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Stop Leaving Voicemails For Clients

Stop Leaving Voicemails For Clients

Stop Leaving Voicemails For Clients

STOP LEAVING VOICEMAILS FOR CLIENTS

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

You call a client about her cat’s lab results and leave a detailed voicemail, explaining that you need to discuss the diagnosis and treatment. After two days with no response, you leave a second voicemail. 

Even if clients have your hospital’s phone number saved in their contacts, research shows 67 percent don’t listen to voicemails.[1] I understand why. Clients can’t skim voicemails. They must listen to the entire message, call back, wait on hold, and leave a message because the veterinarian isn’t available. 

Text is a better choice. Text dialogue can happen asynchronously. Both parties don’t have to be on their phones at the same time. Veterinarians and clients can reply when they’re available. Up to 80 percent of callers choose texting over voicemail. Millennials are the largest pet-owning segment and 60 percent prefer to communicate with businesses via text.[2],[3] 

Let’s end your frustration with unreturned calls and phone tag. Turn your callbacks into “textbacks.” Texts rarely go unread or unanswered. Ditch the 10-minute task of calling and leaving a voicemail. Replace it with a 2-minute text. Create templates in your texting platform for these common responses:

TEXT AFTER DISCHARGE

After each hospitalized patient is discharged from surgery, dentistry, or treatment for an illness, your medical team follows up with clients. Set expectations for a textback during the discharge appointment. 

Say this: “You will get a text/app message from us tomorrow to confirm that <pet name> is eating, drinking, and taking medications. If you have questions or concerns, reply to the text, or call us at 555-555-5555.” 

The next day, text this: We are checking on <pet name> after surgery yesterday. Is <pet name> eating, drinking, and taking medications? Reply Y or N. Reply with questions. 

If the client replies “Y” for yes, document the communication in the electronic medical record and reply to thank the client. If a client replies “N” for no, call to discuss the pet’s symptoms and next steps. The client’s answers may prompt an appointment for a progress exam or telemedicine consult. 

Create a series of text templates when patients require multiple follow-up messages. Text campaigns should notify, educate, support, and steer pet owners. In your texting platform, link the series to trigger in sequential order. 

Let’s say you perform a dental treatment with several extractions. Send this series of texts after the dental discharge appointment:

  • 1 day later: We are checking on <pet name> after oral surgery yesterday. Feed a soft food, no hard treats or chews, and refrain from brushing teeth for X days. Is <pet name> eating, drinking, and taking medications? Reply Y or N. Reply with questions.
  • 4 days later: <Pet name> may eat regular food now. No hard treats or chews for X days after oral surgery. Reply with questions.
  • 7 days later: You may gently brush <pet name>’s teeth with pet toothpaste and a soft toothbrush now. Click here <link> to watch our video on how to brush your pet’s teeth. Reply with questions.
  • 14 days later or based on next appointment date: <Pet name> has a progress exam to check on healing from oral surgery on <date, time>. Reply C to confirm or RS to reschedule. 

TEXT AFTER SICK OUTPATIENT EXAMS

Let’s say you saw an urgent care patient for loose and watery stools. You determine the gastrointestinal upset was due to high-fat table scraps at the family barbeque, and radiographs confirm no bones were ingested. You prescribe medication and instruct the client to feed a bland diet for several days. The outpatient technician who assisted the veterinarian with the exam will be responsible for follow-up communication. 

Text this: We are checking to see if <pet name> is feeling better. Feed a bland diet for X days. Is <pet name> having normal stools and a good appetite? Reply Y or N. Reply with questions. 

The client already has a relationship with this technician, who is familiar with details of the case. If the health concern has not resolved, schedule a progress exam.

TEXT PREVENTIVE LAB RESULTS

Share lab results for intestinal parasite screens that you send to your reference lab. I provided consulting and onsite training for a 10-doctor hospital where the medical team told clients “No news is good news” for intestinal parasite test results. Being busy isn’t a good excuse and may harm compliance for preventive diagnostics. Pet owners are paying to learn results. Clients will be more likely to accept screening in the future if they understand today’s results. 

Text clients about negative results and reinforce timely dosing of preventatives. Call clients about positive results so you may discuss treatment and medication. 

Text this: <Pet name>’s intestinal parasite screen was negative with no egg cells or parasites seen. Give <brand> each month for heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention. Click here to view lab results <link to patient portal on your website>. Reply with questions.

