All posts by Jon Bradshaw

Self-Service Your Customers Will Actually Appreciate

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Self-Service Your Customers Will Actually Appreciate

Reliable customer service is at the center of your business’s client retention strategy. When your team is available for real-time support, customer satisfaction will follow. 

However, 24/7 customer support requires significant resources and isn’t always sustainable. The solution? A comprehensive self-service platform. 

Recent data shows that 67% of customers prefer to self-serve rather than talk to a customer service representative, so now is the time to implement this strategy. 

Self-service allows customers to book appointments and find answers on their own, which in turn saves your business time and money. A robust self-service framework paired with traditional customer service features can help businesses streamline client support, boost customer satisfaction, and allocate resources more effectively. 

The real challenge, though, is getting your customers to use these tools. This guide will cover the basics of self-service and offer some tried-and-true methods for bringing your customers on board. 

Prioritizing Efficiency: The Basics of Self-Service 

Before diving into the how-tos of customer self-service, it’s important to break down this popular approach. In a self-service framework, the client is able to find the answer to their question without contacting customer support. Self-service also applies when customers quickly make online appointments rather than calling or emailing your business directly. 

The benefits of self-service are twofold: clients find the answers they’re looking for without picking up the phone, and your business saves money on customer support personnel. This cuts down on wait times and boosts customer happiness, while allowing your business to focus on everyday operations. 

There are a few self-service options that businesses should keep in mind when building out their framework. 

Online Booking Systems 

In traditional customer support models, clients call or email a business to make an appointment. However, this method can lead to phone tag, long wait times, and simply too many calls for the business to manage. Online booking platforms are a highly effective way to streamline appointments and provide accessible scheduling to a diverse customer base. 

Knowledge Bases 

If your customer service lines are routinely flooded with the same types of questions, a knowledge base can be a useful tool to implement. This page on your website will include answers to your most frequently asked questions, as well as multimedia features like video tutorials and graphics. You can organize the questions by topic and use this page to point customers toward other self-service features, including your online appointments platform. 

Automation 

One of the most common ways that businesses automate customer service is through chatbots — an industry that’s projected to be worth $9.4 billion by 2024. AI-powered chat features can answer questions automatically and point customers to the tools they’re looking for. You can also set up the chatbot to funnel customers to service representatives when necessary. 

Self-service will look different for every business. Appointment-based businesses will benefit greatly from online booking systems, while businesses that sell products might focus more on bolstering their knowledge base. Pinpointing the services that will best serve your customers will set you up for success. 

Leading Your Customers to Self-Service: 5 Key Steps 

When it comes to creating useful self-service tools for your customer base, developing the platform is only half the battle. You also need to get your customers to use it. 

The reality is that many of your clients will tend to stick to what they’re used to. With a bit of persuasion, though, you can change that. Here are a few key ways to show your client base the value of self-service. 

1. Promote Your Self-Service Features 

Customers won’t use self-service tools if they don’t know they exist. So be sure to market your self-service features just as you’d market your product or service. 

Email marketing, onsite pop-ups, and social media posts can be effective ways to highlight the service. Remember that it can take time for customers to adapt to these changes, so plan to keep marketing your new platform long after its launch.

2. Incorporate Multimedia 

New online services can be intimidating. However, you can make these platforms as accessible as possible through multimedia promotion, incorporating videos and graphics when marketing your self-service tools. 

For example, you might create a pop-up video that guides customers through the online booking process. This technique brings the self-service feature to the client’s attention, while showing them exactly how to use it. 

3. Create Clear Navigation 

Ask yourself these questions: Are our self-service tools easy to find on our website? Is our platform easy to use? Can customers easily jump between services? 

Keeping your customer on the site and encouraging them to self-serve starts with clear website navigation. Be sure that your self-service tools are in your header and footer menus. It can also be helpful to route customers to these tools through onsite buttons. 

4. Make It Social 

With over 1 billion Facebook Messenger messages flowing between brands and consumers every month, it’s clear that social strategy and customer support are often one and the same. 

Consider how your business can use your social platforms to guide customers to self-serve. This can involve setting up automated message responses that include a link to a self-service tool. You can also link directly to your online appointments system through your social media pages. Your messaging should promote the idea that your new services are available 24/7 for your customers’ benefit, not yours.

5. Gather Feedback 

Self-service should truly serve your customers’ needs, so it’s important to collect feedback from them and assess whether these tools are effective. You also need to watch your data. 

Keep track of how much traffic these tools are generating, how long customers are staying on the self-service pages, and how your sales numbers change after implementing these platforms. This information will help you adjust your self-service tools to better support your clients. 

Self-service is a user-friendly and scalable solution for customer support. As more consumers flock online, your investment in a self-service platform is likely to reap fast dividends. Once you direct your customers to these tools, your business can renew its focus on providing a better product or service.

7 Valentine’s Day Celebrations for Your Remote Team

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7 Valentine’s Day Celebrations for Your Remote Team

Love might be in the air, but so is the coronavirus. With a record number of employees working from home, it can be difficult to maintain much emotional connection — let alone affection — by gazing longingly into a Zoom meeting.

Ask any member of your remote team; it’s been difficult to build strong relationships when you spend all day working from home. The upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday might provide a fun opportunity for concerned managers to playfully disrupt the usual routine. 

