This post comes to us from the incredible Dr. Jessica Vogelsang.

In a previous existence (i.e., 2019), I used to travel a lot. As a West Coaster, most of my flights were early morning. When I had some extra time at the airport (remember those?), I’d queue up at Peet’s Coffee with about 5,000 other bleary-eyed travelers trying to avoid the coffee-flavored sludge awaiting us onboard.

Per usual, the line snaked out of the shop and down Terminal 2. As I inched closer, I noticed something new I hadn’t seen before, over behind the Moon Cheese: self-service kiosks. Not a soul was at them. I squinted, looking for an out-of-order sign, and seeing none stepped out of the line and up to the kiosk. About 90 seconds later, I had my coffee in hand, while the guy who was ahead of me in line still had about ten people to go.

Service providers overestimate how much most of us want to interact with them. When Panera began to offer order-by-app solutions five years ago, I used them all the time- even when I had to drive by other places I liked better to get there. It was just so easy. My doctor’s office has a new client portal that, while still requiring me to sign off on approximately 532 paragraphs before checking in, allows me to do it at home instead of getting to the office 20 minutes early every time. Easier. Sending a message over the portal in ten seconds versus calling, sitting on hold, sitting on hold again, waiting for a callback, missing it, them refusing to leave a message because I forgot to say they could, rinse, repeat, five hours later still no answer.

And yet here we are, veterinary medicine, doing our usual Sloth-at-the-DMV slow-mo reaction to what’s going on around us, even now, even during a pandemic when technology has become the default way to communicate. “But people like that personal touch,” they insist, as the CSRs frantically try to juggle ten ringing phone lines and five people honking their horns from the car.

The personal touch isn’t defined by the means of communication. It’s defined by giving someone an exceptional client experience.

I used to assume that as a hospice practitioner, people would bristle at e-communication. It’s callous, right? Phone calls for everyone. Interestingly, the opposite tends to be true. In that high-stress interaction, there’s plenty that you need to be right there for, supporting the client.

On the other hand, that initial call- the one they don’t want to make, the one they’ve been putting off forever? Many, many people prefer email and messaging, precisely because they can focus on the interaction minus having to manage their voice. So we gave them a choice, and it works out great.

Digitizing the client experience is a highly customizable process that allows you to run more efficiently, meet client’s needs more promptly, and provide an overall better experience. The best-run clinics are finding several different ways to blend in new technology into the old-school vet visit:

  1. Appointment reminders, follow-ups the next day- all perfectly acceptable over a text message. People are more likely to respond, and it removes a one-time consuming task from the CSR’s plate.
  2. Messaging vs. calling. In all the jargon articles, this is called “asynchronous communication” or “store and forward.” I call it the ‘thank god.’ Why do we wait until the end of the day before doing callbacks? Because you know it’s going to take forever because you get drawn into long, involved conversations with Mrs. Jones about her new flavor of Fancy Feast and could that explain her ear mites. Why you’re doing those calls instead of your tech anyway is a topic for another day, but in the meantime- all hail the message. It allows prompt updates to the client, has the added component of sending pictures and video, and is faster for everyone involved. Leverage your staff and your technology, and break that cycle of “the doctor is happy to get on a 30-minute free call with you for no real reason.”
  3. Online forms. If your website isn’t doing this heavy lifting data collection for you, why not? We all know half the people are going to ignore it and your tech will still have to take that long history in the room and transcribe it into the record, but hey- that’s HALF who don’t. That’s substantial.

READ NOW: Guide To Digital Forms For Veterinary Hospitals

Notice what I haven’t even gotten to yet? Live video. Why? Because every time we talk about telemedicine and virtual care, people assume we are talking about live video and live video-only. Then they rush out, toss a video platform on their site buried under the clinic hours, and wait for something to happen. When it doesn’t, they say telemedicine is a bust and a waste.

No one should be bothering with live video visits right now until they’ve mastered the other three items listed above. Those three touchpoints, the cornerstones of telehealth in the veterinary space, free up oodles and oodles of CSR time for something vital: the personal touch.

Yes, it still matters, of course. And if you reduce the noise and allow the very first person your client encounters to focus on giving them prompt and personal attention, you’ve just nailed the experience.

Back to Peet’s: the next time I was at the airport, the line still snaked outside the store, but this time a manager would come out every few minutes and tell people to come to use the self-serve kiosk. It would fill up, a bunch of happy people got their coffee much more quickly, then it would be ignored until the next time the manager came out and pointed it out to the line. Moral of the story: While we get used to this brave new world, it’s on you as the provider to get people to interact with your technology. It may take some time to train them, but once they get it- they’re hooked.

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