One of the most interesting things I learned in business school was that the rate of consumer technology adoption is accelerating beyond belief. This can be intimidating for veterinarians who, as a rule, don’t have a history of being early adopters when it comes to technology. The fact that the average veterinary clinic is a good ten years behind the times in this area isn’t cute anymore….it’s a threat for those practices that don’t adapt. And a tremendous opportunity for those that do.
Ten years ago, forward thinking veterinary practices started understanding the importance of a good practice website. Five years ago, it was Facebook. But now you should be asking yourself, “What is our practice’s mobile strategy?” Here are five reasons this should be on your priority list for 2016:
- Smartphones and apps are not a fad. In 2014, mobile search overtook desktop search. Below is an even more interesting graphic that depicts the increasing percentage of time people spend on their mobile devices: in 2014, the average American consumer spent more time on their mobile device than they did in front of their television. Think about that…..these devices are incredibly relevant to the lives of your clients. Does your practice website reflect these changing preferences? Make sure your website is “responsive”, which means it looks (and works) just as well on a mobile device as it does on a desktop.
- Your clients have smartphones...even seniors. While there’s no doubt that millennial clients and other “digital natives” view their devices as an extension of their body, what about seniors? In 2014, 1 in 4 65+ year-old US adults used a smartphone. In 2017, 1 in 2 will. The percentage is probably even higher for tablet usage. This is also the fastest growing age group of smartphone users, in large part because many of them find that touchscreens are easier to use than a keyboard/mouse. So those of you who live in retirement areas and say, “Well...our clients are too old for apps” need to revisit that assumption.
- The bar keeps rising for what clients expect. Consumers are spoiled when it comes to doing business with both service and product providers. Amazon.com, Uber, Facebook. Even 800-PetMeds. They all have one thing in common that are major contributors to their success: they are extremely easy to do business with. Maybe I’m biased because I’m an introvert, but people just don’t want to pick up the phone and call your hospital to request an appointment, get a copy of their records, share vaccine dates with a kennel/groomer, get a drug refill, etc.. Imagine the goodwill your clients would feel toward your practice if you gave them access to their entire medical record via an app? And I don’t mean just lame portals that show vaccine dates or prescriptions...clients don’t engage with those outdated and patently self-serving offerings. How many appointments/refills/new clients are you missing because you still require clients to interact with you the way YOU want them to?
- There’s a reason there are 1.6 million apps in the App store. Let’s face it: clients want apps. They’re familiar with them because they can be so much more powerful than even a fully responsive website. A recent article in Forbes documented some very interesting findings from a recent survey:
- 81% of consumers preferred an app to a website.
- 75% said an app was better for generating growth
- 86% said an app was better for customer retention
To be clear, I’m NOT saying you don’t need a website, as you most definitely do. You need a great Facebook page, too. But those are no longer enough.
5. Email marketing is declining in effectiveness. Given the new realities of consumer technology, our clients expect more from you in order to get their attention. 15 years ago, email marketing, non-personalized newsletters, and “portals” were new and clients engaged with them. But those aren't good enough anymore….clients expect more. Most veterinary marketing is classic interruption or “push” marketing: clients only hear from you when you want them to do something, usually come in to the office for a product or service. But where are you the OTHER 364 days a year? WHY do they need vaccines? WHY does screening lab work prolong my pet’s life? A mobile presence (assuming it provides value beyond what they can already find for free on Google) puts your practice in your client’s pocket, dramatically increasing their engagement with you.
What does the successful veterinary practice of 2023 look like? 3 predictions
There are a few changes coming that are hard to ignore, as the way our clients seek out both information and medical care is changing. The next 5-10 years will be very interesting, and here are three things I think will change:
1) At least half of veterinary appointments will be booked through a mobile device. I can already do virtually all my Christmas shopping on my phone through amazon.com and other online marketplaces. Why? It's easy. Technology will allow smart appointment booking so that sick pets don't slip through the cracks and pet owners get the convenience they want and, frankly, require in order to do business with you.
2) The average practice size will increase significantly from 1.7 FTE DVMs to over 3. Many owners of 1-2 FTE DVM practices will struggle to find a buyer and either merge with another local practice or just disappear when the owner retires/dies. Consolidation has been slow coming to veterinary medicine, but the benefits (economies of scale, competitive pricing, extended hours, professional management, adoption of technology, ability to recruit young talent, etc..) of size will make even veterinarians face this business reality.
3) Successful practices will move away from "push/interruption" marketing toward year-round, personalized educational content. There's only so much you can talk about during a 20 minute office visit, especially if the client is distracted with kids and running late for other appointments. "Segment of one" marketing will replace spammy/salesy newsletters and provide year-round engagement by speaking to the owner of a 13yo cat radically different than the owner of a 8 month old Lab puppy.
In summary, the things you did 5 (and certainly 10) years ago are no longer enough to keep modern consumers engaged with you as a source of value in the lives of their pets. The consumer has moved on, and there's tremendous opportunity awaiting practices who are willing to reinvent themselves as the market changes. Good luck!
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