All posts by Jason Barnes

How to Optimize Your Videoconferencing Setup

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How to Optimize Your Videoconferencing Setup

To say that Covid-19 has changed things would be an understatement. Perhaps the biggest change we have had to make concerns our jobs. Even if you were fortunate enough to keep yours, there is a good chance you quite literally moved from the boardroom to the bedroom. While there might have been some bumps along the way— maybe involving that pesky mute button or maybe a lack of pants — by now, you probably consider yourself a videoconferencing pro. 

With the possibility that remote working will be here to stay, however, it could be time to think about things you could be doing to get more out of your setup. These six tips will help you become a videoconferencing master:

Use Better (or More) Lighting

Everybody wants to see your bright, shining face. It is essential that the room you’re in has enough light. It also needs to be in the right place. Moving a lamp closer to you or putting one behind the device or even just facing a window can make a big difference. 

Better yet, think about utilizing multiple lights in your workspace. Try placing a lamp on each side of your desk. For the best illumination, you may also want to consider buying a lighting kit.  

Improve Your Camera

The camera in your computer or other device is…fine. If your meetings are typically just brief check-ins with team members, it might be all you need. 

However, if you have to give presentations or demonstrate visuals that your team will need to see clearly, your best bet is to buy a webcam. While there are many to choose from, pick one with HDMI capabilities for high-quality video. Also, be sure that it is compatible with Zoom or whatever videoconferencing app you use. 

One more tip: Keep the camera at eye level. This is a great way to simulate real, face-to-face interaction.

Upgrade Your Mic

Like the camera in your device, the built-in mic will also probably get the job done. However, if people are constantly complaining that they can’t hear you well, it could be time for an upgrade. 

With the rise of telecommuting (not to mention all of those podcasters), there are now tons of mics available, and prices vary widely. Wearing a lavalier mic, a very affordable option, can vastly enhance your audio.

Consider Headphones

Speaking of sound, if you frequently have to ask people to repeat themselves, the problem could be you and not them. Headphones will immediately enable you to get better sound quality. Plus, if you have a noisy household — maybe you have a kid or two at home who’s learning online — they will let you tune out of the cacophony at home.

Those big, over-the-ears, Princess Leia headphones are one option. If you think they’re too obtrusive, earbuds are the much subtler choice. 

Boost Your Signal

None of the stuff mentioned above will mean much if you often have trouble connecting with your team. If your internet connection is slow or inconsistent, don’t wait to troubleshoot it. 

Try simply moving your device closer to your router. If, however, the router is old or unreliable, a new one may be in order. If getting a new router doesn’t help, try a wired connection. And if even that doesn’t help, ask your internet company to come take a look. 

Think About What’s Behind You

You may have the latest bells and whistles, excellent image quality, and audio so clear you could hear a pin drop. But what about all of the clutter on your desk or that stack of laundry behind you? 

If you have a mess in your home, you’re certainly not the only one. While you could clean it up before the meeting, just pushing it out of the frame might be your best option. Or, if you can, move your webcam to change the viewing angle. 

Whether your stint as a remote worker is winding down or just getting started, don’t wait to master virtual conferences. Even if you go back to the office, rest assured: You have many, many more videoconferences ahead of you. 

8 Tips for Cutting Down on Unnecessary Customer Emails

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8 Tips for Cutting Down on Unnecessary Customer Emails

The daily task of reading and responding to unnecessary customer emails can feel like an endless routine. You might think you’ve communicated every piece of information clearly and thoroughly. But some customers just don’t do their homework before sending an email with a question you thought you had already answered. 

Finding ways to cut down on unnecessary customer emails will decrease the amount of time you spend in your inbox and increase the amount of time you can grow your business. Here are some helpful tips for reducing unnecessary customer emails while keeping customers happy to continue working with you. 

Implement Online Scheduling

Your business may thrive on a personal touch that includes friendly small talk every time a customer calls to make an appointment. It’s more likely, however, that people want to quickly schedule, cancel, or confirm appointments as quickly as possible and move on. 

Offering an online scheduling option is a win-win for you and your customers, as it lets busy people communicate important information quickly and efficiently. Online scheduling also reduces scheduling errors, which are both frustrating for customers and costly in terms of staff time.

Better still, an online scheduling system gives customers the power to choose their preferred date and time for an appointment. This feature helps eliminate any potential back-and-forth emails and promotes a heightened sense of appointment “ownership.” Customers are far more likely to keep an appointment they set themselves.

Make Information Available Across Multiple Channels

Pay attention to the questions that seem to require an infinite number emails from you and your staff to answer. This is perhaps the simplest way to determine what information you should be providing to the public. The channels you select to convey that information may vary — your website, social media, and/or print — but the need to do so is plain.

Not that you’re trying to cut your customers off from all human contact. You’re simply seeking to serve them by heading off frequent questions. In doing so, you make your life easier as well.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Of course, no business will be able to entirely dispense with email anytime soon. Given that reality, consider the following tips for sharpening your own email conduct. After all, one of the best ways to encourage the behavior you want to see in others is to model it yourself.

