Dr. Stacee Santi is a 1996 graduate of the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the founder of Vet2Pet, a technology communication platform for veterinary practices. With over 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, she brings an in-the-trenches approach to innovation and solutions for veterinary teams. She has served on industry advisory boards and as past president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. She was voted WVC’s 2021 Educator of the Year and is currently the managing director of client engagement for Vetsource.Read Articles Written by Stacee Santi
Do you find yourself saying, “I can’t believe Bella’s owner didn’t have the courtesy to call and let me know they weren’t coming to the appointment”? Unfortunately, no-shows are common nationwide, with one practice owner I know averaging about seven a day. While some no-shows feel like a blessing, especially when your clinic is slammed or you don’t look forward to the appointment, the reality is they can negatively affect a veterinary practice. When you turn away patients because of a full schedule, each slot is a coveted revenue and pet care opportunity.
Before I propose solutions, let’s consider why clients no-show. In many cases, they aren’t delighted with their reservation and took what they could get at the time. They might search for something better with one of your competitors or price-shop. If they land a better option, they might forget to call you or decide not to tell you.
That last scenario is like booking dinner at a restaurant. Maybe your favorite bistro can’t get you in until 8 p.m., but you’re already hungry at 5. You call around and find a place a little farther away that can accommodate your party at 6. You book it and don’t bother to notify the first place.
Veterinary clients might not call to cancel because:
- They don’t want to have a conversation about it.
- They think you won’t notice because you seemed not to care when they called.
- They think you’ll be happy because you told them how busy your clinic is.
- They had no idea how busy you are and didn’t realize that a call would help you.
- Life got busy, so they forgot.
- They were anxious about the appointment and couldn’t deal with it emotionally.
- Calling and being put on hold is too time-consuming.
Here are six things you can do to help a client reschedule an appointment or, better yet, prevent a cancellation.
1. Provide Options
The best way to make sure a client is comfortable with an appointment is to offer choices. For example:
“Ms. Smith, I have three options for you and Fluffy. We can:
- “Get you in a 30-minute slot with Dr. Stacee on Tuesday, June 21, at 2:15 p.m. or the week of June 26.
- “Schedule a drop-off on most any day. You can leave Fluffy with us, and Dr. Stacee will work on her between her appointments or over lunch.
- “Set up a telemedicine consult via our mobile app. Then, you can ask Dr. Stacee questions about Fluffy.”
Giving at least two options is better than one because the receptionist can listen carefully to understand preferences and determine what the pet owner isn’t comfortable with. For example, client responses might include:
- “Is that the soonest I can get in?”
- “Hmm, I think I can make it work.”
- “Can you call if there are any earlier cancellations?”
Those responses can put an appointment at a higher risk of a no-show, so remember to confirm the appointment later or find a solution, if possible, that the client deems more acceptable.
2. Make Rescheduling or Canceling Easier
Face it: Calling a veterinary practice, or any business for that matter, is sometimes the last thing a busy pet owner wants to do. So, make sure all appointment confirmation messages have a “Cancel” or “Reschedule” button on the email, text or app notification.
I recently booked a dinner reservation in Durango, Colorado. The day before, I received an email containing a “Cancel” button, which was handy because I had gotten a better reservation and didn’t have to call.
3. Send the Appointment to a Personal Calendar
The old saying goes, “If it isn’t in the calendar, it’s not going to happen.” People are busy and distractions infinite, so it’s no wonder that clients flat out forget to show up. The days of the paper calendar are dwindling, and many people organize their life using a smartphone calendar. Make sure your automated reminder system includes a button to “Add to iCal” and “Add to Google Calendar.”
4. Ask for a Commitment
A Chicago restaurant suffering from 30% no-shows made a small but effective change to its booking style. Instead of saying, “Please let us know if something comes up and you can’t make it,” the business asked callers, “Will you let us know if something comes up and you can’t make it?” The appointment-taker waited for the caller to say “yes,” which is a critical part of the response. A person who gives a verbal commitment takes it more seriously. It’s a personal promise or agreement rather than a suggested “nice to know.”
5. Take Same-Day Appointments
The No. 1 reason for no-showing is when the client is concerned about a pet and wants the animal to be seen as soon as possible. With appointments booked weeks in advance, most practices I talk to build in daily schedule holes. The slots fill within minutes of the clinic’s opening because of the high demand for veterinary services.
But that’s not all. The solution is to add more same-day slots until they don’t quite fill. That way, you reduce the chance of burning out your team or compromising patient care.
6. Create a Line
This next idea might be worth a try: The first two hours of the day are first come, first served. Then, you don’t take any more unscheduled clients when you reach capacity.
By embracing the “early bird gets the worm” theory, you weed out pet owners willing to do anything versus those who aren’t. There is always tomorrow at your clinic for clients who are turned away. (Please note that I’m not suggesting you handle emergencies this way, only non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries.)
The truth of the matter is that veterinary medicine is transforming. Given the increasing number of patient visits, what’s critical for our practices and teams to thrive are innovation, creativity and technology solutions.
BY THE NUMBERS
Some veterinary practices make clients put their money where their request is by requiring a pre-appointment deposit to minimize no-shows. I consider it a last-resort solution because it’s not simple. If you implement such a policy, consider:
- Is it for all clients or just those you think might no-show?
- How do you define a potential no-show?
- How will you accept the payment? (Warning: Doing it by phone means more time spent on the phone.)
- How will you handle no-show clients who demand their money back?
- How does success look? For example, what is your goal for reducing no-shows? A 50% drop? Fewer than two a day? If you don’t track the numbers, you won’t know whether your policy works.