Three months into quarantine and three years of constant requests from our son, we finally said yes to a puppy — that’s right, a pandemic puppy. We welcomed Chilly, the cutest Whoodle known to man, into our home when he was nine weeks old. We of course made an appointment with a veterinary practice recommended to us for a check-up and shots at twelve weeks.
One week later, Chilly was lethargic and wouldn’t eat or drink. Being first-time dog owners, we were really worried! The vet we’d made our original appointment with wasn’t available that day so we found another practice that would take us. A week’s worth of antibiotics later and our little Whoodle was back to normal.
Between the two appointments at two separate veterinary practices, our experience was completely different. It was night and day really. Each practice had protocols and guidelines in place due to COVID-19  but they couldn’t have been more different.
Below is a summary of each experience and my observations on potential dos and don’ts for veterinary practices during the pandemic. Veterinary practices will not be named nor were any harmed in the making of this blog post. 😉
I was a nervous mama when we arrived at the first practice. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there was a sign on the door with an outline of their protocol so, with my puppy in arms, I opened the door and went inside.
The friendly receptionist was wearing a mask and said I should sit down in the waiting room while the vet finished up with another client. The waiting room was clean and on the small side, with four chairs, a desk, and then a space with a coffee maker and water cooler. I waited for a few minutes, then the other client came out (another new pandemic puppy parent), paid, and left after chatting with me for a couple of minutes about our new pups.
The receptionist left to sanitize the room and then invited me in to wait for the vet. One consult, blood draw, and prognosis later we left the room and paid the receptionist before leaving.
Overall the experience felt like a pretty standard trip to the vet.
We were a little more confident about vet visit #2 having had the first experience behind us, but everything was different at the second practice. It should be noted that at the time I made the appointment, the receptionist told me they were following the guidelines of curbside appointments.
We arrived and parked the car. A friendly man in a mask came out and greeted us. He told us they were following special COVID-19 protocols, took our name and phone number, and said we should expect a call from the receptionist shortly to confirm our information. Two minutes later the phone rang. It was the receptionist and, as expected, she confirmed our contact info and let us know that a vet tech would be out shortly to chat and pick up the puppy.
About five minutes after that, the vet tech came out to get the puppy and bring him inside. We waited in the car as ten minutes went by and then the veterinarian came outside. She introduced herself, shared her thoughts about the puppy wellness checkup, and let us know that the vaccine was given and that they’d bring Chilly back to us shortly.
Less than five minutes later, the vet tech came back out with the puppy and said that the greeter would come back when it was time to pay. They were only allowing one person in the clinic at a time to pay their bill.
Again, less than five minutes went by and the greeter came back out to get me. I went inside to an empty waiting room, chatted with the receptionist briefly, paid my bill, and then headed for home.
I was quite surprised by the level of caution being taken but was also comforted by the fact that they were following their guidelines so strictly. The entire experience took us approximately 45 minutes.
Dos and don’ts for veterinary practices
Two very different experiences, right? Depending on which practice sounds more like yours or which practice you aspire to be like, here are a few observations and some dos and don’ts.
Practice #1: Dos and don’ts
At the first practice, the whole experience felt relatively normal. Except for the mask that the receptionist was wearing I didn’t feel like any obvious measures were taken beyond the scope of a regular vet visit. I didn’t feel unsafe or at risk by any means but I thought there would be a few more protocols in place.
- Post an outline of your practice protocol on your door, social media, and website so that clients know what to do
- Wear a mask to protect and respect your clients
- Consider installing a plexiglass barrier between reception and clients and removing communal items such as coffee and water
- Don’t encourage client conversations in waiting rooms; move clients into private rooms whenever possible to reduce interaction
- Don’t allow clients inside without masks on
- Don’t forget to sanitize between clients
Practice #2: Dos and don’ts
At the second practice, I was amazed by the strict rules that were followed. I was glad it was a nice day as it would have been strange to sit in the car while team members came outside in rainy or cold weather. Overall though, I appreciated that the vet practice was taking the global health crisis seriously. The customer service was good at both practices but I loved the greeter at practice two. As a new pet owner, I really appreciated that extra guidance, especially during the time we are living in.
- Implement curbside service
- Wear a mask to protect and respect your clients
- Consider implementing contactless payment over the phone or via an app
- Don’t leave clients wondering or waiting; over explain each step of the new process
- Don’t leave employees unprotected from potential environmental hazards such as weather; consider adding pop-up tents for shade and protection
- Don’t skip the veterinarian chat; clients want to hear from vets directly
One final missing piece
My experiences were certainly good enough, no horror stories here, but I do have one big takeaway for all veterinary practices.
As someone who has been working with VetSuccess for many years, I was surprised that there was no forward-booking protocol in place at either vet practice! They left it up to me to call and book my next visit.Forward-booking is one of the best ways to retain active clients and something that every veterinary practice should have in place. Click To Tweet 
Check out the Forward-Booking Staff Meeting in-a-Box  from VetSuccess for ways to implement this in your practice.
Elissa Fesyk is the owner of Fesyk Marketing and specializes in building impactful brand identities and designing and managing custom marketing plans. With a background in event planning, social media management, and community relations, Elissa has traveled the world and put her skills to work for some notable companies including the US Olympic Committee and the San Jose Sharks. Outside of work you can find her spending time with her family in Edmonton, Alberta. You can reach her at Elissa@FesykMarketing.com .