Send Fewer Emails

This may sound overly simplistic, but every time you send an email, you invite the recipient to click the “Reply” button. Letter writers like to say “You gotta write ’em to get ’em,” but the reverse is also true. If you want to receive fewer emails, stop sending so many yourself.

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” Keep his point in mind when deciding whether email is in fact the best medium for the information you need to convey. A quick phone call, Slack message, or in-person conversation might be more appropriate.

Think Twice Before Clicking ‘Reply’ or ‘Reply to All’

Have you ever been part of an endless email thread of office lunch orders? If yes, did you enjoy putting work on hold long enough to read Ben’s request for beef on rye?

There are two equal and opposite errors to avoid when considering the dreaded “Reply to All” button. The first is needlessly copying a message to tons of people who don’t need to see it. The second error is not replying to all when all parties actually need to be informed. Choosing the right mechanism probably takes less than two seconds of thought and demonstrates respect for other people’s time.

Improve Your Subject Lines

We all skim our email inboxes trying to sift for important messages. Writing clear, specific, concise subject lines will endear you to your email recipients as it enables them to prioritize reading and responding as they think best. Providing only pertinent information will serve to minimize confusion.

Best practices include limiting every email message to one topic. If your email includes multiple issues and questions, it’s likely that one or more of them will be missed in the response. Don’t drift; stick to providing details only on what you’ve highlighted in your subject line.

Get to the Point ASAP

When speaking, it’s common to include superfluous details that help illustrate your point or reference a related situation as an aside. If you compose emails the same way you talk, though, even the simplest requests can turn into a novella.

Your goal should be to minimize the amount of time required for a customer to interact with your message, not win an essay competition. Lengthy emails will fatigue your recipients and increase the likelihood of a confused response.

Keep your salutation friendly but brief. Get to the point. Use your first few words to tell your recipient why you’re reaching out, what you hope to accomplish, and the expected time frame for a response. By doing this, you’ll avoid miscommunication and head off further emails requesting clarification.

Remember when email promised to make our work lives so much easier? The daily grind of reading and responding to unnecessary messages has since ballooned into a major contributor to lost productivity. But by following these tips to cut down on unnecessary emails, you’ll soon be able to reclaim your inbox — and your sanity.

8 Best Employee Perks on a Budget

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8 Best Employee Perks on a Budget

When business is good, your employees should share some of the reward for the work they do every day. One obvious way to keep your workers motivated and encouraged is to provide a good benefits package. Tossing an extra perk or two into the mix could well prove a deciding factor in your ability to attract and retain hard-working employees.

Your business might be dealing with a tighter budget these days due to the recent pandemic, or perhaps you’re managing a new startup without a lot of wiggle room. It is possible, though, to offer your employees a few perks without breaking the bank. Here are just a few ideas:

1. Offer a Flexible Schedule

Time is everyone’s most valuable asset; it’s the one thing that can’t possibly be replaced. Consider allowing your employees to spend their time the way they’d prefer.

Of course, every employee will need to put in a certain number of hours every week, but allowing at least some flexibility can provide a boost to morale. You might even be surprised to find that this perk increases productivity.

As long as deadlines are met, an employee coming in a little late or leaving early shouldn’t be a huge cause for concern. Pushing this idea one step further, consider offering remote work options that allow trusted employees to transition away from the office to home as needed. Being allowed to finish projects at home allows workers to stay connected to family and keep office stress levels to a minimum.

2. Keep It Casual … Within Reason

When employees need to be in the office, allow casual clothing as long as it stays appropriate and is not a distraction. Giving employees some leeway to decorate their own offices increases their comfort. This sort of freedom is greatly appreciated and can be implemented without any additional bottom-line cost.

Be aware that you might need to enforce an occasional upgrade to employee dress code on days when potential client meetings are held on site. Be clear with all of your employees about what you expect on special days and the impression you wish to make. Casual wear can be great for spurring creativity, but it might not be the best choice when courting investors.

3. Offer Employee Discounts

Whenever possible, extend an employee discount on your products and services. This can be a welcome bonus if your product is highly desirable or your service is needed on a regular basis. If you run a cleaning company, say, provide a discounted price for employees requesting the service or a discount on supplies they can take home.

Maybe your company doesn’t offer products or services employees need. A worker at a marketing firm won’t have much call for those services unless they’re launching a business of their own. In this case, get creative as you look for partnerships with other companies. Maybe your company could offer in-kind services to a local restaurant. Offer to run a marketing campaign for them in exchange for food vouchers you can distribute to your team.

4. Invest in Wellness Programs

The health of your employees should be a top priority. Many companies already offer some form of health insurance, but expanding on those plans can be cost-prohibitive. Fortunately, there are other health and wellness perks you can offer in the meantime.

For example, some gym memberships cost as little as $10 a month, and they will enable your employees to manage their health more effectively. Vouchers for spas, physical therapy, or massage studios are another wellness perk you can offer your team.

