How veterinary practices can fix their leaky bucket and retrieve valuable lapsing patients

by By Kate Zirkle

10 min read

It’s amazing how quickly a year goes by. I nearly forgot to get an inspection sticker for my car before the end of the month, my doctor reminded me that it had been 18 months since my last check-up, and I just received a second reminder to renew my dog’s license. I have every intention of completing all these annual to-dos, I simply didn’t realize it was that time again.  

Thankfully, all 3 of my pets have been healthy this past year and we did not need to go in for any sick visits. As a result, their annual wellness checks are even further from my mind. I’m not alone. Many clients don’t realize that their pet hasn’t been to the veterinarian in a year. Reminder emails and postcards can easily get lost among the many other checklist items.  

But here’s the thing, while I intend to complete all these tasks, the longer it sits on my to-do list, the less likely it is to get done. New to-do list items are coming in every day, and it’s easy to think, “It’s been this long, it can wait a bit longer.”

The sweet spot for saving lapsing veterinary patients

This is why it is so important to communicate with pet owners when they haven’t taken their pets into your practice for 14-18 months. In that time period, it is likely that they are just behind scheduling an appointment. 

“If you haven’t seen a patient in over eighteen months, it turns out, it’s very likely you’ll never see them again.”

When they get to 18 months, they are not going to come in until they notice a problem with their pet. It is also more likely that they may go somewhere else.

Saving lapsing veterinary patients makes dollars and sense

Nurturing existing clients is often an underappreciated effort. When you’re busy running a veterinary practice, it’s easy to miss the revenue opportunity from retrieving lapsing patients, aka your leaky bucket. The cost to develop a new client to the same level of profitability as a lost client is very high.

According to Outbound Engine, acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer. And increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits from 25-95%. Plus US companies lose $136.8 billion per year due to avoidable customer switching.

Time and time again, analysis has shown us that the time and energy spent engaging with lapsing patients yields a great return. Yet it’s a constant struggle to consistently and effectively communicate with lapsing pet owners. Can your front desk staff fit it into their day consistently? If you’re lucky enough to have customer service reps, they can likely send emails but where should they start and can they track effectiveness? 

Retriever — The gentle nudge to rescue lapsing patients

RETRIEVER performance report and email example sent out to lapsing veterinary patientsAt VetSuccess, we include in our Practice Overview Report (POR) a downloadable spreadsheet of lapsing patients, aka those that have not had a transaction in your practice in 14-18 months. This list alone can be a great jumping-off point for a targeted email campaign. 

But if you’re anything like the 2,000+ veterinary practices we work with, you simply don’t have the time or resources to devote to manually emailing your clients. We get it and that’s why we created RETRIEVER.

RETRIEVER is our automated marketing program that sends personalized emails to lapsing patients at 14, 16, and 18 months on behalf of the practice. The emails are designed to reengage pet owners with a focus on the importance of annual wellness care and overall patient health. There is also a book now button, making it easy for pet owners to respond.

Once RETRIEVER is live, it runs itself. The program is managed for you, so there’s very little time investment on your part. The testing of subject lines, email copy, and images to maximize response rates is taken care of. 

Statistical proof that lapsing patient emails work

Recently, our data analysts completed an analysis to determine how RETRIEVER was performing for the average practice. After 6 months with RETRIEVER, the average practice sent 588 emails to lapsing patients and successfully retrieved 26. The average revenue earned from retrieved patients is more than $5,000.

Even better, the longer RETRIEVER runs, the better the results.  

At 8 months, the average practice sent about 842 emails, retrieved 40 patients, and earned more than $8,000. At 12 months, the average practice has earned more than $13,000 from 68 retrieved patients. 

a chart showing RETRIEVER statistics on returning lapsing veterinary patients, ranging from 6 months to 1 year

It’s important to note that the success of RETRIEVER is contingent on the number of lapsing patients in a practice. For example, a practice that has only been in existence for one year won’t have any lapsing patients.  

Second, you must have email addresses on file. The ideal percentage of emails on file for RETRIEVER to be effective is dependent on how large your patient base is. 

“In general, you want at least 50% of the pet owners in your practice management software to have an email address on file. “

A smiling golden retriever dogROI makes RETRIEVER a no-brainer

Currently, the cost of RETRIEVER is $79 per month or $948 per year. If the average practice is earning $13,000 from retrieved patients, that is an ROI of 1,298%!!! All without lifting a finger.

One of my favorite expressions is, “It’s a lesson in duh.” There are a lot of great tools that VetSuccess offers practices to help them be even more successful. RETRIEVER is, without a doubt, one of my favorites.



Kate Zirkle

Kate Zirkle

Kate Zirkle is a Product Marketing Manager for Vetsource. She is passionate about animal rescue, personal development, and travel. When not working to advance the veterinary industry, she can be found kayaking, reading, and planning her next trip.

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