Preventive Care Visits: Communicating Rules for the New Normal
Now that more than half of U.S. adults received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, pressure is building in all parts of society to return to business as usual—veterinary practices included. We know from data IDEXX published earlier this year that preventive care visits were put off because clients wanted to be in the exam room with their pets. As professionals, we want to make sure that we catch up; and for my practices, that has meant reopening the doors and dealing with the rush.
Put simply, effective communication with your clients is the key to success. Here are some ways to achieve just that as you move on to the new normal.
Define Your New Policies and Procedures
"Reopening" means different things to different people. For some veterinary practices, it means that everyone can come back inside, but that isn't the case for others. If your practice is smaller, so that you can't maintain social distancing, or if you are in a high-risk area, it might make sense to only allow clients in for specific appointment types. While you've likely gotten pretty good about talking to clients about vaccines and routine blood work during curbside visits, these conversations can be much easier when the client is in the exam room
Another option is to limit the number of appointments to reduce congestion. We also considered not allowing clients to wait inside the practice, only bringing them in when an exam room becomes available. In the end, we decided to keep our curbside concierge service. Some of our clients, especially the older ones, prefer it, and it lessens demand for the exam rooms.
Whatever policies and procedures your practice wishes to retain or revise in the new normal, the important thing is to define them clearly and communicate them to clients often and everywhere—in person, on the phone, via email, on your website, and through social media. My experience is that some clients need to get the same information from multiple sources or several times to really absorb it.
Be Clear About Restrictions
Although some rules may be relaxed, others need to remain to keep your team safe and happy. For example, my clients have to wear masks if they want to come inside, despite some pushback. If you are going to require them, make sure that you have a supply for your customer service representatives (CSRs) to hand out to those who turn up without them.
In addition, you may consider restricting the number of people that can come to each appointment, particularly as most exam rooms, in my experience, are relatively small, and that means your team and clients are in close proximity. Keeping groups to a minimum, especially for routine preventative care services, can help to make your team feel safe.
Lastly, consider any payment restrictions, as some veterinary practices introduced restrictions on the use of cash or checks. If you are keeping those as part of your ongoing protocols, then make sure it is clear to your clients before they arrive.
If clients object to the new or remaining rules and restrictions, we've found two things help to address client objections. Firstly, keep the communication lighthearted. For example, our mask posters show dogs with masks on in various comedic ways. Secondly, focus on the reason for the restrictions: keeping everyone safe. Although some clients still disagree with the need to keep the restrictions, it is hard for them to argue with the sentiment.
Announce the Changes
A vocal subset of our clients has been clamoring for the opportunity to get back into the practice since we first introduced curbside service. And when we announced on our social media channels that we would be opening the doors again, they were mostly very happy. At the same time, we got feedback that some clients were not ready yet, and they were pleased to still have curbside. To make sure things ran smoothly, we tried to communicate in as many ways as possible:
- Updated scripts: Our CSR team now specifically asks if clients want to come into the practice and explains our requirements for masks and the limit of two people per exam room.
- Linking to texts: We updated the policy on our website and added a note about restrictions to our reminder texts, with links to the policy.
- Reminder emails: We added notes to our email reminder templates so that clients have them in their inbox.
- Practice signage: Placing bright, letter-sized signs at all entrances makes them hard to miss, and they act as a final reminder.
By reiterating our policies and giving clients time to accept them, we hope to reduce the frustration that our team occasionally faces from clients. Overall, reopening should be a positive experience for everyone and serve as a clear sign that the craziness of the last year is coming to an end. Keep the communication channels with your team and clients open, and it should run smoothly.