Clients today want control over when and how they consume products and services, on their own terms and using a method that best suits them. Pet owners are no exception. If anything, they may be among the most emphatic examples of the rule.
As Forbes describes it: “Today, your customer wants to have a ‘relationship’ with you. You must be ready to interact with them personally, in a manner as nuanced as possible. Likewise, you need to meet your customers where they are and in the channels they prefer.”
As a veterinary professional, this “new” trend might seem overwhelming… until you realize it’s only a new trend for other industries.
Making house calls for pets that may be too big to move, personally answering the phone at all hours of the night as necessary, effectively listening to every word a pet owner says to discern clues for a diagnosis – such things are commonplace in the veterinary world. In the broader business world, though, such levels of customer care would be seen as above-and-beyond relationship-building to a stratospheric degree. For you, it’s just business as usual.
For context, most businesses today are battling on two fronts to figure out how to meaningfully care for clients on a personal level, while also harnessing technology to maintain the health of these relationships at scale. Your clients come to you because they trust your expertise, they know you care, and even in the scariest of situations, they have hope that you can help.
That’s about as meaningful as a customer relationship can be in the business world. In that light, you have the luxury of considering client communications technology options from the ideal position for any technology implementation: as a means to simply do more of the good things you’re already doing and do so more efficiently.
Suffice it to say, there isn’t much more you can be told as a veterinary professional on maintaining healthy relationships with clients. It’s in your DNA. When it comes to evaluating technology for amplifying your client communication capabilities, though, it doesn’t hurt to know a little more about the mechanics of these systems. That way, you’re always in the driver’s seat, and the technology simply serves as a better engine for powering your practice forward.
What you should expect from client communication platforms
In person-to-person communications with clients, what you say is naturally informed by what you know and what you observe. A client communications platform, functionally operates the same way for all broader communications. Instead of relying on your own brainpower, though, it relies on a system of record like a practice management system for unified communications. And while “unified communications” sounds like a lofty marketing aspiration, it really just translates to consistency and integrity.
It doesn’t matter if it’s in email, social media, post cards, text reminders, smoke signals, telegraphs, or in person – all communications have the same levels of relevance, value , and any other doses of the core elements that have always been the foundation for your relationships with your clients.
Of course, you don’t have to build the technology for this system. It’s built for you. Ideally, it should even be fine-tuned to your specific needs or preferences by an implementation team that takes care of all the technical details for you. This capability is especially important if you’ve already established useful, yet manual client communication efforts.
The rules for your practice of what to say, when, where, and how any responses are fielded do not – and should not – have to be thrown out the door in exchange for the out-of-the-box configurations. The more the platform’s rules for automated communications and outreach efforts are informed by your knowledge of your customers in your community, the more valuable that platform will be for you.
Granted, these are still high-level expectations for a customer communications platform. In terms of specific benefits and enhancements, though, what should you expect to see from an effective implementation at your practice?
Here are a few common examples:
Timely, proactive communications on your customers’ terms
It’s easy to adapt to pet and pet-owner needs and preferences in person at your practice, but doing so at scale and across any channel should be equally easy with an integrated client communications platform. Along with controlling what you communicate to your clients, the platform should also enable clients to choose how and when they want to receive communications from your practice as well.
For example, they may choose to receive reminder notifications and appointment confirmations by SMS and repeat prescriptions by email. They may also opt-in to receive newsletters with valuable and interesting practice information, or they may prefer to simply follow updates on your Facebook page.
This flexibility lets your client receive communications that are relevant to them via a channel that is convenient and suits their lifestyle and technology choices. This personalized, reliable communication ensures when you need to reach your clients, they’re willing to listen, and the same goes for when they need to reach you. Moreover, this healthy balance should become less and less an intentional effort, and more and more a function of communicative muscle memory.