5. Consider Expanding Paid Time Off

Everyone appreciates getting a day off with pay. While you can’t be expected to pay your team to do nothing continuously, offering an extra day off every so often will score huge points. You send a strong signal to your employees that you value them as human beings and see them as more than productivity machines. An extra Friday off gives employees a chance to plan a short-term vacation without worrying about lost income.

Even better, giving employees the option to either take a paid day off or accept those hours as additional pay puts them in control of your largesse. Hopefully, you have at least a few employees who love what they do and would be grateful to get a little extra cash instead.

6. Provide Opportunities for Professional Development

Take an active interest in your team members’ career goals. Check in with them regularly to ask how they’d like to expand their skill sets. Your company will benefit as your employees expand their network and take advantage of opportunities to advance their career. You don’t want to become known as an employer that holds people back.

As appropriate, send your employees to conferences, speaking engagements, and networking events as they become available. If possible, offer assistance for any college courses or online classes employees are taking to hone new skills. As you invest in their future, you’re likely to benefit from improved work performance — and greater loyalty.

7. Promote Ride-Sharing and Office Commute Assistance

Most employees have to commute to the office every day. Managers can look for ways to make drive time a bit more bearable by offering fuel credits or bus cards as an alternative. Once the pandemic passes, organizing an office carpool would help employees save money and appeal to those who want to minimize their environmental impact.

Some companies are even offering a fleet of office bicycles as a clean alternative to cars. When the weather permits, employees living relatively close to the office can choose to leave their car in the lot overnight and get a little fitness time as well.

8. Host Informal, Upbeat Company Activities

Holding some after-hours activities is a great way to bring your team closer together. Company activities can be a nice employee perk as long as the events are properly planned and you make it clear that participation is 100% optional.

If your budget allows for it, look into discounted group tickets for athletic events, movies, or other entertainment. You might even think about offsetting the cost of babysitters or otherwise helping those with families enjoy a worry-free night out.

Take some time to see what your company can reasonably offer without sacrificing its stability. Offering your team one perk is better than nothing, and you want to be able to offer something without regretting it later. Perks are best offered with an open hand and a sincere heart.

Online Appointment Software Says a Lot About Your Business

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Online Appointment Software Says a Lot About Your Business

Not every company uses online appointment software, at least not yet. Your business is sure to stand out — in a good way — if you choose to become an early adopter. Potential customers will take notice of your willingness to embrace newer technologies while simultaneously appreciating you for making their lives easier.

Your company may have chosen to transition to online appointment-making for the sake of convenience, financial incentives, or both. The good news for you is that your decision sends several positive signals. If you’re on the fence about diving in, it might help you to consider some of the positive, unspoken PR an online system brings with it:

You Respect People’s Time

Using online appointment software isn’t just about saving time and money, though it will definitely save you both. In addition to those benefits, online appointment-making saves your customers time and hassle. They’ll appreciate anything you can do to make their interactions with you as simple and pain-free as possible.

Few things frustrate a customer more than long wait times and unexpected delays. Online appointment software combats both of those problems by having customers choose from a predetermined list of options. Studies have shown that you are actually doing your customer a favor by limiting their options.

When implemented correctly, this feature helps to narrow the window of time customers spend on the front and back end of their appointment. Who doesn’t like freeing up some extra time?

You Embrace Newer Technologies

Companies that embrace any innovation that makes doing business easier are a welcome respite from those that provide poor customer service. However, it’s important that you not adopt anything just because it’s new. Instead, look for newer tech that demonstrably makes your business run more efficiently. As your company fine-tunes its practices, your customers stand to benefit.

Consider a few ways using an online appointment system will improve your business operations. When customers are able to set up their own appointments, it frees up at least a few of your employees to attend to more pressing issues. Perhaps the increased efficiency will allow you to add an extra appointment slot per hour, thereby serving more customers and increasing revenue.

You’re Willing to Make Investments

Free business software is typically worth every penny you paid for it. Jokes aside, you’re unlikely to come across enterprise-level software that’s free and trouble-free. Once you’ve accepted that your business must invest in the software tools it uses, you won’t be as tempted to sabotage your business using cheap solutions.

Online appointment software is no different. Reliable packages often run on a subscription basis, typically with a monthly recurring fee.

Moving into new tech shows customers that your company doesn’t pinch pennies when it comes to making their experience pleasant. They’ll appreciate that you’re willing to invest in the technologies needed to facilitate their interactions with you.

Play the long game. You are committed to upgrading when needed, with an eye fixed on how your business operations make life better for your customers. They, in turn, will appreciate your stability and be less likely to start window-shopping your competitors.

Your Employees Are Capable

Is there anything more comforting than arriving at an appointment to be greeted by an employee who clearly knows their stuff? Efficiently handling appointments both online and as customers enter your facility leaves a lasting impression. 

In case you feel any trepidation, rest assured that no one needs a degree in information technology to operate online appointment software. You won’t need to hire a computer engineer from MIT to install your system, either. 

You will, however, need to commit at least some time up front to make sure all of your employees know how to use the new system. No need to stress, though. Most will get the hang of it in no time.

