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Designing your waiting room

With the right planning, your waiting room can show how much you value your customers and give them an environment which keeps everybody happy and relaxed

02 November 2020, at 8:55am

If your practice is like the majority of veterinary business­es, then there’s a good chance that you are underutilising your waiting room and missing an opportunity to drasti­cally improve your patients’ visits.

It’s not hard to see that waiting rooms are a major pain point in the patient experience; after all, they are places where emotions and anxieties are running high. When you combine that with uncomfortable seating, drab design and overcrowding, it’s no wonder that people and animals can often dread going to the vets.

The fact is that many clients are no longer prepared to tolerate a subpar waiting area. The world is moving on, and as high street retailers and other service providers constantly improve their offering, consumers have come to expect better experiences wherever they go.

First impressions really count, so don’t waste this chance to make a good impression. Provide thoughtful touches that show how much you value your customers and give them an environment which keeps everybody happy and relaxed.

Design tactics

By making changes to colour and lighting you can com­pletely update the feel of your waiting area. Lighting can make a massive difference to the ambiance – if you have old fluorescent strip lights, you could consider updating these to modern “daylight” LED panels or well-placed spot­lights for an instant uplift.

When it comes to introducing colours, it’s advisable to avoid too much bright red, yellow and orange in your colour scheme, as these colours are known to increase anxiety. For large areas of colour, stick to friendly greens and blues or other calming neutral shades.

It’s also quick and easy to cover a tired-looking recep­tion desk in white laminate board for a surprisingly simple refresh that will instantly modernise the look of your room.

Remove clutter

Over the years, clutter can build up around a waiting area. You should be ruthless in keeping clutter to a minimum. Remove all the old posters and business cards lying around the place. Install dedicated poster clip frames with your own posters in and no others. You could ask your recep­tion team to instigate a “no business cards” policy. Replace those dogeared old gossip magazines with some trendy lifestyle magazines, and keep them tidy in a rack and re­place each month.

Get rid of nasty niffs

This is a really important one. Customers really do rate your business subconsciously on the smell of the waiting room. The expensive option is to install a HEPA filter air conditioning system throughout your practice. The massive­ly cheaper instant fix is to use relaxing fragrance plug-ins, or even pheromone diffusers, with neat signs above them to advertise their effectiveness and increase counter sales of these products.

Another important thing to consider is the acoustics of your waiting area: a tiled floor and hard surfaces can be echoey and amplify loud dog barking. If possible, look at replacing tiled floors with non-slip vinyl, and add soft fur­nishings and plants to deaden sound and keep the waiting area quieter.

Don't underestimate the benefits of a good merchandise area in your waiting area – you should be making it easy for clients to buy things. Replace those ugly rusty old shelving units, and look around for fun, high-quality pet toys that really reflect your brand.

Lastly, don't forget the smallest room! Spend some time making sure your customer toilet is as good as it can possibly be! Make it light, bright and clean, and keep it nice smelling with good hand wash. It's surprising how many clinics neglect to do this smallest of steps.

There are also lots of smaller things you can do to make instant upgrades to your waiting room; here are a selection of quick and easy things that you could implement today: add leash clips to walls and reception desk; water bowls; snacks for pets; snacks for owners; quiet relaxing music; cool seating; flowers and plants; children's games area; blackboard-painted wall and chalk for kids; kids' colouring-in challenges; quality coffee machine; waiting room TV with all information kept up to date; Wi-Fi, etc.

One recent idea that I’ve seen in use is giving people pag­ers (like you may have seen in restaurants) so that they can go round the corner and get a coffee, sit in their car or take the dog for a little stroll before coming in, minimising the amount of time a client needs to be in the waiting room with a stressed animal and keeping other patients happy too.

Whatever steps that you decide to take, your waiting room is a reflection of your brand, and it's one of the only parts of your business that clients actually see, so put some proper thought and effort into making it a place that reas­sures your customers that they have chosen the right vet for their beloved pets.

Will Stirling is a freelance marketing consultant who has worked in small animal practice marketing for over a decade, consulting on marketing strategy. He now spends his time helping independent veterinary clinics to grow and thrive.

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