Want reminder emails or texts to work? Try getting to know your customers first

No matter what age or type of customer, sending a reminder email or text message works best when your clients feel comfortable communicating using this high-tech approach, a university research study shows.

When people don’t show up for scheduled appointments, companies and service providers lose valuable time and money. In health care alone, “no-shows” range from 15% to 30% in general medicine clinics and urban community centers in the U.S. and can be as high as 50% in primary care offices.

Although some of the no-show appointment slots can be compensated by walk-in clients or patients, time that could have been used on other appointments is wasted, your office is inconvenienced and simply less efficient.

Given the wide use of email and text messages, the answer to no-shows seems obvious: just text or email customers or patients.

Think again, suggests research from Columbia University. This one-size-fits-all thinking will simply not work.

Researchers studied patients at a busy New York City medical office to find out the best method to remind people of an upcoming appointment.

They found that appointment reminders work best if patient (or client) preference is considered and followed. Once people express a preference for text message or email reminders, it seems natural to receive and accept these communications methods.

In short, when you remind patients or clients in a preferred way, they are more likely to attend the scheduled appointment, or at least cancel the appointment.

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Adapting the reminder email to your customer

The research confirms that people are becoming more used to receiving text or email reminders from many services—including banks, dental and physician offices and automotive service appointments.

These findings mean that if your clients or patients rarely or never use email or texting for anything but personal messages, a reminder email from your office will not matter.

The key is to spend a few minutes on some research of your own.

In other words, ask them how they want to be reminded of appointments. When you build a solid relationship with your clients or patients that demonstrates you care about their communications preferences, they will respond to an appointment reminder—no matter how you remind them.

You can talk with your clients or patients to find these answers, or ask them to complete a short written survey the next time they visit your office.

Another important finding from this research is that the success of appointment reminder systems does not depend on age. Elderly patients, for instance, are just as likely to show up for appointments when they are familiar with using text or messaging as a way of being reminded.

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And use of texting and email among baby boomers, those aged 65 and older, is soaring as seniors move towards more digitally connected lives. Around 42% of adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, up from just 18% in 2013.

Other research studies demonstrate the clear benefits of diving deeper into using text messages as appointment reminders.

In one UK study, text messages to patients increased influenza vaccine uptake by almost 3%. Another study, about using text messaging to recruit and enroll patients in clinical trials, found huge increases in patient enrolment rates—a trend that reversed poor results of email reminders.

So, before you type that text or email message reminder to patients or clients, think again. Ask your clients and customers a simple question: how would you like us to remind you of your next appointment? The answer will most certainly involve a mode of communications that is most comfortable and followed.