What are considered to be the "best practices" for wording and layout on appointment reminder cards or emails to maximize their effectiveness?
Anytime you communicate with a client, even if it is part of a larger mailing to a group of clients, it is important to write as if you were speaking to that client only. Personalization is vital for helping a client feel as though you care about him and his pet. Use his name and his pet's name in the correspondence. Any other unique indicators are helpful too, for instance a picture of the pet on the mailer. If not, use a picture of a pet of the same breed. Again, it makes the recipient feel as though you are speaking to him personally, which raises compliance.
How do I get clients whose pets are younger than 6 years of age to come in for "just a checkup"?
The key to compliance overall is building a relationship with your clients over time. So during the early years, it's important to educate them about services you recommend they do at least annually to give them the best opportunity to catch any health issues quickly. At each annual exam, let them know which types of screenings and examination you are doing, not just a general "he looks good." Explain what you are doing and the importance of the physical examination, what you check for, what the blood work reveals, the importance of the fecal, and so on. Because pets age much faster than we do, remind clients that as pets grow older, they should actually see the veterinarian more frequently because they are more susceptible to age-related conditions. Annual intervals are really much longer in pet years! If clients know the "why" behind the need for a physical and not just the "when" (annually), they exhibit greater acceptance.
The same is true for your staff. You can give them direction and expect them to carry it out, but if you tell them the reasons behind a procedure and how it helps contribute to the care of patients and the success of the practice, it is much more likely they will carry out your wishes, and cheerfully.
Are reminder cards sent from us as successful as those that are outsourced?
The key to reminder cards is consistency. Using an outside resource can make the process of sending out pet care reminders efficient. In today's modern veterinary practice, anything that can be automated, scheduled, or handled with the click of a button will, and typically does, increase compliance. Most of the good reminder services offer many marketing outreach products, cards being just one. Take advantage of the variety of resources available to help you decide what will work best for your practice.
Human participation will always be part of the equation, however. If you have the personnel resources to manage the additional time to gather the monthly list, print the cards, prepare them for mailing and/or emailing, and finally distribute them, there is nothing wrong with doing so in-house. Keep in mind that several people should be cross-trained to handle this important task, however it is done, so that you are not at the mercy of only one person who knows how to accomplish this task.
Whether you do so in-house or use an outside vendor, keeping a regular schedule and having appropriate follow-up to contact those who have not responded to the reminder will make the difference in your compliance statistics and the overall health of your patients.
Some reminder services will give you a free trial period. Consider taking advantage of this as an investment in increasing compliance. Based on the results, you will have your answer to this question.