I'd like to just start out this article with the blanket statement that if you had told me a decade ago, sitting in the back row of my vet school lecture hall, that I would someday write an article about robot's role in veterinary marketing, I would have laughed you out of the room. I probably would have made fun of you with a "beep boop boop" sound and/or calculator watch impression.
But here I am, ready to tell you that robots, or more specifically something called a chatbot, are going to be your new best friend. Maybe not today, maybe not next month, but soon.
What's a chatbot? A chatbot is a computer program that simulates a conversation. Often, they're designed to do their job so well, they imitate how a human would behave in having a conversation via text, or for the purposes of this article, Facebook Messenger.
Chatbots are relatively new to the marketing and customer service scene...but are rapidly gaining traction, especially as their technology and ability to "machine learn" improves. If you're feeling nerdy and interested, some articles I found helpful early on. are here and here.
We'll skip their background, how they work, and why they're a thing. Here's basically what you need to know: we can now use them to communicate directly with clients via Facebook Messenger.
Why is that important? Oh, I don't know....maybe because 80% of adults use messaging (text or via apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, etc) every day. The amount of messaging has increased worldwide nearly 70% in the last 2 years. And for those specifically using Facebook Messenger (that's 1.2 billion people, if you're counting), 58% of them use that every day.
So when we compare that to our "old school" methods of sending a postcard reminder........ or even email marketing, which has an average open rate of just 32%......using a messaging app and delivering that personalized message, straight to their phone and to the app they're probably already using, and making it beep with a new message.....is amazing.
So that's "messaging" as a whole. Now let's get back to chatbots. How can we use them in veterinary medicine?
Using a chatbot builder like ManyChat, you can create fully automated Facebook messages to connect with your client. Better yet, you can add your subscribers to various classification "sequences" to deliver even more customized content. And the best yet? Most of this is FREE, if not extremely affordable (<$10-20/month), depending on how much/detailed you want to get. As Brandon Brashears stated on his podcast about chatbots in veterinary marketing, most "subscribers" are going to cost you less than 20 cents!
Here's an example that I have implemented in a few practices:
On the first of every month, I always post a reminder on our Facebook page for my clients to give their pet's heartworm and flea/tick preventatives.
Using a chatbot I created with ManyChat, I took our last few month's posts to a new level. On that post, I asked my followers to comment in the post if they would like to receive a Facebook message reminder (as opposed to them taking the chance that they would see the post in their newsfeed).
Their comment on the post triggered my chatbot to automatically send them a Facebook message. They were given the option to "opt-in," meaning they had to take one more step to complete their subscription. Without it, nothing more would happen. If they took the "opt-in," which in my case was asking them to state the name of the heartworm product they were using, they would automatically receive a confirmation from my hospital stated that they were fully subscribed and would start receiving heartworm reminders each month. I was also able to attach links to directly call for a refill or to our website to make an appointment, if needed.
So this is the first part of this awesomeness. I now have a small, but engaged and committed, list of clients that have
1) told me they want me to contact them about a pet health topic,
2) told me where they want me to contact them (Facebook Messenger) and
3) also told me which heartworm product they use, so if I wanted, I could classify them by product type (e.g. Heartgard users compared to Interceptor Plus users, for instance).
The fun doesn't end here, folks. Let's talk about the next month's reminder message, which I can schedule in advance, to remind them to give their pet's heartworm preventative. Again using ManyChat, I schedule a fun reminder to be delivered. But instead of just the boring reminder, I attach two options. "All done!" with a link, or "Uh-oh, We're Out!" with a link.
The users that click "All Done!" automatically get a virtual high five in the form of a dancing dog GIF that I've embedded in the link. The users that click "Uh-oh, we're out!" get a different response. Depending on the clinic, I have used this to
1) link directly to a "request a refill" contact form on their website,
2) call the clinic, or
3) automatically respond with a message stating that we're available to help (with links to call for a refill or make an appointment), or a more personalized message that we'll review their patient's chart and contact them.
That entire sequence was pre-programmed, by me, a vet, with no coding/nerdy robot education.
One last thing.....remember how I asked them what product that they're using? Using their responses, I was able to sort them into individual product lists, and send them a helpful rebate link, for their specific preventative product only, mid-month.
So there you have it. That's an example of how I have used, and see chatbots being used in the future. Is it for every clinic? Nope. Is there a bit of a learning curve? You bet. Maybe some day it will replace vaccine reminders, or appointment requests/reminders, or other fun stuff. Who knows where technology will continue to take our profession, the way we communicate with owners, and how we treat animals. But if it means improved communication with clients, that means better-educated pet owners, and that means healthier pets.
So I'm all in. Are you?