How to keep your clients bonded even when they can’t come inside the veterinary practice.

This year has certainly brought a multitude of new challenges. COVID has shaken the veterinary industry and dramatically altered its usual business model. In the initial throws of the pandemic we were all fighting fire, doing what we could in unprecedented circumstances.

Now, however, we need to be thinking longer term once more. Many clients are anxious, tired and possibly facing financial challenges. So, how can we keep them bonded when we don’t have the usual face-to-face contact? When they often are not even in the building?

What do clients want?

We know that clients want good communication and consistency. This includes continuity of care. It is well known that the majority of client complaints are about two things: money or poor communication. There are several points in the new client journey that render this more of a challenge than usual.

Initial phone call:

Practices are experiencing a higher volume of client calls with a lower footfall. This means, due to the sheer volume of calls, that the staff manning the phones have less time to engage clients in that initial phone call. Poor communication can result.

Waiting area:

The clients are missing out on face-to-face contact; the usual waiting room chat; the interaction with reception; not to mention the promotional materials on display here.

Telephone Consult:

Unfortunately, telephone consults often give rise to miscommunication. Especially given that you are taking the owners assessment of the animal’s condition at face value, since you cannot make an assessment yourself. Video consults still offer a good platform for communication, since the visual aspect is not lost. Consults with the animal in practice, but not the owner, bring about unique time-constraint challenges. How do you take a history remotely, examine the animal, speak with the owner remotely once more with your findings, dispense medication… all within your usual consult timeframe?   Since miscommunication is more common under these new conditions, we must consider all aspects of this client journey when trying to iron out possibility for error.

After the consult:

 At the reception desk there is the opportunity for subtle upselling (toys, treats etc.), discussing promotional materials on display and client-bonding through small talk. Clients like to feel important and ‘known’ by the staff.  These days, this is lost.

Weigh and worms / spontaneous drop ins:

Many clients like an excuse to pop in for a weight check and a chat. It may be important to them to feel bonded to the team; they may have a nervous animal that they are trying to de-sensitise to the setting; or they may be being encouraged by your team to have regular weigh ins. This is an important bonding point that’s difficult to manage in the current situation.

How can I keep my clients bonded when they can’t come into the practice?

Consider all these usual ‘touch points’. How can you recreate them as best you can, remotely? How can you use these to keep your clients bonded to your practice? Consider what could make them break their tie to the practice. For example, too much work for the client; lack of communication; lack of continuity of care; long wait times; rushed phone calls; phone lines often engaged; or lack of engagement.

Initial phone call:

Consider automating some aspects. By decreasing the volume of client calls that could be easily dealt with automatically, your staff will have more time to offer the usual personalised service to those clients that do need the call. Of course this also makes life easier for the clients. Consider online booking systems, automated repeat prescriptions or online payments. Using your outgoing communication to reduce the number of phone calls can help too, by giving clients all the information they need without calling.

Waiting area:

Consider your waiting room displays. These are redundant if no one is using the reception area. So how can you get the same information across to your clients? Using a waiting room TV, positioned in the practice window, is a great way to advertise your usual promotions, educate your clients (and hopefully prompt them to seek further information around these topics from the practice) and keep your clients occupied while they wait. Clients are tending to get bored a lot faster waiting in their (often) cold cars than in the usual social waiting area. If you don’t have a waiting room TV, consider printing similar material and placing it in the window, or distribute to owners when animals are collected. This gives an alternative if the TV cannot be made visible from the car park.

Consider how you will keep clients informed of wait times. It is asking a lot of reception to keep phoning clients to update them with wait times, but entirely necessary if this is the only means you have of communicating this. Clients are much more likely to feel forgotten when sitting in their cars, so good communication is more important than ever. WhatsApp / text can be useful for this. Waiting room TVs also have some potential here; much like the screen at the doctors telling you your wait time.

Video Consult:

Use video rather than telephone consults wherever possible, keeping the personal feel. Try to preserve continuity of care. Where this isn’t possible, ensure high quality record keeping from all members of the team. Briefly record any and all communication with the client; so that all members of staff can be seen to know about the case and the owners queries or wishes. 

If the animal is coming in to practice, consider how the owner will let you know they have arrived. Having them call makes work for the client and clogs up your phone lines. Having them ring the bell is a better solution, but is still making the clients do the leg work and has the potential to be unpopular in winter (imagine the client coming to the door, waiting for someone to acknowledge them, trying to communicate who they are and then having to walk back to their car). Dedicated text or WhatsApp groups are working well for many practices, as is number plate recognition or numbered car parking bays (i.e. client is instructed which bay to pull up in so you know when they arrive). Of course the latter only works if you can see the car park from reception.

After the consult:

Again, automating as many routine calls as possible will free up valuable time for the reception team to continue to offer some ‘small talk’, albeit remotely. Again, waiting room TVs can help. Make a slide show of the products that clients could usually browse at reception. Make this visible from the car park. Print out the slide show for clients to ‘browse’ while they wait.

Weigh and worms/ spontaneous drop ins:

Keep these up! On the whole, nurses are notoriously better at bonding clients than vets, don’t remove access to them! Video weigh and worms (where the owner weighs the pet at home under nurse supervision) provide a great opportunity for a client to express any concerns or ask any questions. Of course these can politely be referred to a consult, but the consult may not have been booked otherwise.

Use technology. Blogs, up-to-date websites, social media channels such as Facebook all provide an avenue to the client. Use them to keep the client engaged with the practice. This is more important now than ever, since this may be the only interaction with the practice that the client is currently having. If you and your team don’t have time, consider outsourcing.

Final Thoughts

After such a challenging year, practice teams are desperate for some ‘normality’. While this has to be a new version of normality, it can still be a rewarding one. Satisfied clients are crucial for a satisfied team. Hard work and trying days are easier to bear when the client (and of course animal) leave happy and grateful. Bonded clients are less likely to complain and more likely to be forgiving of wait times and so on. Yes, we have to find new ways to bond our clients, but it can be done! And most importantly, it is worth the effort.

The Vet Channel is a provider of digital signage solutions to help educate and engage with your waiting client – whether they are in the waiting room, in their home or in the carpark. Client engagement is fundamental in helping you bond and retain clients, help enhance their animal welfare knowledge and increase potential sales and revenue for the practice.

For more information and to find out why over 800 veterinary practices use our bespoke digital media system – please contact info@thevetchannel.co.uk