Today’s pet owners were already pushing the veterinary industry toward a more technology-focused future long before the pandemic. The arrival of curbside check-in, contactless forms, virtual payments, and telemedicine, however, pushed many practices into a new era and helped them meet the demands of pet owners. Continuing to explore and adopt new technology enables practices to provide a better customer experience while simultaneously saving time in the practice, which benefits the pet owner, the veterinary team, and the pets.
Technology affects the practice and pet owner at nearly every stage of the veterinary-patient relationship, beginning when prospective clients research the practice and continuing all the way through checkout at their first (of hopefully many) appointments. Although technology can’t replace our veterinary teams, it can augment experiences and help bridge the gap between pet owner and practice, creating a positive experience for both that will last the pet’s lifetime.
Improving your client’s experience from the very beginning
When practices establish an online presence that effectively complements and contributes to their in-practice experience, it can be a game changer. Pet owners can get a better feel for the culture of the practice. They can find information quickly. They can even book appointments from their favorite social media and online review platforms. Around 90% of potential veterinary clients research a practice before scheduling their first appointment, and more than 50% also look at ratings and reviews.1 Websites that show current information, quality photos of your veterinary team in action (instead of relying only on stock photos), and recent reviews/testimonials and that provide pet health information can set this relationship up for success. Include a clear call-to-action button such as “Book Now” or “Fetch Your Appointment” to link directly to online scheduling or appointment request forms, and include this link on your practice’s Facebook page, in your Instagram bio link, and on business sites for Google, Nextdoor, and Yelp.
Reviews are now an essential part of how a veterinary practice earns new clients and maintains its reputation. Word of mouth still reigns supreme as a referral source, but findings from a recent study showed that 89% of “new school” pet owners and 41% of traditional pet owners both gather information offline and consult online ratings and reviews.2 Rather than ignoring these platforms, claim your practice’s profiles and fill them with up-to-date information and photos that represent your practice. Focus on being proactive rather than reactive with reviews and make it easy for your clients to sing your praises. Including review links in your communications—email, website, newsletter, apps, email signatures, and social media—will make it easy for your best clients to leave feedback. Implement a process for collecting new reviews and consider using a digital client communications tool such as Rapport from Covetrus to automate this process. When practices put a system in place, they can bolster their online reviews and appearance to potential clients, and they gain valuable feedback from existing clients on further improving the customer experience.
Letting your clients book online
If a pet owner is looking for an appointment, most practices generally want to meet that need. Online appointment bookings, even without a real-time scheduling service, are essential. Work with services that offer real-time booking to expand your practice’s appointment functionality to meet pet owners’ needs to book an appointment whenever they want to and wherever they are.
Real-time appointment scheduling online is a solution that addresses the frustrations of both your pet owners and your practice staff alike. Clients can book an appointment online at their convenience, even if your office is closed. Receptionists are freed up for more tasks when they spend less time on the phone discussing various scheduling options with clients, a task that takes 8 minutes on average for each appointment.
According to a recent study by Google, 77% of US customers expect to be able to book services online.3 However, only an estimated 45% of practices offer this functionality.2 By offering online bookings, a practice is available to take appointments 24/7, for a total of 168 hours a week. A typical practice that restricts scheduling of appointments to business hours alone, on the other hand, is only available to take appointments 54 hours a week.
Client engagement and satisfaction, along with practice revenue, improve when clients can book appointments promptly and receive online confirmation and reminders through your service or their own digital calendars.
Online forms: making it easy for clients to share
When practices offer online forms, such as for new client registration, curbside check-in and drop-off, or patient history, both the practice and the pet owner can benefit and save time. When forms are sent ahead of the appointment, the pet owner has time to gather any needed records, check their food and medication names and supply levels at home, and fill the forms in without a squirming pup at the end of a leash. The practice can download this information into the file, saving valuable appointment time from being spent on hunting down records or old laboratory results or figuring out what food the pet is on. Online check-in forms give owners of stressed or reactive pets the ability to wait outside or in their car until their veterinary team is ready, keeping the tension levels lower for all involved.
Being the resource outside the exam room
Perhaps the newest and most rapidly growing method of client engagement is via a practice’s telemedicine and telehealth offerings. Mirroring trends in human health care, pet owners are increasingly interested in communicating with their veterinary team via text, email, and video.
According to a recent study, a practice’s offerings of online texting or chat services was rated by pet owners in the top 2 most preferred offerings: no. 1 for dog owners and no. 2 for cat owners. Further, cat owners identified online video health consultations as one of the top 5 most desirable services a veterinary practice could offer.1
Current industry offerings will allow practices to use video and chat telemedicine for a variety of client appointments, particularly those for recheck examinations and instances when the owner has difficulty transporting the pet to the practice.
Allowing clients to access important information such as vaccine records to share with boarding, training, and grooming facilities can improve customer satisfaction and decrease calls to the front desk. In emergency or referral situations when clients seek outside veterinary care, medical record access can limit frustrations and improve patient care. Portals can also provide areas for owners to request appointments and prescription refills, as well as send secure messages to their pet’s care team.
