WA Veterinarian Magazine
When a client brings his/her pet in for an appointment, consider pre-booking the client’s next appointment (such as the next annual wellness exam) before the client leaves the practice. This is a great way to improve client compliance and fill up the appointment book with a minimal investment in staff time. Dentist offices have been doing it for years and there is a reason – it works.
You can pre-book the next appointment anytime the client is at the front desk – following an appointment, or when the client is in purchasing food or medication. Once you have a pre-booking system in place, work towards getting the client into the habit of booking the date and time for next year’s wellness exam before they leave the practice following this year’s wellness exam.
Once the client arrives at reception to pay, schedule the next appointment prior to reviewing the invoice. Clients are accustomed to this process, and it is important to do it before settling their balance.
The question really is, why not? Pre-booking the next appointment for a client is an easy way to remove a couple of steps in the process. Rather than trying to get in contact with a client through postcard, phone, email, etc. and convince them that they need to bring Fluffy in for an exam, you have them right in front of you and so the opportunity to book is literally in front of you. Once the client has pre-booked, the only task left is to confirm the appointment two weeks ahead of time. If there are scheduling issues, they can be dealt with at that time. The key is that the client has committed to the next appointment and confirmation is the only step that follows.
In addition to being a more efficient process, pre-booking also sends the message to clients about how important appointments and exams are for their pet. Waiting until “it is that time of year again” to book, does not emphasize that it is a priority for your client’s pet.
Initiate the conversation about the next wellness exam appointment booking before settling the client’s bill by saying:
“Mary, we’d like to get Fluffy booked for her next annual wellness exam. I can schedule you for the same day next May, does this time usually work for you?”
“We will send you a confirmation notice two weeks ahead of your appointment. We can take care of any scheduling issues you might have at that time.”
Or use this for pre-booking a follow-up visit:
“Dr. Lisa would like to see Fluffy six weeks from now as a follow-up. Does Wednesday, December 27th at 5 p.m. or Thursday December 28th at 6 p.m. work better for you?”
“We will call you a day or two ahead of time to confirm.”
Determine a reasonable confirmation timeframe for each appointment. If a client has pre-booked a year out, confirm two weeks prior to the appointment versus when a client books four to six weeks ahead of time where a confirmation call could be made two to three days ahead of time.
There may be some staff resistance to pre-booking because it may be something they would never do as a client, because of variances in veterinarians’ schedules or fear that clients may say “no”. If a decision has been made that the practice will now pre-book appointments for all clients, introduce it to staff and give them the tools (i.e. scripts). It is also beneficial to appoint a team lead to show the rest of the team how it is done. When staff insist that they would never book a year ahead, encourage them to at least try it (using the script) so they can see how easy it really is.
While doctor schedules may not be set in stone, there are usually certain days of the week that they are available. Follow this pattern when pre-booking appointments and if an appointment time has to be rescheduled the following year because the client’s preferred veterinarian is working a different schedule, this is still easy to do. The client is still committed to the appointment, and it is merely a matter of rescheduling.
There will be some clients that ask “why” or say “no” to pre-booking one year ahead of time. When a client asks why they need to pre-book, equip staff with the following script:
“We’ve realized that all of our clients are busy so it can be challenging to get their pets in for their next exam. By booking now, you know well in advance when Fluffy needs to come in, it saves you the extra step of calling to book an appointment and keeps all of us on track with keeping Fluffy happy and healthy.”
When clients refuse to book a year or six months ahead, continue following the same process of booking them just before their pet is due.
Why not make pre-booking appointments the “norm” in your practice? It is easy to do, it promotes better pet health, it fills the appointment book, and it is something you can start today.
— Terra Shastri is the Manager of Business Development at the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. She can be reached at [email protected]