The beauty of online appointment software is that customers can book appointments on their own time. This option is so much more convenient for customers and businesses alike. However, this tool presents a new dilemma that your business should address as soon as possible. How far in advance should you allow customers to book their appointments?
This is a valid question that all business owners who use scheduling software should ask themselves. Plans change for both businesses and customers, so setting a limit on how far in advance customers can schedule appointments is a good idea to consider.
So, what is a reasonable amount of time for appointment scheduling? You want to make sure you’re allowing customers to adequately plan ahead without creating additional roadblocks. Here are some possible scenarios and consequences to consider that will help you decide:
1. Plans May Change
You simply can’t predict the future with certainty, no matter how many data trend lines you draw or crystal balls you place in your office. It’s certainly nice to allow scheduling into the distant future, but there are just too many variables that you just can’t plan for that far in advance.
For example, you might allow customers to schedule appointments up to three months in advance. A lot can happen in those three months that may cause appointments to be canceled or postponed. Calendars are hardly set in stone at that point, so you’re creating an inefficient scheduling landscape that leads to a lot of preventable movement or an increased amount of no-shows and cancelations.
Customers can also have major life changes that are nearly impossible to anticipate. If one of your regular customers has to move out of state, what are the chances they would remember to cancel their appointment if it’s months away? While this is an honest mistake, it’s a miscommunication that can happen because you allowed appointments to be set too far into the future.
2. Economics Are Unpredictable
Ask anyone who was running an appointment-based business when COVID-19 hit and you’ll hear some crazy stories about staying open. While this shift in the economy was due to a pandemic, it paints a vivid picture of some of the economic troubles that might affect businesses and their appointment-setting.
Let’s say you operate a small garage where you provide oil changes and tire rotations by appointment. You can get by with a few regular customers every month, but what happens when the rent you pay for your garage space shoots up? You might have to move to a new location, change your prices, or even sell the garage entirely.
All of these possible scenarios will directly impact future appointments. The further out your appointments are booked, the more difficult it will be to come up with a good solution to move them.
3. Customer Relationships Fluctuate
For many appointment-based businesses, customers develop strong relationships with individual members of your organization. This could be a particular stylist who gets the customer’s hair done just right, a favorite massage therapist, or a personal trainer who is familiar with their workout plan and goals. This relationship is part of a winning formula that your business should cultivate carefully.
Unfortunately, lots of things can change here. You can’t always count on everyone you work with. Employees might take up new job offers, decide to change careers, or simply retire. A situation like this means that some customers will no longer be able to rely on the one member of your organization they’ve grown closest to. Breaking the news to customers with extended appointment dates might be a tough assignment.
4. Human Error Will Persist
At the end of the day, the No. 1 reason why scheduling appointments too far in advance is a bad idea is because people are imperfect. Appointments can be easily forgotten when booked that far in the future. Even if they’re not forgotten completely, the passage of time can cause details to become blurry and other scheduling conflicts to arise. The resulting missed appointment is money your business loses.
Luckily, online appointment software can help your business keep customers accountable for the appointments they set with helpful reminders and automatic calendar syncing. However, there’s still a wide margin for error that is much more easily avoided by placing a limit to how far down the road customers can make appointments.
Sit down with your team and discuss how far in advance customers should be able to book appointments. Align this with your business goals and practices, such as cancellation policies and revenue goals. When the new policy is set, be sure to keep track of important appointment metrics such as no-show rates and customer retention to see how they’re affected by the changes you implement.