Remote work highlights the need for increased creativity when it comes to planning online get-togethers. Here are a few thoughts for leveraging the technology many of us are using anyway to take a unique approach to celebrating Valentine’s Day:

1. Send Virtual Valentine’s Day Cards

Bring back fond elementary school memories by sending humorous Valentine’s Day cards to all your team members. Sending virtual cards is inexpensive, but it still makes the point that you are thinking of your employees even though they aren’t in the office.

Personalize your messages using inside jokes and company flair. If you have photo editing skills, have fun swapping a manager’s face with the Mona Lisa or put your accountant on the back of a love-crazed velociraptor. Stay workplace-appropriate, though; you should assume everyone will see every card you create.

2. Have Special Lunches Delivered

Brush up on your logistics expertise and host multisite lunch. If you’re really brave, you could even schedule a meeting with your remote team and attempt to coordinate food delivery for 15-30 minutes after the start time. By doing so, you turn a routine meeting into a surprise virtual meal together.

Food delivery services have been going full throttle since COVID-19 struck, so you should be able to coordinate lunch delivery for everyone. Providing a free lunch might not sound like a big deal, but this is an opportunity for you to level up your management game. Start by discovering each employee’s preferences. They’re certain to feel valued when they go to the front door to find their favorite dish from their favorite restaurant. 

3. Introduce Employee Spotlights

Do you regularly highlight positive things about your employees? If not, consider using Valentine’s Day to launch a new weekly spotlight feature. How you shine the spotlight is up to you — special email, verbal praise, whatever works best. 

Take time as a company leader to highlight each individual and say why your company loves them. Doing this in an online forum provides an opportunity for all employees to learn more about each other as human beings, not just co-workers. 

4. Host an Online Karaoke Competition

Keeping your introverts in mind, consider hosting a quirky event that allows everyone to participate without feeling overwhelmed. Hosting a karaoke event online allows your showboats to strut their stuff while letting your more self-conscious employees join in on the laughter without feeling pressured to perform.

Hosting a karaoke event using video conferencing software is typically simple. Use screen sharing to post lyrics and have one of your team members take primary responsibility for supplying the music feed. Whether or not you record the event is up to you. 

5. Schedule a Virtual Wine, Chocolate, or Food Tasting

Here’s another unique event that managers can use to demonstrate how much they know and appreciate their employees. Not every employee drinks wine, of course, and some are doing their best to avoid sweets. By creating a list of your employees and jotting down the treats you know they enjoy, you promote team spirit and signal that you are paying attention.

The key to any food-themed virtual event will be making sure that everyone receives their special treat in time to participate. You can also encourage your employees to take fun photos and upload them to social media using a special hashtag tied to the event theme. You’ll get bonus points if you take time to curate those images and put together a creative collage for the office.

6. Hold a ‘Secret Valentine’ Event

You’ve heard of Secret Santa. This year, why not try a Secret Valentine gift exchange? Randomly assign each remote team member a co-worker for whom to be a Secret Valentine. Set a price limit on what can be purchased (remembering to include shipping) and offer to provide ideas for each recipient. Set a deadline for delivery so every employee will be sure to receive their Secret Valentine gift on the day.

7. Play a Valentine-Themed Game

Schedule a game that can be played virtually and put a Valentine’s Day spin on it. A game of Jeopardy! featuring questions about love and relationships can provide a lot of laughter. Just be sure to keep questions pitched at a PG-13 level or below. Offer gift cards for the first, second, and third prize winners.

Other games to consider include Pictionary, Charades, and 20 Questions. Choose activities you know your team will enjoy and plan them out in advance so they run smoothly. Have a Plan B close at hand should technology fail you at a crucial moment.

Everyone had a tough time of it in 2020. In 2021, go the extra mile on Valentine’s Day to let your employees know that you care about them.

8 Simple Steps to Protect Customer Appointment Data

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8 Simple Steps to Protect Customer Appointment Data

Identity theft and credit card fraud are pressing problems that continue to rise. Consumers and businesses alike need to be increasingly careful about how they share and store sensitive information. 

Even data that at first glance does not appear compromising could prove costly if it were to fall into the wrong hands. From a business perspective, your company is responsible not only for its own data, but for any data entrusted to you by paying customers.

Companies take in a sometimes-surprising amount of data every time an appointment is booked online. Thankfully, fulfilling your role to protect customer data doesn’t require a full team of data scientists armed with state-of-the-art equipment. Instead, making certain your employees follow a few simple steps can go a long way toward full data protection.

1. Develop a Security Plan

Start with a plan for keeping customer appointment data secure. What steps will every employee take to secure information? What rules will be put into place that customers must follow when interacting with your organization? A data security plan will address both sides of the equation to be most effective.

Your security plan should also outline what steps to take in the event of a data breach. Do you have backups available in case of an attack or, better yet, a firewall that can stop one in its tracks? Failing to plan in this case is indeed planning to fail. It’s probably just a matter of time until someone locates and exploits vulnerabilities.

2. Keep Customers Involved

Let your customers in on the efforts you take to protect their information. Provide them educational information encourages safety and security practices, such as how to identify a phishing email. Notify them of any changes to your security measures, especially when those changes affect how they do business with you.

