All posts by Jason Barnes

How Analytics Can Help Your Small Business

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How Analytics Can Help Your Small Business

In our increasingly digital age, it can be all too easy for a small business owner to become overwhelmed by a sudden glut of available data. It seems like every new gadget or operations upgrade connects to the internet and includes an opportunity to accurately measure something or other to which they previously gave very little thought.

Some business owners make the rookie mistake of collecting as much data as possible, meticulously entering it into spreadsheets, and more or less leaving it at that. Successful entrepreneurs, on the other hand, understand that increased opportunities for data collection can be helpful, but only when those analytics are leveraged. Simply stated, they know the difference between raw data and actionable data.

The time to be impressed by internet-enabled devices that spit out new forms of previously uncollectible data is over. Small business owners, in particular, need to bring an increased level of discernment to data that’s merely “cool” vs. data that can help them increase efficiency and profits.

The best place to start is not by compiling all the data available to you but instead pausing long enough to write down a few simple questions. Only after you’ve decided which questions you’d like to answer can you begin to assess which analytics might actually prove helpful. Listed below are four questions just about any small business owner can adopt or adapt, along with pointers for how newer forms of data can help provide actionable answers.

1. Where are we wasting time?

The difference between time and money is that money can be replaced. Business owners and managers should be setting the tone in terms of effective time management during office hours. When management consistently demonstrates respect for the value of time, that attitude tends to filter down to the frontline staff. Conversely, managers who call meetings for no apparent reason can’t reasonably expect employees to place much value on anyone’s time.

Nowadays, there are many scheduling apps that include reporting features that will allow you to more effectively track how you’re spending time and whether or not that investment is paying off. For example, time-tracking analytics can be cross-referenced against customer billing numbers to assess ROI. This relatively simple exercise can be eye-opening in terms of surfacing high-maintenance individuals who, as it turns out, are not contributing all that much to revenue. 

Is the relationship worth the ongoing effort? Time-reporting analytics can help you decide whether to limit specific client contact to certain levels of time commitment or not.

2. Which demographics are falling away?

An investment in customer relationship management (CRM) software can provide individualized feedback on customer preferences, allowing your business to tailor its offerings accordingly. Marketing campaigns can be tweaked to highlight products and services that seem to strike a chord with your regulars. Emails can include a higher degree of personalization. Special events can be designed to respond to feedback.

Additionally, CRM data can chart changes in your customer base and help you do a little exploration. For example, visits to your salon by your 50+ customers may have driven the lion’s share of high-end sales, but those visits have declined precipitously. Is the falloff in any way related to how your business is operating in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic? Or did your product or service line shift such that your more mature customers are no longer interested? 

If the latter, are you OK with that shift? Analytics provided by just about any CRM package should provide the data you need to analyze who your customers are, what they care about, and how you can tailor your business to their needs.

3. At what point do our website visitors lose interest?

Website analytics, in particular, are one area where it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of available data. This is where your ability to formulate relevant, niche-specific questions before you start excavating data is most likely to save you from being over-informed and under-actioned. In particular, owners of appointment-based need to pay close attention to website bounce rates and abandoned scheduling forms.

Did you lose the booking when they read your terms and conditions or when you requested prepayment? Was the user confused by being presented with too many options too soon? Website analytics can provide the when, but you might need to investigate further to find the why.

If, for example, you notice a high bounce rate on a website resource that features one of your most popular offerings, that definitely merits a closer look. The problem might be tied to something as complex as mobile browser compatibility or something as easy to fix as a lousy photo. As you study online analytics, scan for any anomalies as your first step.

4. What do our Wi-Fi analytics reveal about peak business hours?

By encouraging customers to freely use your on-premises Wi-Fi, you can learn a lot. What days and times of the week see the most walk-in traffic? You can use this information to make sure you have enough staff on hand to serve these impromptu clients.

If users sign on via their social media accounts, you can glean further insights from demographic data. Are certain age groups more apt to patronize your business at certain times of day? You can tailor everything from promotions to in-office music choices accordingly.

Proceed with caution, though. There’s a fine balance to be struck between using Wi-Fi analytics to enhance your bottom line and being too nosy. Customers are growing increasingly wary of the data that any service provider collects, so you’ll want to be proactive about this. 

A simple disclaimer informing customers that you collect data to enhance their experience with your business is typically sufficient. Not every customer will agree to your terms and conditions, but many will, thereby helping you increase the overall effectiveness of your staffing and outreach.

Analytics can be powerful tools … or they can be powerful distractions.

There is no denying that objective, empirical data is a good thing. The question every business owner needs to address is whether or not specific forms of data can be utilized to foster growth. Depending on the niche you occupy, newer forms of analytics might be interesting but not helpful. Focus on data that facilitates needed changes.

Don’t fall into the trap of collecting and charting data merely for the sake of collecting and charting data. As you encounter newer forms of analytics that can be conducted, stop and ask yourself whether you should. By keeping an ongoing log of relevant business issues you hope to address with data, your data-sifting process will become much simpler.

9 Pro Tips for Conducting a Hybrid Meeting

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9 Pro Tips for Conducting a Hybrid Meeting

As companies return to having employees in the office, they may realize hybrid operations are a must. 

Now instead of having meetings with everyone in person or everyone online, you need a hybrid solution. However, this solution creates a new set of meeting challenges to overcome. 

Here are a few smart tips for including video attendees in important in-person meetings without making it awkward for everyone.

1. Share the Agenda

Meetings run smoother when you have an agenda and stick to it during the meeting—sharing it before the session helps attendees prepare. It also helps keeps remote workers connected so they know what is going on and meeting expectations. Add any online references or links to resources that everyone will need. The central information center will help keep the entire team in sync.

2. Use the Most Current Technology

If your conference room equipment hasn’t been updated in a while, now is the time to do it. After a year of everyone being on video conferencing, people expect to see and hear everything clearly. As a result, old conference room telephone systems and outdated audio need to be replaced to keep remote participants engaged.

Don’t forget to check for software updates too. For example, platforms are adding emoji options to give video participants ways to react and share feedback without disrupting the meeting. Some providers are also developing new tools so participants in the room can use chat along with online members. 

3. Show Everyone’s Face if Possible

Remind online participants to keep their videos running and show their faces. If that isn’t possible, encourage them to use a professional headshot for their off-video setting. You also want to have cameras set up in the conference room to capture people’s faces in the room. 

It also helps if you can use a big screen to show the gallery view of participants. Helping everyone be able to see each other’s faces and expressions builds a connection with online participants. In addition, it helps remind speakers to make eye contact with people not in the room by looking at the camera as another person in the room.

4. Start the Video Before the Meeting Starts

Assign someone to start the online meeting room before the official start of the meeting. This can serve a couple of purposes. First, it’s a good time to troubleshoot any technical issues. Second, it gives you a chance to ensure video and audio are working so you can save the meeting time for the agenda.

Finally, it also gives online participants a chance to accomplish a tech check of their own. They’ll be more engaged and less stressed if they aren’t trying to fix their tech issues after the meeting has started.

As a bonus, they’ll be able to take part in the informal conversations and watercooler talk that happens between in-person attendees while they are waiting for meetings to start.

5. Discourage Side Conversations

Online members can’t hear what’s being said clearly when more than one person is talking. Microphones will pick up the side conversations, even whispered sounds. It’s a sign of respect to your video participants to make sure only one person is talking. That way, everyone can hear and participate.

Sometimes the conversation may get exciting, and people try to talk over each other. You may want to add a touch of humor and a trick to moderate this by using a physical “talking stick.” The only person allowed to talk is the person with the stick. When they are finished, they can pass the stick to the next person. The meeting leader should proactively make sure that online members get a virtual stick and a chance to speak too. 

6. Be Deliberate to Include Online Members

It’s easy to overlook people who aren’t in the room. To keep them connected and engaged, be deliberate about making sure to include them. For example, when the meeting starts, greet them by name and ask them to recap their weekend. Giving them a chance to share helps people in the room connect with the virtual audience as well.

As the meeting occurs, don’t forget to ask those on video if they have questions or comments. And remember, silence can be your friend here. It may take people a moment to come off mute, so don’t be in a rush to fill the quiet.  

At the end of the meeting, go around and ask everyone for their takeaway from the meeting. And start with those online. That guarantees members have a chance for any final questions or comments they needed to add. 

7. Plan Facilitation Help

Meeting leaders may find it helpful to ask a co-worker in the room to act as a facilitator. Their role here is to watch the online participants for indications they need to add a comment. For example, virtual members may turn off mute or use the raise hand function to indicate they want to speak. If members in the room don’t notice, the facilitator should mention it to the room so the online members can share. 

8. Use Group Collaboration Tools

Many times, meetings include whiteboard activities. Most platforms have added virtual whiteboards that video participants can also see. If the virtual whiteboard isn’t an option, make sure you have a way of showing the papers in the room on camera so that everyone can read them.

Another good practice is to use polling software that can consolidate responses from people in the room and online. That may mean employees in the room also need to have an online device with them in the meeting. Let them know this ahead of the meeting to have their device with them and the app installed.

9. Get Feedback

As people start returning to offices and in-person meetings, hybrid meeting practices will grow and evolve. Seek feedback from meeting attendees. Ask them to rate the meeting and provide suggestions for how to improve the experience. It may also help to make sure facilitators occasionally attend hybrid meetings virtually. This first-hand experience will help them get a feel for the online experience and what can be done better.

Conclusion

A recent survey conducted by McKinsey shows that nine out of ten executives expect to have hybrid work. Moreover, as people return to in-person operations, most people expect more remote work than before the pandemic.

The tips above can help make sure your hybrid meeting runs smoothly and keep everyone engaged wherever they happen to be located.

How to Use Appointments to Improve Your Decision-Making

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How to Use Appointments to Improve Your Decision-Making

Snap decisions often cause regrettable damage to our finances, relationships, and overall well-being. When confronted with a difficult decision, especially one that evokes an emotional response, it’s important to take your time and think through it from several angles. Try to let the emotional side take a back seat and consider your decision objectively.

This can be admittedly difficult to do. These decisions and the stress they cause can weigh on your mind and consume your time. How can you think about work or other important matters when such big decisions loom?

Sometimes, putting a placeholder on your calendar can relieve immediate stress and help you assess a wide range of situations more dispassionately. Doing so can also allow you to put the decision out of your mind so you can focus on tasks at hand. Your calendar placeholder ensures you won’t forget to revisit the decision, meaning you don’t have to fret it about in the meantime. That alone will give you some peace of mind.

Block Out Time for Projects and Decisions

Sometimes we have so much to do it’s hard to sit down and concentrate. Scheduling our time through our online calendars and apps can help us get important things accomplished. 

Look at everything you need to get done for the day. Then schedule out blocks of time for each task. This will enable you to really focus on one thing at a time and boost your productivity. 

Doing this also helps declutter your mind. Keeping all your tasks for your professional and personal life in your head can add to your stress and anxiety. Getting it all down in your calendar enables you to clear your mind so you can actually complete your to-dos.

You schedule appointments to get things done at work all the time. Why not do the same for your personal life? Add in your haircut or your kid’s soccer game. The less you have to keep in your head, the freer you are to be fully present. 

Adding appointments for time to reflect or do research will facilitate your decision-making as well. You might schedule time to pore over your budget to see if you can buy the SUV you’ve been eyeing. You might also set aside time to compare various models and the dealer incentives different brands are offering. Taking this prep time lets you keep your purchase a priority but prevents you from recklessly signing on the dotted line at the urging of a smooth-talking sales rep.

Assess How You Use Your Time

As you begin to schedule time for decision-making purposes, you might feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. How can you decide on the best uses of your time? Start by learning exactly what takes up your time at work and at home.

Calendar analytics can show you what you’ve been up to and inform your decisions about how you spend your time. Are you in meetings all day? Do you devote lots of travel time getting to a shared work space? Do all your kids’ sports have you on the road several days a week? With calendar analytics, you can learn the distribution of your calendar appointment types and see the locations of your meetings. 

With this information, you can re-evaluate and make necessary changes so you can make the most of your limited hours. If you need to schedule a time for decision-making purposes, it can open your eyes to the best days and times available.

Use Dead Time for Productive Purposes

After reviewing your calendar analytics, you might discover blocks of wasted or dead time. You might find yourself waiting at the doctor’s office or when picking your kids up. Maybe you have a 30-minute gap between meetings or a long commute. You can make better decisions about how you spend this time, too. These little blocks of time can really add up!

You can leverage this time to learn a new skill or catch up on an enriching podcast. These solo moments could also be a good time to come to a decision on an issue at the office or at home. When you see that gap, go ahead and add an appointment to your calendar. For example, “Reflect on ways to save money this month.”

Improve Your Time Management

When deciding on the best use of your limited hours, it all comes down to time management. Effective time management will increase your productivity and help you stay on top of your obligations both at work and at home. If you find yourself routinely completing work tasks at the last minute or paying your rent late, you’ll need to find ways to be more organized.

After all, disorganization can spill over into those big life decisions as well. Poor time management can cause you to have to make a quick, last-minute choice that you’ll regret later. 

When it comes to big decisions, giving yourself plenty of time to make informed, cool-headed  choices is key. Setting calendar reminders for these moments can give you the space and mental clarity you need to to set yourself up for a great life.

Time Blocking and Appointment-Making: 6 Tips to Get Started

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Time Blocking and Appointment-Making: 6 Tips to Get Started

The jig is up. It’s time to admit that multitasking is not a productive strategy for getting stuff done. Research actually proves that the opposite is true. Multitasking makes you less effective at all of the tasks you’re juggling, but time blocking can solve this issue.

The question now is, how can you hope to get multiple tasks done in a single day without multitasking? If you’re using an appointment software package, the answer is right in front of you. This program can be leveraged to use time blocking to increase productivity. Here’s how to get started:

1. Get to Know Time Blocking

To get started, you first need to understand what time blocking entails. This is a time management practice that involves the use of a calendar or scheduling tool to organize your time. 

You start by dividing your daily schedule into blocks of time. Each block is then assigned a specific task. During that time period, all of your attention is focused on the task at hand until the time block transitions to the next.

For example, let’s say you have a bad habit of checking your email throughout the day, diverting your attention away from other tasks and projects. You can use time blocking to set specific times during which you’ll read and respond to emails. Outside of those time blocks, email will be left out of the picture. 

2. Create a To-Do List

How do you figure out which tasks belong in which time blocks? Start by creating a daily to-do list. Write out everything you need to accomplish in the coming days, both small tasks and large-scale projects.

Next, rank your tasks in order of importance. Some tasks will require more time and attention, while others have specific deadlines that must be met. Prioritizing these tasks as such will give you a better idea of how to organize your time blocks. 

Now that you have your list, it’s time to transfer it to your schedule. Make time blocks for your urgent tasks early in the day. Follow up with larger time blocks for your other projects and fill in the cracks with meetings, breaks, and anything else worthy of your time. 

3. Practice Discipline

Time blocking will not work if you don’t practice discipline. Your appointment schedule will mean nothing if you constantly allow outside forces to penetrate your time management plan. 

If you find yourself struggling to stick with the same task without getting distracted, try using the Pomodoro Technique. This time management approach is a spin on time blocking that helps you break down your schedule into manageable pieces. 

It works like this. You schedule your time out in small windows, or blocks, anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour. During that time you focus on nothing but the task at hand. After the block ends, take a scheduled break of five to 10 minutes to recharge. These small sprints will keep your focus level high and help you accomplish tons of tasks in a single day. 

4. Ease Into It

Time blocking will take some getting used to. It can be overwhelming to attempt to schedule out every minute of your day if you haven’t done so before. Instead of diving right in, ease yourself into time blocking for a smooth transition.

There are a couple of ways you can ease yourself into a time blocking schedule. First, consider setting only large blocks of time that don’t come with the stress of a tight deadline. Keep each time block at least an hour long to get started.

Another method is to use time blocking for only a portion of your day. For example, intense time blocking can help you have a productive and structured morning, while the afternoon is left more open and free. 

5. Make Time for Everything

One of the most common mistakes people make when time blocking is not leaving enough time to complete tasks properly. Not everyone can be like Elon Musk, who schedules his day in five-minute increments. You’ll almost always be better off blocking off more time than you anticipate needing for a task.

Let’s use a team meeting as an example. Normally these meetings would last about an hour. Instead of blocking off exactly 60 minutes in your schedule, block off 75 or even 90 minutes. This ensures you have the necessary buffer time to move to another meeting or project even if this meeting runs a bit long. 

If you finish a task before your time block is up, there’s no need to stress. Rather, do just the opposite. Use that extra time to stretch your legs and organize your thoughts before moving to the next time block. When your schedule is laid out to your liking, you don’t need to move things up when extra time appears. 

6. Get Some Rest

It’s been mentioned a few times already, but getting rest is so important that it deserves its own subheading. While time blocking can help you accomplish more with your day, it’s not meant to burn you out quickly. Blocking off time for rest and relaxation is key to unlocking your full productivity. 

Using the Pomodoro Technique builds in some short breaks, but to really stave off burnout, you need to schedule more rest than that. Use time blocking to get more done in less time so that you can get home to your family earlier or take that fishing trip you’ve been longing for all summer. You’ll feel just as accomplished and have more time to enjoy life outside of the office. 

Time blocking will show you just how much you can get done in a single day. Start using your appointment software of choice to organize your time and see just how much more you can accomplish with this time management technique

Troubleshooting Automated Appointment System Complaints

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Troubleshooting Automated Appointment System Complaints

The benefits of automated appointment software are undeniable. Unfortunately, implementing a new system often comes with some bumps in the road. Setting up and then forgetting your new software may end up driving away customers.

If complaints arise, don’t just resort to tossing out coupons as a way to appease customers. Instead, develop a troubleshooting system that uncovers the root of the problem and leads you to solutions. 

Troubleshooting can be a frustrating and arduous process. Here’s how to make yours as painless and efficient as possible in order to help every one of your customers.

Identify the Problem’s Source

The first step is to determine if the complaint stems from an operator error or a system error. Operator errors can often be resolved with some top-notch customer service. System errors, on the other hand, require a bit more information and a hands-on approach.

How can you tell if the problem is a user error or an actual problem with your system? Start by focusing on the language. For example, a complaint might be “couldn’t fill out customer information lines.” At first blush, this might sound like an operator error. But if your form’s lines are too short to accommodate a longer surname, or the “Submit” button didn’t do anything, that’s a system fix that needs to be addressed. 

Don’t forget that some complaints may come from a system error that only occurs on the customer’s end. Someone loading your website with a computer from the ’90s may get a system error because of the outdated equipment. 

Improve the Resources for Customers

Even if your digging has unveiled an operator error, don’t blame the customer for their mistake. Instead, think of how to prevent future customers from experiencing the same confusion. 

For example, maybe a common customer complaint is that the instructions aren’t clear on your automated appointment system. Visitors get lost trying to follow steps and end up leaving in frustration. What can you do to improve their experience?

Perhaps a short video walking customers through your online appointment software will do the trick. Struggling customers can follow along with video instructions to make their first experience using new software a seamless one. 

Take Your System on a Test Drive

When was the last time you tested your online appointment software? The occasional test run will show you firsthand if there’s an obvious problem that customers are running into. You might even find that you fall victim to the same user error as everyone else.

Log on to your website as a guest. Better yet, get a friend or family member who’s less familiar with your system to go through the site. Does the functionality problem the customer mentioned happen to your friend? Or was it a one-time deal? 

If everything seems to be going smoothly, you should still adjust your approach and try a couple more times. You need to discover whether you can recreate the circumstances behind the system complaint. 

A good mechanic will do the same thing when you take your car in for a repair. They’ll take a test drive to recreate the noise you described when you dropped off the car. If you experience the same error as your customer, you’ll validate their complaint. It will also give you a better idea of what needs to be fixed. 

Look for Response Trends

You’ll get more insights from looking at response trends than fixating on individual complaints. Individual complaints may lead to band-aid fixes. Overall trends can help you find permanent solutions. 

Data is your best friend when you’re compiling and analyzing customer complaints. It allows you to connect the dots between isolated incidents. Once you find a pattern, you’ll have a better idea of where to focus your attention. Maybe you can even find the source from which all complaints stemmed. 

For example, you may find that a number of complaints boil down to poor loading speeds on your website. This could be a helpful discovery. It may be that your website has been struggling to process the load of your new online appointment system. With that info, you’ll be able to get the problem fixed in no time.

Look Into Your Back End

There’s a lot under the surface of your online appointment system. Unfortunately, understanding it all may be a little out of your wheelhouse. That’s especially true if you’re an entrepreneur outsourcing labor for your website. The good news is that your website developers should be able to do the heavy lifting for you. 

Get on a call with your vendor and discuss the nature of the complaint with them. They should be able to figure out what’s causing the customer’s problem and find a backend solution. In this scenario, you’re the intermediary between the customer and the techies who have the fix. 

Follow Up With Customers

When you’ve settled on a solution, follow up on its implementation. There’s no point troubleshooting complaints if you’re not planning to fix them. 

Following up with customers can accomplish a lot. For one, it shows them that you genuinely care about their experience with your company. It might even save you from losing them. After all, reaching back out to the customer encourages them to give your appointment software a second chance.

A simple email letting customers know that their complaint has been addressed will often be enough. When things really go wrong, though, you may want to call the customer. Thank them for bringing the problem to your attention. They’ll appreciate the courtesy and the resolution you came up with. 

Ready, aim, and troubleshoot your way to customer service excellence. Your effort to help every customer will make your business shine. Soon you’ll optimize your automated appointment system to the point that most complaints disappear.

Employee Vacations Don’t Need to Slow Down Your Business

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Employee Vacations Don’t Need to Slow Down Your Business

As summer arrives, many employees are eyeing their next vacation destination. Managing absences can get tricky for even experienced business managers, especially if they don’t plan ahead.

