Using an app can do wonders for a veterinary practice and appeal to all generations of clients.
Technology has changed how our world operates in almost every way imaginable, from the way we connect with family and friends to the ways we shop, work and live.
Let’s start by looking at something universal, like shopping. A recent study predicted that e-commerce sales will balloon to $4.5 trillion by 2021, up from $2.3 trillion in 2017. Even 10 years ago, the majority of consumers would head to a local shop to pick up needed items, while today more and more of these people use technology to shop online because of the convenience.
In the veterinary industry, most practices expect pet owners to call in and then drive to the clinic to pick up essentials like food and heartworm and flea medications while at the same time we — practice owners, doctors and staff alike — do our personal shopping online. We fetch quick rides through a ride-hailing app, never dialing a phone number, but we force pet owners to call us when they need something.
Similarly, we leverage telemedicine by consulting online with our physicians, but we make pet owners take time off work for simple rechecks and evaluations. We receive texts from businesses of all types but seldom do we provide the same access to technology for pet owners. The anecdotes speak for themselves.
I ask during my lectures, “How many of you personally use technology each day? Think Uber, Amazon, Netflix, other apps and texting?” Every hand shoots toward the ceiling without missing a beat. But the response is much more scattered when I ask a slightly different question: “How many of you use similar client-friendly technology within your veterinary practice each day?”
What’s clear to me from my travels and lectures is that our industry isn’t adapting as fast as it’s capable of. While by my analysis we’re outpacing the field of dentistry, which previously set the standard of tech integration in medicine, we’re still depriving consumers of some of the technologies they most crave, specifically related to online shopping and smartphone functionality.
Another critical element is the spending habits of millennials, our largest pet-owning demographic. While some practice owners believe that rising student debt means millennials won’t spend their hard-earned dollars on their pets, the statistics show something different.
When it comes to pets and pet care, millennials are putting any and all debt woes aside and spending liberally.
Since millennials spend an average of $1,285 a year on their pets, we can’t ignore their needs and desires. Millennials increasingly want technological features like text updates, the ability to shop for pet medications online, appointment bookings via mobile app and digital medical records. (A 2016 survey found that 86% of all pet owners would like instant access to such records.)
To help you get started implementing tech-savvy solutions, I’ve put together my five top tips for using technology to better engage clients. The list applies to all pet owners and has something that every practice can integrate into their operations.
1. Online pharmacy: Ask clients through social media and email polls how they prefer to shop for pet medications. Our industry has a huge number of online pharmacy options, so gauging your clients’ desires before you implement a solution will ensure that the rollout pleases a fair share of your clientele. Importantly, don’t forget to promote the pharmacy once it’s up and running, because pet owners need to know it’s there to utilize it.
If you oppose the idea of an online pharmacy, track how many outgoing scripts you have and tally the revenue opportunity, and then reassess. If you’re still not ready, at least have an app where clients can request refills 24/7. Trust me, online pharmacies aren’t going away anytime soon.
2. Texting: Ask new clients at registration for permission to send basic updates about their pet after it’s dropped off for care and to send appointment reminders.
3. Mobile app: Using an app can do wonders for a veterinary practice and appeal to all generations of clients. Whether it’s a remote-monitoring app that engages clients in the ongoing health of their pets or an app that allows pet owners to participate in a loyalty program and request refills and appointments (or both), these software applications are quickly becoming a staple of successful veterinary practices.
4. Telemedicine: Consider utilizing telemedicine to engage clients remotely between visits for services like nutritional counseling, quick checkups and other basic care. This makes accessing veterinarians even more convenient for pet owners and incentivizes clients who might be unable to visit because of logistical or personal reasons.
5. Social media: Don’t just post a meme or statistic in the hope of getting a quick like. Instead, use social media to effectively engage with clients by emphasizing patient stories. These narratives can clearly showcase the importance of pet care and provide compelling opportunities for pet owners to organically interact with your veterinary practice.
Next time you’re tempted to post a pretty photo, think about the story behind the photo and work on crafting a larger story to better engage with pet owners.
You don’t have to transform your practice overnight to successfully implement these technological solutions. Pick one or two from the list and implement them, paying close attention to client feedback and results. You’ll be able to refine, improve and home in ever closer to the wants, needs and desires of pet owners.
When they see that you’re paying close attention, they’re going to return the favor through increased loyalty.
Now that’s something worth writing home about, or better yet, texting.
Socially Acceptable columnist Eric D. Garcia is an IT and digital consultant who works exclusively with veterinary practices and speaks at veterinary conferences around the world. Learn more at www.ericgarciafl.com.