Postcard reminders: 3 reasons you're kidding yourself.

Posted by Mark Olcott, DVM, MBA on Nov 8, 2016 3:07:52 PM

I go to a dentist, chiropractor, and doctor. Guess how many of them send me postcard reminders for my routine care? You guessed it: Zero. Zilch. The big Goose Egg. Nada. None.

Your practice has likely relied heavily on the use of postcard reminders over the years, but how effective are they? Perhaps not surprisingly, evidence shows that they aren’t working very well anymore. And what’s worse is that most practices don’t know how to track whether they’re working at all. Why aren’t clients as responsive to this form of recall reminder as they used to be? There are a number of contributing factors to their decline, and below are the top 3 reasons that you should stop wasting your time & money on postcard reminders.

1. You’re getting lost in a sea of junk mail

Anybody else out there sort through their mail every day and, if it’s not an envelope, throw it all immediately into recycling? I doubt I’m the only one who does this. The glory days of postal marketing are over, which is one of the reasons the US Post Office is in the pickle they’re in. They’ve built their castle on direct mail marketing and were slow to adapt to newcomers like FedEx and UPS. While that’s the topic of another post, the underlying reason is highly relevant to our discussion here: smart marketers are realizing that direct mail is extremely expensive, especially compared to digital compliance tools.  

If direct mail DID work, why would it be steadily declining for the last 10+ years? We in veterinary medicine should learn a lesson from the experts in other fields and stop kidding ourselves about the effectiveness of postcard reminders.

2. Digital behavior

When I graduated from veterinary school in the mid-nineties, there were a lot fewer channels competing for your clients’ attention. The average American consumer gets hit with 1500 marketing messages every day, and the internet explosion has given creative people new ways, like video, to grab consumers’ attention. Postcards add an extra step (i.e. I have to call to set up the appointment--Amazon doesn’t make me call. Neither does Uber or Cabelas.) and are easy to forget. Emails are better but only if they have the ability to request appointments that don’t require a phone call somewhere in the process.

Convenience is key! Your clients have gone digital and to capture their attention you need to go digital too. Forgetful clients need to be able to schedule those much needed appointments after practice hours, when that “Oh yeah! I forgot that Belle needs a nail trim..and I should probably have that lump checked out” moment happens. For example, in the VitusVet app, the overwhelming majority of appointment requests come through between 8pm and 7am. The busiest time on the app for appointment & refill requests?  5am.   

3. Big costs. Low marginal return  

To be candid, I am not saying that postcards never work. Clearly they can. There are some clients who get a postcard reminder in the mail and put it up on their refrigerator in order to remind them to make an appointment. But what I am saying is that, from a pure business standpoint, those few poor souls just aren't worth what most practices are spending to reach them.

The problem is that you’re spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars a month on postcards when many of those people would have come in through some other means. That’s why the key to this reason lies in the phrase “low marginal return.” What do I mean by that? Marginal return is the return you get from postcards that you can’t get from digital means. If a client gets 3 emails and a text and still doesn’t make an appointment, a postcard isn’t going to make a difference, no matter how “well timed” it is. At that point, you either have to call them or hope they come in on their own (or maybe have them picked up by Uber). If you’re sending 1,000 reminders a month, between postage and the actual card itself, you’re talking about at least $1200 on an outdated reminder system. Every month.

Use modern alternatives to quickly solve this problem

It’s no secret that we love smartphones. And that’s not just an American phenomenon---it’s truly global. There are more smartphones than people on the planet, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Veterinary practices need to adapt to their clients’ changing communication preferences. They need to evolve their messaging toward wellness (and away from vaccines) and also evolve the very methods they use to reach these clients. Texting is one way to do this, although the FCC has very specific rules about how to do that without running afoul of the law.  

Curiously, when people are on their smartphones, they actually spend 70% of their time in apps. To me, this means that the smartphone is the next piece of “real estate” that veterinarians need to occupy. Ten years ago we woke up to the need for a website, and five years ago it was Facebook and other forms of social media. But now in late 2016, what is your mobile strategy? How can you use the power of push notifications to add a significant boost to your reminder compliance? How can you use this powerful medium to help your clients and patients?  

Remember, you can force a postcard reminder on your clients, but you can’t force them to download your app. You have to incentivize them to do so which means there has to be more in it for them than there is for you. If your message is, “Download our app because it will make it easier for you to spend money with us!” then you’re going to fail. Give your clients something of value that benefits them MORE than it benefits you, and you can plug the leaks in your compliance funnel. Good luck!

Topics: For Practice Managers, Grow Your Veterinary Practice