Two gloved hands cradle a dog’s paw. While many medical practices have experienced a slow return of patients, veterinarians have fared far better, thanks to their ability to see patients with minimal human contact by pivoting to creative strategies like curbside pet drop-offs and medication pickups. According to the data-tracking site VetSuccess.com, vet revenue was 18% higher in June 2020 than the year before, and it was nearly 50% higher this March than in March 2020.

The New York Times didn’t hold back in August 2020 when they described this phenomenon: “Animal hospitals appear to have pulled off something human hospitals have struggled to do: make patients feel comfortable seeking routine care.”

Though you’re well aware of your unique standing in the medical space, you’ve probably been too busy to think about it. After all, the steady influx of pandemic pups and other newly adopted comfort creatures have kept you beyond busy. Here’s something else you may not have thought about (but should): As other types of businesses struggle to rebuild, this is the perfect opportunity for you to reflect on the past year and how those lessons can make your business stronger.

To do that without overtaxing your team, take note of the following expert advice.

1. Rethink appointment reminders

Last year, many springtime checkups were delayed, leading to backlogs in summer and fall. To avoid a repeat in 2021, some vet clinics are turning off automatic appointment reminders and proactively reaching out to clients to spread out the visits more evenly. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Address staffing first. If you’re not staffed to make individual calls, it may be worth getting temporary help, such as an intern or temp service. You want to avoid taxing your existing team.
  • Next, look at the schedule. Work with existing clients to move up some visits, while holding off ones that can be safely delayed. If you can, leave some time slots for new clients and emergency visits.

  Tip  

Consider telehealth appointments, which can be quicker than in-office visits. If you don’t offer them, there is software that can help. Anipanion and TeleTails are two examples.

2. Modify communications

When marketing your practice, consider your customers’ perspective. For example, vet clients may be less interested in hearing about COVID-19 protocols than dental patients are. That means you can get back to promoting services and products more.

  • Ask what’s on their minds. This is a great time to learn more about what matters to your clients, including the newest ones. We’ve created an easy-to-share questionnaire (PDF) to help, or you can create your own online survey, using tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms. As you review the answers, you can see how clients and their pets fared last year and prepare to meet their current and future needs.
  • Share more insights, too. Millennials (who are now the largest pet-owning generation) are highly invested in learning about pet care and treatment. Consider creating more digital content like “lunch and learn” webinars.

  Tip  

Consider ways of reaching out that are “new to you.” Many practices are using text messaging or Facebook Messenger to provide appointment reminders and other quick notes.

3. Promote practice improvements

Many veterinary practices have found new and better ways of doing business. Faithful clients may not be aware of these, especially if they’ve taken a break from care.

  • Highlight new goods and services. Include telehealth, curbside drop-off/pickup, home delivery of pet meds and products, and anything else begun in 2020 or 2021.
  • Explain changing options. As the need for temperature checks and physical barriers begins to subside, keep clients informed of what’s available in office, at curbside, and via telehealth through email newsletters, social media posts, and your website.

  Tip  

Create a 90-second informational video using a smartphone and post it to your social media channels and website. You can share a tip (like how to help pets swallow pills) and also showcase a service (like home delivery or curbside pickup of pet meds).

4. Offer budget-friendly incentives

For some people, it may take an extra nudge to get back in the habit of regular appointments. A good way is by offering an incentive or two.

  • Partner with local businesses. Work with local pet stores, grooming services, and pet photographers to promote discounts, coupons, and prize giveaways. Share the news on social media.
  • Offer new financing options. For people who are still struggling, consider extending deadlines, creating a payment plan, or offering other ways to pay, such as via a veterinary credit card program.

  Tip  

Consider offering a loyalty program that uses discounts or rewards to encourage clients to visit more regularly. There are plenty of existing programs, such as Pet Desk and My Vet Perks.

5. Focus on referrals

Many of the pandemic’s first-time pet parents may still be searching for a veterinary practice to call their own. If they ask around on social media (or in person), you want to be sure clients will sing your praises. In addition to letting clients know how much you appreciate their referrals — and that you’re accepting new patients — consider these strategies:

  • Offer referral rewards. For example, if an existing client refers a friend, you may give them a $25 coupon toward a future visit or product at your practice. (Clarify terms, which usually require that the referred client attends at least one office visit.)
  • Partner with local shelters. New owners often ask staff for veterinary referrals, and some shelters provide lists of preferred caregivers. Providing free services or support to shelters can help put you front-of-mind.

  Tip  

For additional tips on how to give your business a bigger digital footprint — including on review sites like Yelp — you can read Your Online Presence Is More Important Than Ever.

Financial well-being is a lot like physical well-being: By taking time now to invest in the growth and nurturing of your client base (while others are still waiting for the new normal to arrive), you can ensure a healthier business and happier clients (and pets) for many years to come.

Learn more: To find out what your pet patients need now and in the near future, consider sending your clients this easy-to-share 5-minute survey (PDF).

Sources: VetSuccess, Boehringer Ingelheim, Companion Animal Parasite Council, Forbes, The New York Times, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wells Fargo, dvm360, American Veterinary Medical Association