You Place a High Priority on Data Security

Online appointment software moves a lot of information around on a daily basis. Customers expect you to keep their information safe, preventing credit card or identity theft stemming from vulnerabilities in your system. While online appointment software increases data capacity, it does so while holding data in an iron grip.

Savvy customers will recognize that moving their appointments to an online system is in fact more secure than traditional means. Data can be quickly compiled, archived, secured, and deleted on command. Software vendors, for their part, have a huge stake in keeping the information of your clients safe.

Using online appointment booking enables stronger confidentiality. The risk of someone overhearing your information is eliminated. Patients visiting the doctor’s office can type out notes regarding the nature of their illness instead of announcing potentially embarrassing symptoms in a waiting room.

You Cultivate Relationships

In addition to offering increased convenience, customers will see that you want to establish a relationship with them. Tracking appointment frequency with your new system makes it easier to remember individuals who enter your business regularly. This allows you to demonstrate that your company sees people as something more than dollar signs, but individuals with names and faces. 

Make it a point to use the personalized aspects of online appointment software to your advantage. Personal interactions give infrequent customers more reason to become regulars. When an employee sees a name pop up on the screen as a customer walks in — or even a photo, if allowed — they can make a point of addressing the visitor by name. The employee will also have access to important details about the customer’s most recent appointments.

You Encourage Flexibility

Making life easier for your customers is almost always the right thing to do. When it comes to appointments, this means greater ability to roll with the punches that come with daily life. Personal matters and unexpected circumstances will arise that cause customers to reschedule appointments. Online appointment software can help with that.

With access to the internet, or even a mobile app, your customers can make adjustments to their appointments when needed. By allowing them to feel a heightened sense of control whenever life throws them a curveball, you ease your customers’ tension and demonstrate a willingness to help them refocus on more pressing concerns.

Implementing online appointment software will help place your business in a positive light. Making life easier for your employees as well as your customers sure sounds like a win-win. Schedule some time to look at your options, remembering to assess costs through the lenses of increased productivity and customer loyalty.

6 Ways to Smooth Your Transition to an Online Appointment System

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6 Ways to Smooth Your Transition to an Online Appointment System

Online appointment software is infinitely more efficient than taking bookings over the phone. Your employees won’t get interrupted by the lines ringing off the hook everyday, and customers can book appointments more quickly and whenever they want.

If you currently rely on a phone system for appointment bookings, you’ll need to undergo a transition process. To make life easier for everyone, use the following tips to make the switch from phone to online bookings seamlessly:

Start With the Setup

Before you start transitioning online, make sure your infrastructure is good to go before launch. Run some tests with your online appointment software to make sure it’s accurately tracking customer information and setting up appointments without errors. Also take note of any delays or double bookings that pop up so you can resolve these issues before they get out of hand. 

Once you’ve worked the kinks out of your online appointment software, you’ll be set up for a smooth transition experience. If you neglect this step, you may have to take your appointment system offline while it’s being repaired, adding further bumps to your transition. Be sure to check everything from confirmation emails to autofill selections when running a pre-launch audit. 

Change Voicemail Messages

Give customers a heads up by changing your voicemail message. In it, you can notify customers of your plan to switch from taking bookings over the phone to only accepting them through online appointment software. Those customers who are used to calling in to make their appointment will be quickly notified of the change.

You can set up your voicemail message to run a script describing the new system and how to access it before a call is put through. This allows customers to get most of the information they need before talking to one of your employees. If they can make the switch to your online platform on their own, your employees will be spared from explaining the details over a dozen times a day. 

Another potential option is having your voicemail messaging act as an extension to your online appointment software. An automated response system will set up appointments for your online system while using a call-in feature that some of your customers will continue to prefer using. 

Incentivize Online Booking

As you make the transition, incentivize the use of your online appointment software to lure customers over more quickly. Those resistant customers will feel more inclined to give the new system a go if you give them an offer they can’t refuse. 

While you don’t want to break the bank with incentives, even the smallest offer will carry some weight. Consider providing a discount code for customers using your online appointment software for the first time. This will give customers the chance to learn the new system in pursuit of a lower price.

Some incentives are built into the online appointment software itself. For example, being able to prepay for appointments is a huge plus for many customers. The ability to book an appointment outside of normal business hours is another great perk for customers with busier schedules. 

Provide a Transition Period

Even with good incentives, you shouldn’t expect your entire client base to switch approaches overnight. There are a lot of moving parts, and a transition period will allow for a smoother change for both your business and your customers. 

Make customers aware of the strict deadline by which they will have to start booking appointments exclusively through your online appointment software. This advance notice will indicate when they need to commit to the switch and provide enough time for them to acclimate to a new system of operations.

Leverage Marketing 

Old and new customers alike need to know when you decide to start implementing online appointment software. Leverage your marketing resources to inform everyone that they can now schedule appointments online and that phone bookings will be discontinued. Start by displaying this message clearly on your website’s homepage and your social media pages.

If you send out newsletters and messages to your customers, add information about the change to your next e-blast. Include links to relevant information or your new customer portal to help them get started. A robust social media strategy can also spread the word about your new system to followers, as well as net you some new customers. 

