Call volumes have more than doubled at practices across the U.S., according to GeniusVet survey data.1 Front-desk teams are struggling to answer the onslaught of calls to schedule the three-month backlog of checkups and elective procedures, refill medications, and curbside arrivals. Clients’ phone experiences have rapidly deteriorated, with calls frequently rolling into voicemail when employees can’t keep up.
You need to fix how you handle phone calls now or risk losing client relationships and revenue. Here are strategies to stop the phone frenzy:
1) Have clients text (not call) when they arrive for curbside appointments. Signs instruct clients to call your hospital upon arrival for curbside care, resulting in more call volume. Switch out the “Call us when you arrive” sign for “Curbside appointment? Text this: ARRIVED, your name, your pet’s name, parking spot #.” Reply to confirm the arrival and explain you’ll text again when your nursing team is ready to go to the client’s car.
2) Reduce prescription refill calls. You get 50 or more calls a day for prescription refills. Why do clients wait until the last pill is gone before calling for refills? Because you don’t remind them. Turn on refill reminders in your practice-management software for every drug clients will need to repurchase, from preventatives to allergy medications.
Text this: “Max needs a refill of <brand> for flea and tick protection. Click here to refill in our online store with home delivery OR reply ‘Y’ to refill and get curbside pickup at our hospital.”
The nurse who fills the medication will send a text to the client when it’s ready: “Max’s medication has been refilled and is ready for pickup. Please park in our curbside pickup spot and text us when you arrive. We’re open until 6 p.m. today.”
3) Designate a parking spot for product pickup. Just as restaurants have reserved parking for to-go orders, do the same for clients picking up medication and food. Post a sign instructing clients to text you upon arrival for contactless pickup. Clients can push their trunk release buttons for your staff to load items. Have a local sign company print your curbside parking signs. To design your sign, use free websites such as canva.com (see example below).
4) Get text- or email-to-pay solutions. Don’t take credit card numbers over the phone and get slammed with the extra two percent merchant fee for credit cards entered manually. Ask your practice-management software or third-party providers about text- or email-to-pay options. Also check with your local business bank about mobile payment devices.
A Weave survey found 30 percent of small business customers would “frequently or always” pay with a text from their phone if they could.2 Among buyers under age 35, customer preferences doubled to 62 percent.
5) Offer online and app scheduling. The average veterinarian sees 30 patients daily. That’s 30 scheduling calls at eight minutes each, totaling four hours of talk time. Update text and email reminders with links to online scheduling or prompt clients to download your clinic app.
Many hospitals are scheduling appointments two to six weeks out. To end the backlog chaos, send reminders six to eight weeks in advance and use forward-booking. Text this: “<Pet name> will be due for a checkup Feb. 15. We are experiencing increased appointment requests. Book now to ensure your first choice of time, day, and doctor. Click here to book online or download our app.”
Email reminders need powerful subject lines that motivate clients to forward-book. Use the pet’s name and a benefit statement. Here’s a strong subject line: “<Pet name> needs a checkup soon | Book now for best availability.” The body of your email would explain: “Because many pets became overdue when COVID safety guidelines limited us to urgent care and emergencies, we are experiencing increased appointment requests. <Pet name> will be due on Feb. 15. To ensure your first choice of doctor, time, and date, we need to forward-book your pet’s appointment now. Click here to book online or download our app.”
6) Update your voicemail greeting to set expectations. A generic voicemail greeting may be leaving clients confused and even angry. Clients think, “Why aren’t they answering phones during business hours? My pet is sick, and I need to talk to someone NOW!”
To stop the disappointment, update your recorded greeting. Tell callers what specific information they need to leave in their messages and when to expect returned calls. Record this: “You’ve reached the voicemail of <Hospital Name>. Our client care team is helping other clients and is unable to take your call. Instead of putting you on hold and taking up your valuable time, please leave your name, pet’s name, phone number, and how we can help you. You also may text us at (555) 555-5555. We will return your call or text within 15 minutes.”
Giving callers two options of leaving a message or sending a text will have them feel in control and confident they’ll promptly hear back from your team. Front-desk employees should watch for the flashing red voicemail light like it’s a siren. When you provide timely answers, clients reward your practice with loyalty and positive interactions.
7) Add direct-dial lines to reduce phone traffic on your main number. Set up direct lines for pharmacy, ask-a-nurse, boarding, and grooming. Have voicemail on each direct-dial line in case an employee isn’t immediately available to answer. You’ll spend $30 to $50 per month for an additional phone line, but save time for clients and your front-desk team.
Here is a sample voicemail greeting for your pharmacy direct-dial line: “You’ve reached <Your Veterinary Hospital>’s pharmacy line. Please leave your name, your pet’s name, the prescription you need refilled, dosage, and phone number. Leave your cell number and let us know if you prefer a text response. We will review all messages at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Thank you!”
Talk with your client care team about strategies that will save their sanity while improving client experiences. Embrace technology tools that will become long-term solutions. Hurry, the phone is ringing!
1 GeniusVets to Host “Defeating the Phone Frenzy” Webinar to Help Practices Improve Communication During COVID. PRWeb. Available at: bit.ly/34e7M0o. Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
2 A New Payment Solution Is Taking Over: 30% of Customers Prefer Paying With Phone Texts. Weave. Available at: bit.ly/2HRLSIQ. Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has been training veterinary teams for more than 20 years as owner of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians. She helps teams improve their telephone and communication skills, so more pet owners say yes to medical care. Wendy shares her expertise through conferences, online courses, and monthly CE credit webinars. She is a certified veterinary journalist and author of five books. Her passion is to help practices like yours thrive and grow through effective communication skills. You may reach her at email@example.com or csvets.com.