Booking weeks out

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Prevent client disappointment with scheduling by offering what you can do.

Booking a veterinary appointment

Photo: Lek/Adobe Stock

Q. When clients call to schedule pets’ checkups, we are booking 3 to 6 weeks out. What should we say to prevent disappointing clients?

A. Saying, “We can’t see your pet for 3 weeks” will frustrate callers and escalate emotions. Focus on what you can do. Offer the next 2 available appointments.

Say this: “Our next available appointments are <date, time 1> and <date, time 2>. Which do you prefer?”

To increase appointment availability, implement these strategies:

Send reminders 60 days ahead.

Clients should receive text and email reminders for checkups 60 days ahead instead of 30. You will have more appointment availability and lead clients to forward book. In May, send reminders for patients who will have services due in July.

Text this: “<Pet name> will be due for a checkup <date>. We are experiencing increased appointment requests. Book now for your first choice of time, day, and doctor. Book online or download our app. View our preventive care plans with monthly payments.”

Use benefit statements like, “Book now for your first choice of time, day, and doctor.” Drive clients to online and app booking tools because 70% prefer to schedule appointments via text or app.1 Hyperlinks let clients click to book while reducing call volume. If your hospital offers preventive care plans, share links where clients can learn more and enroll online before checkups.

Forward book next care during checkout. Use the following 3 appointment types:

Pediatric exams
If you are booking 3 to 6 weeks out, puppies and kittens risk missing timely vaccinations. At the end of the first exam, forward-book the series of pediatric appointments.
Let’s say a client visits today with an 8-week-old puppy. Say this: “Your puppy will need exams and vaccinations at 12 and 16 weeks of age. We need to provide timely exams to monitor <pet name>’s growth and development and provide vaccines for ongoing protection. We will schedule your puppy’s next 2 appointments today, so you will get your first choice of time, day, and doctor. Let’s set the next appointment when your puppy will be 12 weeks old. Do you prefer <date, time 1> or <date, time 2>?”
Once the client agrees, say: “Great. We will see <pet name> on <date, time> for the 12-week appointment. Now let’s book the 16-week visit. Do you prefer <date, time 1> or <date, time 2>?” Let the client know to expect confirmations.

Progress exams
Avoid saying “recheck,” which clients may perceive as free and optional. The word “progress” communicates that follow-up care is medically necessary and you’re moving forward in resolving the health concern. When patients need progress exams, forward-book the next appointment today to ensure timely follow-up care. Seeing the same veterinarian builds client confidence that the medical problem will be resolved and supports exam efficiency. A different doctor will need more time to review the medical record to learn the previous veterinarian’s diagnosis and treatment.
Say this: “<Name> needs to see <pet name> in 2 weeks for a progress exam for the ear infection. Do you prefer <date, time 1> or <date, time 2>?”

Checkups
Compare the preappointment strategy to that of dentists, which clients already experience. Lead pet owners to commit with the yes-or-yes technique.
Say this: “Just as your dentist has you schedule your next appointment at
checkout, we do the same to proactively manage your pet’s health. By scheduling today, you will get your first choice of doctor, day, and time. Do you prefer <date, time 1> or <date, time 2>?”
Make having future appointments the norm, not optional. Dentists don’t give their patients a choice. Their preappointment strategy has been successful for decades. Veterinary hospitals can implement forward booking to ensure timely care and future revenue

When clients overshare during scheduling calls

Q. When clients call with sick pets, they sometimes go on and on about their pet’s symptoms. How can our client service team respectfully wrap up conversations with chatty callers?

A. To have efficient call times, client service representatives need to be the boss of calls, leading the pace and length of conversations. Express empathy and focus on booking the appointment. Wait for the caller to complete a sentence or take a breath and say this: “The doctor will need to hear those important details from you. I’ve noted in <pet name>’s medical record that he/she has been urinating outside the litter box for 2 weeks. Our next available appointments are <date, time 1> and <date, time 2>. Which do you prefer?”

To close the call, restate the appointment date and time, explain the importance of completing your online history form, and show appreciation. Say this: “We will see you and <pet name> at <date, time>. You will receive an email/text confirmation shortly with a link to our sick patient online form. Please complete this form with details about <pet name>’s symptoms, which the doctor will review before the appointment. We appreciate the opportunity to care for <pet name>.”

If the caller continues to talk incessantly, use the “repeat and refocus” technique.

Say this: “We look forward to seeing you and <pet name> at <time, date>. I noted symptoms in the medical record and have finished booking the exam. We appreciate the opportunity to help <pet name> feel better.”

Repeating symptoms communicates you were listening. Finishing indicates you are ending the call.

Get additional advice on managing call times in my online course, Phone Skills Mastery (https://csvets.info/phoneskillsmastery).

Reference

Park A. 70% of consumers prefer to schedule appointments via text: 5 tips for safe, effective patient texting. Becker’s Health IT. March 4, 2020. Accessed April 1, 2024. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/70-of-consumers-prefer-to-schedule-appointments-via-text-5-tips-for-safe-effective-patient-texting.html

Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, is best known as the "Queen of Scripts." She has taught communication and client service skills for more than 2 decades. As founder of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians, she teaches practical skills through online courses, onsite coaching, and conferences. Myers was a partner in an American Animal Hospital Association–accredited specialty and emergency practice. Visit csvets.com to learn more.

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