All posts by Jon Bradshaw

5 Integrations for Your Online Appointment Software

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5 Integrations for Your Online Appointment Software

Businesses of all sizes are making the shift to online appointment software. From enabling customer self-service to better managing staff scheduling, the benefits of an online appointment system are clear and compelling.  

Your appointment software can make you even more organized and productive when you supercharge it with app integrations. These integrations make it possible to synchronize information across several software applications. Among these are digital calendar, billing and payment, customer relationship management, email and communications, and web design solutions.

By combining information from various systems, your company can improve its customer experience. You can also further enhance the efficiency you’re already gaining from online appointment software.   

Digital Calendars

Digital calendars have become common in business environments due to their convenience and versatility. Unlike paper calendars, digital versions can be viewed, updated, and synced across any device that can connect to the internet. When your online appointment software syncs with your digital calendar, you don’t have to worry about updating it.

That means when customers schedule, cancel, or reschedule an appointment, your business’s digital calendar automatically adjusts. This translates to better staff scheduling and reduced miscommunication. You also reduce the risk of falling short of customers’ expectations, as they can see what’s available in real time.

Billing and Payment

When billing systems are synced with online appointment applications, customers find it easier to pay ahead of time. This makes them less likely to cancel or back out of an appointment at the last minute. It also gives them peace of mind, knowing that they’ve already paid and budgeted for the service.

Some customers prefer to pay online, knowing that their financial information isn’t being exchanged with a person over the phone. Being able to instantly transfer funds from a PayPal account without revealing any sensitive information makes customers feel safe. This can help your business capture sales that might otherwise be abandoned.  

If you’re a small business owner, streamlining your billing systems can free up more time for your staff. Sixty percent of small business owners wish they had more time to devote to other tasks. Thirty-nine percent indicate paperwork is one of their top time stealers.

Customer Relationship Management

Customer relationship management (CRM) applications are great tools for capturing leads and contact information. These applications also nurture relationships from initial interest to conversion and gather and track consumer behaviors. Integrating your CRM and online appointment software creates an added level of convenience for both you and your customers.

First, existing customers don’t have to constantly re-enter their information. Anyone who’s filled out a job application that asks for the very same information already provided on an uploaded résumé knows the frustration this causes. At best, the customer has a poor experience. And at worst, it becomes a lost opportunity. Creating more efficient appointment experiences leads to higher satisfaction, brand image, and loyalty levels.

Second, with a CRM integration, you’ll easily capture information about new customers, potential leads (e.g., those who abandon completion of their appointments), and customer activities. If you execute content marketing campaigns or digital ads, you can track which content and ads lead to higher customer acquisition. Other behaviors, such as responding to an email promo code, can help you gain insights into what resonates with customers.

Email and Communication Touchpoints

Some CRM applications allow you to automate marketing and customer service emails. However, you can also integrate email clients like Outlook and Gmail. This can come in handy when you send appointment reminders to customers.

By automating some of the communication touchpoints, you and your staff can concentrate on higher-level tasks. You’ll also meet customer expectations by letting them know the appointment times they selected are confirmed on your end. Reminders, of course, can prevent no-shows and allow clients to reschedule if something comes up.

Beyond these basics, additional touchpoints can include:

  • Customer experience surveys
  • Thank-you notes
  • Requests for testimonials
  • Marketing and PR for services or service packages
  • Promotions
  • Customer loyalty programs

If email isn’t your customers’ preferred method of communication, there’s the possibility of integrating your appointment software with SMS or text messaging applications. Providing links in the text messages that reconnect customers with your online booking system adds convenience. Alternatively, customers could have the option to cancel, reschedule, or confirm appointments directly from the text messages.  

Web Design

Integrating your online appointment software with web design apps mostly benefits you and your staff. If you make changes to the layout of web pages that contain appointment functionality, the two will automatically sync. You can also back up your appointment application’s data, ensuring it gets stored safely and is easy to find.

Another point to keep in mind is that web design apps often come with built-in templates. These templates can make it easier to incorporate the functions of appointment software. With templates, your staff can create a unified look that accentuates booking options for customers. 

If you’re using a lot of other systems, web design apps can potentially sync all or most of them. This prevents the need to manually transfer or consolidate information. You may also be able to avoid the costs associated with switching or upgrading to different platforms. It will be possible to wait until business growth or technology changes deem switching necessary.    

