How to Approach Your New Waiting Room - AKA the Parking Lot

After years of careful consideration of paint colors, optimal seating layout, and a workflow that made the most of our waiting and consultation rooms, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our parking lot into the new waiting room.

If you're still offering curbside service to clients, or maybe considering restarting it as virus cases increase all over the country, you're not alone. An American Veterinary Medical Association survey from earlier this year showed that more than 80% of practices were asking clients to wait in their vehicles during their pets' exams. Even practices that are opening their doors again are keeping a curbside option for clients who feel more comfortable staying socially distant.

While your practice, your clients, and the rest of the country wait for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider these ideas to best use your space and make your clients' wait as pleasant as possible.

Bring the Inside Outside

When clients are in the building, the waiting room can make or break your clients' first impression of your practice. The style and layout give clients an idea of who you are and your practice's philosophy. Now, you need to extend that welcoming atmosphere outside. This may be more challenging in a parking lot shared with other businesses than in a location where the practice is the property owner. That said, work with what you have and follow these tips:

  • Describe the process for a curbside check-in when the appointment is made, setting clients' expectations ahead of time.
  • Try video calls using telehealth software if your team can't meet face to face. Clients will build stronger bonds with their care team and feel more comfortable when they can see you and be part of the exam.
  • Try to keep clients comfortable. A bottle of water, a cup of coffee, and an external Wi-Fi access point can make a world of difference to how they feel.
  • Protect them from the worst of the elements with a canopy. This is also a great place to add practice branding.
  • Don't forget your team's appearance; those first impressions matter just as much outside!

Show Your Clients You Value Their Time

Once a client has arrived, their clock starts ticking. Many clients seem to be more impatient than ever during the pandemic, but that may be because they are missing important progress cues. They can't see how many other people are at the practice, nor do they have the regular process of moving to the exam room or seeing the tech and doctor. My experience is that clients are focused on things they perceive as inefficient. So, your process should try to eliminate any inefficiencies:

  • If you have allocated parking, a sign at each spot with a number makes the technician's job much easier when they go to find their patient.
  • Prominently display the number to call on a sign when clients arrive, so they don't have to search for it.
  • Make sure you have the capacity to receive calls. No one wants a busy tone while they wait outside, so consider adding lines or moving to a voice-over internet protocol solution if you're overloaded.
  • Use a premade template or list that includes everything you need to know. You can keep this in your PIMS, so it becomes part of the medical record. This will help the technician get all the details the first time.
  • When collecting the patient, let the client know how long things should take. Erring on the side of overestimating is better than underestimating.
  • If a service is delayed because something changes, like an emergency or equipment failure, let the client know as soon as you do.
  • For procedures that take longer, consider drop-offs, so the client can run errands or take a meeting while waiting.
  • If you have a patient workflow software you can easily adopt curbside workflows and collect electronic signatures.

Make Education Materials Accessible

All those marketing posters and educational leaflets in the waiting room are now less accessible. This matters because clients with free time on their hands may be more inclined to read them. Getting information to your clients without it feeling too pushy will help them to stay engaged with their pets' health and create a community within your practice, all while keeping the focus on medicine:

  • Think through what information you want to convey, and create grab packs to bring with you when you visit clients in their cars.
  • Target information to clients' individual situations. Consider making preventive care packets that explain the wellness visit schedule and discuss preventable diseases, so they can review it before the doctor calls.
  • Tie an offer to the information, like a discount, so the client has something of value as well as the educational information.
  • Consider creating a "while you wait" page on your website with links to marketing videos that you or your vendors created.

Even with the best intentions, the parking lot is harder to control than your building. From weather to passing traffic, there are discomforts you can't eliminate, and your clients may feel disconnected. As an essential partner in their pets' care, you need to go the extra mile in making them feel like an active participant in the appointment. Building trust and managing relationships is even more important now to give the best care to your patients, while making your clients feel welcome at your practice.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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