Congratulations! You’ve decided to implement a system that uses text messages to remind your customers about their appointments! As you’ll see, this is a huge step toward reducing missed appointments, last minute cancellations, and no-shows, and it’ll take a lot of mundane busywork off the workload of your team.
To get the most out of a text message-based reminder system, there are some best practices to follow. By keeping these practices in mind, you’ll get the most benefits from automation. Any procedural change, especially automation, can result in a few unexpected bumps along the way, and that’s why we’re sharing our top 7 tips to help ensure you maintain a VIP experience for your customers without encountering any potential pitfalls.
Best Practices for Text Message Reminders
Time Your Messages Appropriately
Though every practice is different, the general rule of thumb is to remind customers between 24 and 72 hours prior to their appointments. If you jump the gun and send the reminder too early, your customer is likely to forget about their appointment.
If you send it the same day and you haven’t done any prior follow-up, you’re likely to catch your busy customers off guard. There’s a decent chance they forgot about their appointment entirely and may have to cancel or reschedule. And, because they’re canceling on the same day as their appointment, it can be heard for your office staff to be able to fill that slot.
The most popular time to send an appointment reminder is 24 hours in advance. This gives your customer a full day to make sure their schedule is free. Or, if they need to cancel, it gives your staff more time to fill the appointment slot.
We also encourage you to experiment with the 48-hour or 72-hour time frames as well. This is especially true if the appointment has special instructions associated with it like avoiding food or water prior to a procedure.
Find Your Ideal Frequency
Frequency refers to how often you’ll reach out to a customer before their appointment, and it is just as important as timing.
Your frequency will likely vary depending on the type of appointment and how far in advance the customer scheduled it. If the office visit is scheduled for four weeks from today, we would typically recommend a text message reminder one week prior as well as 24 hours prior.
If, on the other hand, the appointment was scheduled, six months in advance, we would likely add a reminder for one month before the scheduled office visit. The customer would also get a reminder a week before and the day before, making the total frequency equal to 3 messages.
We believe that less is more. The last thing you want to do is bombard your already busy customers with endless messages. Having a text record of their appointment date and time is already a helpful way for them to know when they’re due in your office without having to write it down or reach out to your staff via telephone.
Customize Each Message and Watch Your Tone
Today’s text message reminder systems allow you to customize your customer outreach messages with a variety of personalized fields. These can include but aren’t limited to first and last name, birthdate, appointment date and time, insurance provider, the reason for the appointment, and more.
It used to be that the reminders were very basic and robotic. Now, however, they do a much better job of sounding like a personal message from a friend. As an example, first-generation appointment reminder systems might have sent out something like this:
Hello. Please reply YES to confirm your appt at 10:30 am on March 2nd at ABC Vision Center.
Though this message does its job, it’s impersonal and robotic. Contrast it to this text message that can be sent from Weave:
Hi, Jake. This is Coastal Family Dental. Just a reminder of your appt on July 12th at 8:30 am. Does that still work for you?
Not only does this message sound more personal by incorporating customer details, but Weave’s system will automatically confirm any affirmative response to the message.
Stick to the Important Details
Automation can be fun to play with, and it can be tempting to provide your customers with every detail imaginable in a text message reminder. Though it might seem more information and customization would be a good thing, there’s a balance that you should strive for.
Remember, the goal of these messages to remind your customers about their appointments to reduce last minute cancellations and no shows. If you provide too much information in this simple and basic message, you’re likely to confuse your customers and cause extra work for your staff.
Here’s an example of a message that bombards your customer with information:
Hi, Jake. This is Coastal Family Dental. Just a reminder of your appt on July 12th at 8:30 am. FYI – we’ve also made some important changes to our billing systems, so please make sure you bring your insurance card to this appointment. See you tomorrow!
While you should certainly keep your customers in the loop with any necessary changes to your office, an appointment reminder isn’t the place to do this. Instead, this information can be sent in a separate text, via an email or by making a telephone call.
By adding this extra tidbit of info in an appointment reminder message, it’s likely to cause your customer to have follow-up questions, and they may call the office to ask for clarification. This negates a large portion of the benefits you get by automating this routine office task.
Comply with Customer Privacy Laws
Leaving voicemails for customers while still complying with HIPAA laws can be challenging. Your staff has to remember to avoid sharing any personal details about the appointment. Best practices dictate sharing only the doctor’s name and the date and time of the appointment on a voicemail message.
Because the message is going directly to someone’s personal mobile phone, it can be easy to forget that these messages still must maintain your customers’ privacy. It’s not unusual for someone else to see a phone screen, so if you’re sharing personal details about the appointment for anyone within viewing distance of your customer’s screen, you can be in a world of trouble.
So, remember, when sending a text message to a customer, abide by the same privacy laws as if you were leaving a voicemail.
Include a Cancellation or Rescheduling Procedure
Smart offices take an extra step in their text message reminders. Not only do they remind customers of the date and time of their appointments, but they also include instructions for confirming, canceling or rescheduling their appointment. This makes it easy for the customer to take necessary action and it also arms your staff with data. Instead of their text messages going into a black hole, they’ll know immediately if the customer is planning on making it to their appointment. And, if the customer doesn’t confirm via text, your staff will know that they need to follow up.
One technique that offices are having success with is a “click to call” option if they want to reschedule. This is invaluable to offices because it puts some of the rescheduling obligations onto the customer. Think of it this way: if a customer simply presses “2 to cancel,” the burden is now on your office staff to try to reach the customer to reschedule. However, by making the customer call to reschedule, they’ve taken a proactive step in making a new appointment. Your staff’s follow-up activities are drastically reduced, and they can focus on more important tasks.
Allow Customers to Opt Out
Even though text message reminders are convenient and helpful for your office, you may have some customers that don’t want to receive reminders. Maybe they’re ultra-organized, and they don’t need your systems. Or, perhaps they don’t want to be interrupted with text messages. Regardless of their reason, it’s crucial to respect and abide by their wishes.
Include a short snippet of text at the end of your appointment reminder letting them know they can opt out of receiving future text messages. A straightforward, “Reply stop to cancel” is all you need to show your customers that you’ll respect their wishes if they choose to stop hearing from you.
The instances of customers opting out should be few and far between as most customers will appreciate a polite reminder before their visit. If you’re getting several customers opting out, examine your frequency. Are you sending too many messages? If so, limit your reminders to only one note and see if that solves the issue.
Text message-based appointment reminders are quickly becoming the norm among offices in all industries. They’re helpful to customers, lighten the workload of office staffers, and they help to reduce missed appointments and last-minute cancellations drastically.
Before implementing this technology, it’s vital to keep your customers in mind. As you set up your system and draft your messages, follow our suggested best practices and aim to provide your customers with a messaging experience that you, in turn, would like to have.