterinary information, alongside a Facebook page offering great client engagement, the next frontier of technology has arrived. Actually, it’s been here a long time.
Become the Go-To Choice
Mobile apps, in my opinion, are no longer merely an option for veterinary practices. They are now a requirement. Through a multitude of case studies across multiple demographics, mobile apps have proven themselves the most effective way of creating meaningful engagement with pet owners in between their routinely scheduled visits.
A great mobile app allows you to centralize the services and offerings of your veterinary practice into a single location. This means that with a single download to their mobile device, clients can request an appointment or prescription refill, check up on services due, submit a question or simply look up pet care advice from a trusted source. These choices aren’t just convenient, they’re becoming prerequisites for clients deeply dedicated to the overall health of their pet.
In fact, a 2016 survey conducted by Colorado State University in partnership with app builder Vet2Pet found that 86 percent of pet owners would like instant access to their pet’s medical records through a mobile app.
This isn’t a simple majority, it’s an overwhelming one. As people of all ages and backgrounds become more dependent on their smartphones, they look for businesses they trust to provide solutions that fit their lifestyles. While you might think that yet “another” app will get lost in the mix, statistics show us otherwise.
Own Your Space
The fact that the app is tied into vitally important information about an individual’s pet dramatically increases the chances that clients will begin to integrate it into their daily routine. While many mobile applications provide only temporary usefulness, a good veterinary app is rich with information that connects to pet owners and their pets and provides personal benefit.
Bill Schroeder, senior vice president of InTouch Practice Communications, explains it this way: “I look at the app game much like real estate. Consider the space on a pet owner’s device as being one that you would like to claim for your practice’s brand. It’s there, it’s free and the only question I have is, ‘Why you would allow a competitor to occupy the space?’”
According to Schroeder, this real estate is there for the taking. And he’s right. When you have an app that’s downloaded to clients’ smartphones, you have secured a position in their pocket. Your app, and consequently your veterinary practice, is now poised and ready to take appointment requests, questions or anything else a pet owner might require.
In general, these apps provide an alternative to calling in to book an appointment — millennials increasingly shy away from this — and often lead to increased client engagement and bookings. If keeping up with appointment or prescription refill requests becomes your greatest difficulty, I think we’re in a pretty good position.
Not to mention, your business hours expand because you’re not requiring pet owners to call during a finite window of time. An app serves as an extension of reminder systems, such as postcards, that are likely already in place. While traditional communication methods are somewhat handy, they’re quickly becoming supplanted by emails, text messages and, perhaps most importantly, push notifications (pop-up messages on a mobile device).
When Push Comes to Shove
Vet2Pet founder Stacee Santi, DVM, sheds light on how push notifications are changing the way veterinary practices engage with pet owners when she says, “Until now, veterinarians were only able to share educational content via postcards, emails, social media and at the annual exam. Push notifications are changing all that by providing a simple and affordable interface for the veterinarian to communicate relevant educational content to their clients.”
Since recent findings show that communications sent to clients via mobile app are four times more likely to be read than email, push notifications have the power to shape our industry for years to come.
Clients, of course, can turn notifications on or off, which falls in line with my steadfast belief that pet owners should have total control of how they wish to receive communication. Some clients may prefer the postcard, while some might transition solely to the app.
If clients are anything like me, they may opt into every available choice. I’m known to tape the postcard to my monitor, mark the email as important and screenshot the incoming text to make sure that Elvis and Penny don’t miss their checkups. The point here is that how pet owners choose to engage is entirely up to them.
Take the Next Step
All right, so you’re starting to see the power of the mobile app. This seems to be a progressive and incredible move for veterinary practices to enhance their offerings, connect with pet owners, drive more business and lead the industry on the cutting edge.
If you’re ready to get started on an app for your veterinary practice, here are the features to look for:
- Personalized: An app needs to be branded to your individual practice. Pet owners should be able to search for and find your practice by name within the app store. (Use your logo as the icon.) While an app that’s not personally branded isn’t a deal breaker, clear instructions are needed so pet owners can successfully download the app and be aware of its associated features and your practice.
- Pet-specific information: Core material needs to be in your app to make it truly useful. This includes information about upcoming appointments as well as services pets are due for and when, a health care library containing quality content, the ability to schedule an appointment or request a prescription refill within the app, and push notification capability. If your app includes all these functionalities, you’re in great shape.
- Extras: An app should be informational, functional and fun. Reward clients when they download the app and take an active interest in the health of their pet. Clients should be able to upload pictures of their pets doing fun or silly things. Veterinary practices can share these pictures in a digital frame at the front desk or print them for display — and share on Facebook, of course.
Mobile apps are powerful tools that can enhance the client experience and boost engagement, retention and business. A great app should teach clients how to best care for their pet and engage the veterinary practice for appointments, prescriptions, questions and the everyday things they need most.
A mobile app is no longer a luxury. It’s a must-have for a growing veterinary practice.