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How Your Appointment-Based Business Can Stay Competitive This Year

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Appointment-Based Business

There are numerous ongoing challenges entrepreneurs face when starting and running an appointment-based business. One of them is learning how to position yourself against the many competitors in your industry. Where there’s one business in a particular space, there are many others vying for the same customers.

There’s no perfect business formula that guarantees you’ll be the best appointment-based business on the block. However, the list of competitive methods you can use to boost your business is extensive. These are just a few effective ways you can make your own company stay relevant this year:

Provide a Simple Online Portal System

The easier it is for customers to make appointments, the more bookings you’ll fill. A complicated appointment scheduling process is not a system that will keep you competitive.

Take a look at your current online portal. Start by analyzing the layout of your website. You want everything to be straightforward and easy to find. The simpler your navigation, the better. Use clear, clickable action buttons that guide users through the booking process and enhance the user experience.

The overall design of your online portal is also important. Use colors that can easily be associated with your brand without being oppressive or hard on the eyes. You can also fill blank spaces with images or other designs to make your online portal more attractive.

Offer Incentives

With so many businesses in the hunt, it can be a challenge at times to differentiate yourself from the competition. You should always prioritize improving your services over anything else. You should also consider providing some complimentary features to put your business over the top. Offering incentives is one way your business can set itself apart.

Incentives are especially effective at bringing in new customers. Prospective customers might be lured to your business over the competition due to an ongoing promotion. If you run a hair salon, for example, you might offer a free styling product with every haircut. A service station could do a free tire rotation with every oil change. Once you get new clients through the door using incentives, you can wow them with your services to convince them to return.

Speaking of customer retention, you can implement an incentive program for that, too. Frequent visitors can accrue points for free services or other rewards. A referral program can get you new customers and simultaneously reward your existing customer base.

Offer Online Payment Options

Many customers today prefer to make payments online rather than in person. Making a payment online takes much less time than scanning a card at the front desk or counting out the cash in one’s wallet. This leads to shorter appointment times for customers, who will always appreciate the efficiency.

Online payments also mean you get your money faster. Sending customers bills after an appointment will result in lag time before you receive payment. Worse still, such bills require your staff to print them out and mail them, costing time and money. With online payments, you can receive your fee as an appointment is being booked, even before the customer arrives at your place of business.

To make your online payment options competitive, don’t include processing fees for people who choose to pay online. These sorts of fees can easily turn customers away. Also look for ways to include all of your customer’s preferred online payment options, such as accepting multiple types of credit cards or even top payment apps such as Paypal or Venmo.

Provide COVID Updates

There are still lots of consumers out there who are worried about the different strains of COVID-19. Be respectful of these customer concerns and look for ways to make your business accommodating to them while still operating at full capacity.

A simple way you can assist these customers and keep your appointment-based business competitive in 2022 is to provide COVID updates for your area. You can include these updates on your business website or using your brand’s social media pages. This will let customers know what measures you’re taking to limit the spread of the virus, such as requiring masks or limiting appointment bookings as cases rise.

Don’t just stop at COVID news. Use your business influence to provide updates on other noteworthy community events. For example, you can use your website and social media pages to advertise local events such as fundraisers, food drives, and more. Getting involved in the community allows you to draw closer to your local customers and create an emotional bond that competing businesses will envy.

The most important thing to remember for your appointment-based business is that in order to stay competitive, you cannot settle. If you start to coast, you leave room for one of your competitors to catch up to you. Continue to set goals for yourself and your business throughout 2022 and be willing to try new things. You will always find yourself in the pack of the best appointment-based businesses around.

Image Credit: George Milton; Pexels; Thanks!

4 Complimentary Service Options to Offer Your Customers

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Offer Complimentary Service Options

Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time creating the best product or service. After all, you can’t run a business if people don’t want to pay you for what you’re offering. However, you should also be focusing on related services that you can provide to your customer base. These are called complimentary services.

Essentially, you offer an additional service free of charge to your customers to enhance their experience with your business. This can give you an edge over competitors that offer similar products and services as well as increase customer retention.

