Emerging Technologies for Engagement & Interaction with Clients, Part 1: Client Engagement Tools
Travis Meredith, DVM, MBA, Diplomate ACT, Calico Financial, Philadelphia, PA, Affinity Veterinary Center of Malvern, Malvern, PA
Christine Meredith, VMD, Affinity Veterinary Center of Malvern, Malvern, PA
The authors introduce 3 client engagement platforms on the market today—Vsmart, Demandforce, and The Vet App—and how this technology can enhance communication with your clients.
In the previous two installments of this series, we focused on issues and topics centered on long-term growth of your veterinary practice. We reviewed the foundational strategies behind investing principles, fostering growth, and funding sources.
However, as this series continues, our focus moves to tactical actions that make a difference in the everyday practice environment. In this article, presented in two parts, we tackle the issue of how to use new technologies to enhance our communication with clients—to attract them, to foster a relationship with them, and to compel them to action.
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. With so many solutions available to small business owners, determining which product/service is most effective at enhancing your customer experience can be difficult to discern.
Acknowledging that it would be impossible to cover all these products and services, we experimented with several new offerings that are designed to 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 over the past 6 months.
In Part 1, we review 3 new client engagement tools—interactive platforms that utilize a 2-way dialogue to foster the bond between a practice and their clients.
Measure Satisfaction Through Surveys
Proactively measuring customer satisfaction, while common in other industries, is an emerging practice in the veterinary industry. However, it is rapidly gaining adoption as practice owners increasingly appreciate the relationship between client loyalty and patient experience.
Surveys created for veterinary practices are similar to ones you may have taken as a patient of a dentist, optometrist, or chiropractor. After your appointment (often before you return home), a short email survey asks about your experience. Questions are often brief, inquiring about wait time, how you were greeted, or if you have any questions. The survey is completed within minutes—through your computer or mobile device.
VSmart (vsmart.4act.com) is the evolution of VSurv, a product of Animal Care Technologies in Denton, Texas. VSurv is an automated survey tool that allows practices to track and monitor client satisfaction on an ongoing basis (see Measure Satisfaction Through Surveys).
VSmart is integrated into the practice management system and operates as an automated communication system. Based on trigger settings determined by the practice team, a clinic branded email is sent to each client 24 hours after a visit, thanking them for their loyalty and inquiring on key attributes of their visit.
VSmart surveys are configurable, allowing practices to inquire about customer service issues most important to them. A practice may choose questions out of the VSmart library or choose to create their own custom questions. Some of the common attributes that practices track include:
- How did a client perceive wait time?
- How was a client greeted?
- How did the technical staff treat the client’s animal?
- Were all of the client’s questions answered?
- Is the client likely to recommend the practice to a friend or family member?
Custom Surveys. VSmart allows the user to configure different surveys for various types of patient visits. For example, surveys can be specifically designed for dog and cat owners, multiple pet owners, or surgery patients. Any feature that can be configured from a field in the practice management system can be used to create a distinct survey.
Satisfaction Tracking. VSmart hosts an online client dashboard that allows the practice team to actively track customer satisfaction metrics, such as trend graphs, recent client comments, alerts, email collection rates, survey compliance, and graphed survey results.
Alerts. One of the most compelling attributes of the VSmart system is the alert system, which allows a practice to set threshold values for survey results that trigger an automatic alert every time a survey scores below these values. The alert—assignable to one or more members of the practice team—is delivered by text and/or email.
This real-time customer satisfaction assessment enables the practice team to identify potentially unhappy clients and act on issues before the consumer shares a negative experience with family or friends, posts a negative review online, or decides to leave the practice.
Positive Reviews Online. The most recent feature of the VSmart platform is integration of the client survey tool with the ability to create positive online review content. Client surveys can be customized to “steer” clients to online review sites based on responses to individual surveys. If a client meets the pre-determined positive experience threshold at the end of a survey, they are immediately asked to share their experience at one of the practice’s pages on Google, Yelp, Yahoo, Bing, or other major search engine review sites.
In Our Hands
The VSmart platform is a very sound tool for the practice that wants to stay in tune with its clients’ experiences.
- As an automated feature, it operates primarily in the background and doesn’t require significant maintenance other than defining survey parameters and fields.
- The alert is our favorite tool, as it enables a practice owner or manager to identify and resolve a potentially negative outcome before it becomes a negative review that lives perpetually online.
Demandforce (demandforce.com) is a multi-tool communication platform dedicated to enhancing relationships between small businesses and their customers. Owned by Intuit (the makers of QuickBooks), Demandforce has a presence in over 30 different industries and supports the small business owner through:
- A highly intelligent communication platform
- Online reputation tools
- Access to a diverse consumer base.
Demandforce for the veterinary practice operates through an online portal environment that is integrated into the practice management system. From the portal, users can develop a comprehensive messaging program for their practice that operates primarily behind the scenes of the daily office routine.
The Demandforce platform is built on three foundational elements of client engagement.