Customers should also be given clear, easy-to-understand options for how their data can and will be shared. If they want to withhold information that’s not needed, they have every right to ask, especially if it helps them feel more secure when doing business with you.

3. Require Account Protection

While customers should have some say over security options, account protection should always be required. At the very least, customer accounts should be set up with a unique password to keep a customer’s information for their eyes only. Putting one barrier to entry in place is exponentially more effective than nothing at all.

To really up your data security game, consider adding some extra steps to ensure that data remains safe and secure. Two-factor authentication is a security method that requires customers to verify their identity anytime an attempt is made to access their account. This can be accomplished in a matter of seconds using their personal cell phone. As an added bonus, it also acts as a warning trigger if a would-be intruder is trying to access their information.

4. Collect Only What You Truly Need

Some companies record every piece of possible data even when they don’t need it for the task at hand. Unnecessary data hoarding puts customers at excessive risk and exposes the hoarder to increased legal liability. You do yourself a favor and better serve your customers by only taking the information that’s absolutely necessary.

Additionally, make it a practice to regularly erase data that’s no longer being used. Your company can’t be held liable for data that it no longer stores. Examples might include appointments made months ago or data from a customer that you’ve not done business with in years. 

If your company keeps physical backups of customer information, make sure you dispose of it in a controlled and secure manner. Additionally, make sure any hard copies of customer data you do keep on hand are securely locked away from prying eyes.

5. Stay Up-to-Date With Security Measures

It’s safe to assume that fraudulent online activity will never stop. Keep yourself in the loop! Stay vigilant by subscribing to security alerts online and making sure your staff doesn’t fall victim to social engineering.

Security technology is constantly evolving, with newer developments proving to be more reliable for protecting data. Install antivirus software and spam filters onto all of your digital systems as appropriate. Make sure any processing equipment you use for payments is up-to-date with the necessary security features. 

Set aside a regular time slot in your work week, or more than one, to digest the latest information from security companies and industry leaders. See what they say about the future of data security. If their guidance is applicable to the way your company does business, dig deeper. It’s better to spend time learning about preventive measures than have to apologize to customers after a breach.

6. Be Wary of Third-Party Companies

Assuming your company has tightened up its security measures, you cannot assume anyone else with whom you do business has done the same. Some of your suppliers or partnering organizations may even be part of the problem, selling your data to other companies as an added revenue stream. When doing business with others, it pays to ask up front how they plan to use your information. If necessary, require data privacy as a condition of entering into a contract.

Pay attention to any uneasy feeling you or your employees get when the topic of data security is raised. Be prepared to walk away from the table if need be. If you aren’t certain the other company is as serious about protecting your customers as you are, you’ll save yourself headaches by finding another supplier.

7. Train Your Employees … All of Them

Even the most fortified castle wall can be breached when those inside allow themselves to make simple mistakes. A firewall worthy of the Pentagon means nothing if your receptionist writes out passwords on a sticky note affixes them to his monitor.

To ensure that your seriousness about data protection does not slip through the cracks, provide security training to all your employees. There are a number of cybersecurity training resources available. Depending on the sensitivity level of the data you collect, prepare yourself to invest more as a hedge against misuse. There are free options available online, but be aware that you get what you pay for.

8. Run Tests

Not sure how your data protection system stacks up? Run tests to see whether it resists compromise. There are any number of companies that can help you run a basic security test. Hire one to see whether they can hack your system or find holes.

A controlled breach will let you know just how permeable your security software is and where it needs to be strengthened. Study test results carefully to find areas where you can improve. Paying for extra tech and tests is much better than paying for lawsuits due to a breach of privacy.

Avoiding a data mishap will foster loyalty from your customers. Whenever news of a security vulnerability grabs your customers’ attention, they will be relieved to learn your company was unaffected.

8 Industries That Need to Start Using Online Appointment Software

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8 Industries That Need to Start Using Online Appointment Software

There are some industries that have the appointment process down to a science. Healthcare providers and hairdressers are incredibly efficient at getting customers in and out. Others, however, have yet to tap into the benefits of appointment software

Just about every industry conducts customer service. Even product companies need to set up troubleshooting and feedback sessions with users. Here are a few others that should embrace appointment software: 

1. Education

Great teachers maintain office hours in case students, parents, or colleagues stop by with a question. The trouble is, these hours tend toward one of two extremes: either nobody shows up, or there’s a crowd waiting their turn. 

Appointment software can solve both issues. Teachers can even out the flow by encouraging people to book appointments. And if nobody has booked a slot, they can spend their office hours preparing for their next lesson. 

2. Car Dealers and Mechanics

Many car dealers continue to do it the old fashioned way: waiting for potential buyers to walk onto the lot. Appointment software can help them make more sales with less stress. Car shoppers expect their salesperson’s full and undivided attention. 

Garages and mechanics can also use online appointment software to help their customers, whether they work for a dealership or out of their home. Customers need their cars to get around; asking them to book an appointment ensures they are without their wheels for only as long as is necessary. 

3. Fitness Trainers

With the new year still fresh, fitness trainers have their hands full. Organizing workouts for multiple clients can be a balancing act, especially now with COVID-19 restricting building occupancy. Online appointment software can help trainers focus on the gym instead of their calendar.

