TRENDS IN YOUR INBOX: Toothy Grins All Around!
Take Care of Your Patients and Your People
by Constance Hardesty, MSc
February is upon us, and that means veterinary practices across the country are knee deep in dentals. In January, Trends tapped social media experts for marketing tips to help fill your schedule. By now, you may be wondering whether there’s such a thing as too much success. Never!
Stay ahead of the game with ideas from those who have been there, including AAHA-accredited practices.
To thrive through this month’s full slate of dentals, take care of your patients and your people, too. Keep on marketing, maintaining equipment in tip-top shape, having inventory on hand, and making clients feel special, and be sure to cater to the staff who bear the brunt of the
Keep on Marketing
National Pet Dental Health Month can help fill your schedule during winter, traditionally a slow time of year. If you’re already booked through February, your marketing is clearly working. Why stop now? Schedule extra appointments in later weeks. When you think about it, what is March 1 but February 28 plus one?
Nonstop marketing gives more pet owners a chance to do what’s right for their pets’ dental health. That means fewer pets have to live with painful mouths or debilitating, even life-threatening, health issues. And for clients who have already scheduled or completed their dentals, your repeated posts are like a daily pat on the back, reminding them that they did the right thing.
Making the most of dental health promotions means “not being satisfied with early results and staying consistent and even increasing marketing as the month goes on,” says AJ Thakore, CEO and founder of Doctor Multimedia. Are you running out of ideas? Don’t be afraid to repeat your posts. January’s Trends offered some sample posts, and this month, you’ll find new posts you can copy and personalize.
Drop the Discount
If you think about your dental promotion as a way to raise awareness and make your clients into champions for their pets’ health, then offering a discount is not the only way—and may not even be the best way—to attract clients. The good news is with social media, you can change your promotion midstream.
“Practices should avoid discounting unless they have evidence that the profits from dental procedures gained via the promotion clearly outweigh those that would have [come from] booked appointments without the discount,” says Bill Schroeder, owner of InTouch Practice Communications. “I frequently see practices mistakenly launch a discount-centered campaign without knowing the true profitability of a service and the past impact that such programs have had on the bottom line.”
Especially for higher-end practices that stress quality care, a discount is not necessary. Although everyone appreciates a deal, a “deal” doesn’t mean a discount, advises Thakore.
“People with disposable income aren’t looking for discounts, but they are looking for value,” Thakore says. “One thing I always emphasize are the ways a practice can add value without taking dollars out of their pockets.”
AAHA-Accredited Practices Tackle National Pet Dental Health Month
Trends asked members of our AAHA-accredited Facebook group what they do to promote National Pet Dental Health Month. They were happy to share!
- Animal Clinic in Sussex (Sussex, Wisconsin) focuses on education. “I made videos explaining the process from check in to check out for both cats and dogs,” says Jennifer Knudsen, inventory manager, who also educates clients about nutrition. “We have found that most clients are simply afraid of the unknown. From the time they leave their pets until they pick them up, what happens? Having them able to see a documented process really helps. Education is usually the bridge to understanding.”
- See the video “Shadow’s Journey to Clean Teeth” here: facebook.com/AnimalClinicSussex/videos/1841840645857683/. And get tips on how to make your own video from a PowerPoint on the Microsoft Support website.
- Johnstown Veterinary Associates (Johnstown, Pennsylvania) offers vouchers for a free exam. Practice manager Heidi Rizkalla reports, “For the past couple of years, we have been using a free exam voucher for patients who get a dental in February. The voucher is good for one year for that pet. Clients could use the voucher for a sick exam or part of their wellness exams. Every year, it gets bigger for us. We try to not do more than five dentals a day. Some clients have caught onto this and ’save’ the dental until February if it’s not an emergency. And we are totally fine with that.”
- At Crossroads Veterinary Hospital (Diamond Springs, California), February is Heart Smart Month as well as National Pet Dental Health Month. “We talk about everything heart related, including oral health. Last year at our Heart Smart open house, we raffled off a vacuum cleaner—big hit,” says practice administrator Sharon Erbe Delgadillo.
Revisit the January issue of Trends for more on why veterinarians are in a perfect position to make the link between oral health and whole-body health. And to learn more about the connection between oral health and heart health, go to navta.net/page/communityblogs, and scroll down to Mary Berg’s “Heart Disease Blog.”