Walk Customers Through the Process

Each time a customer walks through your doors, take the time to walk them through the online appointment process and answer any questions they might have right then and there. This gives each customer a chance to voice concerns they might have over the change, which they otherwise might keep to themselves.

This also offers you a chance to encourage customers to set up a return appointment on the spot. This will give your retention rate a boost and fill up your online appointment calendar much faster. 

Look for ways to guide your customers through the process online as well. AI-driven tools such as chatbots can answer frequently asked questions or present a guided tour through the online booking process. 

The smoother your transition process, the sooner you can get to taking care of customers and booking appointments like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t rush the process — that can cause you to make mistakes that will set you back. Take the transition one step at a time to make sure your online appointment software takes its proper place from day one.

7 Things Customers Want in Their Online Booking Experience

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Online Appointment Software Says a Lot About Your Business

Online booking and appointment software makes life easier for you and for your customers. But investing in software is just the start. How are you going to give them a great booking experience?

Customers have high expectations for online scheduling software. They want a personalized experience, just as they’d receive from your receptionist. But they also want certain things humans simply can’t offer, like always-on account access. 

Are you meeting their expectations? Here’s what they’re looking for:

1. 24/7 Access to Online Booking

Many people manage their personal appointments before or after regular business hours. Appointment software can and should be available 24/7. That way, customers can add, adjust, and cancel appointments at their leisure. 

If you’re worried about customers with unanswered questions hesitating to book after hours, set up a frequently asked questions page or, better yet, a customer service chatbot. These automated scripts can address most, if not all, of the questions customers might ask in the booking process. 

Just as important to customers as being able to access your appointment software at all times is being able to access it from any device. Make sure the program you use is accessible on mobile. Try it from a few different devices to be sure it loads well on screens of different sizes. 

2. Online Booking Speed and Efficiency 

Booking an appointment online should be a lot faster than it would be over the phone or in person. After all, no one wants to wait on hold for 15 minutes, just to be told that the time slot they desire has already been booked.

The less time it takes for customers to book an appointment online, the better. If there are still kinks in your system, take the time to straighten them out. Broken links or long loading time will not reflect well on your business. 

3. Prepay Options

Most online appointment software gives customers the option to prepay. Not forcing customers to pay on site makes their appointment experience run faster and more smoothly.

Consumers also appreciate companies that accept a variety of payment options. You’ll have customers who will want to use debit cards, credit cards, mobile wallets, gift cards, and perhaps even cryptocurrency. The more forms of payment you accept through your online appointment software, the better.

4. Online Booking Reminder Settings

Life gets busy. Forgetting an appointment is all too easy to do. Make sure your appointment scheduling system sends reminders to make sure customers know what’s coming up. 

With that said, not everyone enjoys getting reminder messages from companies. Make it possible for them to change their reminder settings. Some might prefer an extra reminder or two, while others may want to turn them off entirely. 

Make settings adjustable for other notifications as well. Some customers would love to know when you unveil a new promotion or close for the holidays.  

5. Instant Verification

Just as important as those reminder messages are verification statements confirming that an appointment has been made. After going through the online booking process, customers need confirmation that their appointment has been set. Wondering if their request has gone through may prompt them to make a second appointment, which can result in double bookings and general confusion.

Be sure your online appointment software sends confirmation emails. The copy doesn’t need to be out of this world; you just need a simple message to let customers know that their appointment slot has been secured. 

6. Appointment Viewable Availability

Don’t make your customers go through the entire booking process just for them to find out the slot they want is unavailable. From the second they open up your interface, they should have access to all available appointment slots for the next several weeks or even months. This way, there’s no question as to what times are available to them in the near future.

This shouldn’t be difficult to accomplish, as your online appointment software should automatically update your appointment calendar every time someone books. Make it an option for customers to receive updates when last-minute appointments open up, giving them a chance to walk in on a day they would have preferred originally. 

7. Simplified Check-In

Online appointment software shouldn’t just simplify the booking process; it should make check-in a breeze. Most systems do this by maintaining a profile on each customer, which is then made available to the customer service staff. 

Some online appointment software can transfer booking details directly to your CRM system. This integration makes it easy to start each customer’s appointment as soon as they walk in the door. 

Knowing what customers want is one thing; delivering it is another. If your booking software makes signing up for a slot easy, customers are all the more likely to do it again. 

7 Ways to Optimize Your 2021 Appointment Schedule

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7 Ways to Optimize Your 2021 Appointment Schedule

The new year can’t come fast enough. Entrepreneurs and business leaders everywhere will be grateful for the opportunity to leave 2020 behind and look toward 2021. Part and parcel of that is setting up your appointment schedule for next year.

Don’t know where to start? This guide will get your wheels turning and your schedule set:

Learn From 2020

You can learn a lot from last year’s appointment schedule. Look at what techniques brought customers in the door and helped you serve them efficiently. Lean into those that worked and jettison the rest.

For example, what kept appointments coming COVID-19? Was it a social media promotion? Digital marketing or SEO? Chances are, those tactics will continue to perform in 2021.

Get Customers on the Calendar

Don’t wait until January 1 to start booking appointments for 2021. You’ll enter the new year with a bare schedule that will be stressful to fill up. Throughout the final weeks of 2020, you should be trying to book as many appointments in early 2021 as possible.

What about appointments for mid-2021 and beyond? Appointments planned too far in advance are more prone to cancellations. Decide with your team how far in advance you want to book while weighing the pros and cons.  

Hold a New Year’s Promotion

If you expect January to be a lean month, you can open up the year with a New Year’s promotion. As is true of all promotions, a good deal can incentivize a lot of appointments quickly.

Use customer’s New Year’s resolutions as a way to lure them to your business. For example, a dentist’s office can cater to customers who want to transform their look in 2021. Personal trainers will greatly benefit from a New Year’s deal, as getting in shape is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions.

Set Up Work Schedules

Once you’ve gotten your appointment schedule squared away, be sure to spend some time organizing your employee schedules. Making sure busy days have enough employees scheduled is key to keeping appointments flowing.

Plan out employees’ work schedules as far in advance as possible. Ask your team members to submit PTO requests as early as they can. Ironing out these details makes scheduling less stressful.

Aside from your team’s work schedule, don’t forget about your general business hours. With COVID-19 still affecting businesses everywhere, your regular hours might have changed. Make sure these are updated on your website, front door, and anywhere else you post them.

Decide Days Off

When setting up your appointment schedule for the end of the year, you should have the days marked off where you’re not taking appointments. Christmas and New Year’s are times for family, but don’t stop there. 

Say you’ve decided to open up all of 2021 for appointments. If a customer books a visit on the day before Thanksgiving — a day you’d planned to take off — they’ll be frustrated by your request that they rebook. As soon as you know what your schedule will look like, make it known online. 

Days off won’t just include holidays. Think about all-staff retreats and maintenance needs that might limit your availability. Even if it’s not a full day off, you may need to reduce the number of available slots on those days to accommodate your other responsibilities. 

Reach Out to Your Regulars

As you fill up your appointment slots for 2021, give your regular customers a ring. They’ll appreciate being given the opportunity to claim their preferred appointment times, encouraging loyalty while netting you recurring revenue.

This strategy is commonplace in the sports world. Season ticket holders get the first call to renew their membership before seats are opened up to the public. Sports franchises understand that their long-term fans are their most important asset; the same is true for your business.

Recalibrate Your Reminders

While setting up your appointment schedule, take time to go through the other settings of your appointment software. Updating your automated reminders is a great way to reduce your no-show rate and improve customer compliance.

Say you’re a doctor’s office that added colonoscopy services. Those customers can’t eat for a day or more before the procedure — something automated notifications can remind them off. Be sure they’re set appropriately. 

Get started now on making 2021 a great year for your business. The more prepared you are, the fewer things can shake you. And after 2020, you know just how important that is. 

Why Online Appointment Software Should Be on Your Christmas List

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Why Online Appointment Software Should Be on Your Christmas List

Most businesses probably have extensive Christmas lists after this tumultuous year: requests for more customers, better equipment, or even building renovations are likely stuffing Santa’s mailbox right now. Something that needs to be on every company’s list, though, is online appointment software. 

The benefits of online appointment software are plain to see and can make an instant impact on your business in 2021. Ready to learn more? Read through this article and then forward it on to Santa when you’re through:

Increases Appointment Volume

Want to get more appointment bookings? Look no further. Online appointment software makes it exponentially easier for customers to find and book appointment slots with your business. The increased convenience will draw in new customers and improve retention.

You can also insert your appointment software on your website and social media pages. This eliminates hurdles for clients looking to get in contact with your business, making it easy for customers to book an appointment with just the click of a button.

Something important to consider with any business implementation is return on investment, or ROI. With everything you do, you should strive for a positive ROI, meaning you make more money than you spent. Because online appointment software is relatively inexpensive and increases lead volume, the ROI is almost universally high. 

Balances Daily Schedules

An important aspect of setting appointments for your business is managing its daily schedule. Ensuring there are no overlaps and that enough staff will be available to handle the volume ensures every day is a smooth one for both business and customer. 

Online appointment software uses artificial intelligence to keep schedules balanced without supervision. It will monitor bookings to ensure there’s no overlap or that appointments aren’t attempted to be booked when there’s no availability.

Prevents Appointment Mishaps

One late customer can throw off the entire flow of your business. With busy schedules, sometimes an honest mistake will cause a customer to run late or miss an appointment entirely. Online appointment software will automatically send out reminders to customers to prevent this from happening as often.

On the other end, businesses can sometimes misplace customer appointment times or fail to confirm them, leaving them off the schedule entirely. Online appointment software will automatically update your bookings, so you won’t have to worry about mistakes being made at the expense of your customers. 

Provides Valuable Insight

Data metrics, when implemented correctly, can give your business a huge leg up. If you use online appointment technology to record all of your appointments, you’ll automatically be collecting relevant data that you can use.

For example, your software can tell you which one of your appointment packages is the most popular and which services might need some adjusting in order to sell better. You can also track customer data so you can see who your most loyal individuals are, as well as pinpoint key demographics for your marketing campaigns. 