Despite their best intentions, customers skip workouts. Online appointment software lets customers cancel or change their appointments at will. When that happens, trainers using booking software can readjust their schedule to squeeze in more clients.

4. Entertainers

No one is as excited for the COVID-19 pandemic to end as entertainers. Musicians, DJs, comedians, and more are anxious for public gatherings to resume. Until then, many are booking housecalls. Appointment software ensures they don’t double-book themselves or leave too little time between sessions.

Once the pandemic recedes, entertainers will use booking software to communicate with event planners. Entertainers need to stay in touch with venues before and up to each event. 

5. Mobile Services

Mobile services are increasingly popular, meaning they need tools like appointment software. The more organized they are, the more timely and productive they’ll be.

Handymen, lawn care professionals, house cleaners, and more can use online software to organize their schedules and share their availability to customers. Every time they finish a job, they can check to see if gaps in their schedule have been filled with last-minute appointments. More availability means more appointments, which means more revenue. 

6. Child Care

Babysitters and nannies have to work around the schedules of their client families. Online appointment software makes it easy to accommodate changing routines. If a family needs to change their plans, it can be done in just a few clicks. 

Many sitters are teenagers and students who have busy schedules. They can use online appointment software to juggle school commitments alongside their sitting work. Now if only they’d treat their homework with the same seriousness they do their clients. 

7. Recreation Centers

Only so many people can use the racquetball court or fit in a lap pool at once. To make sure everyone gets their fair share, recreation centers can use online appointment software. Making bookings public knowledge can help gym goers know when courts are in use and when they’re available for reservation. 

This software will be particularly valuable as fitness facilities navigate COVID-19. Appointment software can help ensure that occupancy doesn’t exceed safe limits, allowing centers to stay open while keeping everyone safe. Facilities can even reserve a time slot designated specifically for cleaning.

8. Real Estate

Some real estate agents work full time, while to others, it’s a side gig. Either way, most of their success comes from showing homes on the market to prospective buyers. 

Most showings are by appointment only. Agents can use software to book tours, schedule open houses, and give a heads up to occupants who may need to vacate the area for the showing. Not only does it make managing their own schedule easier, but it gives a positive impression to clients and potential buyers. 

Is your industry in need of an appointment overhaul? Don’t shy away from software. There’s a reason your doctor and dentist insist you book online. 

How to Optimize Your Appointments in 2021

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Struggling to think of a New Year’s resolution for your business? Focus on your customers and their appointment experience. The steps you take to meet your appointment goals will improve your operations from top to bottom.

What specific appointment goals should you set? Here are eight great ones to choose from:

1. Increase Total Appointments

One clear choice for your 2021 goal list is to increase your total appointment volume. Get a base measurement by looking at your totals from 2020. What kind of growth do you hope to see? This goal should be realistic, but still challenging enough to stretch your limits.

In order to up your total appointments in 2021, take a fresh look at your marketing strategy. Use content to push for more appointments, using deals and incentives to convince customers to book. 

2. Decrease Wait Times

After successfully increasing your appointment volume, start working on your customer experience. More customers means longer wait times, which can frustrate and turn away new visitors from your business. Lowering wait times will not only appease them, but increase the overall efficiency of your operations.

If you’re seeing a lot of growth, consider hiring some new employees to take on the extra load. Increased capacity will decrease wait times for customers. You can also implement a notification system that alerts customers of changing wait times to help walk-ins arrive at the right time.

3. Move All Bookings Online

Make life easier for everyone by moving appointment booking online. You might be comfortable with your current system because it’s familiar, but ditching the phone lines for software can make a night-and-day difference.

For starters, online appointment software is available 24/7, meaning customers can make bookings whenever they’re available. Software will also automatically keep track of scheduling, avoid double bookings, and send reminders to both customers and your team about each commitment. Last but not least, customers can pre-pay online, saving you even more headache.

4. Optimize Your Efficiency

Sluggish, drawn out appointments are tiresome and irritating for customers who want to get in and out as quickly as possible. They’re also costly for your business, which makes more money the more customers it serves.

How can you make appointments more efficient? With sub-goals. One might be to start at least 90% of appointments on time. Another might be to cross-train every member of the team on customer service. 

5. Boost Customer Retention

Once a customer books their first appointment, your goal should be to convince them to keep coming back. Customer retention is much less expensive than acquisition, and recurring revenue provides financial security. 

How do you increase customer retention? Using data. With appointment software, you can see how many repeat customers you have and choose a goal number to pursue. One example of a retention strategy is a punch card that rewards customers who make frequent appointments.

6. Raise Referral Rates

The best leads come from existing customers. Set a goal to raise the percentage of your new appointments that come from referrals. Referred customers are more likely to commit to your business and to refer you to even more people.

Incentivizing referrals is the best way to make this happen. Offer discounts or prizes to customers who bring a friend to their next appointment. Then, focus on making their experience with you unforgettable. Get it right, and you won’t even have to ask them to book a return visit.

7. Experiment With Virtual Appointments

If your business provides a service that can be delivered online, virtual appointments are a great way to reach customers who are still wary of COVID-19. Even a partial move to virtual appointments can put you ahead of the curve.

