No call, no show . . . no way?

Appointments are way up at most practices, with many hospitals booking appointments six to eight weeks out. Unfortunately, no-call no-shows—clients who don’t show up for scheduled appointments and don’t bother to call to let you know—are way up, too.

No-shows have increased in part because pet owners, frustrated by weeks-long waits to see a veterinarian, are booking multiple appointments at multiple hospitals, often taking the earliest one they can get—without canceling the rest. Which leaves hospitals holding the bag.

But there are ways to cut way down on no-shows without resorting to upfront fees that may alienate clients.

NEWStat asked Wendy Myers, CVJ, owner of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians, a consulting firm that coaches veterinary professionals on how to communicate effectively with clients, to share her favorite strategies.

Myers says hospitals should confirm exams via multiple texts and emails, and those confirmations should start immediately after clients book the appointment, then continue in the weeks and days leading up to it.

“The key is to get all of the new client’s contact information during the initial scheduling call,” Myers says. That way you’ve, got a name, address, and phone number—preferably for a smartphone so you can send text and email confirmations. Make sure to get their pet’s name, birthday, and vaccination history, too.

Myers says it doesn’t take long and it’s well worth your time. A three-minute investment nets you valuable details that help ensure clients keep their appointments: “They’re more committed to showing up because they’ve shared a lot of personal information.”

Sample new client confirmation text: We’re excited to meet Mudge at 9 am November 30! Bring Mudge’s stool sample and medical records. Get driving directions at <link>. Reply C to confirm, or RS to reschedule.

Sample existing client confirmation text: Mudge has an appt with Dr. Jones at 10 a.m. Nov. 30. Bring Mudge’s stool sample. Reply C to confirm, RS to reschedule.

(Myers includes other sample scripts for each stage in the confirmation process on her website.)

Myers is adamant that the first confirmation be sent the moment the client has booked the appointment: “The moment they book, send it.”

Next, set up additional appointment confirmations and reminders in your practice-management software or third-party apps. She recommends sending them four days before the appointment or procedure, two days ahead, and, finally, on the day of the appointment, to remind pet owners of fasting instructions for procedures or to bring stool samples for checkups.

The timing of the confirmations also depends on far you’re booking out. If it’s six to eight weeks, send the second notice two weeks beforehand instead of four days.

“If they don’t reply and confirm those reminders, I ask the client service team to call them,” Myers says.

Her suggested script for that phone call: “We haven’t heard from you and we’re holding an appointment slot for you. We do have a wait list and we’re trying to accommodate everybody. Can you please let us know whether you will be here? If we don’t hear from you by the end of today, your appointment will be canceled.”

She calls that final phone call a last resort.

Myers says some practices try to prevent the no-call no-show problem by having new clients prepay or put down a deposit when they book appointments, but she’s not a fan of that strategy.

“I totally get it and respect if they want to do that,” Myers says, “But it would rub me the wrong way as a new client.” It also sends the message that “it’s all about the money.” Myers says that’s definitely not the first impression you want to give to a new client—the potential bad blood just isn’t worth it.

She said mostly, no-call no-show clients aren’t being thoughtless so much they are simply not considering the aftereffects: “They don’t realize that you’re so overwhelmed with demand” that you really can’t afford a no-show when you’ve got 50 other people on a waiting list just itching to take that slot.

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