Ultimately, which applications and systems your business integrates with your online appointment software are up to you. Ease of integration, compatibility, functionality, strategy, and customer needs will all play a role. A good online appointment application will let you customize your app integrations as your business needs change.

The ideal way to determine what integrations you need is to look to your customers. Start by analyzing their feedback and behaviors. Your company’s service and marketing strategy will be important. However, your integration efforts should begin with the customer’s perspective in mind. 

Approaching Walk-Ins as an Appointment-Based Business

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Approaching Walk-Ins as an Appointment-Based Business

How does your appointment-based business work to meet the needs of your customers? Do you have an appointment-only policy, or do you handle a mixture of walk-ins and appointments daily?

Many businesses operate by scheduling appointments, such as healthcare providers, spas, salons, and veterinary clinics, to name a few. Having an appointment serves both the client and the business in several ways. First, the client knows when they come into the business, they have a specific time to be seen. It can also make several things within the business structure easier to manage. Understanding things such as staffing, planning out your day, and revenue expectations are just a few examples. 

The problem with an appointment-only approach is that it does not account for late customers and no-shows. That last one is no small matter: one study found that up to 42% of customers skip their appointments.

By allowing for walk-ins, your business can fill the gaps in your schedule that those missed appointments leave behind. You can also add revenue, gain new customers, and create future brand loyalty. 

Although walk-ins can offer great benefits, they can also interrupt what your business had planned for the day. If you don’t manage them properly, walk-ins can result in longer wait times and poor customer service. So how do you manage time slots for walk-ins within your appointment-based business?

The following six tips can help you approach walk-ins in the best possible way:

1. Use Online Appointment Software

Walk-ins wouldn’t be a problem if you accepted all clients on a first-come, first-served basis. But you’re an appointment-based business. By and large, you want to know when people intend to arrive and when you’ll be serving them.

To determine how to work in walk-ins among existing appointments, you need to know when those appointments are scheduled. When you utilize online appointment software, you’ll be able to see all your appointments at a glance. You can also update your appointment calendar in real time so that if a spot opens up, you’ll know right away. That will enable you to give a walk-in the “Sure, I can fit you in at ___ p.m.” response they want to hear.

2. Leverage Social Media

When you get a last-minute appointment cancellation, that empty slot on your calendar could mean lost revenue. That is, unless you hop on your social channels and let your followers know, pronto, that there’s an opening they can take advantage of.

Social media lets you reach your customers in real time at no cost to you. You can also include booking buttons on your social media pages to encourage your fans to book an appointment via your online scheduling software. Maybe a customer can’t capitalize on the opening you just posted on Facebook, but seeing that post — and having ready access to your scheduling system — could prompt them to book an appointment at a time that works for you both.

3.  Track Your Walk-ins

One way to begin formulating a plan for handling your walk-ins is to keep tabs on them. Taking note of how many clients arrive late or are no-shows is helpful in scheduling, as is tracking walk-ins. Recording the average number of walk-ins and their timing over the last week or month lets you see patterns you can plan for. 

To account for these walk-ins, you might leave a few extra spots in your schedule. And don’t just track these numbers once. Continuing to audit your schedule for various appointment types will also reveal patterns at different times of year.

4. Set Off Some Time for Walk-ins

Depending on your type of business, having a dedicated block of time for walk-ins can be key. Take what you’ve learned from tracking your appointment types to look for trends. Are there days or hours where there are often gaps in appointments? If so, try to promote walk-ins during these times to boost your business during slower periods

You might add “Walk-ins welcome: Tuesdays, 2-4 p.m.” to your sidewalk sign. Or you could use your website and social media channels to advertise times when you accept walk-ins. As noted, social media is a great place to promote open time slots. It’s free to post, and those who follow you tend to be customers already.

5. Account for Staffing

Depending on your business, the walk-ins you see will vary. A nail salon or quick haircut salon will likely see more walk-ins than, say, a dentist or attorney. Relatively low-cost services in areas with high foot traffic tend to bring more walk-ins. 

Because you’ve tracked your walk-ins, you’ll have an idea of how many time slots to hold open for impromptu customers. Knowing the number of slots will, in turn, let you know how many employees you will need to accommodate them. 

