How to modernize your veterinary forward-booking program

by By Stacee Santi, DVM

10 min read

I remember being introduced to the concept of veterinary forward booking in the early 2000’s at a veterinary conference. The idea was to be like the dentist, and rebook the client’s annual (or semiannual) wellness visit during checkout. This idea originated from the recession and the big drop in visits that veterinary practices were experiencing (it’s hard to imagine a time when practices were slow!). The goal with forward booking was to secure the veterinary appointment in the client’s calendar and help reduce the friction of them having to remember to schedule.

Forward booking veterinary appointments in the past

While the concept of forward booking was solid, the workflow and process was tedious. Back then, veterinary client communication platforms were just getting started, so digital appointment confirmations did not exist. This resulted in long lists of clients to call each month, trying to remind them of the veterinary appointments they had booked 11 months before. Some veterinary practices resorted to call centers, others added it to their daily duties, and many just threw in the towel because the effort was so large.

What resulted was awkward conversations at the checkout desk when trying to implement this new way of scheduling. It went something like this:

Receptionist: “Let’s get you on the books for next year so you won’t have to try to remember. Does Wednesday, August 24, 2023, at 2:30 p.m. work for you?”

Client: “I have no idea what I will be doing then!”

Receptionist: “OK, let’s book it anyway. We’ll call you prior to the appointment, and if you need to reschedule, no problem.”

Client: “Well, how about I just call you when it’s time? How much notice do you need?”

Receptionist: “We can generally get you in the same week you call.”

Client: “I’ll just call when it’s time then.”

Receptionist: “OK, that will work, I guess.”  ????‍♀️

The challenges of forward booking veterinary appointments today

Fast forward to 2022. It’s the pandemic recovery phase, and most practices are now dealing with a different problem: appointment schedule saturation. With the high demand for veterinary care and the short supply of veterinary professionals, many practices have adopted a first-come, first-served approach to booking appointments. The unintended consequence of this is that many top-level clients can’t get in when they need to, which strains veterinary client loyalty, not to mention the bottom line.

To make matters worse, when veterinary teams spend less time with the top clients, it becomes even more stressful, further straining the work-life balance. When veterinary teams spend more time with their top clients, their work experiences are more positive.

You can avoid these problems by forward booking your top clients only.

Your top clients:

  • Have high levels of trust
  • Know the team members by name
  • Often care about the team members as humans
  • Take the best care of their pet
  • Have higher levels of compliance with recommendations

The solution? Forward book top clients

If we forward book the top clients only, we can start to gain control of the schedule by planting seeds for the future.

Picture it: It’s August 24, 2023, and the schedule is stacked with your highest performing clients who love you, because you forward booked them in August 2022. Now, instead of the overflow being your top clients, the overflow is the lower 80% of the practice, which means your team will be spending more of their time with clients who care about and appreciate them, and less time with those who don’t.

And, because the top 20% of clients do more for their pets than any other group, not only will your veterinary practice revenue be maximized, your tank will be filled because you’ll be fulfilling your purpose: Helping animals live longer and healthier lives.

Here is the new script for your team (which is a lot less awkward and more successful):

Receptionist: “We are so crazy busy and you are one of our best clients, so I want to make sure you get the appointment slot you want. Let’s get your visit booked for next year.”

Client: “I don’t know what I will be doing then!”

Receptionist: “I totally understand. We’ll send texts and emails starting 30 days before the appointment, and you can change the appointment digitally if you need to. But, booking it now means we’ll have your spot reserved for the time that works best for you. We are currently booked out 2–4 weeks, and there’s no sign of that letting up.”

Client: “OK. Sounds good!”

It’s important to make your veterinary client engagement system do the heavy lifting for you with this new process. The platforms have come a long way in the last 10 years, so you can now automate all of this.

The Vet2Pet system sends automated “Save the date” messages via text, email, and app notification up to 30 days in advance of a scheduled appointment. Starting 72 hours before an appointment, Vet2Pet will automatically send confirmation messages, allowing clients to accept or reschedule their appointment digitally. This means no more staff phone calls!

My favorite thing is figuring out how to make technology work to deliver the client experience you desire. Automating the little things can create space for face-to-face conversations and allow you to spend more time on the things that matter: the client and the pet! If you have abandoned the old way of forward booking, it’s time to dust it off and spruce it up by forward booking your top clients only. Find out how the Vet2Pet system can help.

Stacee Santi, DVM

Stacee Santi, DVM

Dr. Stacee Santi founded Vet2Pet, the only customizable, all-in-one client engagement system for veterinary practices, which was acquired by Vetsource in 2022. Since earning her DVM from Colorado State University in 1996, Dr. Santi has accumulated more than 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, has spent significant time serving on various industry advisory boards, and served as 2020 president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. Considered a key opinion leader on mobile applications and veterinary reward programs, and selected as 2021 Continuing Educator of the Year—Practice Management by Viticus Group, Dr. Santi is passionate about helping veterinary practices better connect with their clients so pets get the best care and veterinary professionals enjoy more fulfilling, balanced careers.

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