(This blog has been updated from an earlier blog to reflect how the quality of the client communications you send out now can impact two key practice assets to help weather the COVID-19 economic storm. We encourage you to read this blog to the end.)
Writing mistakes in client emails may be the last thing on the minds of veterinarians and their team members right now, and that’s understandable. Under the extra mental and physical stressors caused by COVID-19, practice teams have more than normal on their plates to simply operate and serve patients while observing social distancing to help flatten the curve. But writing mistakes in hurried emails sent to clients amid distractions and shifting priorities caused by the coronavirus can have long-term impact on client trust and practice credibility. And these are important assets to safeguard right now. Given the projected economic impact of COVID-19 and what it means for the survival of any business in the days ahead, minding the details to help retain clients through trust and attract new clients because of reputation can make a difference to financial survival and recovery.
So, what do you do to recover from email mistakes made in stressful times?
The answer hinges on the type and severity of an error.
Small mistakes like a spelling error commonly don’t require a follow-up email. Indeed, with companies now flooding inboxes with work-at-home tips, policy changes, and more connected to COVID-19, a client may simply skim through your email and not notice some spelling mistake. If someone does mention it, they’ll understand if you say that you inadvertently overlooked an error due to clinic hecticness.
Just make sure you set aside enough time to carefully proofread your next email before you send it because larger spelling mistakes can be costlier than you may think. And don’t exclusively rely on spell-checker programs to catch errors. As handy as they are, many spell-checker programs can’t flag correctly spelled words that nonetheless make no sense within the overall context of a sentence.
Here’s an example appointment reminder to illustrate:
It’s heartworm season. Speak to use today about a heartworm preventive for you’re pet.
There are two things wrong with the above sentence:
- The word “use” should be “us.”
- The word “you’re” should be “your.”
Without the correct words in place, the sentence loosely informs people, “It’s heartworm season. To use heartworm season today, speak. This is about a heartworm preventive that directly relates to you, because you are pet.”
As ridiculous as the above sentence sounds, Microsoft Word’s onboard spelling and grammar checker found nothing wrong with the sentence, and online spell checkers delivered varying results. One online checker flagged “heartworm” as an incorrect word (but only the first instance of it) but didn’t flag the incorrect use of “use” and “you’re.” Another flagged “you’re” but that was all. Even Grammarly only flagged one spelling issue. So, use spell checkers cautiously (if not skeptically), and remember: A final proofread by you or a team member is always your best bet before sending an email to clients.
Update Email Mistakes
Situations involving rapidly changing events may require you to send out one or several update emails to communications sent just days or hours earlier. If, for example, you informed clients that your practice was open for in-clinic appointments during the COVID-19 crisis, then you suddenly switch to strictly curbside appointments in observance of social distancing, you’ll need to let clients know. And depending on when the switch happens, you may need to immediately rush out an update email. And rushing is when mistakes easily happen.
You may, for example, forget to deliver key information in an update. Example:
Due to the changing COVID-19 situation, our clinic will now be offering curbside appointments. Please call our main number per usual to make an appointment.
Does the word “offering” mean your clinic remains open? Can clients choose curbside appointments as an option to in-clinic appointments? If so, when does the option begin? Today? Next week?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in client communications (during a crisis or not) is sending out an email that leaves people asking, “So, what does this mean?” In the confusion that can be rampant in a crisis, people are seeking clarity, not further confusion.
If you accidentally send an update email that lacks clarity, immediately send a follow-up email that apologizes, identifies the forgotten information, and explains the cause of the omission. Example:
We apologize for any confusion we may have created by our last email. Rapidly changing situations like the current COVID-19 crisis often require communications to be sent quickly, and in sending out our last email, we neglected to provide clarity about curbside appointments.
In observance of social distancing, our lobby is now closed until further notice, but we will be seeing pets at curbside. Please call our main number when you’ve arrived for your appointment, and we will see your pet at your car. If you have any questions or concerns, call our main number and a team member will assist you.
People can forgive update email mistakes when they’re followed up with explanation and clarity.
