Ask any visitor to your veterinary clinic “What brings you in today?” and a lot of the time they’ll answer “I was told to”, or “I got a letter”.
The trusty reminder is historically one of the most valuable tools in your client retention kit.
In addition to being relatively cost-effective and easy to automate, clients have become reliant on reminders to let them know when their pets services are due. We’ve all had conversations with clients who were upset because they did not receive a reminder!
In the last decade or so, technology has given us further flexibility, cost savings and speed of delivery. The traditional letter or postcard that used to take up to five days to deliver has been superceded by email and sms in many veterinary clinics across Australia. In addition to the ease, speed and cost benefits associated with electronic delivery, the convenience and environmental benefits help to make this method more acceptable to our clients.
This also means that the days of tacking a postcard to the fridge with a magnet or leaving it on the kitchen bench are long gone. Unfortunately sms messages and emails can be easily read and forgotten, or pushed to the bottom of the inbox by incoming messages. We are competing for our client’s attention in a world of information overload and we only have a few seconds to convey the importance of our message.
In a growing industry with new veterinary clinics popping up in an often crowded marketplace, we can’t afford to lose touch with our clients and patients or let those forgotten reminders slip through the cracks. If we don’t reach out to our clients, then our competitors will.
In the next few minutes we’re going to look at 5 steps you can take to tighten up your reminder processes and make them work harder for you. With a few simple actions you will improve client compliance, strengthen the relationship you have with your clients and patients and increase your revenue.
STEP 1. REVIEW:
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” ~W. Edwards Deming
In a world of accelerating technology, increasing client expectations and fears about the safety of vaccinations for both humans and pets, it is more important than ever to understand how well your reminders are currently working for you.
a) Conversion rate
Have a look at your reminders for the past 12 months and ask yourself the following questions:
What percentage of your clients who received reminders booked an appointment?
What percentage of those bookings showed up for the appointment?
Are you following up the ‘no-shows’? If so, by what method?
How long after the service due date are your clients calling to book – within one month, two months, three or more?
Which services have the highest compliance rate and which have the lowest? e.g. vaccinations, desexing, dental checks.
How does your reminder conversion rate compare year on year? Where would you like it to be?
Understanding which types of reminders and delivery methods work best with your clients is essential before you can jump in and make changes. You may only need to tweak a few processes to get better results. What works best for one practice may not necessarily work for another but having a baseline to work from will help you to measure the success of any changes you make going forwards.
How much are your reminders costing you each year?
Consider the costs of processing, printing and posting a letter vs. sms, email or phone (call costs and labour) and what your return is for each method of delivery. Will an email or an sms be enough to find out what your client needs help with or why they haven’t visited recently?
The answer to this question will depend on the delivery type but you should also factor in the intangible costs such as speed of delivery (up to 5 days for via Australia Post), missing and returned mail and outdated contact details.
Are bounced emails and returned mail being followed up with a phone call to update your database? What are the labour and administrative costs associated with keeping your client database up to date?
STEP 2. REFRESH:
How many reminders do you send for each service (1, 2 or 3) and at what intervals?
Some clinics work on a three-tier system — sending a reminder a month before the vaccine is due, sending a reminder once the vaccine is overdue, and sending one more a month after the vaccine is due.
Others send two reminders – one when the service and due and a second reminder when the service is a month overdue.
How often you send reminders is entirely at your discretion, however don’t be shy about trying a third reminder if you haven’t already. It’s understandable that you don’t want your clients to feel harassed but you may be surprised how receptive they actually are. Many clients will thank you!
Unlike letters which incur processing, printing and postage costs, electronic reminders are faster and cheaper. However do you know which method your clients respond to best?
Consider mixing up the delivery methods to see which combination yields the best results for you. For example you may decide to send the first round of reminders via email then follow up with a second email or an sms or a friendly phone call.
How long has it been since you refreshed the look of your reminder letters?
Is the wording still relevant to your clients? Does your logo need a refresh? Have you been using the same images for years? Have you included links to your social media pages?
You can also look at ways to personalise the letter/email/sms e.g. using the patient’s name with a species or breed specific image.
d) Ease of booking
How easy is it for your clients to book an appointment?
Clients are time poor and they want to get the booking made fast and with the minimum of fuss.
Do you have an online booking system?
Do your clients have to navigate a phone menu system to speak to a team member?
How often will they be put on hold while your nurses attend to a patient?
Having answers to these questions will help you to know where you can make the smallest changes for the biggest outcomes.
STEP 3. EDUCATE:
Most clients understand the need to vaccinate their pets.
Some won’t let their pets go a day overdue and will often book an appointment before they’ve even received a reminder.
Some clients see vaccinations as a ‘nice to have’ and so they may not prioritise time or money to bring their pets up to date as soon as we would like.
There is also a small but growing minority of clients who have become fearful about dog and cat vaccines as a result of ‘anti-vaxxer’ opinions being debated online. A number of these pet owners are adamant that they will not vaccinate and are not open to discussion. Titre testing is a service that could be offered but it needs to be made clear that there are limitations on which diseases can be tested for and that the cost may actually be more than the vaccination.
Many pet owners are simply confused. There is much conversation at the local dog park about annual vs. tri-ennual vaccines, over-vaccinating, what diseases are covered and if their pet is at risk.
Whatever your clients’ views about vaccinations, we still need to convey the importance of an annual health check and on-going preventative health care.
Client education can be either a proactive or passive process depending on how receptive your clients are to the information. If a client is resistant to being offered further advice you don’t need to force a conversation, but you can display posters in clinic, publish articles on your website or write a blog via social media. Get the conversation started so that it can be shared to a wider audience and encourage your clients to ask questions openly.
STEP 4. TRAIN:
Checking service due dates should be a routine part of every patient’s visit to the clinic.
Barring an emergency, all nurses and vets in consults and at reception should be checking due dates and asking if flea and worm treatments are up to date.
Empower your team by providing them with the skills to have genuine and helpful conversations about preventative healthcare. Embedding good reminder habits into your work practices will demonstrate to your clients that you are competent, alert to their needs and that you genuinely care about their pet.
STEP 5. MEASURE:
It’s well known that even the most loyal clients will sometimes price shop for routine services and preventative healthcare for their pets.
Do you know what your competitors are charging, or if they are running a seasonal promo? e.g. 2 vaccinations for the price of 1.
Keep an eye on social media and roadside banners so that you can respond by running your promos at alternate times of the year or doing something unique and different for your clients like a give-away or competition. Speak to your industry reps and ask how they can assist.
If you feel brave enough you can mystery shop your local competitors to find out what they are charging and how their customer service experience compares with yours.
There are a number of ways to capture information about your reminders, including:
- Reports from your practice management system – e.g. Vaccinations overdue >2 months, Dentals booked as a % of Dental treatment plans, Entire patients aged >6 months, Last sale date >12 months ago.
- Vaccine sales.
- Client Satisfaction Surveys – online or telephone.
Report on your reminder conversion rates for comparison year on year to find out what is working and what needs a review.
In summary, these are 5 steps to get the most out of your reminders system and to improve compliance, patient care and ultimately your bottom line.
- First review your existing reminder parameters and look at what’s working and what is not.
- Refresh and update the easiest parts first – a small change can make a big difference! Test, measure then test again.
- Be available to your clients – answer questions and offer advice in clinic, connect through social media posts, update with newsletters and keep your website content current.
- Instil good habits in your team for checking overdue services at admission, discharge and in consults.
- Measure how well your changes have worked so that you can modify your approach and celebrate your successes!
For more information about outbound calling, mystery shopping and staff training: