As businesses close and people hunker down at home because of COVID-19, the long-term economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic remains unknown. Yet given recent data collected by Statista, the company projects “the current crisis could well turn out to be as disruptive as the financial crisis of 2007-2009.” Projections by economists, banks, and other financial institutions across the globe are similar, which is why veterinary medical organizations like the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association are informing their members that the economic risk to practices is real, and they should prepare a response plan.
Here are some business operational recommendations to help serve and retain clients to better weather the economic storm:
Communicate Any Changing Patient Care Policies by Direct Communications
Directly keep clients up to date on your practice hours and any patient care policies as they may change through email or text messaging. Yes, crisis management involves the utilization of all your practice channels to communicate with pet owners, but social posts can easily go unnoticed when newsfeeds turn into cascading waterfalls of information, misinformation, and memes. And if pet owners are overwhelmed dealing with COVID-19 on the home front, they may not remember to check your practice website. Sending updates by email or text bypasses any social-media clutter, places information in front of pet owners, and reassures anyone feeling alone or frightened that you haven’t forgotten them.
Here are some of the kinds of communications your practice should be sharing right now:
- If it’s business as usual at your clinic, let pet owners know. (In crises, people appreciate knowing there’s normalcy.)
- If you’re limiting patient care to acutely ill animals and/or emergencies and rescheduling elective procedures, let people know about the change in policy.
- If you’re meeting clients with ill pets in your practice parking lot or other remote location, let people know.
- If you’re cleaning and disinfecting counters, workstations, equipment, stethoscopes, doorknobs, etc. as precautionary measures against COVID-19 (as per AVMA recommendations), let people know about the measures, including any others (e.g. use and availability of hand sanitizers in exam rooms, offices, reception area, etc.).
- Inform clients about any pre-notification policies regarding appointments. If your clinic is not accepting appointments from people who have travelled to high-risk COVID-19 locations, for example, let them know they should not come to your clinic. The same goes for policies regarding food and medication pickup.
If you have a voicemail system, don’t forget to update this too as needed.
As noted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ CERC: Crisis Communications Plans, crises have generalized patterns or phases. The Initial Phase (the one we’re in now with COVID-19) is characterized by uncertainty and confusion. To alleviate the uncertainty and cut through the confusion, send direct communications to your valued customers to keep them in the loop about how and when they can reach you.
As a service to practices using ALLYDVM client communications + retention software, we would like to remind them that they can quickly provide clients with the latest updates to practice policies, hours, procedures, and more using ALLYDVM’s mass communication emails. ALLYDVM’s customizable communications system includes texts, and communications can be automated. That is, communications can be pre-scheduled during downtime so that important client communications don’t go unsent when things get busy.
Bottom line: When crises pass, people remember how businesses served and communicated with them. Care and attention in crisis communications is an investment in client engagement and retention. And businesses that have strengthened client relationships and retained customers stand a better chance of recovery after the dust has settled.
Utilize Teletriage and Telemedicine (Telehealth)
As per the AVMA’s recent communication to veterinarians regarding COVID-19:
“With intensifying concern around COVID-19, use of telemedicine has become an important way to protect and monitor the health of veterinary patients and veterinary teams. Using telemedicine can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, because it allows veterinary patients to be appropriately triaged with only those veterinary patients that really need to be seen making the trip to the clinic along with their owners.”
To assist practices, LifeLearn currently offers the after-hours telehealth triage service PetNurse to provide clients with access to a Registered Veterinary Technician outside of regular practice hours. Though PetNurse strictly provides after-hours service, PetNurse is an effective way to give your clients 24/7 peace of mind for their pet health concerns.
The AVMA reminds practices that “Telemedicine may only be conducted within an existing veterinarian-client-patient relationship, with the exception for advice given in an emergency care situation until a patient can be seen by or transported to a veterinarian.” So, be sure to check and follow the rules and regulations for the use of telemedicine in your area.
Bottom line: Even at the best of times, people value reassurance and peace of mind. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, people need reassurance more than ever. When you provide that with after-hours teletriage, you help strengthen engagement and keep your practice foremost in the minds of clients.
Create a Dedicated Resources Page on Your Practice Website
Two things are always true in a crisis:
- All people are frightened by the idea of being cut off from resources during a crisis. (Insert any footage here of people hoarding toilet paper and/or other supplies.)
- When people must hunt around for resources in a state of need and confusion, their stress levels can go through the roof, and in stress, people can make bad decisions, from driving their cars too fast to taking pet health misinformation online as being correct, and acting on it.
To help alleviate anxiety for pet owners, create a dedicated page on your practice website that offers clients tools and resources to help them with pet health needs and concerns.
For an example of how practices can offer COVID-19 information and resources to clients on a dedicated page, visit West Coast Animal Hospital.
For practices using a WebDVM website, we recommend the following resources on a dedicated page:
- Pet Health Checker (available with WebDVM Plus and Pro): Providing pet owners with a reliable way to check pet health symptoms online and determine urgency, Pet Health Checker helps reduce unnecessary person-to-person contact by helping pet owners determine if symptoms require immediate attention, or if they can continue to monitor symptoms at home. In other words, in a confusing time filled with distractions, pet owners may overlook or dismiss pet health symptoms as nothing to worry about. With Pet Health Checker, you provide pet owners with a vital tool to help alert them to an issue that may require an appointment, which helps drive revenue while adhering to recommendations on social distancing.
- Weekly news for pet owners. Available with all editions of WebDVM, weekly news by LifeLearn is being regularly updated with timely, accurate information about COVID-19 and what it means for pet owners.
- Prescription & Food Request Forms. Available with all editions of WebDVM, medication and food request forms are another tool to help maintain revenue while adhering to social distancing. If clients cannot visit your practice in person, online prescription refill and food request forms can enable your practice to have food and medications ready, and allow your team to schedule a time to deliver those items to a social-distance location like a parking lot.
We can certainly appreciate how overwhelmed your practice may be right now. So, if you need assistance setting up a dedicated WebDVM COVID-19 page, contact LifeLearn at [email protected] and we’ll take care of it for you.
If you don’t have a WebDVM website and have limited or no COVID-19 resources for clients, LifeLearn has its own dedicated COVID-19 Practice Resources page with free resources that practices can use to keep clients informed, including our free COVID-19 Response Kit.
Bottom line: The survival of any business relies on both short- and long-term action in response to what people want and need. In times of crisis, people fundamentally want to hear communications and find resources that say one thing: “We’re here to help you in every way possible.” And the actions your practice takes in the short term to convey this message factor significantly into weathering the current COVID-19 economic storm.
We hope this blog has been helpful to you, but please. Let us know if there’s any information that we can provide. We’re all in this together.
Stay safe, and stay connected, because connection is how we get through.