All posts by Jason Barnes

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. 

What the Best Appointment-Based Businesses Have in Common

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What the Best Appointment-Based Businesses Have in Common

No matter what type of business you run, you can learn a lot from industry leaders in your field. Small grocery stores can take a page out of Walmart’s book, and up-and-coming tech companies can look to Apple and Microsoft for inspiration. The same can be said for your appointment-based business.

Whether you offer haircuts or oil changes, there are some things that all of the best appointment-based businesses have in common. Implement them into your business model, and you’ll have happier customers and a schedule packed to capacity. Use this checklist to add the features you need to be among the best of the best:

User-Friendly Online Appointment Software

The best of the best in appointment-based business use online appointment software to make life easier for themselves and for their customers. With online appointment software, customers can create bookings from any device at any time of day. Appointment slots are automatically updated to notify businesses at opening time.

The key to capitalizing on this convenience is to make your online appointment software as user-friendly as possible. Start with your website. Add an easily visible call to action that directs visitors to your booking software. Next, improve your loading times so customers don’t get discouraged and ditch the process altogether. 

Clear Policies for Late Arrivals and Cancellations

Try as you might, late arrivals and cancellations will happen even to the best appointment-based businesses. What sets the leaders apart from the rest is how they handle these situations when they arise. They establish clear late and cancellation policies in advance and stick by them.

How do you plan to handle customers who show up late or cancel? In the former case, having to cede their place in line to other customers is a fair way to discourage tardiness and reward on-time arrival. For the latter, consider adding a surcharge to appointments cancelled without 24 hours’ notice. Display these policies clearly on your website and make sure whatever actions you take are well understood and equitable for everyone. 

No-shows can fall under the cancellation category. If a customer commits to an appointment time and fails to arrive without notifying you, there should be a policy in place that covers that. You might consider charging a portion of the appointment fee to make up for lost revenue and wasted time. But remember that life gets in the way at times, and some changes will be unavoidable. Above all, strive to be fair. 

Short Wait Times

No one wants to get to their scheduled appointment only to be kept waiting for 30 minutes. Appointments should begin promptly. When customers are on time, businesses should do their best to uphold their end of the bargain.

Of course things will happen that will push appointments back, but good businesses take precautionary measures to keep wait times to a minimum even when something goes wrong. To enable this, make a note of when appointments run long. Does this happen at particular times, with particular services, or with particular clients? Identifying the root causes can help you make scheduling adjustments. You could add buffer times between appointments or find ways to improve workflows through automation to help your business run more smoothly.

A Safe and Comfortable Waiting Room

Even when wait times are short, you’ll want to make those waiting customers as comfortable as possible. This adds to the experience and will put customers in a better mood come appointment time. Shoving all your patrons into a crowded room with limited seating options won’t reflect well on your business, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic persists. 

Do what you can with the space you have. Even in a small waiting room, a complimentary coffee machine or a television set can really add to the space. Also be sure to keep health guidelines in mind as long as the coronavirus presents a threat to your employees and customers. Stay up to date with local ordinances, making sure chairs are spaced apart and masks are readily available as necessary. 

Top-Notch Customer Service

You can nail all the logistics of appointment setting and still have customers walking away leaving a one-star review. Why does that happen? Because customer service skills aren’t up to par. Running a successful appointment-based business is just as much about the love and care you put into your craft as it is how efficiently you deliver it. 

Provide your employees with continual customer service training. Emphasize building relationships with each visitor so they become more than a name that pops up on your online appointment software. Sincerely attentive customer service will enhance the appointment experience, boosting your retention rates. 

Data Analytics

One of the most helpful benefits of implementing online appointment software is the constant access to data. This information will prove to be invaluable to your business, giving you the insight you need to make decisions that will improve your appointment experience from beginning to end. 

For example, data analytics will show you the average length of appointments, the ratio of no-shows to made appointments, and key demographics you can target with your next marketing campaign. Without these numbers, your decision making is based on little more than guesswork. With data at your fingertips, your plans will have direction and purpose. This data will also show you how your numbers improve after implementing the tips mentioned above. 

Note the changes you make and how they impact your business. Soon enough, you’ll be the best appointment-based business in town, and fellow establishments will start emulating your recipe for success. 

How to Make Cancellations Less Common

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How to Make Cancellations Less Common

We’ve all been there: You’ve waited all day for a meeting, only for the client to cancel at the last minute. Last-minute cancellations can throw a wrench in your day, and sometimes your whole week

While cancellations happen, they shouldn’t be frequent occurrences. To help you cut down on frustration and revenue loss, here are some ways to keep cancellations to a minimum:

Understand Why Clients Cancel 

Everyone needs to cancel an appointment on occasion. A pattern of cancellations, however, may indicate a business-wide issue. 

Try to get into the mind of your clients. Understand exactly what’s causing them to cancel. For example, do they have kids and can’t always find childcare? Is their schedule so packed they can only spare a few minutes of their day? Or, are they not able to afford your hourly rate?

Don’t get defensive. Recognize that you, not they, may need to change. 

If you suspect travel time is an issue, for instance, try implementing a teleconferencing tool. Allowing clients to book you at the click of a button can do wonders for retention. 

Create a Cancellation Policy

Implementing a cancellation policy is one of the best ways to ensure your clients show up both prepared and on time. This policy doesn’t have to be complex; in fact, it can be as simple as charging a small fee in case of a missed appointment. 

Imposing a small penalty will motivate your clients to show up to their appointments on time. More importantly, it will reduce the likelihood that they become chronic cancellers.

Encourage each new customer to review your terms and conditions. Ask them to sign a copy when they sign up for their first meeting. This document should include the charges for no-shows, the penalties for repeatedly missing appointments, and details on how far in advance you require rebooking before you levy a fee.

Don’t Schedule Too Far In Advance

You want to stay at the top of your client’s mind. Try to schedule appointments within a week from when you last spoke with a customer. Any further ahead, and your client may lose interest by the time their appointment rolls around.

Use “when,” not “if” questions: When in the next week can they meet? Approach the conversation with a handful of specific dates and times that work for you. Look for alignment in your availability and, if none exists, offer an alternative. 

Send Reminders 

We all have a lot on our mind these days. Reminders can cut through our mental clutter, but only if we use them strategically. 

Consider your customer base. If your clients are primarily Millennials, then go with text reminders. Baby Boomers and Silents may prefer a phone call or a voicemail message.

Regardless, make sure not to send out too many reminders. You want to tread the line of being proactive without being too overbearing. Try sending a reminder as soon as a client signs up for an appointment, and then another 48 hours before the scheduled time. 

Offer Self-Serve Rescheduling

Some clients may not show up to a scheduled appointment simply because they are too nervous to reschedule. They may not want to deal with a lengthy email exchange, much less wait on hold with your receptionist. 

Nip this in the bud with software that makes it easy for a client to reschedule their own appointment. Even if it doesn’t cut down on cancellations, such a system will, at the very least, save you time. 

Use Rewards to Your Advantage 

Reward any client who regularly shows up on time for their appointments. There are plenty of creative rewards you can implement, such as:

  • A modest discount or a service credit for a future appointment
  • A quarterly drawing for a gift card
  • Priority scheduling, especially during busy periods

These little perks come at a very low cost to you, but they can really drive home your commitment to punctuality to your customers. 

Missed appointments can mangle your bottom line and throw your schedule for a loop. The good news is, communication, creativity, and education are all you need to keep most clients from throwing in the towel. What’s not to love about that?

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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9 Collaboration Mistakes You’re Making With Your Remote Team

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.

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