Susie PetOwner recently brought her cat, Kitty, into your veterinary practice for a dental. Kitty has had regular dentals in the past, and her teeth are in good shape. Susie dropped Kitty off at 7:30 a.m. for the procedure and then headed to work, planning to pick Kitty up from your hospital at the end of her work day. During the dental, all went according to plan. Kitty was anesthetized and intubated, her teeth were thoroughly cleaned, and there were no extractions required. Your team took great care of Kitty throughout the day, and your associate called Susie at around 4:30 p.m., after the busy rush of appointments, to let her know that Kitty was doing well and could be picked up at any time.
Susie was relieved. She had been worried about Kitty—her “baby”—all day long, having read some horror story online about a cat getting a dental. She had wanted to call the practice multiple times throughout the day, but she didn’t want to seem like a “crazy cat lady,” so she waited for your associate to call after the surgery, which she thought would have been much sooner than it was. While she was happy that Kitty did well, she will be reluctant to schedule another dental procedure for her in the future.
How could this situation have been more positive for Susie? The answer is communication. And, for most of your clients, e-communication—email, text, etc.—is preferred. Imagine how Susie would have felt if your practice had texted her a close-up photo of Kitty’s clean teeth with a quick note, “Kitty’s dental went well! Her teeth are clean, and she’s now waking up from anesthesia.” And, Susie would have loved a video and/or photo of Kitty after she was awake and looking like herself again that said, “Kitty’s having a great time here, and she can’t wait to see you!”
But for some veterinary professionals, the thought of texting or emailing clients with real-time updates or receiving texts or emails from clients with pet health questions is terrifying. Does it open a practice up to liability if an email or text isn’t responded to promptly and the pet’s health suffers as a result? What is proper email etiquette? Should you customize your communication methods based on client preferences? Here are some answers to your most pressing e-communication questions.
Do clients expect electronic communication?
Everyone is different, but the majority of your clients will prefer and expect electronic communication. We live in a world of constant real-time updates on smart phones and tablets, and veterinary medicine should keep up. As the human-animal bond strengthens, we can’t expect pet owners to drop off their pets in the morning for a procedure and to not worry or think about it all day. They want to know what’s going on. They want updates and photos and comments from your team. They want to know their beloved furry companions are safe and sound.Every pet owner who walks through your doors should be asked about their communication preferences. Email? Texts? Phone calls? Regular mail? And, when clients drop pets off for procedures, your client care representatives should confirm those communication preferences and ask if it is OK to text or email with real-time updates.
How much e-communication is too much?
As a profession, we are under-communicating with our clients as it relates to reminders. Reminders are the No. 1 reason clients bring their pets into a veterinary practice. The days of sending one reminder postcard to pet owners and expecting them to bring their pets in for wellness exams are over (if that ever worked in the first place). Clients should receive three reminders based on their communication preferences, whether it’s text, email, phone call, or snail mail. If they still haven’t booked an appointment after three reminders using their preferred method of communication, it is appropriate to try one last time via phone call.
How can my team send real-time updates electronically?
There are now platforms that veterinary practices can use to make electronic communication with clients more effective. One example is called ZipWhip, a platform the entire team can use to communicate with clients via text message. It has great accountability mechanisms to ensure clients are responded to in a timely manner, and employee’s messages are documented in the master file. There are currently almost 1,000 veterinary practices using the ZipWhip platform, and there are other companies that offer similar programs.
What’s the etiquette when communicating with clients electronically?
Be informal, not sloppy. There are many commonly accepted abbreviations that we use in the veterinary profession, but don’t use them when communicating with pet owners. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules apply. It’s never OK to text something like, “Ur pet did great. U can come get her anytime.” Instead, say something like, “Kitty did great during her dental! You can come pick her up whenever you’re ready.”
Keep messages succinct. Just because you’re using proper grammar doesn’t mean your message has to be long. Be brief, and concentrate on one subject per message whenever possible.
Use sentence case. USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS LOOKS AS IF YOU’RE SHOUTING.
Remember that tone can’t be heard in e-communication. Have you ever attempted sarcasm in an email or text, and the recipient took it the wrong way? E-communication can’t convey the nuances of verbal communication
Avoid emojis. In an attempt to infer tone of voice, some people like to use emojis. While they’re sometimes OK, they should be used sparingly so your team doesn’t appear to be unprofessional. Also, don’t assume that adding a smiley face emoji will diffuse a difficult message.
Don’t overdo it. Unless a client makes a specific request, it’s not necessary to text her 5 times during her cat’s dental procedure. When she drops off, ask her if it’s OK to text with updates throughout the day. If she says yes, one message during the procedure and one message after the pet recovers from anesthesia is sufficient, unless something happens during the day that warrants a phone call from the veterinarian.
How do I know my team is communicating properly via text or email?
Just like you expect your team to answer the phone in a particular manner or to explain services in the exam room in a certain way, you should set up expectations for e-communication, too. It’s important to establish standards of communication in your practice, so everyone is on the same page and understands how they’re expected to communicate with clients (and each other!), regardless of the method of communication.
While electronic communication might seem daunting, it’s necessary if you want to provide the best service for your clients. Set up standards of communication in your practice, and become a Relationship Centered Practice®, rather than a doctor-centered practice.
Need help establishing standards of communication and other components of a successful veterinary practice that relies on systems and processes rather than your daily presence at the hospital? Good news! You can save $500 on the full Relationship Centered Practice Academy (RCPA) or $100 on one of the RCPA master class components (Create a Self-Reliant Team, Set Standards of Communication, or Manage Your Practice with Metrics) with code HOLIDAY if you sign up by December 31, 2017!