- Email & Text CommunicationDemandforce automatically manages email and text communications that can be deployed as reminders, post-visit communications, or client outreach/promotional messaging. This communication can be personalized based on patient attribute filters set by the practice (eg, targeted messaging for senior patients, dogs only, multiple pet households) and scheduled to be delivered automatically based on your practice’s strategic goals.For example, a practice can create an automated system for:
- Confirming scheduled appointments for all patients
- Sending a post-visit client survey to new clients
- Sending a new pet owner newsletter to all new puppy and kitten clients
- Sending twice yearly reminders to clients with dogs over 7 years old and cats over 10.
One of the most attractive features of Demandforce, and one that adds tremendous value, is the ability to recapture lost clients—a significant hurdle for every practice—by implementing specific marketing campaigns that identify and recruit lost and inactive clients.
- Reputation ToolsOnline reputation and reviews are highly influential in a consumer’s decision-making process, and many strategies exist for increasing the number of positive reviews for your practice. Entire companies exist whose only purpose is to generate positive reviews for businesses. However, as quickly as these companies emerge, search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, develop algorithms to prevent businesses from “stacking the deck” in their favor with nonauthentic reviews.Demandforce is an approved review solicitor for many popular search engines, including Bing and CitySearch. Through the survey tool, practices can engage clients to submit reviews that directly populate across several online channels. Practices can also link these certified reviews to their own hospital webpage and Facebook business page. Members of the practice team can enhance the client interaction experience by directly responding/commenting on reviews from the Demandforce portal.
- Cross-Industry MarketingThe traditional marketing plan for a veterinary practice typically involves engaging with complementary businesses in the community—shelters, rescues, pet stores, and daycare and boarding facilities, among other animal-centric businesses. One distinctive feature of the Demandforce platform is the ability to cross-market across other local, but unrelated, business channels. As a standard practice, Demandforce reminder and appointment confirmation emails and text messages “introduce” other Demandforce member businesses in the local community. The client who confirms his or her appointment to the local spa, dentist, or optometrist is exposed to footer advertising for the local veterinary hospital. In effect, automated cross marketing can help expand the reach of your practice beyond the traditional outlets.
In Our Hands
Every member of our practice team has become a strong advocate of Demandforce in our daily routine.
- The review generation tools are very efficient; dedicated staff members monitor the review feed multiple times during the day, taking great pride when a good review comes in and acting quickly to reach out to a client if we receive one below our expectations.
- The email and text appointment reminders are also very effective. At least 1 out of 5 of our practice’s clients confirms and schedules appointments through our email and text messaging reminders, enabling our practice to reduce print volume and associated costs by 20%.
THE VET APP
If you own a smart phone, you’ve bought an app. In fact, you might be reading this latest issue of Today’s Veterinary Practice on the TVP iPad app, available in the iTunes store.
A 2012 study by the Nielsen Company found that more than half (50.4%) of U.S. mobile subscribers own smartphones and from 2011 to 2012, the average number of apps per smartphone grew from 32 to 41. The average app user spends almost 40 minutes every day utilizing apps on their phone.
The Vet App (petvetapp.com) is owned and marketed by In-Touch Mobile, a new arrival to the animal health industry, and offers an intriguing platform for interacting with your client base. The Vet App is a practice-specific, customized application, available for download for iOS and Android devices.
The Vet App offers multiple features that foster a practice’s relationship with clients outside of the exam room experience.
24/7 Client Access from Their Phone. Through the app, a practice has the ability to capture a valuable piece of real estate on their client’s smart phone. Each time a client uses their phone, accesses a map, a game, or social media, your practice’s app sits among the other favorites.
Tap-to-Call/Tap-to-Email. Clients do not have to search through their contacts or search online from their phone for your practice’s contact information. One-touch phone and email features make it easier for them to contact a member of the practice team.
Schedule Appointments (Medical, Grooming, Boarding). The Vet App provides a direct portal for clients to request appointments for medical care or complimentary services such as boarding or grooming.
Refill Medication and Supplies. One feature of real interest is a streamlined portal for clients to order medication refills through the app. As many practices struggle to compete with online pharmacies and consider partnering with vet-only online pharmacy providers, this feature on its own addresses many of the underlying drivers of clients seeking products outside of the practice—convenience, ease of use, and the ability to order products on the client’s schedule, not the practice’s.
Integration with Other Client Services. Through the Vet App, a practice can elect to integrate additional services including links to pet insurance providers, review sites, and online patient portals.
Marketing Support. In Touch Mobile has developed one of the more extensive launch support programs for their product, including practice-team training, in clinic messaging, social media promotion tools, website link buttons to the major app stores, as well as ongoing client support.
In Our Hands
As a custom development project, it is important to understand that app development is not an overnight process. That being said, the final product for our practice is clean, professional, and fitting for the patient experience we try to deliver to our pets and their owners.
Although early in the roll out phase, we have been very proactive about deploying the Vet App in our practice, making it part of our in-room messaging, email campaigns and newsletters, as well as in our social media pages. Feedback from clients to date has been positive, with many utilizing the app for appointment scheduling and medication refill requests.
Over the past 6 months, we have utilized each of the platforms described above in a real-world clinical setting, testing features, measuring efficacy, and making mistakes along the way. While this list of client experience tools is not exhaustive, we believe each one of them can provide value to the practice team and enhance the overall client experience. Which one is right for you depends on your practice’s individual identity, marketing strategy, and area of greatest need.
In the next issue, we will discuss tools for finding new clients and improving both new and existing client experiences with the veterinary practice.