Some salons might dedicate newer employees for walk-ins while established employees take the clients with appointments. This can help accommodate walk-ins while retaining loyal customers. It also gives a new stylist the chance to meet potential repeat customers who will request them in the future.

6. Disclose Wait Times to Walk-ins

It’s important to treat walk-ins the same as you would customers with appointments. If you want them to have a positive experience and return, don’t treat them like an inconvenience. Encourage them to stay, but be honest about potential wait times. 

If you are currently booked solid, let them down gently. Apologize that you can’t take them right away and show them the next available times in your calendar. If they would like to make an appointment for one of those time slots, help them do that.

Following these tips can help your business begin to manage tricky walk-ins. As with any aspect of business, results tend to flow in the areas you spend time focusing on. By tracking your walk-in customers and leveraging technology to help integrate walk-ins and appointments, you’ll soon have a better handle on your scheduling logistics. And that will let you get back to what you love to do — serving your customers.

Common Obstacles for Appointment Booking and How to Tear Them Down

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Common Obstacles for Appointment Booking and How to Tear Them Down

There are appointment booking obstacles in the way of every business and new customers. Identifying these obstacles and breaking them down is how companies are able to promote growth and deliver quality products and services to consumers. 

Appointment-based businesses have their own unique struggles when it comes to getting new customers to book their first appointment. Below are some of the most common obstacles for customers when it comes to appointment booking. 

Commitment Issues

Committing to an appointment time is a struggle for some people. Maybe they have an unpredictable schedule, so making a commitment seems impossible. 

It could also be that your available openings do not fit their schedule. Perhaps you need to specify one night a week that you’ll accept evening appointments or open at 8 a.m. each day to catch customers before they start their workday. Figuring out how to accommodate customers’ varying schedules will help you fill up your bookings and keep everybody happy.

Committing to your business is also a factor that may give customers pause. Booking an appointment isn’t like entering a grocery store or eating at a restaurant. The appointment process requires more information to be given out and a relationship to be established. If a customer isn’t ready to make that commitment to your business, they won’t be booking an appointment any time soon. 

How do you help customers get over their commitment issues? Maybe you need to improve your online rating or focus on getting more referrals. Word-of-mouth advertising is a powerful tool when it comes to convincing customers to give your business a try. Trust is already established through a friend or family member who speaks well of your services. 

Poor Accessibility

If you’re not using online appointment software yet, you’re missing out. A big deterrent for new customers is an obstacle-strewn path to booking an appointment. If customers have to find a time to call in — risking an unanswered phone or being put on hold for an indefinite period of time — they’re more likely to try their luck as a walk-in (if that).

Online appointment software resolves that issue easily. Online bookings are open 24/7, meaning a customer can book an appointment on their own at their convenience. They can even look at daily availability on the off chance they find an extra hour in their day when they can sneak in an appointment. 

Of course, you should also continue to accept phone bookings for those who prefer to call in. It may be that a portion of your customer base doesn’t have reliable internet access, or your online system could go down temporarily. The more appointment-booking options you offer, the more accessible your business will be.

No Perceived Need

If you’re being super accommodating with those walk-ins, chances are you’re hurting your appointment rates. Many customers won’t bother booking an appointment if they know they can just show up and get in during the next opening. However, too many walk-ins create a lot of variables that can slow down your operations and cause unneeded chaos.

If you want your customers to book appointments — and thus make your operations run more smoothly — limit the number of walk-ins you accept each day. Set clear guidelines so customers understand why they need to book an appointment. 

Your no-show policy will also impact appointment bookings for your business. If you have a lax no-show policy, you might get more bookings, but cancellations will frequently ruin your day. In addition, a high no-show rate might encourage even more walk-ins hoping to land a spot left behind by a last-minute cancellation. 

Poor Strategy

This obstacle is put up by businesses themselves. If you have a poor appointment strategy, you’re just making life more difficult for yourself. To encourage more appointment bookings, you’ll need to revamp your approach to meet customers where they are.

Start with your online presence. Do your website and social media pages clearly state information about appointment booking? Using technology in this way makes it clear to customers where they can book an appointment and how easy the process is. 

Next, take a look at your customer acquisition plan. Are you targeting the right audience? Is your marketing reaching them in the right place? Find the sweet spot with your acquisition strategy, and you’ll find more customers who are ready to book appointments with you. 

