As any owner of a veterinary practice will gladly testify, missed appointments are the cause of many headaches. Besides the obvious drawback of costing your business revenue, no-shows are problematic for other reasons as well.
Missed Vet Appointments Waste Everyone’s Time
Most of the time, the offending client doesn’t even realize he has an appointment. That means you don’t get notified. So what do you do? You stand around for 15 minutes wondering if the person is ever going to come in.
After you’ve finally determined your customer isn’t going to show up, you suddenly find yourself with some spare time to burn. Of course, you’ve got another appointment in just a little while, so it’s not enough time to do anything else productive.
Commence thumb twiddling.
Lastly, you have to spend time and effort on the administrative task of reaching out to the client and rescheduling their appointment.
Charging Clients for Missed Appointments
In an effort to recoup some of the costs involved with a no-show, many animal hospital owners will charge their clients a fee for missing an appointment. That doesn’t always go over so well.
Even though the revenue lost and the inconvenience caused by the client are indisputable, you still end up being seen as the bad guy. People don’t like to be scolded for their bad behavior, especially since “the customer is always right.” No matter how fair it may be that you are imposing a fine on these people, it hurts your relationship nonetheless.
What is one to do?
If you play the part of the cool parent and let the bad manners slide, the kids will walk all over you. If you punish your customers for bad manners, they’ll roll their eyes like grumpy teenagers and grow to resent you. It’s a lose-lose scenario.
The best solution for missed appointments is to try to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Using Reminders as a Marketing Tool for Your Vet Clinic
Let’s switch gears for a minute and take a quick pop quiz:
When was the last time you had your oil changed?
If you are like most people, your answer is “I have no idea.”
The marketing geniuses at Jiffy Lube realized this was a big problem for their business model, so in 1979 they invented one of the most effective marketing tools ever created: the oil change window sticker. This one little piece of adhesive ingenuity has probably driven more repeat sales than any high-tech customer retention program in marketing history.
What Makes the Window Sticker Reminder So Effective?
There are a couple basic reasons the window sticker is so effective, and these ideas can be applied to many areas of your marketing.
- It’s always there. You may have heard the saying that people have to see an ad seven times before it even begins to sink in. Who knows if there are any legitimate statistics to back up this cliché we all regurgitate, but the point is that repetition plays a big role getting marketing messages to stick. It’s why big brands like Coca Cola still spend millions of dollars advertising a product every single one of us is already aware of.
- It is unobtrusive. The window sticker lives in a place where it seems like it belongs. Today, with all the ad supported media we use every day like Facebook, YouTube, and Gmail, we are constantly bombarded with so many intrusive advertising messages that we have been trained to ignore them.
- The most important reason: It provides value. The customer actually wants to know when their oil should be changed. The sticker helps them with their goal of properly maintaining their car. It’s safe to say most people would actually be disappointed if they didn’t get their window sticker.
Although we will discuss more high tech solutions for reminding your clients about their appointments in just a moment, a window sticker for an annual veterinary exam right below your oil change sticker could actually work. It wouldn’t work for most kinds of businesses though.
A sticker on your window to remind you to buy your next pizza would be intrusive and salesy. The idea of bedazzling your windshield with a little doggie appointment sticker might very well appeal to the fanatical dog owner. After all, she already has a Labradoodle mousepad and tattoo. The window sticker might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the person who buys outfits for their pet is generally not worried about a sticker being too corny.
Using Your Veterinary Website to Automate Appointment Reminders
After you’ve turned veterinary marketing on its head with your savvy car window sticker campaign, the next step is to automate the digital side of the appointment reminder process with your website or CRM.
Depending on what type of CRM software you use to manage your practice, you have a few different options for sending reminders. Most CRM solutions made specifically for the veterinary industry have this type of functionality built in, as no-shows are a common problem with any practice.
If you have a non industry specific CRM, such as Salesforce, there are a number of third party developers that offer appointment reminder add-ons.
If you aren’t using a CRM, or there are no appropriate add-ons available for the one you do use, you can effectively use your veterinary WordPress website as a CRM and appointment reminder system.
The easiest option for enabling appointment reminders would be to invest in a plugin designed specifically for the task of setting appointments and sending reminders, such as Bookly or Birchpress. With these plugins, not only can staff enter appointment info in house, but customers can book appointments online themselves.
With a quick form submission, a series of emails can be triggered. The first would be an immediate autoresponder to the customer, to confirm the appointment. A notification email would also be immediately sent to staff.
At a customizable length of time before the appointment, a reminder email can be sent to the customer. It can also be sent to staff, to prepare them for the appointment. In addition to email reminders, a text message can be sent to customers and staff as well.
Text messages are especially effective. According to a Dynmark report, text messages have a 98% open rate, with 90% being read within 3 minutes. When compared to average email open rates of 20% to 30%, it is easy to see why text (SMS) messages are ideal for appointment reminders.
For the last layer of protection, you can request that customers respond to these notifications to confirm the appointment, with a simple reply of a “1” or a “yes.” If they don’t confirm by a certain date and time, staff can be notified, at which point then they can pick up the phone and call the customer to confirm.
Stop Letting Your Customers Forget Their Veterinary Checkups
Before the internet and marketing automation, Jiffy Lube hit the nail on the head when they invented the window sticker. With the tools available today, you can enable even more layers of reminders to prevent no-shows. With a combination of email, text, and phone calls, your customers should have no reason to miss an appointment, and your animal hospital can run like a well oiled machine.