Virtual appointments are often used by doctors to treat patients without exposing themselves or others to illness. Personal trainers, nutritionists, counselors, marketing firms, and more can provide guidance through videoconferencing. 

8. Learn to Let Go

While you want as many customers as you can handle, some may just not be worth it. Toxic clients can upset your employees and even scare other customers away. It’s better to start fresh in 2021 by saying “no” to customers who are holding your company back.

Did you think of a particular client while reading that last paragraph? Look for ways to shift their business elsewhere, either by referring them to another company or gently confronting them about their behavior. The interaction might not be pleasant, but it will be worth it. 

Reach new heights in 2021 by setting one or more of these goals. Sit down with your team and talk through how, exactly, you’ll make this year your best one yet. 

How to Use Appointment Software in Your Personal Life

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How to Use Appointment Software in Your Personal Life

Businesses use appointment software for all sorts of reasons. Making it easier for customers to book appointments is one. Another is helping the team manage its workload. 

Believe it or not, however, the benefits of appointment software extend beyond businesses. Some people use it in their personal lives as well. 

Why? Let’s take a look:

Staying Connected

Even though social distancing has taken over your social life, you can use online appointment software to stay in touch with friends. The software makes it simple to coordinate schedules, whether you’re meeting in person or virtually.

You can use online appointment software to show your availability to friends. Then, they can select a time that works best for a phone call, video chat, or meetup. This will help you stay connected even when conflicting schedules keep you apart.

Want to keep your friends on the hook? Each member of your group can rotate through being in charge of scheduling the next activity. With online appointment software, you can send a payment to them if they foot the bill. 

Networking

Connecting with business professionals is a great way to get ahead in your field. Networking events can be difficult to put together, given how busy industry veterans can be. Online appointment software makes it easier to coordinate with them.

Opening up appointments to mentors and people you’re trying to network with makes it easier to fit them into your schedule. It also eliminates the back-and-forth communication involved in pinpointing a time, helping you meet more people in less time. 

Hobbies and Side Gigs

Do you use online platforms to peddle some of your old trinkets? Hosting an online yard sale can be tricky. When you’re trying to find the right buyer, you may need to set up a time to chat.

Instead of playing phone tag with half a dozen people, let your online appointment software get the job done. Post your item of choice on the internet with an appointment link that allows a buyer to schedule a time to pick it up. Once a time is selected, you can close the software off to stop anyone else from booking after the sale is made. 

Your other ventures also benefit from online appointment software. Side gigs don’t get much love and care under normal circumstances, but online appointment software can help you book meetings with buyers and better organize your efforts. 

Event Hosting

While COVID-19 is putting most events on hold for the time being, the day will return when you’re able to put together fun family events once more. Be ready for it with appointment software.

Online appointment software can help you gather RSVPs to get a head count for seating, refreshments, and venue size. The software can also enable you to share the event easily, reaching everyone you wish to invite in a matter of seconds. 

Recreational Activities

Got a tennis buddy waiting for a rematch? Don’t keep them waiting! Use online appointment software to squeeze in some time on the court.

Online appointment software can help you organize all sorts of recreational activities. From planning a workout with your gym buddy to a family holiday event, appointment software makes schedule coordination simple. 

Tutoring and Coaching

Want to make 2021 your year? You can start by looking for ways to improve yourself. Schedule tutoring and coaching sessions that help you achieve personal development and fulfillment. 

Coordinate with your tutors and coaches using online appointment software. Tell them what you hope to achieve. Ask them to help you lay out the steps to get there. Book frequent appointments with them to measure your progress and to hold yourself accountable.

Meeting Deadlines

Deadlines can be easy to miss. To make sure you don’t let any slip through the cracks, block them off in your appointment software. 

Balancing class assignments, work initiatives, and personal projects can be difficult. Use your online appointment software to block off time prior to each. The rest is just a matter of buckling down.

Juggling Schedules

Even the most level-headed of people forget things. You don’t want to miss your daughter’s piano recital because you were too focused on scheduling out your work deadlines. Online appointment software will help you strike the perfect balance in your daily schedule.

Online appointment software is as flexible and useful as you make it. Download one, and you’ll see why it’s such a staple of the business world. 

How to Share the Holiday Spirit With Your Customers

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How to Share the Holiday Spirit With Your Customers

It’s the season of giving, and no one has given more to your business than your faithful customers. Why not start a new holiday tradition of giving them thanks?

Determine who your long-term customers are so they can have first dibs on the perks and benefits you plan to give out. Then, use your remaining resources to bring as many other customers into the fold as you can.

Here are some holiday sharing ideas you can implement to give back to your customers this Christmas:

Offer Holiday Discounts

Deck the halls with savings to show gratitude and to bring in new business. Nothing gets customers more excited than holiday savings, especially when they were already planning on visiting your office.

If you don’t want to hand out discounts to anyone who walks through the door, you can add a simple requirement for customers to cash in. Consider asking customers to show they follow your social media pages or to refer their friends in order to qualify for a discount. 

Send Gift Baskets

When new customers sign up for their first appointment, you likely record their personal information, including their residential address. You can use this information to your benefit by putting together a surprise gift basket to send to their doorstep.

This will be especially effective for your customers who still have concerns over COVID-19. Despite the safety precautions you’re taking, they will feel more comfortable in their homes. Sending them a small gift basket shows that you miss them and look forward to their return once the pandemic blows over.

