If I'm a client of your practice, and my dog is due for vaccines, how many times will you attempt to contact me about setting up an appointment before giving up? One? Three? Five? Will you only send me a postcard or will you attempt an email and phone call, too? How far in advance and how long after the due date will you attempt to contact me? 

Two things mystify me when speaking with practice owners: first, how few know the answers to these questions; and second, how nervous owners are about "badgering" clients with reminders in the first place. 

I'm here to tell you that you are being too timid when it comes to your reminder communications. 

In a recent independent research study conducted for Veterinary Practice Partners (VPP), we found that, on average, most practices contact clients only three times for a reminder. Having tracked the performance of thousands of reminder postcards, emails, and phone calls, a separate analysis shows that such a strategy yields compliance rates ranging from 50 to 60 percent. That means up to half of your patients will not return to you in a given year for a preventive care visit. 

Reminders that work
Our research has shown that reaching out with up to six reminders--spread across phone calls, emails, and postcards--is what works. You might be thinking, If we contact clients that many times they will complain! In reality, you can expect less than one percent of clients who reach that point to take issue with your persistence. The reason for this is two-fold.

First, the majority of practices do not have complete contact information for their clients. If have yet to find a practice that has accurately captured greater than 85 percent of their clients' email addresses. I also have yet to find a practice that diligently updates all national change of address (NCOA) alerts when their clients move. This means that about 35 percent of most practice's clients will not receive all six communications, let alone the three you're sending now.

Second, most of your clients understand that reminder communications are not marketing pitches. With reminders, we are talking about clinically appropriate visits that are relatively time-sensitive. With reminders, we are talking about preserving the health and well-being of your clients' beloved animals. Industry experts may have warned you about the frequency of promotional emails or Facebook posts, but appointment reminders are different. 

The research shows that the natural upper bound for reminder compliance is between 70 and 80 percent, depending on a practice's specific wellness protocol. How can you bridge the gap? More scheduled contact points! Below is a real example of a fairly successful practice's reminder calendar and how each reminder influences total compliance by week 15 after the initial due date. 

While it is undeniable that an extended reminder calendar is constrained by the law of diminishing returns, what this graph is meant to illustrate is that frequency is an important determinant of overall compliance. Unfortunately, there is no perfect postcard, email, or phone call conversation that can lead to a sustained, outsized return on its own. Only a sustained schedule with high-quality communication pieces can ultimately achieve a "best in breed" compliance percentage year after year. 

Want to learn more?
Attend AAHA's upcoming workshop, Practice Ownership: Fundamentals of Profitable Care and Growing a Patient Base, to learn how to create and implement a well-formulated reminder process so you can enjoy revenue predictability. Many other marketing topics will also be covered in great detail during this daylong workshop, held Sept. 29, 2015, at AAHA headquarters in Lakewood, Colo. Visit us online for details. 


Win Lippincott is vice president of marketing and technology for Veterinary Practice Partners. 

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