TEXT AS BACKUP TO VOICEMAILS

A client calls and tells your client service representative, “Someone from your hospital just called me. What do you need?” While you might find the answer in the electronic medical record, the staff member may not be available. 

Whenever you leave a voicemail, send a backup text to lead the client to listen and promptly call back. Your text should include the best time to return the call based on the staff member’s availability. 

Text this: “Dr. <Name> left you a voicemail about <pet name>’s lab test. Please listen, and then call 555-555-5555 to discuss the diagnosis and treatment. Dr. <Name> will be available between 2:00 and 2:20 p.m.” 

Veterinarians need administrative time blocked in their schedules to review lab results, update medical records, approve prescriptions, and call/text/email clients and vendors. Learn how to add doctor-client communication blocks so veterinarians can batch tasks. Read my blog on “Overwhelmed With Callbacks and Emails?”

Clients will get cranky if they leave multiple messages without returned calls. Watch my 2-minute video on  “I need to talk to the doctor now!” Find out what to say when a client demands to talk with the veterinarian, but he isn’t available.

Have a doctor and technician list the top callback scenarios at your hospital. Identify which callbacks could be converted to textbacks, which will improve your team’s productivity and increase response rates from clients. Write templates for your texting platform to save time and have consistent messaging from your hospital.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Enroll your team in the 1-hour course: Technology Tools Every Practice Needs.

References:

[1] 22 Business Phone Statistics. Numa. Available at: https://www.numa.com/blog/22-business-phone-statistics. Accessed Aug. 11, 2022.

[2] Share of Pet Ownership in the United States in 2021-2022 by Generation. Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1130651/pet-ownership-by-generation-us/. Accessed Aug. 11, 2022.

[3] Svyrydenko A. Why Millennials Love Texting. TextMagic. Available at: https://www.textmagic.com/blog/why-millenials-love-texting-infographic/. Accessed Aug. 11, 2022.

 

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Overwhelmed With Callbacks, Texts, and Emails?

Overwhelmed With Callbacks, Texts, and Emails?

Overwhelmed With Callbacks, Texts, and Emails?

OVERWHELMED WITH CALLBACKS, TEXTS, AND EMAILS?

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

A client called three times today, following up on the message she left for a doctor this morning. Busy with back-to-back exams and two emergencies, the veterinarian hasn’t returned the call. Worse yet, the client service representative (CSR) spent 20 minutes taking three extra messages and making excuses for the doctor.

Job stressed has jumped to 80% as doctors deal with excessive caseloads and staff shortages.[1] Veterinarians work through lunch, stay after hours, and go home exhausted. The cycle will start over again tomorrow. One in six veterinarians has considered suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[2]

The reality: Veterinarians need administrative time blocked in their schedules to review lab results, update medical records, approve prescriptions, and call/text/email clients and vendors. Without dedicated time for administrative tasks, veterinarians risk job burnout and mental health.

The solution: Pre-block doctor-client communication slots in daily schedules just as you do appointments. Choose from two options: 1) Three 20-minute doctor-client communication blocks at mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and the second to last appointment of the day such as 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:00 p.m., or 2) Six 10-minute doctor-client communication blocks every 90 minutes such as 9:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Both options allocate 60 minutes per day for doctors to complete administrative tasks.

Here are tips to help doctors maximize the payoff of doctor-client communication blocks:

HAVE CSRS SCREEN DOCTORS’ CALLS.

Explain, “The doctor is currently seeing patients in appointments/performing surgery. What is your specific question for the doctor? A technician may be able to help you now.” The caller says she can’t get her cat to swallow a pill. Because a technician can give medication administration instructions, the CSR will connect the caller to a technician rather than take a message for the veterinarian.

SET EXPECTATIONS FOR WHEN CALLS WILL BE RETURNED.

Let’s say the client leaves a message at 9 a.m. in reply to the doctor’s voicemail about her pet’s lab results. The CSR will explain, “Dr. <Name> is seeing patient appointments now and needs to speak with you. The doctor will be available at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to return calls. What is the best number to reach you during those times, and can the doctor also text you at that number?” You’ll avoid a barrage of repeat messages from the same client. 

If the caller doesn’t answer when the veterinarian returns her call, he can leave a detailed voicemail about the lab results. Send a text as backup communication. Text this: Dr. <Name> left you a voicemail about <pet name>’s lab results. The doctor can speak with you at 2:30 p.m. Please reply C to confirm you are available or RS to reschedule another call time.

