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Veterinary Forum April 2008 (Vol 25, No 4)

Business Skills: Beyond smoke signals — communicating with clients

by Peter Weinstein

    Editor's Note: With an increasing number of clients using the Internet to communicate, practitioners need to develop more creative, effective tools that reflect today's technology. — Stephen Fisher, DVM, Column Editor

    In 2004, nearly 75% of US households had Internet access, with more than 45% using broadband connection. By 2010, it is projected that 65% of homes will have broadband. So why do veterinarians continue to insist on using postcards to communicate with their clients?

    Postcard reminders are associated with the 20th century, so combining reminders with an educational magazine, such as HealthyPet Magazine, closed-circuit television, such as emebaVet, or an Internet services company, such as Vetstreet, can provide new 21st century methods to show clients that you care. These opportunities provide information for clients as well as allow you to communicate directly with them.

    The new social media not only offer a flexible way of communicating with clients, they educate them as well. Social media, such as email and the Internet, can be personalized and include tailored information about each pet's medical conditions. An email reminder or electronic newsletter can provide a hyperlink to your website for an update on what is happening at the clinic and allows owners to see their pet's medical information, make appointments or renew their pet's prescriptions. The opportunities are endless.

    Electronic newsletters can contain pictures from your hospital, notices for behavior classes, such as puppy or kitten kindergarten, and easy-to-read articles that can be perused at the comfort of one's desk. In addition, e-newsletters have hyperlinks to your website for action items, coupons and other client-friendly information.

    If you don't want to create elaborate newsletters, consider e-zines. These can be single-screen communications that touch on one area of concern — obesity, dental care or new pain medications, for example. You can email your entire client base or just a select group. A number of online services, such as Constant Contact, can help you create and send e-zine newsletters.

    When using electronic communications, make sure your email service can accommodate the volume of emails that you plan to send and will not shut you down as a spam provider.

    The above discussion on email focuses on reaching out to your clients and maintaining contact through education and information. Email can go both ways: Provide clients with email addresses to use for prescription refills, questions, problems or other reasons they may need to contact you and your staff. I have found it much less time-consuming to reply to an email question than to play telephone tag. Clients love the option to email their refill requests even at midnight and have a refill ready the next day.

    What about the use of email and the Internet for client satisfaction surveys? A number of survey services can help you develop and provide links to a survey that your clients can fill out anonymously to let you know how you are doing. Examples include V-surv, Zoomerang and Survey Monkey.

    Investing in a high-quality digital camera and printer can make a significant difference in your practice. You can take puppy and kitten pictures that can be sent home with new pet owners, intraoperative pictures that can be sent with biopsy samples or pictures of boarders for email postcards that can be sent to traveling pet parents. The use of digital cameras is endless. This is definitely an easy, high-tech, high-touch tool.

    Have you thought about text-message reminders? It is the next stage in client communication for the younger generation.

    But you don't have to do all of these neat ideas on your own. There are multiple companies that can help you develop social media that will be meaningful to your clients.

    High-tech communication and information sharing are here to stay. As cold as technology may sometimes seem, it offers considerably more personalization than you may have provided before. Many of your clients are way ahead of you when it comes to the 21st century (my dad is 80 and uses email, a blackberry and a digital camera). It is time to let your clients know that you will be using new and modern technology not only to take care of their pet's clinical needs but also to handle your hospital's communications effectively.

    NEXT: CIV circulated at least 5 years before discovery

    didyouknow

    Did you know... 4.4% of veterinarians younger than 30 work with food animals or a mix of food and companion animals, while 44% of those who do are 50 and older.

    These Care Guides are written to help your clients understand common conditions. They are formatted to print and give to your clients for their information.

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