Great Expectations

It can be hard to exceed expectations in veterinary medicine. Taking a blood sample? Owners will expect you to get it right first time. Running diagnostics? The expectation is that you'll get to the bottom of things. Presented with something broken? Send it back fixed or you'll disappoint. But we're dealing with biological systems, and they don't always play ball.

Compounding this is the fact that veterinary medicine attracts perfectionists. We're used to getting full marks. We're achievement-orientated. We thrive in the face of high expectations. This can make the times when we come up short feel all the worse.

Fortunately, there is a secret to consistently exceeding expectations. Start by setting them.

Take interactions on PetsApp, for example. Every chat starts with an automated welcome message. This message is set by each individual clinic according to their particular circumstances.

Automated welcome message

The welcome message is a clinic's opportunity to outline their opening hours or at least the hours within which they staff the app, give an idea of anticipated response time and provide instructions on what to do in case of emergency. For example:

Hi {Pet Owner Name}, We are available on the app from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am to 4pm on Saturday. Within these hours we aim to respond to messages within 60 minutes. You can use the app to book appointments, ask us pet care questions, order food and/or medication and pay bills. In case of an emergency, please call us on 0123 456 78910. How can we help {Pet's Name} today?

Notice the personalisation using the owner's name and their pet's name. This is an automated message but it needn't feel robotic. You're setting the expectation that we know you and your pet, and we're happy to help. So far, so good.

This clinic's opening hours are 8am to 7pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 5pm on Saturday. However, you'll notice they have trimmed these by an hour at the start and end of each day for the welcome message. This is so they have a grace period during the morning rush, which also gives them the opportunity to address any chats that have come in over night. Cutting an hour in the evening also avoids the awkwardness and inconvenience of an inbound chat a few minutes before closing. Of course, team members could opt to respond to chats outside these hours but there's no expectation that they will!

Owners can and will message you outside the hours that you state on your welcome message. This is a good thing. Remember, you've told them what to do in an emergency, so these will only be non-urgent issues.

Imagine an owner coming home from a late shift and noticing that they're running low on the prescription dog food that you recommended. The clinic is closed, so they can't deal with this while it is front of mind - maybe they decide to buy a bag of food that looks "close enough" off Amazon. Or maybe the next time they remember they're in the supermarket and they buy whatever is available there. A compliance gap opens up.

This can be avoided if your clinic has an app. The owner can simply start a new chat, request some more of Fluffy's special kibble, and they know you'll get back to them as soon as you can tomorrow. They don't need an immediate reply. In fact, to highlight but one example, an owner requested some more food for their pet at 9pm, their clinic responded at 10am. That's a 13 hour response time. And yet the owner left feedback praising the "super fast response". Pet owners just want to be able to offload the item from their to-do list while it is front of mind. In short, you've been there for them without having to be there for them.

The last thing to highlight in terms of expectation setting via the automated welcome message is the response time. 60 minutes. There's a lot you can do in 60 minutes. You can deal with the 3 pet owners waiting to pay. You can send Mrs Singh, Daisy's test results. Maybe you could even take a proper lunchbreak for the first time this week. Being able prioritise these chats at a glance means that if you feel something needs a faster response you can jump in earlier, and in doing so you'll be exceeding expectations! Compare and contrast this to the tyranny of the telephone, where you have to drop everything and answer in 3 rings, and you'll notice the immediate advantages. Alexander Graham Bell was a genius, no doubt, but he also set us up for 144 years of falling short of expectations.

In order to prioritise the chats that most urgently need your attention, you're going to want to be able to read them, maybe even look at the photos the owner has sent through. However, a lot of apps send "read receipts" - they show the person on the other side of the chat that you have read their message. This creates the expectation that a reply is imminent. If you don't immediately reply, frustration ensues. This is why we have banned read receipts at PetsApp. We notify the owner when you have chosen to join the chat, not when you've just read it. We eliminate the restless anticipation, put you in charge of your own workload, and set you up to exceed expectations leading to pet owner "wow" moments.

So, the best way to exceed customer expectations? Deploy tools that allow you to reasonably manage expectations ahead of time, and do all you can to avoid those situations where you and your team are set-up to fail. Sorry Mr Bell, but we could all do with the phone ringing a little less.


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