Beyond the Yellow Pages, Part 2: Client Matchmaking Tools
Travis Meredith, DVM, MBA, Diplomate ACT, Calico Financial, Philadelphia, PA, Affinity Veterinary Center of Malvern, Malvern, PA, and Christine Meredith, VMD, Affinity Veterinary Center of Malvern, Malvern, PA
The authors share their firsthand experience with and the key features of 3 online platforms—facebook.com, veterinarians.com, and vetfinder.com—designed to assist practitioners in attracting new clients.
This article, presented in two parts, focuses on introducing new technologies that enhance our communication with clients—attracting them, fostering a relationship with them, and compelling them to come through our doors.
Part 1, published in the May/June 2014 issue of Today’s Veterinary Practice (available at tvpjournal.com), discussed client engagement tools—interactive platforms that create a bond with clients, establish two-way communication, and assist in practice services, such as prescription refills and appointment scheduling.
This article will discuss tools that put new clients in touch with veterinary practices as well as create a positive and integrative online presence for both existing and new clients.
So Many Choices
There are many new offerings geared toward marketing, but finding the right communication tool—that communicates the right message at the exact time of need—can be challenging. Acknowledging that it would be impossible to cover all these products and services, we experimented with several offerings that can supplement a practice’s communication platform, enhance the client experience, and bring clients through the practice doors.Our goals are to:
- Highlight some of the tools that we believe will be meaningful contributors to the business of veterinary medicine
- Share our experience test-driving them in a real world environment—our newly established practice, Affinity Veterinary Center of Malvern—over the past six months.
Facebook.com is no secret; with over 1 billion registered users, it is the largest online community on the planet. But did you know that businesses can utilize Facebook to engage specifically with existing and prospective clients with similar interests, who live in their neighborhood?
According to the company, over 15 million businesses utilize Facebook to interact with their customers. There are many strategies and theories about how to effectively deploy social media in your veterinary practice. Pages of articles and hours of continuing education meeting time have been dedicated to varying perspectives of how to best use Facebook for your practice.
According to the company, a Facebook Business page enables a small business to be:
- Discoverable: Facebook has rapidly become its own search environment. With a business page, your clients and prospective clients will be able to find you.
- Connected: Facebook is about engagement. Business pages allow your practice to engage with your clients; have one-on-one conversations with people who can like your page, read your posts, and share them with friends; and “check-in” when they visit your practice.
- Timely: Posting through your page enables your practice to reach large groups of people frequently, with messages tailored to their needs and interests.
- Insightful: Facebook provides ongoing analytics that enable a user to identify what messages are most compelling to their audience, see what doesn’t work, and measure the efficacy of specific promotional efforts.
The best content to deploy remains debatable; ultimately, a practice team needs to decide what’s going to be most effective for their community and local culture. The mistake many practices make, however, is focusing on Facebook interaction among their existing clientele, rather than using it as a platform to cultivate new relationships and dialogues with Facebook users outside of their client base.
Through multiple features, businesses can purchase expanded messaging within the Facebook community. Generally, paid promotions are intended to accomplish one of the following goals:
- Increased page exposure
- Expanded distribution of a specific post or topic
- Specific promotions or coupons
Targeted messaging can be tailored to specific geographic regions (within miles of your practice), interest types (pets, activities), age, or other demographic details. By employing a more targeted approach, Facebook becomes your personal tool for connecting with prospective clients.
In Our Hands
In our practice, we have chosen to be very proactive with Facebook in its role as a communication platform. To the individual user, Facebook is a place to share your life, your family, and your personality; we view it as a way to share our practice’s personality, even before the client experiences our practice in a patient setting.
Because we can identify the individuals who follow our practice on Facebook, we can objectively track new client relationships that result from specific campaigns, promotions, and coupons, and the overall return on investment.
Veterinarians.com is a website platform that connects pet owners in search of veterinary care with participating veterinarians. Formerly operated as localvets.com, veterinarians.com seeks to displace traditional search tools, such as the yellow pages, and expand a practice’s reach across multiple platforms, directories, and publishers.
Targeted toward new pet owners, or those new to a given area, veterinarians.com currently drives over 6000 phone calls a day to participating veterinary practices from consumers seeking to schedule veterinary appointments, thereby directly increasing new patient visits.
Most veterinary teams acknowledge that an online presence is a critical component to cultivating a competitive status in today’s market; however, many practices—and small businesses in general—do not have the resources or insight to achieve and maintain top placement in online directories and search engines. Through this search platform, practices can benefit from increased reach without investing additional up front time and resources on their own.
- Web page: Participating practices have a dedicated page that is accessible to prospective clients through the veterinarians.com website and may contain a link to the practices’ own websites.
- Zip code search: Pet owners search for veterinarians via a zip code search feature; all participating practices in and around the given search area are listed.
- Appointment requests: Clients request an appointment by using a dedicated veterinarians.com phone number to call the clinic, which allows the practice and veterinarians.com to track calls and appointments generated from the website.
- Integrated software: Recently, veterinarians.com launched a new feature that integrates appointment scheduling into the practice management system, allowing clients to request specific appointment times as available within the practice schedule.
- Recorded calls: Calls through the veterinarians.com phone line are recorded, which provides a way for practice owners and managers to review inbound calls, objectively measure results, and train and support their practice team on effective client management skills.
- Only pay for results: Veterinarians.com is a pay-as-you-go service; the practice only pays ($50 per client) when a new client comes through the door. Practices are billed monthly, and only billed if new clients were generated the previous month.
In Our Hands
As a new business, generating new clients is our top priority. The promise of new clients is certainly appealing and, over the past six months, we have seen one to three new clients per month referred through veterinarians.com. We anticipate that number will grow incrementally. At an average transaction value of approximately $150 per visit, veterinarians.com refers approximately $450 in projected monthly revenue.
Vetfinder.com is an emerging online search tool for pet owners seeking veterinary and other pet care services. Founded by a veterinarian, VetFinder’s strategy is straightforward:
- Create numerous online environments where pet owners can access relevant, topical information on pet care
- Provide easy access to participating veterinarians.
VetFinder is a collection of five pet centered websites: animalhospital.com, animalhospitals.com, animalclinics.com, localvetsearch.com, and dogshelters .org. This enables participating practices to showcase their businesses through multiple online environments while only maintaining a single practice profile.
Similar to veterinarians.com, VetFinder provides a robust online presence for participating veterinary practices, increasing their individual visibility to prospective clients.
- Web page: Participating practices have a dedicated page that is accessible to prospective clients through all five VetFinder websites, which may contain links to the practices’ own websites.
- Zip code search: Pet owners search for veterinarians via a zip code search feature.
- Appointment requests: Clients request an appointment by using a dedicated VetFinder phone number to call the clinic, which allows the practice and VetFinder to track calls and appointments generated from the website.
- Recorded calls: Calls through the VetFinder phone line are recorded, which provides a way for practice owners and managers to review inbound calls, objectively measure results, and train and support their practice team on effective client management skills.
- Profile analytics: Unique site visits to the practice’s profile are tracked and available for review through the practice’s dedicated portal at vetfinder.com.
In Our Hands
We currently utilize both platforms and find them value added for our specific situation. We actively manage our profile pages, track calls, and refine how we approach our telephone service behaviors.
With more than six months’ experience in utilizing each of the platforms described in Parts 1 and 2 of this article in a real world clinical setting, we have reached the conclusion that veterinary practices and practice teams can benefit from one or more of these technologies in tangible ways. Not every solution is the best fit for every practice, but when utilized correctly, client engagement tools can help you find new clients, enhance your interaction with clients, and keep them coming back.