Messing Up Someone’s Name
If you misspell someone’s name or misidentify a person in an email, follow up in a human way. You don’t have to be overly apologetic. We’re all human, meaning people can relate to making mistakes at the best of times. Send an email that apologizes for the error (with a brief explanation about how it happened) and reiterate the original email. Example:
Please accept our apologies for misspelling your name in our last email. We feel embarrassed about this and can only attribute the error to a busier-than-normal day at our clinic because of the current crisis.
As a reminder, please contact us today to schedule your pet’s checkup. You can schedule your appointment online on our website or call our main number.
Accountability and transparency build trust with clients, and a simple apology backed by an understandable explanation goes a long way to remedying situations and strengthening client respect.
Messing up someone’s name a second time is a bit more inexcusable. To prevent that:
- If you don’t have an automated email platform like the one with ALLYDVM for sending emails and manually send them out, take extra care to spell names correctly.
- If you use an emailing platform like Mailchimp or Litmus, make sure the person’s name is spelled correctly in your master list of names.
Sending an Email That You Didn’t Intend to Send
In stressful situations, concentration can become fragmented, and you may send an email you didn’t mean to send. If that happens, the situation can easily be remedied by being human, being transparent, and (where suitable) even employing a bit of humor.
If, for example, you accidentally send a half-finished email, acknowledge what happened in a follow-up email. Example:
You may have noticed our last email was sent incomplete. While we intended to complete it, we became distracted by a patient care situation, and our clinic cat, Marbles, accidentally pressed Send after deciding it was an opportune time to lie on the keyboard. We apologize for this.
We would like to say that Marbles apologizes as well, but by all observations, he has no memory of what he did.
If you’re a cat owner, I’m sure you can relate.
Anyway, here is our original message in its entirety.
For other situations that are more embarrassing than humorous, don’t panic. Simply send an email that acknowledges and apologizes for the mistake and send out any correct information that was intended.
Mistakes That Impact Business
If you’ve sent out the wrong date for a clinic event, for example, or the wrong pricing information for something, immediately send out a follow-up email that provides clients with the correct information.
Avoid the temptation to make up an excuse and say something like, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to change the date for our event.” Should clients discover that it was just a mistake, client trust can suffer. Simply send an email that acknowledges the mistake and provides the right information.
Also, try to avoid the excusatory phrase “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Aside from being hackneyed, the phrase is ambiguous, which leaves pet owners in the dark. Ambiguity also invites speculation, and during stressful and uncertain times like the current COVID-19 crisis, fearful pet owners may speculate that the coronavirus has somehow affected your practice and stay away for good.
Clear information removes speculation and strengthens client trust.
Make an Offer
If you believe an email mistake may have irritated or caused trouble for clients, you can offer them rewards like discounts on practice services or freebies from suppliers. People enjoy unexpected rewards just as much as they appreciate clear information.
An example of both in an email:
Given this weekend’s rain forecast, our Free Pet Photo Day (originally scheduled for this Saturday) has been moved to next Saturday. We apologize for any scheduling inconveniences this may cause you. To make it up to you, we’re giving away free pet treat bags next Saturday in addition to free pet photos. We can’t wait to see you and your pets!
The Bottom Line
Should you mess up, you can recover. Then take all measures to make sure mistakes don’t happen again, including one of the biggest preventive measures: correcting any email templates in which an error occurred, and which your practice may reuse in the future. And make the correction right away (or as soon as possible). It’s easy to say you’ll make the correction later. But email corrections can easily be forgotten in the rush and stress of a busy clinic situation, so you may accidentally send out an incorrect email template again down the road, only to wind up apologizing all over again.
For customers using the automated email feature of ALLYDVM client communication + retention software, making immediate corrections to practice-created email templates is especially important. In a manual system, you may spot a forgotten mistake if you’re calling up an old email template and modifying it. But in an automated system, an incorrect practice-created email template may go out again without anyone realizing.
Repeat mistakes undermine client trust and practice reputation, which is why we began this blog by saying how email mistakes can have long-term impact for practices.
So, make corrections to email templates as soon as possible. During downtime, review any automated templates to catch anything before it goes out, and write carefully. Yes, in these uncertain days, stress can fracture concentration and communication mistakes can happen. But if one does, relax, breathe, and know that you can recover.
Stay safe and remember that we’re here to help your practice through these difficult days.
client communications, Veterinary Marketing, client education