ASK TECHNICIANS TO HELP WITH RESPONSES.

The doctor will review texts, emails, and voicemails and choose whether he or a technician should respond. This can improve response times. A veterinarian will call a client to discuss abnormal lab results and his diagnosis of kidney disease, while a technician will return a call about a positive intestinal parasite screen and treatment. 

The technician will say, “I am <technician name>. Dr. <Name> asked me to call you about your dog’s intestinal parasite screen. Your dog is positive for hookworms. Dr. <Name> has prescribed oral medication for two to three weeks of treatment, which you can pick up today before 6 p.m. We will review medication instructions with you when you arrive. Because the dog’s environment can be infested with hookworm eggs and larvae, you need to remove any stool from your yard promptly.[3] Use gloves to put feces in plastic bags and discard in your trash. You will want to remove feces from your yard daily and have your pet on monthly preventatives. What questions can I answer about Dr. <Name>’s diagnosis?” Repeating the doctor’s name will instill trust. Invite questions with the phrase of “What questions can I answer…?” rather than the close-ended question of, “Do you have any questions?”

FUNNEL EMAILS TO SPECIFIC DEPARTMENTS.

Rather than have every email dump into the general hospital inbox, set up emails that get to the right person the first time. Create email accounts such as pharmacy@vethospital.com and records@vethospital.com. Technicians and assistants will manage refill requests at pharmacy@vethospital.com, while CSRs will handle incoming and outgoing medical record requests at records@vethospital.com.

USE FOLDERS TO MOVE THE PROCESS FORWARD.

When a refill request lands in the pharmacy@vethospital.com inbox, the technician will confirm the pet has had an exam within 12 months and is up to date on any drug-monitoring tests. The technician moves the request to a “Ready for doctor approval” folder, which the veterinarian can access. Once the doctor okays the refill, he updates the medical record and moves the message to the “Approved to refill” folder. The technician fills the medication, enters the charge, texts pickup instructions to the client, and moves the request to the “Completed refills” folder.

CREATE TEXT AND EMAIL TEMPLATES FOR COMMON RESPONSES.

Based on options from your email provider, you can set up and select templates when composing replies. Just personalize a few fields rather than retyping the same paragraph 20 times today.

Here’s an email template for a prescription request: Thank you for requesting a refill of <drug name> for <pet name>. Our medical staff is reviewing the prescription request and will email you when it’s ready for pick up or if they have questions. Prescription requests submitted by 2 p.m. will be filled the same day and available for pickup after 4 p.m. If your request is submitted after 2 p.m., we will email you when it is ready on the following business day. You will get an email with a link to pay, park in our curbside pickup parking spot, and text us when you arrive. Thank you for using our hospital’s pharmacy and supporting small businesses in your community!

Once a technician fills the medication, text the client a link to pay and pickup instructions. Here’s a text template for refill pickups: We have filled <brand name> for <pet name>’s heartworm prevention. You received an instant rebate of $XX for purchasing 12 doses. Use this link to pay and get an immediate receipt. Park in our curbside pickup spot and text us when you arrive.

When you add doctor-client communication blocks, veterinarians will batch administrative tasks, provide timely responses, and create loyal clients. Busyness is not an excuse for poor client service. High appointment demands and staff shortages require doctors to work smarter, not harder, longer hours.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Enroll your team in the 1-hour course: Be the Boss of Your Schedule.

References:

[1] Halow B. Alarming Results from National Survey on Veterinary Stress. Available at: https://www.bashhalow.com/alarming-results-from-national-survey-on-veterinary-stress/. Accessed May 23, 2022.

[2] Dembosky A. It’s Not Just Doctors and Nurses. Veterinarians Are Burning Out, Too. National Public Radio. Available at https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/04/08/1086091339/its-not-just-doctors-and-nurses-veterinarians-are-burning-out-too. Accessed May 23, 2022.

[3] Ward E. Hookworm Infection in Dogs. VCA Animal Hospitals. Available at: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/hookworm-infection-in-dogs. Accessed May 23, 2022.

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How to Handle Late Clients

How to Handle Late Clients

How to Handle Late Clients

How to Handle Late Clients

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

You’ve heard the excuses: “I got stuck in traffic.” “I had to crawl under the bed to catch my cat and wrestle to get him in the carrier.” “I was in a meeting at work that ran late.” Whatever!