A popular “value add” is a goodie bag with a few dental treats and inexpensive dental-care products, including samples. Thakore also suggests breaking up a big bag of food to sell in small samples. You don’t have to compete with the goodie bags that celebrities receive at the Oscars. Think about the message you want clients to take home, and put together a package that says, “We care.”
Another way to add value to a dental cleaning is to offer a follow-up visit in six months and bundle the cost of the follow-up visit into the cost of the dental prophylaxis. Say, for the sake of discussion, that a dental is $350 and an exam fee is $45. You can charge $395 for the dental and offer the exam at no additional charge. As Thakore points out, you’re saying, “We’ll give you something, but we’re not taking money off the bill.”
If you offered a discount in January and now you regret it, change your promotion. Just stop mentioning the discount in your posts. Go ahead and honor the discount for clients who request one based on your earlier posts. But tell them that was a bonus for early bookers.
How do you say it? Start with the positive, bury the negative in the middle, and end on a high note. “Yes, I’m happy to give you the discount. It was meant as a bonus for people who scheduled their appointments in January, but oral health is so important, and I’m delighted you agree. We look forward to seeing you on February 20th!”
Stay on Top of Your Game
If January is all about promoting, scheduling, and preparation, February is when it all happens. Assuming that you keep equipment maintained, inventory stocked, and staff trained, you’ll be set to go. Still, it pays to be extra vigilant when your dental suite is being heavily used.
You’ll also want to be sure your administrative team can handle the extra workload. Besides having computers and software updated, you’ll want to be sure your people are ready, too.
“Make sure staff is trained and all equipment is functional,” advises Nancy Dewitz, director of sales and marketing for Beyond Indigo Pets. “Those extra computer stations that may only be used during the busy times need to be checked. Are they ready for the extra data entry? Are there new people that may not know your process? Things get missed if they are just dropped in the middle.
“Then, during the busy times, do not let go of processes,” Dewitz warns. “Make sure all staff understand how important getting all the billing recorded and history records updated can be. Recordkeeping is super important for follow up the next year. As crazy as it gets, they have to ensure they follow the established processes.”
Redouble your commitment to people and processes as the month progresses, Thakore says. “Execution requires sticking with the planning even as things get busy and as staff starts to tire from so many dentals.”
Head Off Errors
Practice makes perfect, but too much repetition can lead to mistakes from fatigue, hurry, or misperception. When a person repeats rote tasks for weeks on end, it’s easy to think, “I did that already today,” when you actually did it yesterday. Checklists can help, and so can doing things to break up the schedule.
Talk to staff about errors that have occurred or that are likely to occur. This might include forgetting to fill water reservoirs or flushing water through handpieces—simple things that you do automatically but can inexplicably miss. Acknowledge that “to err is human” and avoid the blame game. Dismissing mistakes as an individual’s fault prevents you from seeing the conditions under which the error occurred. And that can mean you’ll miss the opportunity to make safe choices.
For example, one condition that can lead to error is fatigue. The simple fact is, doing dentals is hard, physical work. It takes intense concentration, fine muscle control, and long bouts of standing still relieved only by moving into an awkward position. Antifatigue mats, good shoes, adjustable tables, and simple stretching exercises can help prevent aches and pains. Good lighting in the dental suite and gazing into the distance during breaks can help prevent eyestrain. If staffing allows, rotate technicians in and out of the dental suite so the burden doesn’t fall on one person.
Some practices, like AAHA-accredited Johnstown Veterinary Associates in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, limit the number of procedures scheduled each day (see sidebar on page 39). If restricting the number of dentals seems to defeat the purpose of National Pet Dental Health Month, consider the Finnish saying, “Happiness is the place between too little and too much.” How ironic it would be to fill the dental suite for six weeks straight only to lose your technician to backache or eyestrain or lose a patient to an error caused by fatigue.
In general, it’s easier to retain clients than to get new ones. That’s why Thakore suggests you make this year’s clients a priority in next year’s marketing efforts. “Keep track of who came in for the promotion, so you can market to them specifically in the future,” Thakore advises.
What about the clients who didn’t or couldn’t book an appointment in February or even March? Thakore advises his practices to think long term. “Some of our practices even go into April to meet demand. Some practices run a lighter version of their special in October.”
The purpose of dental prophylaxis is to protect patient health. So, while it’s great to fill the February schedule, the higher goal is to serve every pet every year.