However, employee vacations don’t have to slow your business down. There are ways to plan around them, and even encourage them, to keep workflows running smoothly and employees energized. Here’s how you can make it happen:

Recognize the Importance of Employee Downtime

First of all, you need to acknowledge the fact that employee vacations are necessary. When a manager is willing to work with employees to take time off, the process becomes a lot smoother. Additionally, you’ll see notable improvements in workplace productivity.

The American Psychological Association’s Work and Well-Being survey found that 58% of workers were more productive and 55% believed their work quality increased following a vacation. Paid time off (PTO) allows employees to recharge and come back with an improved mindset, which ends up paying dividends to your business. 

Once you realize that vacations help your business instead of hurt it, you’ll be more open to implementing the following suggestions to make time off increasingly possible. Employees, in turn, will be more willing to cooperate with your PTO guidelines when you show them that you truly value their vacation time. 

Operate Above the Bare Minimum

A big reason why businesses struggle with employee vacations is because they regularly operate on a bare minimum basis. They have just enough employees to cover every shift. When someone asks for PTO, it means there’s no one who can pick up the slack. 

Employees who are overworked and feel incapable of taking time off will burn out quickly. This leads to a decline in job performance and high turnover rates, which are complicated and costly for businesses to handle. 

Sit down with your finance team and calculate the budget needed to add one or two more team members to your roster. Even having a few part-time or on-call employees can help cover essential tasks when a worker is on vacation or even taking sick leave. 

Encourage Vacations During Slow Season

While you’re building a culture that supports time off, try to do so as efficiently as possible. Businesses will be able to support employee vacations much more easily during their slow season as opposed to their peak months. 

Let’s use a car dealership and/or its service department as an example. The auto industry typically booms in the summer when driving conditions are optimal and travel is more feasible. You’ll want all hands on deck in these months, so encourage your employees to take more time off in the fall and winter. 

Of course, many vacations and family reunions are planned in the summer when kids are out of school. Don’t use the busy months as an excuse to never allow an employee to take time off. Work with all employees to stagger their PTO so you can cater to their personal situations and the needs of your business.

Update Your Scheduling System

The system that many organizations use to field and approve time-off requests is outdated. There are too many hoops to jump through, or forms get lost and verbal commitments are forgotten. If you really don’t want employee vacations to slow down your business, update your scheduling system.

Start by moving the entire process online. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already use online appointment software to benefit your business and its customers. Implement technology to do the same with your employee PTO scheduling. 

Scheduling software will keep employee shifts organized, ensuring that everyone knows their work schedule and every day is covered. PTO requests can be digitally submitted, reviewed, and approved in minutes. The schedule can then be altered accordingly without miscommunications or lost time. 

Establish PTO Guidelines

Rules are never fun, but they’re necessary to maintain order and equity. With a set of rules and guidelines in place, your employees will be able to better choose when to cash in on their vacation time.

For example, one of your rules might be that two employees in the same department can’t be on vacation at the same time. Workers then know that they won’t be able to ask off work, except for emergencies, if certain dates are already claimed. This also encourages employees to plan in advance so that a lack of foresight doesn’t cause them to miss a wedding or a family reunion. 

Transition as Much As Possible to Remote Work

Employees who work from home have much more flexibility when it comes to taking a vacation. In many cases, they can still work on the road, and the business won’t even notice they’re gone. Enabling as many remote work opportunities as possible keeps your business running even with vacation time in the mix.

For appointment-based businesses, there may be fewer opportunities right now for remote work. Still, you can look at digital customer service options or have your back-office teams work from home. Your IT technician can be just as effective from a hotel room in the Bahamas if you really need them. 

Another exciting development in the world of appointment-based businesses is telecommunication. Some professionals, such as physicians and therapists, can hold consultations with patients via videoconferencing. This gives these service providers more scheduling flexibility, allowing them to plan vacation activities around the appointments they have each day. 

Vacations are an essential part of life. Make sure both you and your team are taking the time you need to unwind and relax. And use these tips to make sure your business doesn’t suffer because of it. 

6 Tips for Scheduling Appointments with Reluctant Customers

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6 Tips for Scheduling Appointments with Reluctant Customers

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought upon us a long, grueling, utterly unprecedented year. Everyone — from individuals to communities to entire countries — faced their own unique and strenuous challenges. 

Luckily, the pandemic appears to be on the wane at last. While case numbers continue to fluctuate, people across the country are receiving doses of highly effective vaccines. As the vaccine rollout accelerates, getting back to normal seems increasingly likely.

And yet, for owners of appointment-based businesses, the challenges of COVID-19 are still ongoing.

On the bright side, many companies have opened their doors and resumed in-person work. However, even if employees are happy to return, many customers don’t feel the same way. Thus, persuading these customers to return for face-to-face appointments remains a hurdle.

If you’re facing this issue, don’t stress out — you’re not alone. Read on for six tips on scheduling appointments with reluctant customers.

1. Follow your state and local COVID-19 guidelines.

Official COVID-19 guidelines were implemented for a reason: to keep us all safe. Adhering to these guidelines will benefit your customers and your employees alike. So before your grand office reopening, be sure to brush up on these essential rules. 

Every state is different, so you’ll have to do a bit of research on your own here. Fortunately, there are convenient tools that can help you keep track of state-by-state guidelines, restrictions, and more.

Not only does following applicable laws protect your business, but it also helps put your customers at ease. If they know that officials have deemed it safe to conduct in-person business, they’ll be more likely to book a face-to-face appointment with you.

2. Continue to adhere to social distancing policies.

Social distancing has been the name of the game for over a year now. Remaining six feet apart and wearing masks feels like second nature these days.

As a result, even though restrictions are easing up, lots of customers don’t feel ready to return to mask-free, shoulder-to-shoulder life. This is why staying socially distant for a while longer is the right move.

Basically, you should continue to take precautions to handle your appointments safely. Ensure that everyone in your office wears a face covering, stays six feet apart, and avoids eating or drinking in common spaces. To take it one step further, you could even require daily temperature checks or rapid COVID tests.

By continuing to follow strict health guidelines, you’ll show your clients that you’re still taking this pandemic seriously. Customers will feel safe, protected, and ready to show up for an appointment.

3. Communicate with your customers.

Communication is more important now than ever. It seems as if the world is constantly changing, especially as COVID-19 restrictions can loosen or tighten every day. Right now, it’s vital to respond accordingly and keep your customers in the loop. 

If clients are uncertain about your current mode of operation, they may be reluctant to reach out and schedule an appointment. That’s exactly why you should make an effort to keep them informed about all the details of your office reopening. 

In other words, be sure to let them know that you’re following tips 1 and 2 above. If you consistently maintain communication with your customers, you’ll be well on your way to a rush of new appointments.

4. Use social media to your advantage.

Social media is an indispensable business and marketing tool that’s only grown more popular during this pandemic. There’s no doubt it will remain just as important post-COVID.

As you and your business readjust to normalcy, don’t forget to leverage your social media channels. It’s an effective way to interact with customers, provide real-time updates about the business, and promote your company. 

Whenever COVID-19 guidelines change in your area, make sure to post about your business’s response to the changes. This will help ease any lingering concerns your customers may have about COVID dangers.

5. Give customers an at-home option.

Although we’re moving closer to normalcy each day, the pandemic is still not over. Yes, cases have gone down in most areas, and vaccinations are well underway. Despite this progress, however, many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of returning to in-person work and social events. 

Unfortunately, some customers won’t feel ready to return to your business just yet — it’s that simple. If this is the case, convincing them otherwise may be impossible.

The good news is that we live in the 21st century, and we have modern technology at our disposal. If the nature of your services makes it possible, allow your customers to opt for a virtual appointment if they desire. It may not be ideal, but it’s better than missing out on the opportunity entirely.

If you give customers the choice to stay home, they’ll certainly feel safer returning to your business in the future. Even better, they will greatly appreciate your effort to be accommodating. 

6. Be open to adaptation.

If we can offer one final tip, it’s this: don’t be afraid to adapt. After the year we’ve had, perhaps this goes without saying. 

When you discover that one of your normal practices isn’t working, it may be time to try something new. For example, a hairstylist whose customers are still hesitant to return for in-salon appointments could make house calls. Or, weather permitting, they could move one salon chair outside for alfresco haircuts. 

Much has changed in the past year, and there’s no doubt that things will continue to change throughout 2021. So as your business transitions from virtual to in-person, it’s important to remain flexible. 

The pandemic has forced all of us to reevaluate and rearrange our priorities, both business-related and otherwise. Just remember: you’ve made it this far. Stay adaptable, and you’ll be fine.

Spring Cleaning Tips for Appointment-Based Businesses

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Spring Cleaning Tips for Appointment-Based Businesses

Spring has sprung, and with blooming flowers and singing birds comes the yearly rallying cry of spring cleaning. Something about those first rays of sun melting the snow motivates people to deep clean after their winter hibernation. While this is a beneficial practice for your home, spring cleaning should occur in your business as well. 

Whether it’s taking a broom and mop to the floor or cleaning up your operations, a good spring cleaning will keep your business running on all cylinders. The following ideas can help you direct your spring cleaning efforts to where they’ll be most effective:

Tune Up Your Website

When was the last time you looked at your website layout? There might not be anything inherently wrong with it, but it’s always good to tune up your online presence from time to time. After all, as an appointment-based business, you’ll get a lot of traffic to your website from customers looking to book appointments online.

Start by testing your loading speeds. If your website is taking longer to load as time goes by, focus your spring cleaning on backend solutions geared toward faster speeds. Also pay attention to how your website performs on mobile devices and determine whether a change in design is needed to recapture the attention of customers. 

Amp Up Your Marketing

While you’re online, take a look at your marketing strategy. Is it accomplishing what you set out to do? Is your ROI acceptable? Taking the time to reevaluate your marketing campaigns is always a good idea.

Even if your marketing efforts are exceeding your every expectation, you should be preparing your next approach. Rarely does a single marketing campaign survive without eventually going stale. A new strategy will attract customers whom your original plan didn’t appeal to and will keep your content fresh.

Your social media pages will need the most upkeep. Consumers are heavily influenced by what they see on social media, with over half of them using social media to research new products. Take a moment to review your profiles and newsfeeds and look for ways to improve your brand image. A change of wording or a new profile picture is a small touch but can make all the difference. 

Go Paperless

As useful as it can be, paper is easily wasted and can slow down your operations significantly. How many times have you dug through stacks of paper looking for a particular document only to come up empty-handed (or, if you did find it, taking twice as long as you had expected to do so)? Fine-tune your operations by going paperless.

Converting your paper-based system to digital platforms is much easier than it might sound. Cloud storage will take care of those paper stacks cluttering your back office, and online document management software will make it even easier for customers to fill out and sign paperwork associated with their visits. Other software applications will help with project management, communication, and any other requirement your business needs to fulfill. 

Clean Up Working Space

What’s spring cleaning without some actual tidying of your business? Now’s the perfect time to deep clean your workspace before the warmer weather and looser COVID restrictions bring customers pouring in. They’ll appreciate the clean and tidy atmosphere just as much as you will.