If you’re not sure where to start when coming up with complimentary services to offer, we have you covered. This guide contains four of the most common and most appreciated complimentary service options your customers are sure to appreciate:

Preferred Service Provider Option

Many customers become loyal because they develop a connection with a particular member of your organization. This could be a stylist who cuts their hair just right or a waiter who knows their favorite dishes by heart. It’s this bond and the trust they build with that person that keeps them coming back.

Knowing that this connection improves customer retention, many businesses allow customers to choose a preferred service provider. It can be an option included in your mobile app when customers book an appointment. Or if your customers make appointments over the phone, simply ask whether they have a preferred provider. Your customers will be assured they’ll have their ideal appointment experience every time, and employees will feel fulfilled every time they are requested.

Complimentary Transportation Service

Some services can take an unpredictable amount of time. For example, taking your car to a local garage for an unknown problem could take minutes or hours to diagnose and repair. Expecting customers to wait for undetermined periods of time can be perceived as being inconsiderate. Instead of testing your customers’ patience, provide a simple transportation service.

Driving a customer home or back to work won’t take much time, and it makes a good impression. Plus it allows your customer to accomplish more with their day rather than waiting idly in a waiting room. Any customer will be grateful to have this option available to them.

Compensation for Mistakes

No matter how hard you work at improving your business, mistakes are inevitable. You can hire the best staff, provide the best training, and have all the best equipment, yet something will still go wrong. That’s just how life is sometimes. What’s most important for your business is learning how to handle mistakes rather than just trying to make them disappear entirely.

Compensating your customers when issues arise lets them know they are your business’s highest priority. Even a small compensation package shows that you’re sorry the mistake occurred and want to make it up to them. Customers will usually understand and be open to giving your business a second chance. Devoting the effort to make it right can do wonders in restoring their goodwill.

Let’s say you operate a hotel, and a guest arrives at check-in time to find that their room isn’t ready. This can be frustrating for weary travelers with lots of heavy bags they want to unpack. You can keep these customers happy by offering them a gift certificate to a local restaurant and treating them to a meal.

This way, your guests can wait for their room to be prepared while enjoying some delicious cuisine on the house rather than wait in the lobby. What could’ve been a problem resulting in a bad review can now turn into a memorable travel experience.

Childcare

Many customers you assist will be busy parents trying to juggle their appointments around work and their children’s activities. Trying to attend an appointment with your kids can be equal parts challenging and exhausting. Lend a hand by offering free childcare to your customers during their time at your business.

For example, a parent might have a doctor’s appointment and can’t leave their young children at home alone while their spouse is at work. If the doctor’s office has a supervised play area, they can attend their appointment without any worries.

Gyms, dental offices, and hospitals can also employ this strategy. Providing childcare will require an extra employee or two and some additional business space. But this complimentary service will help busy parents in your area who might just become new and recurring customers.

These services will likely add to your expenses column. However, they should easily pay for themselves as you become able to serve more customers and provide a better experience to them. Keep an eye on your business metrics after implementing complimentary service options so you can see how they’re impacting your business. Offering even some simple courtesies like these can go a long way toward delighting and keeping your customers!

Image Credit: Jonathan Borba; Pexels; Thanks!

7 Things to Have in Your Waiting Room This Winter

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Things to Have in Your Waiting Room This Winter

No one enjoys waiting. But the reality is, everyone has to wait from time to time. This is especially true when visiting an appointment-based business like the doctor’s office or hair salon.

Even if an individual made an appointment and arrived on time, they’ll probably end up spending a few minutes in the waiting room filling out paperwork or waiting to be seen. This can be frustrating and might even cause anxiety.

While integrating some type of appointment software to reduce their wait times and streamline productivity is important, it shouldn’t be your only priority. Making the waiting room as comfortable as possible is a great way to make customers and clients feel at ease. In this article, we share what appointment-based businesses can provide to improve their waiting rooms and the customer experience:

1. Clean Facilities

Now more than ever, people want to feel safe while out in public. This is especially true when patients visit a healthcare or service provider. If your waiting room looks dirty, it’s going to deter patients and customers. On the other hand, if the waiting room is clean, people will probably feel less anxious. Make sure you’re regularly cleaning your waiting room throughout the day.

