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How Can Your Veterinary Practice Implement Forward Booking to Help Retain Clients?

By Michele Drake, DVM, Chief Veterinary Officer, Gabrielle Seltzer, Social Media Manager, and Shannon Pecora, MA, Marketing Manager

One of the most significant things you could do to change the financial situation of your veterinary practice is to commit to forward booking. This is true of new, smaller clinics as well as established, multi-doctor practices. Forward booking is an automatic step toward client retention, particularly for your newest clients. A forward-booked appointment is a strong signal of intention to visit your practice again.

What, in specific, can client retention via forward booking mean for your business? A recent AAHA “State of the Veterinary Profession” report says that, if you’re currently at 5% forward-booked appointments, and you can bump that up to 10%, that “equates to $40,000 in additional revenue...for the average hospital.” It is likely that a saturation point exists. For instance, you should not expect exponential profit increases with each bump in forward-booked appointments, and you cannot forward book 100% of your appointments, anyway. However, AAHA also points out that forward-booked appointments can stem from preventive care visits, for example, as “additional visits for things like dental cleanings. We believe these other visits can drive twice as much revenue as the preventive care visits alone…” Within the Retention Stage of the Customer Journey, forward-booking is vital for repeat visits along with increased revenue.

The bottom line reason to implement forward booking in your veterinary practice is clear. But without some guidance and reassurance, your staff may find it awkward or uncomfortable to request your clients’ time several weeks or months out. Let’s explore how to get your staff onboard, comfortable with, and even enthusiastic about forward booking veterinary appointments.

Is it Lack of Time or a Need for Support?

Admittedly, there are so many reasons that your staff will tell you that forward booking doesn't work. But you need to not listen to any of them! It truly does work, and frankly, it is something that's necessary to do to keep pace with the “busy-ness” of your clients’ daily lives. 

A busy receptionist

Listen to why your staff is resistant to forward booking. Often, they’ll say that they don’t have time, but chances are that is a generic and vague reason. Logically, it takes no more time to say, “Let’s get you on the schedule for the beginning of March,” than to say, “You’re all set until we need to see you again in 6 months.” So “time” is not the real issue. Your employees need the resources and training to feel confident about implementing forward booking.

Support your staff with an attitude of persistence. Give your team members the sense that achieving a pattern of forward booking is a fundamental practice goal. Then, ensure accountability. Note that this doesn’t mean punishment; if your staff feels threatened in the face of this goal, they’ll resent it, and that will erode your practice culture. Instead, accountability includes a system of rewards and celebration of success. Choose a staff member or two, depending on the size of your clinic, to set up a system in which the goal is serious, but the victory celebrations are fun. Good candidates for this role may be receptionists, front desk leads or managers, your Practice Manager, or your in-house marketer.

Give Your Staff an Easy Path to Follow Toward Forward Booking

This person should provide a touchpoint, or a tangible aid to help everyone understand how forward booking should work in your practice. At The Drake Center for Veterinary Care, a graphic - an actual visual aid - lets everyone see the flow of getting clients to forward book their appointments. Much like the entire Customer Journey, this is a path to set clients on as their office visits wrap up.

  1. Before the doctor leaves the exam room, she documents in the medical record and lets the client know when and why she wants to see the patient again.
  2. The tech escorts the client and pet to the front desk. As she explains at-home care and medications, she can reiterate this next visit. At the front desk, she should directly relay this information to the receptionist.
  3. The hand-off part of this conversation is key. With an affirmative statement, the technician can say, “Mrs. Jones, Jane will help you schedule Barkley’s next vaccine appointment for 6 months from now.” It’s up to the client to say no because your staff has set up the expectation that the forward booking is simply going to happen.

A copy of The Drake Center's forward booking graphic

In a perfect world, step 4 here is that the client and receptionist agree on a date and time, and check out proceeds. Then you would factor that toward your goal of reaching a certain percentage of forward-booked appointments within a set time frame and celebrate according to your fun reward system!

Practice Through the Pushback

However, inevitably, there will be resistance from some clients. And this is valid: they don’t know exactly what they’ll be doing in 6 months or a year. But once you let them know that you’ll give them plenty of lead time with follow-up reminders, they can feel confident selecting a date and time. Their schedules may change, but you can be flexible and shift a bit once that forward-booked appointment gets closer.

You can set your staff up to move through your reward system with practice. Create different scenarios and role play how to work through the conversations. Try these common appointment need situations:

  • A kitten who will need boosters in 3 weeks
  • A dental discharge who will need an oral recheck exam in 90 days
  • A healthy adult dog who will need preventive vaccines in 6 months

Consider creating written scripts that your doctors, techs, and receptionists can use to get started. Once they feel comfortable with the basic information, they can begin putting their own conversational spins on these important client interactions.

It’s Always Great Advice: Set Measurable Goals

The person or team in charge of accountability for this initiative will keep track of the number of forward-booked appointments created for upcoming weeks and months, as well as the number of forward-booked appointments that have been kept by clients in the present. While the goal is, in the abstract, to get “better,” try setting some measurable goals. Do you want to work toward a certain percentage of forward-booked appointments for wellness exams? For puppy and kitten boosters? For surgery follow-ups? Tie this goal to specific areas where you need to see improvement, in general, in your practice so that the initiative makes sense to your staff. And then let your accountability team decide on milestone rewards, such as gift cards, coffee, or whatever is valuable to your staff.

Two people looking at a calendar on a computer screen

Everyone Actually Knows it is Helpful to Forward Book Appointments

Don’t forget that this is yet another instance when your staff can directly relate to your clients. Everyone experiences forward booking, particularly at dentist offices. Dental offices are the gold standard since “80% of clients are forward booked for their preventive care visits.” But rarely do dental patients seem to complain about feeling pressured or uncomfortable. It’s simply a given: arrive for today’s appointment, then schedule the next appointment for 6 months from now.

This means that your staff does not need to worry about feeling “sales-y.” Rather, they’re taking pressure off of your clients to remember to schedule appointments later. They’re busy, maybe with kids, multiple pets, or demanding jobs, and just like at the dentist, they would prefer for the receptionist to say, “We’re glad that Fluffy’s ear infection has resolved, and it looks like she has a couple of vaccines due in two months. Let’s book that now.” Instead of reminders for upcoming or overdue services, your client will receive emails, phone calls, and/or texts to confirm an appointment that is already scheduled. This is one less thing for them to do!

Veterinary technician considering a patient's file

Your clients are, by and large, good pet owners who want to do the right thing for their pets. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of remembering to do that right thing: schedule a necessary appointment. You can empower your staff to be helpful - truly - and provide stellar client service, in addition to filling your schedule and retaining your client base, by pushing a forward booking initiative in your practice.

Marketing can go hand-in-hand with internal processes like forward booking. You can learn more about using these initiatives to fuel real practice growth: request a FREE 30-minute consultation with a GeniusVets veterinary marketing expert today!

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