Cash in on Loyalty

Your online appointment software should track your most frequent customers and the number of visits they’ve made throughout the year. Using this data, you can set benchmarks for loyalty rewards.

For example, you might decide to give customers who’ve made monthly appointments, or visited 12 times in the year, a $10 gift card. Perhaps you send customers who’ve 25 appointments a $25 gift card. Doing so shows new customers that you reward loyalty while giving thanks to your regulars.

Donate 

The holidays are the perfect time for companies to give back through charitable donations. While businesses don’t have pockets as deep as they would like due to the tumult of 2020, remember that other communities were hit just as hard.

Add a twist to your donations this year: When a customer does business with you, invite them to select a charity or cause to which you’ll donate. This makes their visit, as well as the associated donation, more personal to them.

Throw a Holiday Party

As long as you’re following social distancing guidelines, a holiday party is a fun way to give back to your faithful customers. Games, food, and prizes for customers and employees make for a fun year-end event.

Send out a holiday email to all of your customers inviting them to the event. Do this with enough time in advance for them to be able to commit, and to get a headcount to ensure yours is a COVID-safe gathering

Still uncertain about public gatherings? You can also hold an outdoor event, like a Christmas fun run. Donate entry fees to local charities, or to fund a food drive. 

Do a Customer Spotlight

Use your social media to showcase your favorite and most loyal customers. Not only does this demonstrate your appreciation for them, but it makes them feel proud to do business with you.

Want to go above and beyond? With each customer spotlight, you can offer another reward, like a free checkup. This will incentivize the customer to take part in the spotlight and come back for another appointment.

Social media is a natural ally of word-of-mouth marketing. Post about your holiday events, and encourage customers to spread the word.

Form a Partnership

Is there another brand like yours that your customers just can’t live without? Form a partnership to add value for your and your potential partner’s customers.

For example, let’s say you operate a massage therapy practice. Your regular customers love to go to you to relax, especially after getting in a hard workout at the gym. If so, partner with local fitness facilities. Perhaps membership holders can get a discounted price on appointments with you and vice versa. 

Orchestrate a Contest

If your resources are spread thin thanks to COVID-19, concentrate your efforts to give back in a single activity. A holiday contest can boost customer engagement while showing your intentions to give back, all while limiting the dollar cost of your campaign.

Entries can be taken either online or through physical appointments. Contest prizes can be purchased, but you should also see if a sponsor of yours would provide an in-kind donation or two. Regardless, make sure it’s something that your customers will actually want. 

Giving back is what the holidays are all about. Do your part. Support your customers this season, and you both will feel the joy of Christmas.

9 Ways to Bring in Business Around the Holidays

By | Business Tips | No Comments

The holiday season is a “love it or hate it” time for businesses. Some industries are overloaded during these short months, as demand skyrockets for popular gifts. Others, like lawn care, experience the opposite effect, seeing a dramatic decline until the weather warms up again.

Whether you’re balancing an increased workload or trying to stay busy until spring, one thing is for sure: Optimizing your holiday workload is a matter of managing your time effectively. 

Adjust Your Appointment Slots

Your scheduling software is essential for perfecting your workload. To accommodate a greater volume of appointments, you can add new time slots into your software. If you can’t cut the margin of time between appointments, make space by extending your company’s hours. 

Another strategy to maximize each appointment is to extend its length. If you can squeeze more services into each appointment, then you might be able to bring in more revenue by booking fewer customers each day. 

Focus on Safety

The 2020 holiday season will be unique due to COVID-19. Business will put a premium on making customers feel safe and welcome. To encourage yours to drop by, focus on your office protocols.

Enforcing a PPE policy, cleaning regularly, and enabling social distancing are all measures you can take to promote a safe and healthy environment. The safer you can make customers feel, the more appointments you will be able to book.

Look to Seasonal Workers

If your business is seeing a huge influx of appointments in preparation for the holidays, you might need to expand your team temporarily. Seasonal workers can help your team handle the extra influx of customers.

What if your full-time employees are trained professionals — the sort that can’t easily be replaced by seasonal hires? Consider hiring students in their respective fields as assistants. Surely, these employees can help with logistical tasks, such as organization and cleanup. A mechanic who doesn’t have to clean the shop floor afterward can service more vehicles, for instance. 

Tighten Your No-Show Policy

With the holiday rush, you might be turning away more customers than normal. Instead of saying “no” to those who book and show up on time, tighten up your no-show policy.

This feeds two birds with one scone: Not only does it discourage bad customer behavior, but it shows appreciation to those who follow the rules. Just be sure to post your updated no-show rules in obvious places, such as on your door and the homepage of your website.

Hold a Holiday Promotion

If your appointment schedule looks a little bare, it’s time to whip out a classic holiday promotion. Nothing gets consumers more excited this time of year than discounts.

Your promotion of choice can be as simple as a price cut or as complex as a referral program. When in doubt, ask your customers: Would they rather save a little on every purchase, or save a lot when they bring a friend to your place of business? 

Whatever you choose, advertise the deal as widely as you can. Email it to your customer list. Post it on social media. Ask your partners to mention it to their own clients. 

