When you run an appointment-based business, scheduling clients beforehand is key to your efficiency. At the same time, you’ll inevitably have to contend with drop-ins.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, accepting drop-ins had its pros and cons. They may have netted you more business, but they might also have upset your staff. It was a question of how drastically drop-ins affected your efficiency.
Now, however, drop-ins are also an issue of safety. Even if your state’s prohibitions have been relaxed and everyone is wearing protective equipment, drop-ins could still pose a danger. Not only can they make social distancing more difficult, but they increase the chances that you’ll accidentally interact with someone who’s sick. That can make customers feel uncomfortable, whether they tell you or not.
These days, you can’t decide on a whim whether or not to allow drop-ins. There’s a lot more to consider than your bottom line. To choose, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What are the conditions in my community?
In the U.S., the federal government’s approach to managing COVID-19 has been to put state and local governments in charge. So, before deciding whether or not to accept drop-ins, be sure you consider the conditions in your city and state.
There are two parts to this: laws and cases. First, you’ll want to look into what’s allowed in your community. Are there occupancy restrictions you might run afoul of? Must everyone wear masks in public places?
The second piece of the puzzle is active cases. Rather than checking any one day, look at trends for the truest picture of conditions on the ground. Across the last three days, week, and month, have cases generally been rising or falling?
2. How much space do I have?
Your operating capacity has to factor into your decision. Even if you’re nowhere close to fire-code limits, you may not have enough room for people to stay 6 feet apart.
If that’s the case, it’s important to serve the people who booked an appointment first. Customers will feel cheated if they’re denied entry because someone off the street stole their time slot.
The larger your space, the more likely it is you’ll have room for drop-ins. If you’re working in cramped quarters, don’t take the risk.
3. How much do I rely on drop-ins?
For some companies, denying drop-ins is no big deal. If your customers are religious about making appointments, there’s no reason to take the risk of letting random people in.
If you’ve been keeping track of your traffic, you can get a good idea of how many drop-ins you’ve had in the past. Compare that with data from your scheduling software. Determine what proportion of your business comes from each source.
What if your customers are mostly drop-ins? You may need to encourage more people to use your scheduling software. Offering a slight discount for booking online is a good way to do it.
4. How much do my clients value a drop-in option?
Some clients are more likely to drop-in than others. Know your regulars, but realize that things may change due to the pandemic.
In order to gauge your clients’ feelings, send out a survey. Offer a gift card to encourage responses. In your survey, ask about:
- How frequently they plan to come in during the pandemic
- How concerned they are about safety
- Whether they’re able to make appointments using your software
- How much they care about flexibility
Surveys are great for at-a-glance feedback, but you may want to get your top clients on the phone. Set up feedback calls to get more detailed insights. Your customers are critical to your business, so they should have a say.
5. Do I have a drop-in policy?
If your company already has a drop-in policy in place, take a moment to review it. It may be time to start enforcing it. What if you haven’t set guidelines on drop-ins? Now is the time to create them.
Drop-in rules run the gamut. Some companies accept them unconditionally, while others forbid them entirely; most fall somewhere in between.
An “in between” answer might be a waitlist. That way, if someone cancels an appointment, a drop-in customer could take their slot.
Figure out how much time drop-ins will have to wait if they show up. Set expectations with a sign on your door. You don’t want to surprise people with an hour-long wait.
6. How will I publicize my policy?
If you have a drop-in policy, it’s important that customers can find it. A sign on your door isn’t sufficient because some of your customers likely drive dozens of miles to do business with you.
Be sure to post your drop-in policy online. Add it to your social media sites. Consider using a business SMS service to share it with your most loyal customers. Proactively informing people of your policy doesn’t take much time, and it’s important for a sticky customer experience.
7. Should I do it immediately?
Just as states are reopening in phases, so are many companies. It’s up to you: You could choose to disallow drop-ins until cases drop to a certain level, or until you can look deeper into your foot traffic.
For financial and personal reasons, you probably want to get back to normal as soon as possible. The trouble is, throwing caution to the wind could make things worse than they already are. It may not seem like a big deal, but how you handle drop-ins could have big consequences for your company.