Start by cleaning everything visible to the customer. Bathrooms should be spotless, reception desks immaculate, and waiting rooms prepped for royalty. A clean business makes a good first impression and sets the tone for a successful appointment. 

Renovations are more expensive, but they are also worth considering. Long-term customers will especially appreciate the improvements you make to your business, such as a state-of-the-art waiting room, increasing the odds that they’ll continue to be loyal to your brand.

Organize Your Bookkeeping

Your business handles hundreds, if not thousands, of transactions per week. Bookkeeping is the active processing, tracking, and recording of these transactions. Bookkeeping is how invoices are sent and received, employee pay is monitored, and financial reports are generated. 

With so much information to keep track of, bookkeeping can be a daunting process. If the task is getting beyond your staff’s capabilities, consider outsourcing it to an accounting service or implementing accounting software like QuickBooks or Sage. Clear all your outstanding balances and check for discrepancies in your accounts. The more accurate and efficient your bookkeeping is, the better your business’s financials will be. 

Evaluate Your Goals

Your goals could probably use some dusting off as well. Are you on track to meet your annual goals? Have you been keeping pace with weekly and monthly goals? If your goal-setting has been lacking these past few months, now’s your chance to pivot in the right direction.

If your annual goals seem too lofty after the first quarter of the year, reevaluate them to make them more feasible. Let’s say your original goal was to triple your customer base by the end of the year. If progress has seemed slow, consider changing that to double. 

Then, establish weekly and monthly goals that will help you reach your new target. You might set a goal of getting five customer referrals per week or increasing walk-in appointments by 25% per month. By creating weekly and monthly goals that break down your year-end goal, you can use them as stepping-stones to get there.

Many hands make light work, so get your team together and dive into your business’s spring cleaning. Once you’re finished, make a plan to stay on top of all the areas you just tackled. Next spring, it will be much less of a project to rejuvenate your business.

How Much Customer Information Does Your Business Actually Need?

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How Much Customer Information Does Your Business Actually Need?

The majority of companies handle a lot of data and sensitive information every day. Appointment-based businesses, in particular, regularly keep track of individually identifiable customer details. Keeping the personal information of your recurring customers safe and confidential is increasingly vital for maintaining a positive brand reputation.

You may not need to ask for every piece of information you’re currently collecting from customers. Unnecessary information contributes to database clutter and makes the information that much more susceptible to malicious attack. The first step toward keeping a firm grip on the integrity of your data is to collect only what you need in the first place.

Personal Details

Start with the basics. You’ll of course need a first and last name. Other than that, you may not need many specifics. You can ask for general demographic info if you’d like, which may help with future marketing efforts. While information such as age, gender, and ethnicity are useful, they aren’t often required unless you work in a medical field where the information is relevant.

Sometimes it can add a personal touch to gather some information even though it’s not required. Birthdays, for example, provide an opportunity for you to reach out. With that piece of information, you can send the client a personalized message with a unique offer just for them to enjoy.

To protect your customers from identity theft, make it clear what information you will be requesting and what you don’t need. Knowing this will protect them should a hacker posing as your business attempt to scam them. For example, make certain that your customers know not to give their Social Security number to anyone, even if they claim to be speaking on behalf of your company.

Contact Information

Being able to contact your customer when needed is extremely important for appointment-based businesses. For starters, sending appointment reminders cuts down irritating no-shows. In addition, appointment reminders enhance your customer service strategy, as the lack of a reminder can be frustrating to clients juggling busy schedules.

There will be situations where an appointment time needs to be changed. Being able to contact affected customers will prevent confusion and alert customers about an adjustment before it’s too late. Ask for either a phone number or an email address, depending on customer preference. Let the customer decide whether they want to be notified via phone call, text message, or email.

Appointment Specifics

The information you collect at this stage will depend in large part on the industry you’re in. For example, a doctor’s office will record symptoms, prescriptions, and diagnoses to patient files to provide the best care possible with each appointment. Hair salons will record information about haircuts and treatments to easily refer to past appointments. Appointment-based personal trainers will keep track of workout information and so forth.

This type of customer information enables you to provide a personalized experience to each individual. Given the nature of this information, you might need to create your own documents to store information where it can be easily — and securely — accessed. Be sure to keep the notes section of your online appointment software or customer portals up-to-date with any necessary specifics.

Payment Information

If a customer makes payments at your store location, there’s no need to record payment information. They will have to authorize their payments each time and may want to switch cards on occasion, so saving payment information does you no good. Given that credit and debit card information is a primary target for hackers, you don’t want to store this information unless it is verifiably secure. Data that is not maintained on your servers can’t be breached.

Using online appointment software presents an interesting dilemma. Typically, a customer will continue to use the same payment method online since cash is clearly not an option. Online shopping is also more convenient when card info is saved to a local device. In this case, leave the option to the customer. Allow them to decide whether your system stores their payment information or not instead of collecting it by default.

Wherever you do store financial data, place the highest priority on keeping it safe. Look at options for encrypting data, make sure your website has a firewall in place, and choose storage options with state-of-the-art security. This way, even when your customers willingly provide their information, they can do business with you knowing their info is in good hands.

Referral Notes

What brought customers to your business in the first place? Did they see your billboard while driving by, or were they attracted to your business by social media? Collecting this information holds no value or sensitive details, so acquiring it poses little to no security threat. Knowing which marketing strategies are successfully bringing in business will also help you adjust your efforts to focus on the most effective ones.