When one client runs late, it causes a domino of late starts for the remaining appointments. Multiple consequences happen: 1) Your team looks disorganized, 2) Late arrivals increase wait times for on-time clients, and 3) Your medical team feels rushed.

With current out-of-control appointment demands, you must be the boss of your schedule. You want to be able to give each client and patient the full amount of time set aside for their appointments. Let me share options to handle clients who are late for appointments.

CREATE A LATE POLICY.

While clients may occasionally show up late, habitually tardy clients disrespect your time and services. You can prevent this bad behavior.

Just as your hospital has a financial policy, have a late and no-show policy that holds clients accountable and sets expectations in a professional, respectful way. Add the policy to your new client registration, online patient history forms, and online or app scheduling tools.

Here is a sample late policy: “We ask you to arrive before your scheduled appointment time so you may benefit from your full exam time. New client and patient history forms should be completed in advance to help our medical team prepare for your pet’s visit. A grace period of __ minutes will be granted for unforeseen delays that you may encounter while traveling to our hospital. If you arrive more than __ minutes late for an appointment, we will offer options of being seen as a work-in, day admission, or rescheduled if our schedule permits. We strive to ensure clients and patients are seen in a timely manner and appreciate your on-time arrival. Clients who have three or more late arrivals for appointments cannot schedule future appointments and will only be seen as emergencies or day admissions. Additional fees will apply.”

Start with a warning on the first offense.

Explain, “I understand that you were 15 minutes late to your appointment today. We want you and your pet to benefit from the full exam time with our medical team. To best serve you, please be on time for future appointments. We send confirmations upon booking and reminders two weeks, four days, and two days before your exam. Let me confirm that we have your correct cell number for texts and your email. We appreciate your timeliness so we can give all patients the time they need.”

put alerts in your practice-management software.

Track the number of times that a client is tardy to identify when a one-time occurrence becomes a chronic behavior. I follow a “three strikes and you’re out” policy. Forgive a first offense. You’ve been unexpectedly delayed in traffic, too. When you see three late arrivals within one year, decide whether to keep or end the client relationship. Allowing the chronic behavior to continue is your fault.

text clients when they are 5 to 10 minutes late.

This puts you in control and lets you determine options for the late arriving client. If you see appointments every 15 minutes, send the text when the client is 5 minutes late. For 30-minute exams, reach out when the client is 10 minutes overdue. Send this text: “We expected to see you at 3 p.m. for Max’s appointment. Reply YES and your expected arrival time if you’re on the way here, or RS to reschedule.” Obviously, clients should follow laws about not texting while driving.

show appreciation when clients call ahead to explain, “hey, i’m running late.”

This is honest and conscientious behavior. Reply, “Thanks for calling to let us know. What time will you arrive?” If you get a vague response of “I’m leaving my house now,” ask again, “What time will you arrive at our hospital?” Reply with, “Thanks for letting us know. Please drive carefully. We look forward to seeing you soon.”

Don’t make promises over the phone. If the client is 25 minutes away and has a 30-minute appointment, only 5 minutes of exam time will remain. Explain, “Once you get here, I will let you know options for us to see your pet today.” Never punish on-time clients by letting a late client cut in front of them.

Once the client arrives, look at your options.

Option 1: If the client arrives a few minutes late with three-fourths of the appointment time remaining, go ahead and see the patient (20 minutes of the 30-minute appointment remain). Alert a technician or assistant who can start the appointment now and help get the schedule back on track.

Option 2: See another doctor if one is available. Explain, “Dr. Jones has started his next appointment. Dr. Smith can see you now. Let me take you to Exam Room 3.” Unfortunately, every veterinarian at your hospital is likely fully booked with the current appointment demand. This option may be a rare choice.

Option 3: Ask if the client can wait and be seen as a work-in. Explain, “Dr. Jones has started his next appointment. We want Max to get the care he needs. We will see Max as soon as the first doctor becomes available, which may be 45 or more minutes. Are you able to wait, or do you prefer to reschedule?”

Option 4: Offer to reschedule. Use the yes-or-yes technique, focusing on what you can do. Say, “My next available appointment is <date, time 1> or <date, time 2.. Which do you prefer?”

Option 5: Offer a day admission. Never use the term “drop-off,” which is tacky and unprofessional. Explain, “We can see your pet as a day admission. For 10 to 15 minutes, you will meet with a technician who will get your pet’s vital signs, ask questions about your pet’s symptoms to share with the doctor, set a pickup time, and provide the expected cost of care. Because your pet will stay with us throughout the day and receive nursing care, there is a day admission fee of $XX. Shall we admit your pet to the hospital, and have you talk with the technician?”