Keep an eye on no-show rates, average duration of appointment, and any other metric you might find useful. This information can be of great use to the evolution of your company with proper access and implementation.

Increases Time Efficiency

Time is a valuable resource for both business and consumer. Online appointment software helps both sides to save time. For customers, appointment booking couldn’t be easier, taking no more than a few minutes to go through the process each time. 

For businesses, online software opens up time for employees who don’t have to man the phones and respond to emails throughout the day. They can spend more time focusing on customers, improving their appointment experience to encourage them to return again and again.

For both sides, payments can be made quickly and directly. Customers can see the change in their balance right away for budgeting and balancing. Businesses don’t have to worry about late payments or customers not covering their tab.

Improves Accessibility

Few customers want to call in and spend the time trying to relay the appointment information they hope to get into the system. In today’s world, people are simply more comfortable filling out a quick form online, and prefer to do it that way.

Online appointment software is available 24/7, meaning that your customers can book appointments at their convenience, regardless of their personal schedules. They can also make changes to their appointments without having to go through a hotline or a representative. 

Adds Online Value

If you’re trying to market your business online, as you very well should, then online appointment software is just the thing for you. Search results are becoming increasingly effective, with “near me” business searches growing at a rapid pace.

Online appointment software will improve your standing in online searches, making you visible to more customers searching for the services you provide. Once your name flashes by, the ability to book an appointment right away will lure in a lot of new clients. 

Helps Your Team

The benefits of online appointment software are not exclusive to helping your customers. The program will also be of great use for your team. You can use this tool to organize work schedules and time sheets so your employees know exactly when their shifts are in advance.

Online software also enables employees to more easily have shifts covered and swapped for greater flexibility of schedule. Changes can be approved right away, and the layout prevents too many employees from trying to ask off on the same day, leaving the company high and dry.

You better start writing to Mr. Claus so that your online appointment software will get here in time for the holidays. Transform your 2021 with programs like these, and your business will be thriving in no time. 

Planning Appointments Around Winter Weather

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The weather outside is frightful, and while your waiting room might be delightful, it’ll take some extra effort to get customers there this time of year. Cold weather, slick roads, and dark afternoons make it more difficult to book and keep appointments.

You don’t need to let the winter blues affect your business. With a few tweaks, you can make sure your customers feel welcome and comfortable:

Revamp Your Waiting Room

Few customers will brave winter storms to trek to your business if your waiting room is cold and dismal. Up the festivity by making your waiting area more comfortable and warm for your guests.

Start, of course, with social distancing measures that protect customers from COVID-19. Next, look for ways you can make the area more homey. Space heaters, Christmas decorations, or a COVID-safe hot chocolate bar are all solutions you can implement.

Amend Your Late Policy

Icy roads and snowy weather make driving difficult. They also make travel times unpredictable. 

You shouldn’t punish customers for travelling safely. Consider amending your late policy for the rest of the winter.

Show some leniency to late customers. For example, you might make it a rule that they must call to advise you of their tardiness in order to receive amnesty. You can also tack on a few minutes to your policy before late charges and cancellations kick in.

Your no-show and cancellation policies might also need a glance over if you live in an area that experiences heavy snowfall. A blizzard can put even regularly paved roads out of commission. You can’t blame your customers for not showing up if they can’t use the roads.

Increase Buffer Periods

Another step that can help careful drivers feel comfortable making appointments is by increasing your buffer times. This way, you have some wiggle room if a customer shows up late. 

Buffer periods are particularly useful in winter. A break between appointments can be used to shovel snowy sidewalks, switch out wet floor mats, or stoke the fire if your waiting room has a fireplace. 

Add Incentives

If you’re struggling to convince customers to venture out, it might be time to break out some incentives. Rewards can motivate even customers in deep hibernation to make the trip out, helping you flesh out your appointment calendar.

Holiday deals are an easy — even expected — marketing strategy to boost winter appointments. Discounted prices are always motivating, especially when holiday parties and presents take a big chunk out of consumer budgets. If you can’t afford to offer a discount, consider a goodie bag or gift card. 

Mind Your Exterior

When snow and ice come, prioritize taking care of the outside area of your property. Promptly clearing parking lots and sidewalks of snow and ice will prevent injuries. Plus, it increases your curb appeal, which can encourage walk-ins.

Check with your city counsel to see if they take care of snow removal in your area. If not, hire someone to plow your parking lots for you. If all else fails, send an employee out with a shovel.

Make House Calls

Here’s your chance to experiment with a new business model. If you’re having a hard time getting customers to come to you, bring your business to them. If your business allows it, this can be an effective way of maximizing your bookings. 

For example, hair stylists can bring their scissors, comb, and hair dryer to a client’s home. Mechanics can perform an oil change in someone’s driveway. As long as you can keep your employees safe and follow COVID-19 guidelines, give it a shot.

Do Some Cold Calling

Winter is made for cold calling. All jokes aside, reaching out to potential customers may be enough to get them to give your business a shot in the winter months. 

