COVID-19 has had a profound and pervasive impact on all aspects of our personal and professional lives. When states instructed residents to shelter at home and all businesses---except those considered essential--- were temporarily closed, veterinary practices and hospital were permitted to continue operations, in some cases for emergency care only. The impact was surprising. According to a recent VHMA Insiders’ Insight survey, practices report that they are extremely busy. Perhaps it can be attributed to more people staying at home with their pets during quarantine and being more attune to the pet’s health issues. Also, it could be that working from home is giving clients more flexibility to make time for a veterinary visit. Although this is good news, this is not the time to become complacent. Just as COVID-19 hit suddenly, an anticipated second wave coupled with flu season as well as the forecasted downturn in the economy could leave practices scrambling if they are not prepared.
Although currently busy, practices would be well served to reexamine their reengagement strategy and to look for clients who may have fallen off the radar. This is a prime time to reestablish contact with these clients to ensure their pets are receiving the care they need and do not fall through the cracks. As we well know, it is less expensive to re-engage a client than it is to search for new clients.
It is common to rely on reminder notices to get back on a client’s radar, however, there are additional actions that can be taken in conjunction with the reminder to ensure that the clients is well informed and has the necessary tools and information to schedule an appointment.
By focusing efforts in these areas, practices can be transparent and make it effortless for lapsed clients to secure accurate and timely information and schedule services and visits that they may have let slide while quarantined. The actions include:
- Maintaining a website that contains current information, emailing or texting clients, and posting to social when any aspect of the practice’s operation changes. Communicate revised hours, practice protocols and more. VHMA’s July 2020 Insiders Insight Survey found that 80% of respondents reported that they are staying in COVID-19 operational mode. For practices returning to normal it is also essential to publicize the services that will be available. In that same survey, respondents indicated that they are gradually resuming elective surgery, allowing clients back into the office, and requiring temperature checks before entering the building. These changes are important to note and publicize.
- Get emails out to everyone on your list detailing developments at the practice or any links to studies that may be relevant to them. For example, information about the impact of delayed visits on a pet’s health can be an incentive for a client to give the practice a call.
- Remember to update your Google listing with hours of operations.
- If the practice provides any special considerations, let your clients know. The quarantine has left many feeling physically, psychologically, and financially vulnerable. For example, senior hours can be a powerful incentive for older adults to leave their homes.
- Scheduling an online event for clients that is informative and interesting.
- Carefully considering all feedback received from clients to get a good handle on their perceptions and needs and then using this information to revamp services to encourage clients to reengage.
What happens if you have tried one, several, or all of these strategies and the practice has not been able to reel in clients? Like any relationship that ends without an explanation, it makes sense to investigate why. Begin by reviewing past interactions to discover how the client was using the practice’s services. Was it for emergencies only, regularly scheduled preventive care, or only for immunizations?
Once you are armed with information, consider following up with the client. Initiate a friendly, personal phone call to check in. Think about the goal of the call. Of course, you are interested in how the client and patient are doing during this difficult time but think about the goal of the conversation. Even if the outcome of the call is not as anticipated, end on a positive note.
If you discover that the client has not continued the relationship because of an issue with any aspect of the practice, listen carefully to their comments and try to solve the issues and rebuild the relationship.
The bottom line is that for customers to re-engage, they must find relevance and value in the services you offer. If the practice is no longer meeting their clients’ and patients’ needs, your services will not be desirable. A client may consider the practice’s services obsolete for any number of reasons. For example, if they are over the age of 60 or fall into a high-risk category, they may not feel comfortable mixing with the general public if special hours are not available. Or it could be that their pet suffers with anxiety and curbside visits are not compatible with the pet’s temperament. The point is, that even if a service is not considered valuable or relevant at a specific point in time, as conditions change, it may not be problematic in the future. The lesson? Don’t write off the client. Continue to reconnect and apprise them of changes would increase their satisfaction and comfort with the practice.
To get started with reengaging clients, ask yourself to evaluate how successful the practice’s current reengagement efforts are working. Take a close look and consider what could be done differently. Managers, especially those committed to preventive pet healthcare may benefit from reviewing Partners for Healthy Pets Inactive Client Reminder Program that is available free of charge.