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How to turn new clients into loyal clients while curbside

 

“We’re busier than we’ve ever been.”

You hear it at veterinary hospitals all overthe country. Back in March, before most practices went curbside, nobody predicted the influx of new clients.

Now hospitals want to know how to keep them coming back after curbside ends and those new clients have other options. How do you create a bond with someone you’ve never seen except through a car window? Or without a mask? Maybe never even met in person?

“If you’re looking to develop a personal, intimate relationship with [a client] based on the personal, intimate interactions you’re used to in the normal world, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Josh Vaisman, CCFP, MAPPCP (PgD), told NEWStat.

Vaisman, cofounder and lead consultant at Flourish Veterinary Consulting, concedes that the question of how to bond with new clients amid COVID and curbside is a hard one to answer; we’re in uncharted territory and no one really knows what works and what doesn’t.

Vaisman says that’s why veterinary professionals need to be willing to evolve and adjust: “In this day and age of constant Zoom meetings, you just can’t connect with another human being in the same way you can when you’re sitting in a room with them.” But there are things you can do to maximize the level of connection that you do have.

“The goal should not be to connect with our clients in the same way we did a year ago but to connect with our clients in the best way we can now.”

That means communication. Lots of it. Maybe even more than some staff might be comfortable with.

Easier said than done, he knows.

When he recommends overcommunication to veterinarians who already feel overwhelmed by the new normal, he says the typical response is, “‘I’m already seeing way more appointments than I’ve ever seen before. Now you want me to communicate extra?’”

Vaisman recognizes that’s a challenge for many. But in the face of change, challenge, and adversity, communication with clients is more important than ever: “The amount, the frequency, and the depth of communication that we have with our clients is always important. Now, the goal is to maximize connections with clients in the age of COVID, so I think one of the things we have to do is look for unique ways to boost communication.”

Vaisman says overcommunication calls for an incredible amount of transparency.

Your team can start by being as informative as possible upfront. Let the client know what they can expect from the moment they make the appointment. Consider having them complete new client paperwork digitally so they’re not spending time filling out forms in the parking lot. Also send them an explanation of how the appointment will go, from calling when they reach the parking lot to estimated appointment duration to how you’re accepting payment.

For AAHA-accredited Animal Hospital of Lake Villa in Lake Villa, Illinois, videos and tech have been key. The team made a video for clients that outlines their COVID and curbside protocols. They also make it a point to discuss protocols and expectations with clients both when they make the appointment as well as when the practice calls to confirm the appointment.

Get—and give—as much detail as possible. “Really set the stage for raised expectations,” he advises. “It removes a lot of the uncertainty.” And lack of certainty makes clients feel uncomfortable. Especially new clients.

For hospitals that aren’t already doing it, Vaisman suggests using apps like FaceTime in the exam room so clients can participate in the exam from their car. It gives them an opportunity to meet and interact with their new veterinarian and technicians. He says that fills the curbside communication gap in important ways and promotes a greater level of personal connection.

He says that alone can set you apart—a lot of hospitals are using telemedicine, but not necessarily for in-hospital appointments. And it’s the perfect opportunity to bond.

When you’re through with the exam, don’t just sign off and have the technician return the pet to the car; ask the client questions: “‘Did anything happen today that you don’t understand? What questions do you have?’ And pose those questions in very open ways that invite and welcome communication.”

At Animal Hospital of Lake Villa, Executive Director Maria Pirita said a doctor can spend 20 minutes explaining instructions but clients can’t remember everything that was said. So they crafted discharge videos that they send to clients via text. They can rewatch them anytime and get their questions answered. This could be particularly helpful for new pet owners who are nervous about aftercare. Taking the extra steps to reaffirm that clients understood everything that happened in the visit go a long way.

And don’t forget to follow up with clients. Vaisman says that while client follow-up is always critical, it’s even more critical in terms of forming a connection with new curbside clients.

Even if you normally call clients the day after an appointment to see how their pet is doing, ramp it up: Do it after every appointment, even routine wellness visits. “‘Hey, we saw Fluffy yesterday for her annual checkup and rabies vaccine. We just wanted to see how she’s doing today. How are you doing today? What did you think of the visit? What could we have done better?’ People are really responsive to that.”

Vaisman says we may not know what the future holds postcurbside, be we do know some essential truths about human nature: “When people feel empowered, included, and like they’re part of something, they’re more likely to want to be a part of it again in the future.”

That includes hospital visits. When people feel like they’re just another number in your curbside queue, Vaisman warns, they’re less likely to want to come back. So what’s going to keep them coming back?

The same things that keep anybody coming back, Vaisman says: “Anything we can do to help people feel heard, included, invited, and genuinely cared for.”

So don’t be afraid to overcommunicate!

Photo credit: ©  valentinrussanov/E+ via Getty Images