Ramping Back Up

Inside Sales

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As your customers begin to transition from essential services back to wellness and preventive care, you can help by making sure they’re re-stocked with items they may have depleted.

If I’d written this column a month earlier, I’m sure I would’ve discussed ways you could best help your customers with their various business-as-usual, seasonal issues as we head into summer. That was before the bottom fell out and “business as usual” ceased to exist, N95 masks and Personal Protective Equipment became part of everyone’s vocabulary, and COVID-19 was a distant problem in China and on a few cruise ships. It’s impossible to know what changes will occur from now until you receive this issue, but we can be certain that “normal” won’t be what it was before the pandemic.

Depending on their location, many of your clinics may have been restricted to performing only essential or urgent services and postponing elective procedures. Most have probably closed their waiting rooms and are using some form of curbside service, asking pet owners to call or text when they arrive so a staff member wearing PPE can come out to take the pet. Following the exam, the vet or technician calls the owner to discuss findings, and the pet is brought back to the car with any necessary medications. To keep owners more involved and ease the stress of being separated from their pets, some veterinarians are even live-streaming the exam to the parking lot!

For all those clinics that thought they had time to get used to the idea of telemedicine, COVID-19 has moved that timeline to now. The good news is that the majority are finding out that their customers are embracing technology like two-way messaging with veterinary staff since it mirrors their experience with other businesses. Clinics must follow their state guidelines when it comes to telemedicine and some procedures will always require an in-clinic visit, but in many cases, pictures or videos sent from home, follow-up diagnostics, or lab results or consults for chronic conditions can all be handled conveniently via telemedicine. Practices that are Fear Free Certified may find that telemedicine offers alternatives for pets prone to stress during an office visit.

A new way to communicate

While practices are becoming comfortable with two-way messaging, most inside sales reps still have to rely on phone calls or email. During this very busy time for their customers, the inside sales reps may be left on hold or not getting a response. This is an opportune time to ask your clients “if we can offer this option, would you use it?” A two-way text is ideal for passing on backorder information, order status, promotion dates, or to ask when you should call for an order – all without tying up their phone line or not being able to talk to someone at all.

Production has finally ramped up, but masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer, alcohol, and various pharmaceuticals will continue to be in short supply, as the available stock continues to divert to the human side. An ISR I spoke to said her company has been reaching out to both new and existing vendors to source products, so she’s asked her customers to allow her to place different brands of the same items on backorder so she can monitor the status and help them get the items they need. It’s important to ask if clinics have temporarily changed their business hours or are closed certain days of the week so that backorders don’t ship if there’s no one there to receive them.

Managing the transition

As your customers begin to make the transition from offering only essential services back to wellness and preventive care, you can help by making sure they’re re-stocked with those items they may have depleted, such as vaccines, heartworm tests, wormers and supplies for dental procedures. As the saying goes, “it takes 21 days to make or break a habit and 90 days for it to become permanent,” so the new normal for pet owners after weeks of at-home restrictions may be expecting more telemedicine and fewer clinic visits. Your clinics that already offered home delivery and refill reminders are well prepared for these changes to veterinary care.

One of the positive outcomes of the stay-at-home directives is the thousands of people who have taken advantage of their extended time at home to foster or adopt a new pet. All of these lucky animals will be in need of veterinary care, so it’s an opportune time for clinics to reach out to these new pet owners via social media with a message like: “Adopt a new pet? We can’t wait to meet it! In the meantime, call or email us so we can learn all about your new member of the family!”

Animal behaviorists caution that all of this constant interaction with pets could have a downside. Animals are very in tune with their owners’ moods and pick up on the anxiety and stress COVID-19 has caused. As people start to return to work, pets may develop severe separation anxiety. Make sure your customers are prepared by recommending the various calming products.

If you’re used to working in a call center environment and have had to transition to working from home, you may be missing that daily interaction with your co-workers, so it’s important to stay in touch and share ideas. My team has regular meetings via Webex, Zoom, or Skype and we make sure to use our webcams so we can see each other (at our finest!), along with the occasional pet or kiddo in the background.

Recently, I asked a good friend who has been in the animal health business for many years as both a technician and an ISR for her thoughts on the past few months. She told me: “One thing that I appreciate most of all during this time is that relationships are stronger and more personal. It’s enlightening to hear people open up when our usual conversation is strictly about products. In a way, it’s been a distraction for me from mulling about the unknown.”

I doubt that normal will ever look the same. I hope our new normal – whatever it is – will be even better.

Photo cutline: istockphoto.com/Nastasic