I advise charging a 1- to 12-hour hospitalization or boarding fee to cover the cost of nursing care. The Veterinary Fee Reference, 11th ed., reports an average fee of $48.94 for hospitalization without an IV and no overnight stay (day hospitalization) for a 25-pound dog, $49.97 for a 60-pound dog, and $47.28 for a cat. [1] Boarding fees for 30- to 60-pound dog in a medium run average $27.29 while cat boarding is $21.07. For consistency and simplicity, I suggest creating a flat rate for day admissions such as $50. This day admission fee is charged in addition to the exam fee and other services delivered.

Options to see late-arriving clients will vary based on your schedule in that moment. You may only have one option or all five available. When a late client arrives at your hospital, your goal is to be a problem solver. You’ll hear words of thanks from the client for making care happen.

When you set clear expectations and follow your late policy, you will stand up for your time, your schedule, and your employees’ mental health. Remember, you train your clients how to treat you.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Enroll your team in the 1-hour course: Secrets to Keep Exams on Time.

Reference:

[1] The Veterinary Fee Reference, 11th, AAHA Press:2020; 245, 264, 248, 104, 105.

 

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When Curbside Care Takes Too Long: Do This

When Curbside Care Takes Too Long: Do This

When Curbside Care Takes Too Long: Do This

WHEN CURBSIDE CARE TAKES TOO LONG: DO THIS 

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

It’s freezing outside and getting dark earlier. Curbside appointments are taking 45 to 60 minutes. How can your team be more efficient? 

1. Get A TEXTING SERVICE OR APP WITH MESSAGING.

A veterinarian sees an average of 30 patients per day. The average healthcare call takes 8 minutes, which can include 3 minutes of hold time (1). 

If clients call you to announce their arrivals for curbside care, 30 calls total 4 hours of talk time. At a three-doctor practice, talk time jumps to 12 hours spread among the client care team. 

Post signs with instructions to text rather than call you for curbside care: “Curbside appointment? Text this: ARRIVED, your name, your pet’s name, parking spot #.” If you want clients to download an app for text and video chat during curbside care, include a QR code on signs. Clients will scan the QR with their smartphones and download and install the app upon arrival. Create response templates for frequently sent messages such as arrivals for curbside care and medication pickups. 

TEXT THIS: “Welcome to our hospital’s curbside check-in. To prepare for your appointment, please connect to our Wi-Fi. The network name is <your network> and password is <your password>. A nurse will call/video chat with you shortly to get your pet’s history and then get your pet from your car. Please remain in the same parking spot for the duration of your curbside care appointment so our medical team may quickly reach you.” 

The last instruction is critical. Many teams are frustrated with clients who leave during curbside care to run errands and then don’t answer their phones. 

Time savings: 4 hours of phone time per number of doctors scheduled

2. use online forms.

Go digital with histories and treatment plans. The team at Lake Road Animal Hospital in Horseheads, New York, uses an online curbside care form for checkups. Include links to your form in email and text confirmations. Ask clients to complete the form before the day of their appointments. If they haven’t returned it in advance, resend the link during curbside check-in. Create text templates for common messages so you’re not retyping instructions all day.

When you need to prepare treatment plans for hospitalization, surgery, or dentistry, create templates in your practice-management software. For example, you will have a template for a Grade 2 dental procedure and would add the number of anticipated extractions. Doing a light edit is faster than recreating the treatment plan every time. Text the client that you’ve emailed the treatment plan and anesthetic consent, and then initiate a video chat to discuss it. After answering the client’s questions, explain, “To schedule Rex’s dental procedure, please check your email at <client email>. You may digitally sign the treatment plan and anesthetic consent form and reply to our email.” Ask your software provider about digital signature capture tools or use services such as https://www.docusign.com or https://www.hellosign.com

Time savings: 2 ½ hours of phone time (average of 15 treatments per doctor per day at 10 minutes each)

3. get an app with video chat and telemedicine capabilities.

Psychologists’ research shows 55% of communication is body language (2). 

Video chat lets you better engage clients, which is especially important when clients have sick pets. You can express empathy through words plus body language to show your compassion. 