Faulty People Skills

The common denominator with appointment bookings across industries is human interaction. Even if a customer books their appointment online, they’ll come into contact with a receptionist or other employee at some point. If they’re treated poorly, you’ll never hear from them again.

Make sure your entire team is well-trained in customer service skills and habits. This is just as important for your mechanics and hair stylists as it is for representatives that handle phone calls. Answering one question the wrong way may cost your business an appointment booking. 

If you don’t know where to start with your customer service training, add a survey to the messages customers receive upon completion of their appointment. Their feedback will highlight exactly where your team members excel and where they need to improve. This will help you better train for customer service skills as well as gauge customer needs in other areas. 

Analyze your business and look for cracks in its foundation. What needs to be improved to make appointment booking easier and more desirable for customers? Once you’ve pinpointed those needs and resolved glaring issues, there will be fewer hurdles for customers to jump on their way to your waiting room. 

Appointment Deals Your Business Should Consider

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Appointment Deals Your Business Should Consider

Every business, even appointment-based businesses, runs a deal at some point to bring in new customers and to give back to their loyal following. Special events renew interest in your brand and can tip the scales in your favor when customers are on the fence. 

Appointment-based businesses will approach deals differently than other industries. While promotions will have to be implemented in different ways, they can still be just as effective at building your customer base and giving revenue a short-term boost. Here are some ideas you can use for your next appointment deal:

Online Booking Promotions

If you’re trying to move toward online appointment booking software, run a promotion that rewards the first customers to adopt it. Even if you explain all the benefits of online appointment booking, you’ll have some customers who don’t like change and will be hesitant to make the switch. Offer them extra reward points, discounts, and flexibility during the first weeks of implementing the new software, and they’ll be more willing to jump on board. 

The real benefits will be enjoyed by your business. Online appointment booking is faster and more reliable than traditional booking. You can easily keep track of appointments, quickly make adjustments, and conveniently access customer information. Your customers can book appointments whenever they please and can even prepay online. 

Loyalty Punch Card

When extending deals to your customers, your primary goal should be to incentivize them to return as often as possible. While new faces are great, it costs five times as much to acquire customers as it does to keep them around. For that reason, many businesses across a variety of industries provide loyalty punch cards to their current fans.

The concept of a punch card is simple. Each time a customer leaves an appointment, they get a punch or a mark on their card indicating they’ve completed a visit. After a certain number of appointments — 10 is typically the magic number — they qualify for a reward. This could be a free appointment or any other incentive that would get customers to pursue the end goal. After their punch card is used up, they can start a new cycle.

First-Time Bonus

Just because getting new customers is more expensive than retaining existing ones doesn’t mean you should stop trying. A healthy business continues to gain new customers as others fade away and need to be replaced. To incentivize new customers to commit to their first appointment, offer them a small bonus.

A first-time appointment bonus should be big enough that it lures in new customers, but not so large that it devalues future appointments they would potentially book. A $10 cut in price or a free additional service will work just fine. A free service — an eyebrow wax with a haircut, say — will also give new customers a taste of what they can enjoy at future appointments. This will act as another incentive to get them to return. 

Bulk Discounts

Another technique to keep customers coming back again and again is to offer a discount for bookings made in bulk. Let’s say you run a chiropractic office, and a regular adjustment costs $60. Over the course of 10 appointments, the bill would run to $600. With a bulk discount, customers can pay for all 10 appointments up front, lowering their total cost by a set amount. A 10% bulk discount, for example, would result in a cost of only $540.

This program benefits your regular customers who were already prepared to pay the full fee for all their appointments. Additionally, it may sway some new customers in your direction as they weigh their options before committing to a business. The promise of a substantial discount on future services when compared to the competition will win over many.

You might be wondering whether this large of a discount will hack away at your revenue. After all, a 10% price reduction can add up over time, especially if multiple customers take advantage of it. What you need to consider is the fact that you’re filling up several appointments in advance. Appointments at a 10% discount still pay more than an empty appointment slot. 

Referral Bonus

Referrals are a powerful asset for your business. A Neilsen study found that more than 80% of U.S. consumers actively seek recommendations before making a purchase. They’ll ask friends and family or poll their social media following to get insight on the brands and businesses those individuals prefer before making a decision for themselves. 