With each call, be sure to point out the efforts you’re making to provide an excellent appointment experience. Cover your COVID-19 precautions, your waiting room’s features, and your speedy service. The better it sounds, the more likely your sales pitch is to work.

Adjust Your Hours

If all else fails, you can adjust your business hours to accommodate your appointment list. Reducing store hours, for example, can cut down on your heating and electric bills. If you can’t get customers in the door, don’t waste your money. 

When in doubt, ask customers about their preferences. You may simply need to shift your business hours up or back a few hours. 

Winter can be a tough time for both businesses and consumers. Put in the effort to lift their spirits, and they’ll put a little something extra in your stocking, too. 

Why You Should Always Verify Appointments (And 5 Ways to Do So)

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Why You Should Always Verify Appointments (And 5 Ways to Do So)

Getting customers to book appointments is one thing. Getting them to keep those appointments is another. In the never ending tug-of-war to get customers through your doors, take the time to verify each and every appointment.

Verifying appointments ensures they run more successfully. Customers are more likely to adhere to their appointment times, and you can keep operations running smoothly day after day.

Sounds great, right? Let’s dig in.

Why Verifying Appointments is Important

Verifying appointments has a number of external and internal benefits. This simple action can:

Reduce Cancellations

Cancellations do nothing but waste time. When you plan your schedule around appointments, you don’t have flexibility for anything else. The trade off is that you get guaranteed customers — until they decide to cancel.

Verifying appointments urges customers to honor their commitments. The more who actually do so, the more consistent your company’s revenue, and the better you can stick to your schedule.

Encourage Timeliness

People are forgetful. Customers can lose track of time or forget they’d booked in the first place, resulting in late arrivals. These push back other appointments, which stresses out employees and can frustrate other customers. 

By sending out verification messages, customers will be reminded of their commitments and be more inclined to arrive when they should. Timely appointments allow operations to run flawlessly.

Improves Brand Image

Show each customer that they mean something to your business. By reaching out to them in between the time they set the appointment and the time they arrive, you show how much you appreciate them. 

Be careful not to be too clingy. Too much contact can be off putting. Consistent contact at the right frequency, however, can be reassuring and motivating for customers, especially those on the fence about their appointments.

Solidifies Your Schedule

A well-organized day is a productive day. By verifying customer appointments, you make it easier to stick to your plan each day. When customers don’t show up, your mental bandwidth is spent trying to put together a new plan. 

By sending verification reminders, you’ll also receive cancellations and postponed appointments. While these are never good news, be glad you’re learning about them sooner rather than later. The fewer last-minute surprises you can avoid, the better.

Easy Ways to Verify Appointments

Appointments can be verified in multiple ways. Choose the one that works best for your business. Reach out through more than one channel only if you’re not getting a response.

1. Email

Send a confirmation email with the customer’s appointment information. Make sure to include the appointment date and time in large, bold lettering that’s easy to see. Below, include your cancellation policy, contact information, and anything else that might be useful.

With this route, you can also send promotions and coupons that can convince customers to book return appointments. Be judicious, as too many messages in their inbox will earn you a one-way ticket to the spam folder.

2. Text Message

Sending a text restricts the amount of information you can send, but it’s a more direct form of communication. In fact, customers are 35 times more likely to view a text from a company than an email. 

Be sure to get a phone number from customers when they book online. Give them control over whether they receive verification texts. Some cell phone plans charge by the message, so don’t assume everyone wants to receive them. 

3. Phone Call

Verifying appointments over the phone requires the most effort from employees. Assuming customers do answer the phone instead of letting it go to voicemail, employees need to be ready for any questions or concerns that may arise.

Despite your urging to the contrary, some customers will hold off on said questions until the last minute. You might have to recite your cancellation policy on command, or change around appointment dates for customers who failed to plan ahead.

While less efficient than other means, phone calls do offer a great opportunity to reschedule appointments that customers can’t make. Give your team members a customer service refresher if you’re going to issue appointment reminders through this channel. 

4. Social Media 

You might have customers who prefer to contact you on social media. If so, sending them verification messages through the same channel makes sense. 

Beware that other customers may consider business outreach on these platforms inappropriate. Unless customers have previously reached out to you on these sites, sending appointment reminders through them should be a last resort.

5. Snail Mail

The slowest and most expensive delivery option, good old fashioned mail can work in some instances. For example, if your business caters to an older demographic, they may prefer to receive their reminders in the mail.

With that said, sending promotions and coupons through the mail isn’t a bad idea. Customers tend to take them more seriously than marketing emails. Consider starting a referral program in which a customer can get a discount for bringing in a coupon and a friend. 

Keep in mind that you can stagger your verification messages, in case the first one doesn’t get a response. Two weeks in advance you can send out an email, and then one week later send a reminder text. The day of, make a quick phone call or send a message through social media if you still haven’t received confirmation from the customer. 

Get to Verifying

The sooner you start verifying your appointments, the better for your business. You’ll realize more consistent revenue, and your customers will appreciate having a slot saved for them. Start locking in your appointments today. 

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