When doctors perform physical exams, they check 12 systems, which can take 10 minutes. Before COVID, clients saw and heard everything in exam rooms. Now during curbside care, the doctor performs the exam, calls to regurgitate findings, and answers the client’s questions. This can add another 10 minutes, doubling the doctor’s time. 

At Russell Ridge Animal Hospital in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Dr. Brad Miller and his team have clients download its PetPro Connect app to video chat during curbside care. They can watch Dr. Miller perform the exam, explain findings, and discuss necessary treatments. I will share a video on how the team uses messaging and video chat in my course on Cut Curbside Care Time in Half

Video chat lets clients see, hear, and understand. If a dog needs cruciate ligament surgery, hold a knee model and medical illustrations to show how you will repair the injury. Video chat lets you project confidence when explaining diagnoses and treatments. Shaving 10 minutes off every curbside appointment could save you 3 hours per day. A bonus: Higher client compliance and revenue. 

Time savings: 3 hours of phone time per veterinarian 

Despite all of COVID’s inconveniences, it has forced veterinary teams to rethink workflow and embrace technology. Like curbside grocery and restaurant pickup, veterinary curbside care will continue. Even when you can welcome clients back inside, some may prefer curbside care. A client undergoing cancer treatments or who cares for a high-risk elderly parent will want the safety and convenience of curbside appointments. Make sure the client experience is as amazing outside as it is inside your facility. 

 

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Get more training in Master Curbside Care: 3 Courses, which includes End the Phone Frenzy, Cut Curbside Care Time in Half, and Deliver 5-Star Curbside Care Experiences. This training package includes team enrollment with unlimited replay, handouts, online testing, and three hours of CE credit.

References:

1.  Insight Driven Health: Why First Impressions Matter, Accenture, May 2013. Available at: http://www.accenture.com/us-en/~/media/Accenture/Conversion-Assets/DotCom/Documents/Global/PDF/Industries_11/Accenture-Why-First-Impressions-Matter-Healthcare-Providers-Scheduling.pdf. Accessed Feb. 8, 2021.

2. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian. Wikipedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Mehrabian. Accessed Feb. 8, 2021.

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Phone Frenzy? 7 Ways to Cut Call Volume

Phone Frenzy? 7 Ways to Cut Call Volume

Phone Frenzy? 7 Ways to Cut Call Volume

Phone frenzy? 7 ways to cut call volume

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

Call volumes have more than doubled at practices nationwide, 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 phone experiences 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 that 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 pick up. 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 pick up. 

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 pick up. 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 www.canva.com.   

4. Get text- or email-to-pay solutions. 

Don’t take credit card numbers over the phone and get slammed with the extra 2 percent merchant fee for manually entered credit cards. 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 that 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 will 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 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!

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Enroll your team in the 1-hour course: End the Phone Frenzy. 

References: 

  1. GeniusVets to Host “Defeating the Phone Frenzy” Webinar to Help Practices Improve Communication During COVID. PRWeb. Available at: https://www.prweb.com/releases/geniusvets_to_host_defeating_the_phone_frenzy_webinar_to_help_practices_improve_communication_during_covid/prweb17351746.htm. Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
  2. A New Payment Solution Is Taking Over: 30% of Customers Prefer Paying With Phone Texts. Weave. Available at: https://www.getweave.com/a-new-payment-solution-is-taking-over-30-of-customers-prefer-paying-with-phone-texts/. Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.

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Avoid a Meltdown When Dr. Popular Isn’t Available

Avoid a Meltdown When Dr. Popular Isn’t Available

Avoid a Meltdown When Dr. Popular Isn’t Available

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

A longtime client calls and requests and appointment with Dr. Popular. While this veterinarian is blessed to be busy, you don’t want clients to have meltdowns when they can’t see their preferred doctor. What should you do? 

focus on what you can do.

Don’t tell the pet owner that the doctor is booked three weeks out because it will create a negative impression and could incite an argument. Say, “Dr. Popular’s next available appointment is Aug. 30 at 9 a.m. If your pet needs to be seen sooner, Dr. Next could see you tomorrow at 4 p.m. Which do you prefer?” 

practice forward booking.

When clients want their first choice of time, day, and doctor, have them book the next appointment during today’s exam. Use forward booking for progress exams, checkups, and disease-management exams for pets with chronic health conditions.  

