Vet Appointments: Online Bookings
A mixture of new pet owners, generational preferences, and retail strategies from veterinary clinics led to a rise in appointments being made online. But is the trend here to stay?
During the last 12 months, Vetstoria’s phones have been ringing off the hook. Which is a funny thing to say when you consider the company has developed an online veterinary scheduling platform. Aaron Romero, marketing director, Vetstoria, said business has grown by 100% in the past 12 months. “COVID has led to busier practices due to short staff, additional COVID measures, and serving more pet owners, due to an influx in pet ownership,” he said.
Based on feedback from customers and analyzing the growth of monthly appointments across Vetstoria, more veterinary appointments are being booked online than ever before. Chart 1 shows the average number of appointments per site that have been booked on Vetstoria since February 2019. “As you can see, there has been steady growth of around 10-15% per year in the number of appointments that a typical practice books online,” Romera said. “You’ll see a huge drop when COVID first hit, quickly followed by a big spike and more appointments are being booked online since COVID hit as practices understand the operational importance of automated booking.”
Another interesting development is how extreme this has been with some clinics, who decided after COVID that online booking is essential, Romero said. In Chart 2, three clinics increased their bookings to 100-300 per month pre-COVID to well over 500 per month, and in the case of one clinic, close to 2,000 per month. “This is all down to practice ownership and management pushing online booking more as COVID made them realize how important it was for their businesses,” Romero said. “We expect to see these trends continue in 2021 and beyond, across more practices.”
Romero attributed the increase in online bookings to several changing operational attitudes:
- More retail-oriented strategies. Vetstoria’s user base is 50% corporate, 50% independently-owned practices. Corporate groups have started hiring people from retail and e-commerce backgrounds to their marketing departments and adopting retail marketing strategies, Romero said. “This has brought a new appreciation of online experience to the industry and online booking is one of the key components identified in the customer journey.”
- Emphasis on customer service. Forward-thinking independent practices want to stay competitive in terms of offering a superior customer experience that online booking brings, Romero said, as well as the customer acquisition benefits.
- The rise in pet ownership among millennials and Gen-Z. The new owners have grown up with higher digital expectations. Additionally, baby boomers have also become expectant of online booking, Romero said. Most use Uber to book taxis, book flights, and hotels online, use Amazon to purchase goods, etc. Practice owners have started to notice this trend and adopted services like Vetstoria to boost customer satisfaction, he said.
Efficiencies and improvements
There are efficiencies to be gained by clinics that prioritize online booking. The average appointment that is booked online saves between 5-10 minutes of admin time (phone call, email confirmations, payments, schedule management, etc.) for front desk staff, Romero said. “For some clinics that use Vetstoria and book 600-700 appointments per month, this saves up to 120 hours per month – almost the equivalent of a full-time receptionist.” Clinics have used the free time to improve the level of service they offer pet owners, he said.
From a customer acquisition standpoint, Romero said online booking can improve conversion rates on veterinary websites with a clear call to action on the website, leading to a better return on investment on marketing and advertising spend. “It opens the practices up to accepting appointments, 24/7,” he said. “Forty-five percent of all appointments booked on Vetstoria are booked outside of practice working hours – these are appointments that may end up being booked with other practices that offer online booking. Plus, 17% of all appointments booked on Vetstoria are booked by new clients – the lifetime revenue associated with these new clients is largely attributable to Vetstoria.
“Practices are busier than ever – therefore they are seeking solutions to help them save time,” Romero continued. “Appointment booking (and the admin work involved) is one of the most strenuous tasks encountered by front-desk teams. Automating this takes a lot of pressure off them and enables them to spend more time helping patients.”
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/JGalione