Add a Gifting Option

Not everyone you meet will be interested in your promotion or services, but they might know someone who is. To expand your reach and fill your appointment slots, add a gifting option. 

Most companies do this with a simple gift card. You can go that route, or you can add your own flair by putting together gift baskets that can be purchased and distributed. Include in each basket a gift card along with some holiday treats or products from your partners. 

Go Mobile

If your line of work allows for it, take your business on the road to expand your holiday reach. For example, massage therapists can set up shop at malls to reel in shoppers for walk-in sessions.

Use this opportunity to promote your permanent location. Make a good impression, and you’ll convert what would’ve been one-time customers to regulars.

Lean on Walk-Ins

Under normal circumstances, relying on walk-in appointments is an inefficient way to run your business. However, if your appointments are few and far between, you can use walk-ins as a way to increase your revenue. 

On days when you don’t have many appointments booked, post online that you have a lot of availability. Offer a walk-in deal to the first few customers who arrive. Encourage them to tell their friends.

Say Thanks

To your loyal customers, send out a holiday message to thank them for their loyalty. This is a great way to recognize their loyalty and to remind them that it may be time for another visit. 

Another approach is to highlight your top customers on your social media pages. People love public recognition even more than a private “thank you.”

Be proactive this holiday season. Don’t just deck the halls; deck your schedule. By the time Christmas comes, you’ll be counting your blessings. 

9 Courtesies Every Customer Will Appreciate

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Getting customers to make return appointments is just as important as attracting them in the first place. Just look at the numbers: It can cost up to five times more to acquire a new customer compared to retaining one you already have. 

The question now is, how do you keep customers coming back? The way you treat them during appointments plays a big role. Here are nine appointment etiquette tips you can use to improve your customer retention:

1. Keep Appointments On Time

Businesses always stress the need for customers to arrive on time to their appointments. Remember, this is a two-way street:

Do your best to keep overtime appointments to a minimum. If a customer shows up early and is forced to wait later than their appointment time, they’ll wonder why they bothered to arrive when they did. 

Appointments run long for all sorts of different reasons. Perhaps your default appointment duration is too short. Maybe it’s time to hire another employee. Poor communication between the front- and back-office staff could be to blame.

If appointments do run long, don’t rush your customers. Simply do your best to keep things moving, apologize for their wait, and make it right for next time.

2. Remember Names and Personal Details

Your customers are more than just statistics and dollar signs. Make an effort to connect with them as soon as they walk in your door. 

A simple way to do this is by remembering their names. Referring to customers by name breaks down emotional barriers they may have. 

If need be, pull up their chart in advance to refresh your memory. Record personal tidbits they tell you, such as their job or their hobbies, so you can better connect on subsequent visits. And remember, a friendly smile goes a long way. 

3. Engage With Every Customer

A friendly “hello” is not enough to keep a customer coming back. Engage in small talk with every customer.

Don’t expect customers to be the ones to strike up the conversation. Have talking points in your back pocket, such as what’s going on around town or the backstory behind a piece of art on your wall. 

Just as important as engaging with customers is knowing when to hold back. Don’t be rude, but do realize some customers prefer peace and quiet. Read their body language to know whether or not they want to continue the conversation.

4. Be Casual but Professional

Customer relationships, no matter how strong, are different than friendships. While casual conversation can help them feel at ease, don’t make the mistake of confusing casual with unprofessional.

Remember, you represent your company. Act unprofessionally, and they’ll opt to go elsewhere.

Never gossip about your employees or other customers. Don’t act rude or childish, even if you’re having a bad day. Steer clear of conversations about religion and politics, even if you know they agree with you. 

5. Send Reminders

Life gets busy, especially in 2020. Even if a customer has booked an appointment, there’s a chance they’ve forgotten about it. 

The day of the appointment, send them a reminder email or text. Invite them to respond with questions, change their appointment, or hop on the phone. 

While you don’t want to discourage anyone from attending their appointment, most people want to uphold their commitments. Even if a customer does need to cancel, they’ll be more likely to come back if you handle the process efficiently and with grace. 

6. Keep a Clean Space

Nobody wants to sit in a filthy waiting room or use a crusty old bathroom. Keep your office space neat and tidy, and it won’t scare customers away.

Go the extra mile: Once your space is spic and span, you can add amenities, such as a kids’ play area or a coffee bar. When in doubt, ask your customers what they need to be comfortable while they wait.

7. Focus on the Job

No matter how friendly you are, the truth is that your customers do business with you because you get the job done. In customers’ minds, quality service always beats bells and whistles.

Check in at least quarterly with every team member to ensure that they understand their role. Double down on your training processes, even for veteran employees. 

While your employees are on the clock, make sure they’re focused on their work. Post guidelines about inappropriate uses of company time, such as personal cell phone use. Implement consequences for repeat offenders. 

8. Ask for Feedback

Ask your customers: How was their experience? What did they like about it, and what could you have done better?

Even if someone is blown away by your service, they’ll appreciate your thirst to improve. And someone who’s totally dissatisfied may be brought back by a promise to act on their feedback. 

What’s important is that you actually make changes your customers suggest. Feedback shouldn’t be a formality. If you can’t implement something, explain why and thank the customer for their input. 

