One of the most interesting things I learned in business school was that consumer communication preferences are changing very fast. This can be intimidating for veterinarians who, to put it charitably, don’t have a history of being early adopters. The fact that the average veterinary clinic is a good ten years behind the times with respect to consumer technology isn’t cute anymore...it’s a threat for those practices that don’t adapt. And a tremendous opportunity for those that do. One of the biggest areas where this is evident is in the changing preferences with respect to the almighty telephone.
According to Ian Bogost in his August 2015 article in The Atlantic entitled “Don’t hate the phone call; hate the phone.”
“The distaste for telephony is especially acute among Millennials, who have come of age in a world of AIM and texting, then gchat and iMessage, but it’s hardly limited to young people. When asked, people with a distaste for phone calls argue that they are presumptuous and intrusive, especially given alternative methods of contact that don’t make unbidden demands for someone’s undivided attention.”
According to Heidi Grant Halvorson, social psychologist and author of "No One Understands You And What To Do About It," millennials are right — there is something intimidating about the telephone.
"If your dominant form of communication with people hasn't been the phone," she says, "then you're going to naturally be more anxious using that form of communication."
But it's also true that telephone anxiety moves across the generational gap. "Whether you've talked on the phone a lot or not, you still have to respond in the moment," she explains. Without the option of editing yourself, "you're more vulnerable." In other words, if the phone feels high-pressure, that's because it is high-pressure. "You have to respond immediately, so there's a greater likelihood you'll choke."
So how do we serve our clients who don’t want to call us? For too long we’ve overwhelmingly relied on the telephone as the primary means of communication with clients. But with increased competition and changing consumer behaviors, modern veterinary practices who do not adapt and evolve will suffer the consequences.
Here are five reasons why reliance on the telephone is slowly killing your practice:
People are really busy and simplicity rules the day. The bar keeps rising for what clients expect. Consumers are spoiled when it comes to online access to both service and product providers. Amazon.com, Uber, Apple, AirBnB. They all have one thing in common that is a major contributor to their success: they are really easy to do business with. Increasingly, consumers just don’t want to talk on the phone unless they really have to. They’d rather not pick up the phone and call your hospital to request an appointment, get a copy of their vaccine record, get a drug refill, etc.. Why not? Read on.
40% of the US population are introverts and don’t like to talk on the phone. These consumers have definite preferences for the ways they like to interact with people, with email & texting having a significant advantage over telephone or in-person. Why? The latter two ways of communicating are much more draining for introverts, and they avoid them if possible….especially for simple, transactional things like setting an appointment or requesting a medication refill. Make it easy for your clients to interact with you in any way they want. Is your email address just as visible on your website as your phone number is? Is your team paying just as much attention to your inbox as to the telephone?
You don’t realize it, but you’re missing a LOT of appointments, refills, new clients, etc.. Does your practice have de facto requirement that clients call for appointments? I don’t mean CAN they email you or text you…..DO they ever do it? Given the new realities of consumer technology, our clients expect to be able to reach you just as easily online as via telephone. Call it “The Amazon Effect”: the mental distance between impulse and purchase has never been shorter. If one of your clients is sitting in bed at 9:30 pm and remembers that her dog needs a vaccine booster and to have a lump checked out, can she request an appointment with you right then and there? Or does she have to wait until the next day to search online for your phone number (she doesn’t have it memorized) then call and hope she doesn’t get put on hold by your overworked front desk team? If she does get put on hold, is she one of the 33% of Americans who won’t wait on hold at all?
Or do you hope that she’ll search for your website (remember, she doesn’t know your URL) then manage to avoid your local competitor’s ads and click on your site only to bounce around trying to find a way to request an appointment, (which is really tough because she’s on her smartphone and your site isn’t responsive) then click on a tiny link and….FAIL! The patient suffers and you lost out on $200 in revenue because you made it too hard on her. People have the attention span of a goldfish. If you don’t make it easy for clients to get WHAT they want WHEN they want it, you will miss out.
Your clients have smartphones...even seniors. While there’s no doubt that millennial clients and other “digital natives” view their devicesas an extension of their body, but what about seniors? In 2014, one in four 65+ year-old US adults used a smartphone. In 2017, one in two will. 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. Bottom line: those of you who practice near retirement communities and say, “Well...our clients don’t use mobile technology,” are missing out on a huge opportunity.
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:
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 need a modern, responsive, well-designed site. You need a great Facebook page too. But those are no longer enough. There’s something very powerful about occupying a piece of real estate on your clients’ smartphones, but it’s far easier said than done.
“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
-Gen. E. Shinseki, US Army (Ret.)
Communication preferences are changing, and business owners need to adapt. Whether it’s Amazon.com or Main Street Veterinary Clinic, our clients expect to be able to do business with you online or via IM/text in addition to the telephone. Bottom line: forget you know anything about veterinary practice and simply ask yourself, “As a consumer myself, how do I like to interact with service providers?” That will give you the answer that’s right for your practice.