Additionally, you’ll probably want to keep track of customer referrals if you have any sort of incentive programs in place. That way, you can make sure loyal customers who are bringing in friends and family are properly rewarded.

Customer Feedback

Any information you don’t collect from customer intake forms can be solicited through surveys and questionnaires. This is how you can get volunteer feedback either on-site or through online messaging. Examples of information you might want to pursue include:

  • Likelihood to refer the company to a friend
  • Customer service rating
  • User experience feedback for the website, mobile app, and online appointment software
  • Reason for not returning, if applicable

Knowing how your customer thinks and feels allows you to better cater to their needs. Without this information, your business can grow stale and out-of-date while customers move on to greener pastures. 

As you seek to make improvements, you’ll want to refer often to the feedback you’ve been given. It’s easy to miss the mark if you focus on making changes based on the thoughts of employees and management. Prioritize customer experience first, then move on to making changes manageable for everyone else.

What data your business chooses to collect is ultimately your decision to make. Just be sure to start out only asking for what is absolutely necessary. You can always open up the information funnel later on. 

Spend the extra time and care to protect your customers by being sensitive to their privacy and security concerns. Customers enjoy getting birthday coupons, sure, but that bit of company goodwill will go up in smoke if you’re responsible for exposing them to a serious data breach.

How to Establish Lasting Customer Relationships With a Standout First Appointment

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How to Establish Lasting Customer Relationships With a Standout First Appointment

The first impression is often the most important. With so many choices these days, customers can afford to be picky and make quick decisions regarding the businesses they patronize. When you finally hook a customer for a first appointment, that’s the time to reel them all the way in.

You only get one shot at a customer’s first appointment, so make sure you do it right. Putting in the effort for those initial encounters will boost your retention rates and have your business booked up all year long.

Send a Friendly Reminder

Start off on the right foot by sending a new customer an appointment reminder. A good reminder sets the tone for an upcoming appointment. It lets the customer know that you’re ready to serve them and that you’re anticipating their arrival. You would hate for the person to show up late for that first appointment or not at all.

Express your appreciation to the customer for entrusting you with their business and your excitement about seeing them soon. Make sure the appointment date and time are clearly visible and that the reminder includes links to any information that may be required beforehand. 

Start on Time

Making a customer wait past their appointment start time will tarnish even the best appointment experience. New customers may fear that every appointment is going to start late, costing them valuable time. To avoid raising such concerns, do everything you can to make sure you start on time.

A huge factor in appointment timeliness is reducing the number of appointments that run long. Overtime appointments push back start times for customers with later booking slots, which isn’t fair to them. Try adding some buffer time in between your appointments or increasing your appointment duration if overtime appointments are a recurring problem for your business. 

Online appointment software can also help get appointments started on time, especially for first-timers. For many industries, the first appointment is the longest, as the business collects initial customer information and gets any needed documents signed. When customers are able to complete these tasks online, they can walk through the doors ready to get started. 

Serve With a Smile

The importance of customer service can never be understated for appointment-based businesses. A NICE inContact survey found that 80% of customers will switch businesses due to bad experiences with customer service. That’s why appointment-based businesses can ill afford getting off to a rocky start with new customers.

So provide customer service training to all of your employees, as there are numerous factors that go into a good appointment experience. Much of it has to do with soft skills; listening, communication, and patience are all vital for a good customer service rep. You can use online resources to boost customer service as well, such as a website chatbot and a user-friendly app to help new customers acclimate quickly. 

Be Generous

For the first appointment a customer books, go the extra mile to wow them. Make them feel comfortable and welcome, and give them a taste of everything your business has to offer. After one great experience, they’re bound to come back for more.

For example, a hair salon could provide a enhanced package for first-time customers, letting them try out additional services at no additional cost. They’ll leave feeling extra pampered and have something new to look forward to on a return appointment. It can be easier to justify an add-on when you got it for free on your first appointment. 

Personalize the Experience

According to Gladlys “2020 Customer Expectations Report,” 84% of consumers said a brand that offers them personalized customer service will earn more of their future spending. Personalization helps consumers connect with a brand and vice versa, rather than feeling like another customer statistic. Pulling a ticket number at the DMV is an example of how a lack of personalization leads to a feeling of drudgery and low satisfaction rates among visitors.

Giving your customers choices allows them to personalize their experience by themselves. Accommodating different payment options and providing a variety of services is a great place to start. Updating your customers’ profiles to reflect their choices will maintain that personalization through following appointments. 

Ask for Feedback 

At the end of that first appointment, ask each customer for feedback on their experience. What went well and what didn’t? Knowing what resonated with them and what fell flat will enable you to make changes and ensure a better return appointment. 

Businesses that take feedback to heart enjoy higher customer retention than their peers. Even a small adjustment shows customers that you have their needs and desires in mind, which builds confidence and trust between you and them. Furthermore, when you show you’re receptive to feedback, gratified customers will refer you to friends, growing your client pool.

(Mostly) Stick to Your Guns

Each business has rules and regulations to uphold. The best example for appointment-based businesses is a late arrival/cancellation policy. Inform new clients of your policy ahead of time to ensure the expectations are clear. But if a first-timer runs late because they had trouble finding your location (or a parking spot upon arrival), do try to be understanding. Coming down on them too hard could make their first visit to your business the last.

Remind them, however, that you will need to enforce the policy going forward. Not to do so would be unfair to your existing customers. If you continue to have problems, look for ways to make your company rules more visible and easier to access in order to avoid future confusion. 

Nailing that first appointment will build strong relationships with your customers from the start, encouraging them to return soon and often. Make sure to keep up your customer service efforts with every appointment after that to keep them coming back again and again. 

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