With so many potential customers already looking for recommendations, your task is to get your current loyalists to bring those customers to you. A referral program will incentivize your fans to be more vocal about their decision to do business with you. They’ll talk with their friends and family and guide them to you, receiving a bonus for their efforts.

What should your customers receive for making referrals? For many, additional perks at their own appointments will be a welcome reward. Otherwise, gift cards, lottery tickets, and other prizes may do the trick. You can even hold a referral contest where the winner gets their next five appointments for free or dinner at the hot new restaurant in town. 

Offering the right deals to your customers will help your business grow and flourish — it will also make your customers happy. Don’t be afraid to cycle through these types of deals every once in a while to keep things fresh. New deals and promotions will continue to pique interest in your company year-round. 

The Best Amenities for Your Waiting Room

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The Best Amenities for Your Waiting Room

Think about your most recent experience in a waiting room. What — if anything — did you enjoy about the atmosphere? What bothered you? Now think about the customers that come to your business waiting room. What are they thinking as they wait for their appointments?

Time spent in the waiting room is inevitable for appointment-based businesses. While you can do your best to cut down on wait times, you should still provide the best waiting experience possible. You can improve your own lobby by offering these valued amenities to your guests:

Free Wi-Fi

Even during a short wait before an appointment, your customers want to stay connected. Whether they use it to scroll through social media, play a mobile game, or finish up some work emails, your clients will be grateful for the Wi-Fi connection you provide.

When offering Wi-Fi to your customers, keep cybersecurity in mind. You’re better off extending a private connection that requires guests to sign in before use rather than a public server. A private connection is more secure than the public alternative, reducing the risk for any users. You can set this up via a customer portal where only regular customers can connect. 

If you want to go the extra mile, include a workspace in your waiting room. This will be especially appreciated if your customer base largely consists of business professionals who could use the area to get some work down while waiting for their name to be called. Besides, everyone will be thankful for a place to charge their device while they wait. 

Space for Children

Many a parent will enter your business with a child in tow. Whether the appointment is for the child or the parent simply can’t leave them home alone, having a special place for children will keep them entertained as they wait. 

For children at a dentist or doctor’s office, a play area will help them relax and feel less anxious before their appointment. Parents will likewise be less stressed when their children are entertained and can get their wiggles out rather than struggle with boredom and confinement.

Keeping play areas clean is a top priority, especially while COVID-19 remains a concern. Opt for toys and games that can easily be cleaned, such as blocks and toy cars. Avoid anything that might be a choking hazard or could easily get lost. 

Comfortable Seating

Even a short wait will feel like an eternity when you’re stuck in an uncomfortable chair. The most basic aspect of your waiting room is the seating arrangement, so it makes sense that comfortable chairs should be a high priority.

The type of seating you have available will also impact the attractiveness of your waiting room. A couch will be comfortable, but it will probably only appeal to family members who want to sit together. Strangers will feel more inclined to keep some distance between themselves in individual chairs, especially during the ongoing pandemic. A variety of seating options will cater to every guest.

A massage chair may also be a welcome addition to your waiting room. Not only will it make wait times more bearable, some customers might even wish for a more extended wait so they can enjoy the massage for just a little longer!

Check-In Kiosks

The more efficient you can make your appointment process, the better. Online appointment software will help speed things along before the actual appointment. Once customers arrive, you can cut wait times with self check-in kiosks in the waiting room.

For busy appointment-based businesses especially, self check-in prevents lines from forming and helps customers get checked in faster. Once customers check themselves in, the front desk is alerted, and appointments can be set in motion. This operations system also makes it easier to work around late arrivals by enabling staff to adjust the queue to keep things moving fluidly. 

Refreshments

It’s hard to turn down a free cookie or bottle of water when the wait for an appointment makes you realize how empty your stomach is. Refreshments are welcomed by customers of all ages. They help hit the spot when being hungry or thirsty could otherwise make customers irritable before an appointment.

Many appointment-based businesses provide coffee to their customers. Think carefully before making this decision for your business. While a cup of coffee certainly helps a lot of folks in the morning, extra caffeine can work up already anxious customers. Considering your customers’ particular needs will help you decide whether caffeinated beverages are actually the best choice for your waiting room or not. 

