Your phones are ringing constantly, your diaries full to busting with consultations, and new clients are trying to register every day. Veterinary practices are struggling to fit in appointments, so the last thing you need is in a busy day is for your clients to simply just not turn up.
Not only is this increasingly frustrating, but it is become a huge revenue loss for many veterinary practices across the UK, and it’s preventing other pets from getting the medical attention that they need.
It’s clear that something needs to do done to prevent no-shows, but first we must understand why they happen…
They’ve forgotten about the appointment.
We’ve all been there, going about our day as usual, taking the kids to school, driving to work, doing the food shop then WHAM! You realised 3 hours too late that you had an appointment that you’ve now missed.
Something else came up.
An unexpected lats minute meeting at work, you get a call from your children’s school to say they are unwell, your car breaks down. Sometimes life has other plans, and just gets in the way.
They had the wrong time or date in their diary.
This is just so easy to do, accidently writing the wrong date or time (or both) in the diary is a common mistake. The client has the best of intentions, but this appointment was always going to be a no-show form the moment they wrote it down.
They are sick, unwell, or isolating.
It might have been happening more over the past year or two due to the dreaded Coronavirus, but sickness or isolation might be one of the many reasons your clients aren’t turning up to their appointments.
Bad weather means they can’t make it into the practice.
Not all your clients will have access to a car with four-wheel drive, and some might need to walk or catch public transport to get you’re your veterinary practice. If this means venturing out into rain or snow with their pet, then it’s quite possible that they just won’t be able to do it.
They don’t have the money to pay for the appointment or treatment.
Maybe they took one look at the estimate you sent them and realised they can’t afford the consultation, or perhaps another unexpected cost came out of the woodwork that they mustprioritise.
They’ve seen an improvement in their pet’s health.
It’s just typical, and this happens all the time in our lives, whether it’s an IT problem that seemingly fixes itself when you call the support desk, or when we finally get around to making that dentist appointment and the pain disappears. Client’s might feel that they no longer need for their pet if they are no longer seeing the symptoms or behaviour they were concerned about.
When written down like this, reasons for no-shows are easy to understand, in fact it might even occur to you that you have been a ‘no-show’ for some appointment of your own. Many of these reasons might even come across as fairly unavoidable, but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for solutions to try and tackle the problem.
So below we share some ideas that you can easily implement in your veterinary practice to reduce the number of no-shows you are experiencing. You don’t have to use them all, why not just pick one, or maybe two or three and see how they go…
Make it easy and shame-free for customers to make changes and reschedule appointments.
Yes, it might be a bit painful to move an appointment 1,2 or even 3 times to accommodate a client’s schedule. But isn’t this better than having yet another no show? It means you can book in a different client for the consultation time, so you don’t miss out on the revenue and your client’s pets still get the treatment they need. Part of this will mean educating your clients about the different ways they can rearrange appointments (phone, email, chat-bot on your website, client portal maybe even an option to text back to a reminder message?) the possibilities really are endless, and can actually mean LESS work for your team if you have your tech and systems set up to accommodate them.
Create a waitlist to fill in for no-show appointments.
We know that it might be unrealistic to expect clients to be able to drop everything, drive their pet to you practice within the time you would have allocated for a no-show. But this is where your Telemedicine solution can really come into its own. Why not start curating a list of clients that require non-urgent consults that can be done via video calls.
Send text confirmations when they book an appointment.
So simple, yet so effective. A lot of people organise their diaries on their mobile phones these days, so after they have book the appointment, send them a confirmation text with the exact date and time of their appointment. You can even set up your system to do this automatically. The bets bit is, when they get the text, they will already be looking at their phone, s will be more likely to record in in their diary accurately.
Make use of automated reminders.
There really is no excuse not to use automated reminders, whether it’s via text or email. Sometimes just a friendly reminder he day before is all a client needs to ensure they don’t end up as another no-show. Many PMS have this feature built in already, it’s just a case of setting it up. If your PMS doesn’t offer this feature there are many other systems, you can use along side it. If you want to get really fancy, you could even put in a link for them to use if they need to cancel or rearrange the appointment, making it as easy for them to make changes as possible.
Use their preferred method of communication.
It’s all very well and good sending out email or text reminders, but this won’t work if you are not communicating with your clients in the way they prefer. Not everyone (except the majority of millennials) has their mobile hone on their person 24/7, and some people have sporadic access to their emails. And for those that aren’t tech savvy, maybe a good old fashioned phone call would suit them best. We’d suggest asking your clients when they register with you how they would like to be contacted to ensure you get the most from your communications.
Offer to switch to virtual appointments.
If your clients aren’t turning up because they are busy people, they are unwell, or childcare fell through is it possible to offer virtual replacements for non-urgent check-up? This could be offered as standard when your clients book appointments, or even if you manage to get hold of them when they fail to turn up on time. You might be surprised how often people would take you up on this offer as it may be more convenient for them. It might even allow you to fit in a few more consultations in a day.
Send no-shows a “sorry we missed you message” with an option to reschedule the appointment.
Okay, so we admit this won’t necessarily prevent no-shows, but it’s a little prompt for the client if they have completely forgotten they were booked in for a visit and should hopefully help you to ensure the pet gets another appointment if it is needed. The beauty of having a link to reschedule is that the client can do so without talking to a member of your team, saving them embarrassing apologies over the phone.
Consider introducing prepaid appointments.
We can hear the collective gasps already, but hear us out. People are simply just more inclined to turn up to something they have already paid for. It might not be a blanket policy, but perhaps a way to target serial no-shows and encourage them to turn up on time.
Introduce cancellation and missed appointment fees.
Another gasp inducing idea, but still worth considering. Think of all the services you currently use that have a cancellation policy where if you either cancel on the day or don’t turn up you still have to pay somewhere between 50-100% of the cost of the appointment. There is no reason that you can’t do the same, at the very least it’s something to consider for repeat offenders. The key to introducing this is to make sure that all of your clients are educated on the policy ahead of time.
We hope that you have found this article useful, and we’d love to hear from you if you introduce any of the above ideas at your veterinary practice. If you have tried other methods let us know so we can add them to the list and spread the word.