It’s the first port of call for owners and pets, but could you be getting your waiting room all wrong? Fit-out experts say yes, writes Rachel Smith.
A veterinary practice that has a good reputation and offers great medical care ticks a couple of boxes for pet owners—but that’s not the whole story. For a truly happy customer (and preferably one that’ll give you repeat business and positive word-of-mouth) the whole experience is important. And that starts in the first customer touchpoint: the waiting room.
Good design of your waiting room is key to client retention, says Geoff Raphael, design director at Medifit. “A lot goes into it, and little things can change the aspect and the feel of the experience. I think the majority of vet practices try to do a part of it, but some [miss the mark],” he explains.
And the area should be designed for owners as well as sick or injured pets, adds Ian Shapland, associate director in Marketing and Business Development at Elite Fitout Solutions. “Dogs and cats will often feed off their owners’ anxiety, so it’s actually about making the owners feel comfortable—by getting everything from the lighting to the furnishings to the colour scheme right.”
Imagine a waiting room that’s clean, comfortable and even a little bit cosy—with a wall of thank-you cards and photos from clients and their pets, a TV on low volume, some comfortable chairs and perhaps a water cooler. Now consider how your practice’s waiting room stacks up. Does the space make a good first impression?
“You want an owner to bring a pet in, look around, and feel that they’re in a nice space. Their pet might not be well, but they feel relaxed, and they might even go and browse through the retail area and spend a bit of extra money,” says Raphael. “If instead, pet owners are coming into an industrial-type space with cheap flooring, bad acoustics and chairs with rusty legs that may have been peed on, and the retail stand hidden somewhere down the back, all those important visual and tactile and retail cues aren’t at play. That’s a missed opportunity for the veterinary practice.”
Keep animals separate
You wouldn’t normally throw opposing species in a room together, so a vet waiting room can be a stressful environment. To reduce brawling and caterwauling, most vets probably already have ground rules in place—such as requiring dogs to be leashed, and cats and smaller animals to remain caged before going through to the treatment rooms.
“Most vets also have a dog and a cat side of the waiting area, and that can be easily done in the planning with wall dividers or a row of chairs,” says Raphael.
If you’re starting with a blank canvas, there are many other options to consider, adds Shapland. “We recently designed a veterinary waiting room with separate entrances for dogs and cats—which is ideal if you have the budget and the space.”
Six ways to add form and function to your waiting room
Animal pee, unsavoury odours and a cacophony of noise can all add up to an unappealing waiting room. Here’s how to make it more functional and comfortable.
1. Plan the spaces carefully. Don’t forget to involve your staff, adds Ian Shapland. “Get their input and plan for an easy day-to-day workflow. You also want to ensure the retail area is separate and prominent—and if possible, optimise any available natural light.”
2. Choose the right flooring and acoustics. Given the floors will need regular sanitising, a heavy-duty vinyl with mild slip resistance is the obvious choice. And don’t forget the walls and ceilings, adds Geoff Raphael. “You definitely want to choose acoustic wall treatments and ceiling tiles with acoustic qualities.”
3. Furniture. “There are beautiful, solid plastic chairs for outdoor settings that are comfortable and appropriate for a waiting room. They won’t rust and won’t look like you’re in a factory,” says Raphael.
4. Colour schemes. “Research has shown that different colours affect people’s moods in different ways,” says Shapland. “Tranquil colours can produce a comfortable and calming environment. On that note, opt for high-gloss, semi-glass or satin paint over matt; it’s easier to clean.”
5. Reception counters. “Think of a pharmacy; traditionally the pharmacist is at the back behind that high counter doing the scripts, then the staff deliver the medication to you in a little plastic box,” says Raphael. “But that’s disconnected from the customers. These days, the pharmacist is at the front counter chatting to customers. The same thing can work in vet waiting rooms, where you have part of the counter lower and more open. Less separation, more face-to-face.”
6. Private bereavement areas. If you have the space, include bereavement rooms in your design, says Shapland. “These provide a comfortable and private setting for difficult conversations—and give clients time to compose themselves without interrupting the flow of your practice.”