Pet health information
When practices couple the information delivered to pet owners with supporting online resources, they see improvements in comprehension, compliance, and pet owner satisfaction all improve. Nearly 80% of pet owners rely on the internet for pet health information.4 Providing clients with the information they want in the location they are seeking it can improve client satisfaction, engagement, and, best of all, pet owner education. Although the subject is often a sore one with veterinarians, many pet owners are simply looking for online information access as an adjunct to what they learn from their veterinarian. One study found that less than half of pet owners had received an online recommendation from their veterinarian, yet more than 90% would visit a veterinarian-recommended website.4
Having easy access to a trusted resource for online shopping resource for prescriptions, diets, and parasite preventives in the same place as other pet health information can be beneficial to both clients and veterinary teams. Pet owners spent more than $31 billion dollars on veterinary care and products in 2020,5 yet many practices still struggle with online sales. Over 60% of practices have an online pharmacy, but just 16% of pet owners were aware of this offering from their practice.5 The good news, however, is that of those previously unaware owners, 80% would purchase from their veterinarian’s online pharmacy.5 Results from another recent study found that practices who implemented an online store reported positive client feedback and stronger client bonding, among other benefits.6
For many, but not all, clientele, a veterinary-specific mobile app can improve client engagement, communication, and pet health. Findings from a recent study demonstrated that 86% of pet owners would like instant access to their pet’s medical records through a mobile app.7
Push notifications, or communications sent via an individual app, may be up to 4 times more likely to be read than email. Because they can be turned on or off by a client, they also offer pet owners the most control over when and how they would like to receive information.
Current market offerings allow veterinary practices to send mobile notifications of upcoming services due, patient updates, area pet health alerts, and test results. Others offer pet owners access to patient records, appointment and prescription refill requests, messaging with the practice, and the opportunity to earn loyalty rewards. Medical journaling between veterinary teams and pet owners, along with remote patient monitor integration (such as with pet wearables), are also emerging features.
A multimodal approach
What works for one client doesn’t always work for the next. Luckily, many practice information management systems (PIMS) and veterinary technology software companies now offer the opportunity to notate owner preferences and consider multiple “touchpoints.”
Start asking clients how they prefer to communicate—via phone, email, texting, or app—and note it in their client file. Look for programs and technology solutions that allow multiple forms of client communication to meet client preferences whenever possible.
Knowing which tools to implement
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the technology options available to practices, and it’s impossible and ill-advised to try to adopt and implement them all. Rather, practices should consider a thoughtful approach that considers and balances pet owner preferences with practice benefits and decide with data whenever possible. Starting points may include a practice-wide client survey, analytics on most-visited pages or common searches on the practice website, or detailed conversations with key clients the practice identifies as ideal clientele. Similarly, practices have to consider the return on investment of these technologies and should look at the cost to implement vs the time savings or potential reward these tools may bring. Existing technologies should be investigated as well because many of the companies have expanded their offerings in recent months. They also may offer a head start on implementation when a partnership already exists or integration between PIMS and other tools is established.
Implementing new technology can take time, energy, and financial investment. When done with careful consideration of both the pet owner and practice’s needs, it benefits all involved. Practices may join those who, according to data from a recent study, implemented new digital tools that yielded an increase in client communication, client bonding, new clients, patient visits, and even compliance. Practices can become more efficient, be proactive instead of reactive, and lead pet owners to become more bonded to the practice.
Technology can make real solutions possible for a practice’s most persistent problems. It can grow the practice’s reputation. It can make appointments and medication refills easy and accessible. It can even harness pet health information to offer asynchronous care anywhere, virtual health triage, and direct care advisory to pet owners well beyond the exam room. When a practice adds technology to expand such care-giving capabilities, it can only result in a happier client and a healthier pet.
- Rapport. Covetrus. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://software.covetrus. com/veterinary-solutions/rapport-veterinary-communication-software/
- Unfenced Animal Health, and Kynetec Market Research, Pet Owner Paths study. Merck Animal Health. 2018.
- Your digital essentials guide. Google. Accessed October 10, 2021. https:// smallbusiness.withgoogle.com/digital-essentials-guide/
- Kogan L, Oxley JA, Hellyer P, Schoenfeld R, Rishniw M. UK pet owners’ use of the internet for online pet health information. Vet Rec. 2018;182(21):601. doi:10.1136/vr.104716
- From hype to value creation: how technology can unlock transformative customer experiences. Covetrus blog. Accessed November 2, 2021. https:// software.covetrus.com/veterinary-insights/blog/
- Decision data: who’s selling online. dvm360. December 4, 2019. Accessed November 2, 2021. www.dvm360.com/view/ decision-data-whos-selling-online
- Howard B. Apps for veterinary clients: ‘Why can’t I just do it on my smartphone?’ dvm360. March 27, 2017. Accessed November 2, 2021. www.dvm360.com/view/ apps-veterinary-clients-why-cant-i-just-do-it-my-smartphone