Reading Material

A staple of waiting rooms for years is an array of magazines sitting on a coffee table in the center of the lobby. And for good reason — a 10-minute wait provides the perfect amount of time to catch up on celebrity gossip or digest an opinion piece. A range of magazines on different topics will appeal to the variety of customers you get every day. If you choose to continue the magazine tradition, make sure the issues you provide are up-to-date and in good condition.

A shelf of books is another way to provide reading material. Books of different genres and sizes can be just as entertaining, and they never become outdated. If a customer gets sucked into a particular novel, let them borrow it. Your bookshelf can turn into a small lending library that will encourage customers to book a return appointment.

Reading material can replace a wall-mounted TV or be a separate option for waiting guests. The problem with a TV is that the channel may be tuned to something customers aren’t interested in — or may even object to. Plus, reading is a much more fruitful and relaxing activity to participate in.

Adding some of these amenities to your waiting room will keep customers happy even if their appointment needs to be pushed back. Between keeping public areas tidy and providing these comforts and conveniences, you’ll be sure to have a winning waiting room.

How to Get More Referrals Leveraging Your Online Appointment Software

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How to Get More Referrals Leveraging Your Online Appointment Software

Referrals are a business’s best friend. People are four times more likely to make a purchase or book an appointment when referred by a pal, and they often become more devoted customers than those brought in through other methods. Appointment-based businesses in particular love returning customers and should be doing everything they can to gain new customers who promise high retention rates

Using your online appointment software and other resources, you can increase the number of referrals you get. This will grow your customer base and, in turn, your profits. Here’s how you can do it:

Create Program Awareness

To get things moving, you need to make customers aware that you have a referral program in place. Otherwise, they might not feel as inclined to bring your business to the attention of their friends. Begin with your website, where customers go to set up their appointments. 

Create a page about your referral program that they will see as they move through the booking process. Even a checkpoint asking whether someone referred them to the business will place the idea in their mind. Later on, it will be their name in that box as they refer family members and friends. 

Track Referral Counts

Keep track of how many referrals you receive from each customer. For starters, you’ll be able to see which customers make the most referrals. You can offer them special rewards for their efforts or even talk with them about becoming a brand ambassador for your company.

In addition, you can hold a sort of competition by making referral numbers public. Plan to award a prize at the end of the year to the customer with the most successful referrals. This will incentivize your clients to make an effort to get people to your business. 

Provide the Right Rewards

An effective referral program is only as good as the rewards it offers. A $5 discount is nice, but it doesn’t move the needle enough to make customers feel super motivated to provide referrals. Calculate the return on investment you would get by offering a larger incentive in exchange for a larger customer base.

For example, a free addition to a scheduled service — such as a tire rotation with an oil change — will have a much higher value and may bring new and old customers in more frequently. Extend the benefits to both the referrer and the referral, and people will be begging members of their circle to come in. You can also create tiers of rewards in which customers get larger prizes the more referrals they bring in.

Let’s talk about that customer contest. What sort of prize will be big enough, and within your budget, to offer at the end of the year? An evening at the best restaurant in town or free weekly service for a year can be a much stronger motivator to dedicated customers than the smaller perks they already enjoy.

Add a Newsletter

As part of your online booking process, add an option to sign up for your company newsletter. Let customers know that special deals will be available through the newsletter, as well as other useful news and information on a regular basis. 

Talk about your referral program in each issue of the newsletter. Consistent reminders will keep the program top of mind. Add in a link to your online appointment software; soon enough the timing will be right, and you’ll land some new customers. 

Blog posts are also easily viewed and shared by customers. Link your online appointment system to the bottom of each article, and every new reader brought in by a friend will be able to book a slot in seconds. 

Link to Social Media

Marketing through social media is a trend that keeps on growing and growing. Seventy-one percent of people are more likely to make a purchase (or, in this case, book an appointment) when they are referred to your business over social media. Consumers spend a lot of time on social media channels and can be heavily influenced by the content they see or their friends share with them.

Include links to your online booking software on your social media pages. Social media is a great place to spread information about your referral program and the rewards that come with it. The content you publish is easily shared to personal pages, where customers’ friends and family members will be able to get a glimpse of your brand and be directed to your booking platform in just a few clicks.

Ask for Feedback

At the end of each appointment, ask customers about their experience. Invite them to leave a review on your website detailing their experience for future customers. If their appointment was everything they were expecting and more, ask them to refer a friend. Simply asking for referrals will bring surprising results. Sometimes all it takes is a direct invitation to incite action. 

