Using technology to connect with clients


Your colleagues generally aren't making tracks to the forefront of technology. Could you benefit from adopting a higher-tech approach?

While much of society surges into the technological revolution—a trend marked by the widespread adoption of laptop computers, BlackBerry devices, and cell phones—the majority of veterinarians are taking a more laid-back approach. Still, 57 percent of respondents maintain a Web site so clients can access information about their practice, according the the 2005 Veterinary Economics Business Practices Study. And another 38 percent use e-mail to communicate with clients. (See Figure 1.)

Quite a few of your colleagues say they don't use any form of technology to reach clients. Of these, some say they don't have Internet access at the practice. And a handful say they're "doing it the old-fashioned way," communicating with clients via phone calls, handwritten notes, and postcards.

Figure: 1 Connecting via technology

Who's plugged in?

These numbers correlate closely to the 2004 Veterinarian Information Needs Assessment Study, conducted by the Gallup Organization, which found that 39 percent of responding practitioners use the Internet for corresponding with clients. Far more report using the Web to gather information on products and equipment and for retrieving clinical or research information. (See Figure 2 for more.)

Exploring practitioners technology resources

Of course, if you don't have a good connection, you're less likely to use Web tools. To that point, 68 percent of veterinarians surveyed have high-speed Internet access at work. Those in larger practices and small animal practices are more likely to have high-speed access available at the clinic.

Figure: 2 Exploring practitioners use of the Internet

Looking ahead

No surprise, some of you have technology issues on your to-do list. For example, in response to the 2004 Veterinarian Information Needs Assessment Study, 40 percent of practitioners say that they need to work on methods for gathering, storing, and updating e-mail addresses, and storing and tracking e-mail correspondence to improve communication with clients. Should you be trying to reach out to clients through these new channels sooner rather than later? The quick answer: Maybe.

"Ask your clients first," says Roger Cummings, CVPM, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and a consultant with Brakke Consulting Inc. in Dallas. "I believe you can ask 10 clients a question and have a good indication of whether they would value a potential service," he says. "Practices with a clientele who are highly Internet- and computer-oriented probably could benefit from high-tech client-communication solutions. But not everyone wants to hear from their veterinarian by e-mail."

Respondents to the 2005 Veterinary Economics Business Practices Study raised other concerns: "Internet access doesn't restrict our message to the local community, and we receive too much e-mail from out-of-state contacts with no likelihood that they'll come to our practice," complains one doctor. Another respondent says, "Mailed reminders and handwritten thank-you or condolence notes are more effective."

The final issue to consider is whether the move makes financial sense, Cummings says. "If you decided to develop a Web site, use e-mail reminders, or let clients set appointments electronically, you'll need to invest to manage that new technology," he says. "So the change must provide some financial benefit, such as increased business or improved compliance."

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