Musings of a Veterinarian

Handling the Winter Lull

February 17, 2013 By: Dr. K Category: For Vets, Practice Management

Winter. Short days, long underwear. The thought of winter in the Northeast conjures up the dismal gray and frigid temperatures that lull veterinary clients into a stupor. Allergic skin disease and rotten ears are distant malodorous memories. Orthopedic injuries are rare as dogs spend more time indoors. And veterinarians and staff are left twiddling their thumbs in anticipation of the next appointment. What do you do when appointments take a down turn? Follow these tips and your practice can turn the winter lull into the winter boom!

1. Update Those Reminders
Many practices have a reminder system that functions sub-optimally. Changes in protocols often require updating the client reminders, sometimes manually. Additionally, clients who have declined a vaccination or failed to bring a fecal sample to their previous appointments leave the reminders incomplete unless your staff has been meticulous in updating information. Synching annual exam dates with when vaccines are actually due, adding reminders for ancillary services like laboratory work, and reminding clients to bring in stool samples can boost the bottom line all year long. The added benefit is keeping your reception staff busy and ensuring they understand the most recent protocols and recommendations.

2. Offer Incentives

Many of the most successful practices incentivise appointments and procedures during the winter months to keep income incoming. February is National Pet Dental Health month; Offer a discount for all dental procedures scheduled in that month. January your slow month? How about $10 off an annual examination? Getting clients through the door is the name of the game.

3. Practice Your Personal Touch

During the slowest times, encourage your staff and veterinarians to take their time in their appointments to connect with clients. (I know, I know. We should always take our time and not feel rushed, but when Mrs. Pushy brings three pets to her 15 minute appointment instead of one and you have two emergencies in the wings it’s near impossible not to rush.) Connections and small talk foster trust and bolster compliance. Detailed explanations of the importance of dental hygiene, routine laboratory work, and why that Leptospirosis vaccine is really important will benefit the patient and the bottom line.

And yes, use your callback reminder system to have your staff reach out to your patients who may have fallen through the cracks. A simple phone conversation may reveal the patient you thought was thriving after discharge is not.

4. Clean

This is the easiest time of year to make your practice sparkle top to bottom. Nothing makes me cringe more than walking into a practice that smells. I’m not talking the standard smell of a hospital or a stinky Labrador who was emanating his freshly-rolled-in-poop glory. No, I’m talking the musty smell of dampness, urine, and uncleanliness that makes clients question the value and competency of the practice. There is NO excuse any time of the year.  A thorough winter cleaning keeps odors at bay and your biosecurity at its peak.

5. Educate Staff

Blocking time for a lunch and learn is a lot easier when your staff is not slammed with the spring and summer smorgasbord of cat bite wounds, limping dogs, and hot spots that all need diagnostics and treatments over the lunch period.

Educated staff equates to improved patient care leading to happier clients. It’s that simple.

Additionally, update educational material in puppy and kitten packs, handouts, and mailings.

6. Educate Clients

The stillness of winter is the perfect time to offer puppy classes, animal first-aid classes, and general pet ownership tutorials. Not only is this the perfect way to network with responsible clientele, it seats your practice as the local authority among practices in your area.

Remember: An educated client is a compliant one.

1 Comments to “Handling the Winter Lull”

  1. Hi there,
    Thanks for the sensible advice on how to get your practice going through the winter months. At the same time, most of your clients will be indoors and are probably going to be using the internet as a form of entertainment and source of information. Now, what’s great about this is that it allows you to come up with an online marketing campaign (doesn’t have to be expensive, an email/twitter/pinterest campaign can go a long way in helping you target potential and existing customers in your area) that targets your demographic in a surgical manner. Just thought I should throw this out there.


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