Even if a customer declines your invitation at first, the act of leaving a review will keep your business at the forefront of their mind for a while. If they strike up a conversation with a friend or family member, they might think about their appointment experience and take the opportunity to make a referral. Planting these seeds will allow you to reap results in the near future. 

As your focus shifts to referrals, your customer base will grow larger and stronger. Referrals have a domino effect, as your customers spur company growth forward. 

5 Ways Your Appointment-Based Business Can Boost Customer Retention

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5 Ways Your Appointment-Based Business Can Boost Customer Retention

Companies in the U.S. lose $136 billion dollars every year from a lack of customer retention. The worst part is that this switching can be easily avoided. It costs five times as much to acquire new customers as it does to retain them. 

Increasing your retention rates just requires a conscious effort to reach out to your customers. The following strategies will help you book more appointments and start to see more familiar faces over time:

Improve the Customer Experience

The obvious way to get customers to keep coming back is to provide them with an experience they won’t forget. Customers will be looking forward to their next visit if you make it more than worth their time. 

Take a trip through your customer journey and look for ways to make improvements. You can break down their experience into four parts:

Booking

How easy is it to book an appointment at your establishment? A difficult booking process is sure to cause frustration. Implementing online scheduling software will work out a lot of the kinks that come with appointment bookings, such as miscommunications, forgotten appointment commitments, and long hold times. 

Waiting

Reducing wait times for customers will put a big gold star next to your company name. If customers know you can get them in and out, you’ll get customers who are willing to squeeze in an appointment during their lunch break. You’ll also appeal to those pressed for time who simply can’t afford to lose a half-hour in a waiting room. Respect your customers’ time to the best of your ability, and they’ll feel comfortable making a return appointment. 

Service

From start to finish, the service you provide is the most important factor when customers decide to make a return or not. When you provide the best haircut, dentistry, massage, manicure, [your service here] in town, your customers will have no cause to stray. 

Departure

You might consider this part of the customer journey an inconsequential one, but you’d be wrong. Each time a customer heads out the door is an opportunity to end things on a high note. Ask them about their experience, crack one last joke, and encourage them to book a return appointment on the spot. 

How would these steps affect you as a customer of your own business? Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes will enable you to make the right adjustments.

Treat Customers Like Family

Of course, your customer service skills should also be top-notch. When your customers feel like they belong, they’ll have an intrinsic desire to keep coming back. You can accomplish this by treating each one of your customers like family. 

Start every customer interaction on the right foot. Address each person by name, and commit to memory the names of your regulars’ kids and/or significant others. Without being intrusive, learn details about your customers’ lives and use the information to develop closer relationships with them. 

Offer Return Incentives

Nothing boosts customer retention quite like an enticing incentive. An incentive program gives customers a reason to keep coming back or even increase the rate at which they book appointments. Your business can offer discounts for return appointments or allow customers to book multiple appointments at once for a lower rate.

Membership programs are especially effective at enabling customer retention. Points are accrued through purchases that can be used as credit for additional purchases, discounts, or prizes. Airlines and hotels are leaders in this field; their rewards programs are key to getting travelers to commit to their brand over the many others in their industries.

You can also appeal to other customer desires by making donations to their charity of choice or putting together community outreach efforts. To some customers, sharing values with a brand is the biggest motivating factor for continuing to patronize a business. 

Aim for Referrals

Referrals are one of the most effective ways of getting new business. In fact, customers are four times more likely to buy a product or book an appointment when referred to a company by a friend. Why wouldn’t you want more referrals filling up your appointment bookings?

A referral program can be one of the incentives you offer. For every referral that leads to an appointment, customers can earn points, discounts, or other rewards. This creates a chain of customer referrals to keep you busy day in and day out.

Another way to get referrals and maintain customer retention is to continue working on that customer experience. If you constantly exceed the expectations of your customers, they can’t help but tell their family and friends. One last statistic that demonstrates why referrals are worth cultivating: customers who come to your business from a referral have a 37% higher retention rate than customers obtained through other means.

Ask for Feedback

Sometimes the best way to figure out how to increase customer retention is to go directly to the source. Asking for feedback from your customers will give you an inside look on the best and worst aspects of your business. This knowledge will allow you to focus on what’s working and ditch what drives customers away. 