9. Be Transparent

Be honest and overly communicative with your customers. If you ask for their personal information, let them know why you need it. If they don’t actually need a service they think they do, tell them that. 

Beware that customers can be unforgiving. If they feel that you weren’t fully transparent with them, they may not give you a chance to make it right. The bottom line is, not all customers will come back for more. But if you practice these courtesies, you’ll be surprised at just how many of them do.

Why Some Customers Are Hesitant to Book Appointments

By | Appointment, Scheduling | No Comments

As you fill up your bookings each day, you might be puzzled that some customers are reluctant to commit to appointments. Why, given that scheduling appointments benefits both sides, won’t they play along?

It’s a perplexing, frustrating problem. But understanding why these customers hesitate to book appointments will help you serve them better. By providing clarity and comfort, you’ll be able to address the eight reasons customers balk at booking appointments with you:

1. Their schedules are unpredictable.

Some customers shy away from set-in-stone appointments because they simply can’t commit to a day or time. The nature of either their job or their lifestyle makes every day unpredictable. They’re afraid to book an appointment on the off chance that something will come up, causing them to cancel (and potentially incur a cancellation fee).

A busy schedule can be just as problematic as an unpredictable one. Customers who aren’t sure they can find time for an appointment in their schedule won’t even bother. They might stop by if they happen to free up the time, but nothing is guaranteed. 

Consider leaving some cushion in your schedule for walk-ins so you can accommodate these free spirits. They will be grateful for your flexibility and feel more inclined to schedule appointments when they know they’re able. 

2. Your scheduling system is confusing.

Businesses that rely on an online scheduling system should make it as user-friendly as possible. Otherwise, potential customers might bail when the going gets tough. 

Streamlining your scheduling process as much as you can. How many steps does your scheduling process take from beginning to end? Just the sight of numerous hoops to jump through would cause anyone to hesitate.

Do bookers need to create a user account? Think up — and remember — yet another password? Look at your online appointment software through the eyes of a visitor and make note of anything that might cause them to turn away.

3. They’re wary of your cancellation policy.

What if you were to book an appointment only to have something urgent come up and need to cancel? This is a very real fear for many customers, especially when a service provider has a daunting cancellation policy. If they book an appointment, that cancellation fee will be hanging over their heads until the appointment is completed.

Take a moment to review your cancellation policy. Is it perhaps a little too harsh? Consider lowering your cancellation fee or being more flexible about advance notice (e.g., 12 hours versus 24 hours).

Excusing a client’s first violation — but only the first — will demonstrate that you’re accommodating but not a pushover. While a cancellation policy is important for keeping customers accountable, being too strict can stop people from committing at all. 

4. You haven’t convinced them to commit to your business.

If you haven’t completely sold your services to the customer, they might not feel inclined to book an appointment. They may think there are better or more affordable options elsewhere. Consequently, they won’t want to lock into an appointment with you before searching for superior options.

What about your business is causing this hesitation? Perhaps your prices are too steep, or the quality of your service is no better than your competitors’. Look for ways to stand out, and customers will be more likely to commit to appointments with you.

5. They don’t see the need.

If there’s no need to book an appointment, why bother? Customers who don’t see a clear requirement to reserve a time slot will likely skip it altogether. In their mind, an appointment is more of an inconvenience than a necessity.

Explain to your customers why booking an appointment is important. Your time is limited, so they need to make an appointment to guarantee their place in line. You can get this point across on well-worded signs, your business card, and your social media feeds. The clearer you make this argument, the more likely customers will get it and act accordingly.

Besides not seeing a need, customers might also lack incentives for booking an appointment — so it’s up to you to provide them. Point out that making an appointment will result in shorter wait times. You might even offer discounted rates for scheduling appointments or incentives for booking several of them in advance. This is a great way to secure a steady flow of customers. 

6. They don’t want to — or can’t — prepay.

If you require a deposit or full payment in order to book an appointment, some customers will start looking for other businesses that offer walk-ins or make fewer demands. The inability to prepay is a more common problem than you might think.

Some customers simply prefer to pay in cash, making it impossible for them to prepay online. Others may need their next paycheck to arrive before they can fit an appointment with you into their budget. The need to prepay will cause them to hesitate before pulling the trigger.

7. They decided to drop in at the last minute.

An unexpected walk-in might be just as surprising to the customer as it is to you. Some people aren’t planning to stop by your business until the last minute. They had extra time in their lunch hour and decided to drop in, or a situation arose that prompted them to stop by that day.

Understanding that some customers show up without planning to beforehand should help you be more patient with them. After all, if you make a good impression when they walk in, you could convert them to repeat customers who set their appointments in advance. 

8. They have safety concerns.

In normal times, safety concerns wouldn’t be a reason to forgo appointments. But these aren’t normal times. The risk of exposure to COVID-19 is a real one, and businesses should take this concern seriously. 

Start by providing masks and rearranging your waiting room to enable social distancing. Then inform customers of these changes via your website, through social media, and at the front door.

Making customers aware of the safety precautions you’ve implemented will put them at ease and encourage them to book appointments in your facility.

When you understand why some customers are hesitant to make appointments, you can work to overcome those objections and serve your customers better. By displaying empathy and addressing their concerns, you can encourage them to show up on schedule and develop a lasting relationship with your business.

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