It’s just what happens, or as one veterinarian put it:
“I like the fact that I can reset the reminders at the beginning of the year. I set it, forget it, and don’t have to worry about it again, because it all drives itself.” – Paul Lukianovich, VMD
Customer convenience and satisfaction around scheduling
If you’re already using a practice management system, you likely already know how much of a difference convenient scheduling capabilities can make for your practice. When potential openings for follow-ups or periodical check-ins can be quickly presented to a client, and locked in before they head out the door, that’s one more block, for one more day in the future when things are actually apt to go to plan, for the most part.
An effective customer communications tool should extend that ease and convenience to your customers as well. With online scheduling, for example, if a client is preoccupied with a hard-pulling pup while just trying to cash-out, there’s no need to anxiously thumb through a calendar app or day-planner in that moment. Later in the day, back at the office with their work schedule in front of them, or even after hours at home, that client can book their next appointment through a portal on your website at their convenience.
With your clients’ preferred communication channels, and even specified conditions for what channel should be used for different types of messages stored in the platform, clients can get appointment updates and reminders on their terms. Proactively, clients could opt in to get post-appointment scheduling reminders via text. Up-coming appointment reminders could come through email and / or text – if the client might need some multi-channel memory assistance.
Improved compliance with recommendations
Functionally, an integrated client communications solution should close the loop with automated client communications, confirmations and updates around appointments, and every touch-point in between for how your reach clients, and how they reach you. This lifts the responsibility from practice staff for manual outreach, but it also does the same for your clients. You create a dynamic where your clients benefit from opting in and responding to your communications, so they become all the more receptive to future communications.
When it comes to client compliance, this virtuous cycle of valued communications can make a huge difference. When you need to reach clients to remind them to refill an on-going prescription, or to give them an important refresher on a specific long-term care plan item, your clients will be significantly more apt to listen. When better client communications translate to better compliance, that translates to better patient outcomes.
Centralized technology and data insights
Of course, the capabilities you gain from enhancing “how” you connect with clients via a client communications platform are great, but that’s not where the value stops. “What” you can learn from your communications with clients can also become a huge asset to your business when using a client communications platform.
An automated and integrated solution means you receive real-time reporting on every aspect of your client communications. You can, for example, measure communication responsiveness down to an individual to see how each of your communication campaigns have performed, so you can fine-tune them for an even better result next time. Instead of having to try and keep track of every detail of every exchange with each client via manual notes, a centralized system ensures every interaction facilitated by the system is a data point you can analyze with the system. This comes in handy, especially should you need to diagnose communicative difficulties, or identify receptive client champions.
For example, if a client repeatedly no-shows to appointments who has only opted into email or text reminders, it may actually be wise to try calling the client or sending a direct mail post card. Something may have changed in your client’s world to make emails or text messages less effective, but well-organized data in a client communications platform should help you troubleshoot the disconnect effectively.
Virtual and safe connections with telemedicine
There hasn’t been much left unchanged as of late by the COVID-19 pandemic. In healthcare, both for human and animal health alike, the global crisis has dramatically expedited the adoption of – and utility from – telemedicine. While the technology has been present for some time, the heightened risk of direct person-to-person contact has made the ability to digitally bring veterinarians into their clients’ homes invaluable.
Powerful technology with video conferencing and two-way texting now lets veterinarians conduct exams as if they were face-to-face. This allows personalized care for pets with more complex situations and gives clients the choice of two-way chat, or phone or video conferencing. This latest communication technology also allows quicker follow-up consults and rechecks after hours.
“[Our] client communication system is a critical tool for us to stay in touch with our clients about their appointments and care. With video conferencing, we not only maintain communication but it’s easier for us to actively deliver care for our patients. It’s the next best thing to having the patient physically in front of you.” – Alinda Higgins, CVT
Consider an integrated communications solution
If you want to extend the expertise and care you give clients in-house beyond the four walls of your practice, client communications technology can be a game-changer. Remember, though, that effective communications start with effective customer relationships. Technology can only amplify the dynamics you already have in place. Keep doing all the great things you do for your clients everyday, and look for a client communications platform that enables you to do more of that, more easily, and more efficiently.