Let’s say you get 100 customer responses to a survey on various aspects of your business. There are bound to be a few outliers due to personal preference, so stick with what the majority seems to be saying. For example, if 88 of these customers say wait times are too long, you know that should become your next focus. If the responses are less conclusive, you may need to ask some follow-up questions. 

Be sure to calculate your retention rate now so you can see the difference once you start prioritizing retention goals. When you see what drives improved numbers, double down on those positive changes. More and more, you’ll see your customers sticking around for the long haul.

Don’t Let These 5 Things Derail Your Digital Meetings

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Don’t Let These 5 Things Derail Your Digital Meetings

Remote work’s cure period has passed. Workers will continue to keep in touch using online meeting services. Even businesses that plan to resume on-site operations will use digital meetings to supplant travel.

Virtual meetings are less expensive. They require less time. They can connect people on opposite sides of the country and around the world instantly.

The permanence of digital meetings means they’re worth getting right. Here’s how to overcome five of the most common dysfunctions: 

Technology Hiccups

Nothing can throw off a virtual meeting like an ad hoc troubleshooting session. Maybe one person can’t figure out how to turn on their video function. Another might sound like they’re calling from inside a tin can.

You can mitigate some of these issues by ensuring everyone on your team has proper equipment. Consider providing microphones or asking attendees to use headsets or earbuds. Go the extra mile by sharing troubleshooting resources for common issues. Just about every digital meeting service provider has tutorials available.

Some technological issues are beyond your control, such as outages and service interruptions. But your attendees can avoid most technology troubles with better tools and training. 

Content Temptations

After tech issues, the greatest challenge of digital meetings is content rabbit holes. To get the most out of your meeting, your attendees need to keep their eyes and ears tuned to the topic at hand. 

Take your cue from entirely remote companies. Calendar, a productivity tool with distributed team, uses a few best practices to cut down on distractions:

  • Keep curious fingers off the keys

Typing keeps you from paying attention to the speaker and distracts others. Instead, take notes the old fashioned way: with a paper and pen. Enjoy the break from your inbox while you can. 

  • Implement a “one window” rule

It’s easy to distract yourself by reading the news or planning tonight’s dinner. During a meeting, however, the only windows you should have open are the video call and the agenda. If you need additional materials, such as slides or notes, have them organized before the meeting but hidden from view.

  • Mute yourself by default

This prevents some of the audio issues that pop up during calls. Plus, it gives more attention to the speaker. This way, you don’t have to worry about dogs barking or your neighbors mowing their lawns causing sound issues.

  • Be clear and to the point

Be clear in your phrasings, and avoid going on tangents. Pause frequently to give attendees time to ask questions and process information. It also avoids the dreaded “sorry, you cut out” that requires you to start from the beginning.

Distracting Backgrounds

To avoid turning your square into a problem spot, make sure you pick a clear, uniform background. Try positioning your camera with a blank wall in the background. If that is not possible, make sure the area behind you is neat. A business call is not the time to show your dirty laundry. 

If possible, arrange to have pets, children, and other members of your household otherwise engaged during your meeting. Early in the pandemic, these cameos were fun; now, not so much.

Cross-Talk

Cross-talk happens. However, it shouldn’t be an every-minute-of-every meeting issue. 

This can be particularly difficult when you have a large number of attendees on a call. To avoid confusion, share an agenda beforehand with speakers clearly spelled out. Use built-in tools, such as the chat menu or hand-raising, to prevent participants from talking over each other. 

Use low-tech techniques as well. Encourage speakers to pause after asking a question. Remind listeners to mute themselves when they’re not speaking. 

Small Talk

This point might sound harsh, but it is critical for optimizing your meeting: Water-cooler conversations should not be teamwide time (and, by extension, dime) sucks.

When you connect with associates or colleagues, it’s human nature to bond. You want to know about their families. You want to rehash last night’s game or who was voted off of the island. But without an eye on your watch, you risk spending half the meeting on small talk. 

Find other opportunities to build camaraderie amongst employees. Create Slack channels or Microsoft Teams groups where employees with similar interests can chat. You could also have a virtual game time or happy hour. 

Meetings aren’t going away, only changing in medium. Don’t wait to master their digital format, or you may find yourself getting sucked into a lot more of them.

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.

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