A helping paw: How PetDesk supports veterinary care and pet parents in the time of Covid-19

Ringing notification bell


of appointments driven by digital reminders

Target symbol with envelope in the middle


daily email volume to deliver COVID-19 alerts

PetDesk helps thousands of pet care providers in the US and Canada stay connected with 5+ million pet parents by giving providers a streamlined way of communicating health service reminders, appointment requests, and confirmations.

The PetDesk platform integrates with practice management systems, and enables providers to use channels including email, in-app push messages, text messaging—even postcards—to keep clients engaged and coming back. For practices who have embraced the technology, nearly 60 percent of all appointments are driven by these digital communications.

As PetDesk continually evolves to offer new features and improve the lives of pet care providers and pet parents, every decision made is governed by the three laws of PetDesk:

1. PetDesk will extend and improve the lives of pets;
2. PetDesk will improve the lives of pet care providers as long as that doesn’t conflict with the first law;
3. PetDesk will keep its employees content as long as that doesn’t conflict with the first or second law.

To serve their care providers, pet parents, and the pets themselves—especially now as COVID-19 and coronavirus disrupts care—PetDesk partnered with Twilio.

“PetDesk will extend and improve the lives of pets”

With these laws in mind, the team works to limit extraneous campaigns to ensure critical messages are opened and read, while delivering tens of millions of messages every year. For app users, communications are often push notifications or text; for non-app users, they start with an email and add channels as needed.

“One thing we’ve done that’s very different from competitors is to prioritize communications on the pet’s health so our clinics and their clients aren’t getting bombarded with other marketing messages,” said Sara Swenson, PetDesk vice president of product.

PetDesk’s email open rates show the value of this approach: for health-related messages like vaccination or annual exam reminders, practices see open rates of 80 percent (compared to the average global email open rate of 14.5 percent). Another notable learning was that a full third of pet parents were responding to those communications via text message.

“There definitely was an interest and we were getting messages that went well beyond the automated reply options,” said Swenson. “So we felt that there was demand from the client side to be able to message their clinic.”

PetDesk began to investigate turning one-way notifications into two-way conversations. Thanks to their positive experience with Twilio SendGrid for email, they turned to Twilio to enable those conversations.

Critical to their use case was the ability to programmatically host phone numbers to ensure that, whether texting or calling, the number of the provider was the same. What began as a small test ultimately led them to move all traffic to Twilio supporting notifications and conversational messaging before, during, and after care.

“Everyone at Twilio is just so responsive and timely at getting us live and that helped us make the larger decision of moving all that traffic over to Twilio,” said Swenson. “The level of support, attention to details, and a technology-based way of onboarding numbers gave us the confidence to trust moving our larger volume of messages over.”

Starting with a small alpha program, they began to learn more about how conversational messaging could improve the experience for clinic employees (the second law of PetDesk), as well. Enabling staff to handle more concurrent conversations at once—more than they could with email or phone calls—over SMS, has been eye-opening for many clinics.

“They just didn’t understand how much it could help facilitate really immediate, two-way interactions in a way that did not compromise, but enhanced the customer experience, which is really important,” Christine Gately-Evans, vice president of brand experience at PetDesk, said.

Focusing on SMS for these one-to-one conversations was a natural choice for the product team since it gave practices access to the greatest number of customers, including those without the PetDesk app installed on their phones. In the normal course of business, this proved important; during a global pandemic, it’s critical.

“Everyone at Twilio is just so responsive and timely at getting us live and that helped us make the larger decision of moving all that traffic over to Twilio. The level of support, attention to details, and a technology-based way of onboarding numbers gave us the confidence to trust moving our larger volume of messages over.”

Sara Swenson Vice President of Product

Pet care in the age of social distancing

With COVID-19 leading states to require social distancing, many clinics are relying on PetDesk to help communicate up-to-the-minute alerts on closures and new policies. Swenson said outbound email notifications have scaled to 10x the average daily volume, and SMS traffic is ramping up as well, reaching more than 5.5 million pet parents in just over a week.

During this period of uncertainty, where conditions continue to evolve, sharing information is critical. Across the board, PetDesk has seen more practices communicating more frequently (an increase of around 22 percent week over week) to ensure that their clients stay informed.

They’ve also seen providers turning to “touchless visits” to reduce risks for employees and pet parents. Using email to communicate policy updates and SMS to triage patient care and provide urgent communications, clinics are seeing pets while practicing social distancing. Among those spikes in email and SMS, Gately-Evans said the leadership team at PetDesk began thinking through ways to provide two-way access.

What began with hundreds of practices using the two-way messaging feature to support clinic visits doubled in just two days as the PetDesk team offered the service for free to help clinics respond quickly. Two-way traffic jumped 70 percent as providers worked to communicate with their clients. That rapid scale was supported by the ability to quickly onboard numbers through Twilio’s hosted SMS solution.

PetDesk sees this growth as an opportunity to help provide connections, information, and best practices from the traffic sent by clinics and input from their customers. They’re using that data to build new templates, share guidance, and are actively working to deploy new touchless solutions to help providers offer care without an in-clinic visit.

“We’ve heard stories about clinics rolling out red carpets and putting up stanchion signs, and facilitating two-way messaging for pickup and drop off,” said Gately-Evans. “Those are some things that really make the experience, given the situation, still really focused on the customer.”

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