Imagine if someone wanted to schedule an appointment with your company 10 years into the future. You’d probably laugh it off. A lot can change in a decade.
That may seem like a wild scenario, but the underlying question is an important one: How far is too far into the future to schedule client appointments?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Just because your scheduling software lets you book years in advance doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
So how can you decide on a cutoff? Maximize your scheduling software by asking yourself the following questions:
1. What are the limits of my tools?
Before you can even think about customer preferences, know the limitations of your scheduling tools.
How do you attract clients? What about booking their appointments? And how do you send out reminders and handle change requests?
Although some platforms can do it all, many can’t. In each program, click as far as you can into the future. When you can’t go any further, you know how far into the future you can schedule appointments.
What if it’s not as far as you’d like? Start searching for a program that can meet your needs.
2. Is there customer demand?
Everything you do — including how you schedule appointments — should be based on what your clients want. If customers like things as they are, there’s no reason to switch things up. But if they want the ability to schedule sessions further out, then give them what they want.
When it comes to scheduling, beware that customers won’t always tell you their issues. They may not even know that they have a say in your scheduling practices.
In order to figure out what they might want, check out your appointment management platform. How far in advance does the average customer book their appointment? What about the fifth and ninety-fifth percentiles? Try to accommodate even your pickiest customers.
Just as importantly, ask them directly for feedback. Soliciting feedback can come in the form of an email, a text message, a survey, or a conversation.
However you do it, check back in after you set new booking parameters: Do your customers appreciate the changes?
3. Does it make sense with my business model?
Scheduling appointments far in advance makes more sense for some businesses than others. Consider where you fall in the range of companies that typically use appointment scheduling software:
- Call centers would likely want to confine appointments to a shorter time frame.
- Event planners and caterers would likely prefer to schedule far in advance.
- Academic advising appointments make sense to schedule within the semester.
- Dentists and doctor’s offices may prefer to schedule checkups 12-16 months in advance.
When in doubt, learn what’s typical for your industry. Ask partners how far in advance they book appointments.
You don’t necessarily have to do what your competitors are doing, though. If you discover nobody is booking appointments a year out, maybe it could be your competitive advantage. Do what will set your brand apart without hamstringing your team.
4. What does my customer volume look like?
The limits you place on far-ahead scheduling depend on how many people are booking appointments. If there’s always an opening on a given day, then there may be no reason to schedule something a year or two in advance.
If there’s a high volume, though, open up your appointment schedule. You may have heard of restaurants that have reservations years in advance. The reason is probably their popularity: People simply need to wait that long in order to get a table.
Booking appointments far in advance can create a sense of exclusivity. If that’s your strategy, however, do your best to cater to people who would prefer to be served sooner.
5. How far ahead has my business planned?
Your company calendar will be a big factor in how far ahead customers can schedule appointments. If you have a ton of new initiatives in the works for next quarter, then it may not be a good idea to book it up already.
Remember, customer expectations should be set at the time of booking. If you know your service offerings are going to change, then it’s probably best to shut off bookings past that period.
Another way to think about this is based on the season. Your company may see a surge in clients in one season and a drastic decrease in another. If that’s the case for your company, you can prepare for the busy season by getting appointments booked far ahead.
6. What are my goals for recurring clients?
Some businesses automatically schedule recurring clients after their most recent appointment. A dentist’s office, for example, typically schedules clients every 6 months. That kind of schedule can get customers into a rhythm.
Some people prefer to plan in advance, while others like to live by the seat of their pants. Some are more diligent than others about keeping appointments. Others tend to go with the flow.
Extending your scheduling horizon can help you accommodate all types of clients. Your stricter customers will like having something locked in, and you’ll still have space available for those who like to book at the last minute.
Appointments are a juggling act. There are pros and cons to scheduling things far out, just as there are for short-term scheduling. Let your customers guide you, and you’ll make the right call more often than not.