When wrapping up today’s exam, Dr. Popular should introduce the concept of forward booking. If you have computers in exams rooms, he should schedule it now (Yes, the veterinarian needs to know how to use the scheduling tool in your practice-management software). Here are two examples of client conversations: 

For a disease-management exam, explain the “why” behind the change in the frequency of exams and use benefit statements. Dr. Popular would say, “Because Molly was diagnosed with arthritis today and will begin long-term medication, I will need to see her every six months to manage her arthritis and check blood work in case we need to adjust medication dosages. Booking her next exam now will let you get your first choice of a time and date with me. Six months from today would be Jan. 9. I could see Molly at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. Which do you prefer?” 

For a checkup, lead the client to book the next six- or 12-month exam. If the receptionist is scheduling the exam during checkout, she would say, “Just as your dentist has you schedule your next appointment at checkout, we do the same to proactively manage your pet’s health. Let’s book your pet’s next checkup for this same day and time next year. We will confirm two weeks before the exam, so if you need to change the appointment it will be easy. By scheduling today, you will get your first choice with Dr. Popular. He could see your pet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12 or 3 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 14. Which do you prefer?” The first choice is the same day of the week and time as today’s appointment. The second choice is a different day of the week and time of day (morning vs. afternoon). Get scheduling techniques in my article on “Four Ways to Use Forward Booking” (https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/four-ways-to-use-forward-booking/).   

be persistent when pets require progress exams.

Because Dr. Popular is booking weeks in advance, the entire healthcare team must be dogged and communicate the importance of scheduling follow-up care today. After explaining how to clean a dog’s ears and apply ointment for an ear infection, the nurse would say, “Dr. Popular needs to perform a follow-up exam in two weeks for your dog’s ear infection. We strive to book follow-up care with the same doctor because Dr. Popular wants to see the condition successfully resolved. This will be a 15-minute appointment to examine your dog’s ears and determine if additional treatment will be needed. Dr. Popular could see your dog on Thursday, Aug. 28 at 10 a.m. or Friday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. Which do you prefer?” 

If the client procrastinates and waits to call your hospital in two weeks when care is due, Dr. Popular won’t be available. Booking with the same veterinarian helps you achieve exam efficiency. If Dr. Next will see Dr. Popular’s patient for follow-up care, he will need to spend more time reviewing the medical record to get up-to-date on the diagnosis, treatment, and prescribed medications. The follow-up visit may take twice as long if a different doctor sees the patient.  

add more urgent care slots to dr. popular’s schedule.  

I advise receptionists to block three urgent-care slots per doctor per day for same-day sick patients. Because clients will call every morning with sick patients that must be seen today, plan for them in your daily schedule. You may need more urgent care slots on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, when hospitals typically see higher volumes of sick patients.  

To determine how many urgent care slots Dr. Popular will need, create a spreadsheet that totals the number of exams he sees by day of the week. Let’s say he saw 22 patients on Thursday. Approximately 20 percent of patients are same-day sick appointments. Based on this formula, Dr. Popular would need seven urgent-care slots on Thursdays. Block an urgent-care slot at the top of each hour in Dr. Popular’s schedule on Thursdays. Get more insight in my YouTube video on “Overbooked and Can’t See Sick Pets? Here’s the Solution” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_oWxml2qyc&t=9s.  

Talk up other doctors.  

You want clients to feel confident and comfortable with every doctor in your practice. Dr. Popular, nurses, and the client-care team need to praise the skills and knowledge of other veterinarians in your hospital. When a client sighs after hearing Dr. Popular isn’t immediately available, promote Dr. Next. The receptionist would say, “Dr. Popular’s next availability is Aug. 30 at 9 a.m. I could schedule you with Dr. Next. He has a special interest in feline medicine and would love to meet Alex. I’m confident you’ll be satisfied with the quality of his medicine. Dr. Next could see Alex tomorrow at 4 p.m. Shall I schedule this exam?”

During his appointments, Dr. Popular also can share praises of his colleague, Dr. Next. Afterall, Dr. Popular may be the practice owner and hired Dr. Next. To transfer the client’s trust to another veterinarian, Dr. Popular might say, “Dr. Next has been part of my medical team for five years. We went to the same veterinary college and share similar medical interests and philosophies. If I’m unable to promptly see your pet, I’m confident that Dr. Next will do an exceptional job.” 

Because Dr. Popular will take vacations or may sell the practice one day, you must build trust in every veterinarian. Have your team discuss ways to equally distribute appointments amongst all doctors because the hospital’s goal is to have every veterinarian fully booked every day.

 

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