You should also have cleaning products and PPE in place like hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves. Due to COVID-19, masks are mandated in many localities. It’s a good idea to have them available for patients or customers in case they forget.

Your waiting room shouldn’t be the only area you keep spic and span. Make sure your entire office is clean and sanitized, from the interior offices to the bathrooms. If you own a salon, encourage stylists to keep their areas tidy and free of excess tools and equipment. Do you run an oil-change service center? Keeping the garage bays organized will make a good impression on guests.

2. Entertainment

While people don’t go to doctor’s offices or service businesses to watch movies or play games, having entertainment options available can improve their experience. With that said, you don’t want to go overboard or over budget. You also want to make sure the entertainment is calming and not distracting. A few options include:

  • Soft music/nature sounds
  • TV turned to an arts and craft channel
  • Magazines and self-help books

3. Comfortable Furniture

Have you ever visited an office, only to spend what seemed like an hour sitting in a hard, plastic chair? After being uncomfortable for so long, you probably weren’t in a good mood for your appointment.

Comfortable seating can significantly improve the waiting experience. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a great deal of money on your seating, but keep patients and guests in mind. After all, some people might suffer from back pain or another condition that could be made worse with uncomfortable seating. Look for furnishings with soft but supportive cushions and fabrics that are easy to keep clean.

4. Personal Amenities

Waiting room amenities are a great way to improve the patient or customer experience. Think about it. When you go to a hotel, the first thing you probably look for are amenities like access to a gym, fancy shampoo and lotion, a fluffy robe, etc. While you wouldn’t be miserable without these things, they definitely add a nice touch.

Consider bringing personal amenities to your waiting room like snacks, coffee or tea, hand lotion, wrapped candy, etc. Many appointment-based businesses also provide small items like pens or sticky notes with their logo for customers to take home.

5. Wi-Fi

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine categorized Wi-Fi in hospitals and waiting rooms as a “developmental” standard. And while Wi-Fi in waiting rooms might not be mandatory, it’s something you should consider adding if you haven’t already.

If you decide to offer patients or customers Wi-Fi, opt for a public network (for security reasons) as opposed to giving people access to what your office uses. Display the Wi-Fi name and password somewhere they can be easily seen by guests, like by the sign-in sheet at the front desk.

Having access to the internet ensures visitors are able to go about their day as normal, even while waiting for an appointment. They can email their colleagues, work on cloud-based documents, scroll social media, and text with family or friends.

6. Food and Water

You might be hesitant to offer refreshments in the waiting room. And while there’s always the possibility something will spill, providing food and water can be helpful. This is especially true for healthcare provider waiting rooms, where patients may have to spend hours in the office between procedures or tests.

Keep in mind, we’re not suggesting you cater food every day. Instead, you could have a coffee station, a vending machine with snacks, or a refrigerator filled with water.

7. Real-Time Mobile Alerts

There are plenty of ways you can enhance the waiting room experience. But maybe one of the best ways is to integrate more technology.

For instance, you could have a digital board in the waiting room that shows the order of when people will be seen. This way, if there are four people in the waiting room, each person can clearly see their position without having to ask the receptionist.

Another option is to use real-time mobile alerts that tell patients when they’ll be seen. This is similar to the digital board, but it’ll be automatically sent to the patient’s phone. Some online appointment software offers this feature, so you don’t have to do it manually. This also allows people to wait outside or in their cars.

Providing excellent care should be the No. 1 priority for appointment-based businesses and service providers. That said, they should also consider the patient or customer experience. After all, if a patient or client doesn’t feel comfortable, they might not return for their next appointment. The tips above can help improve the waiting room experience so guests feel cared for and welcomed, no matter what kind of business they visit.

5 Reasons Customers Prefer to Schedule Appointments on Their Own

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5 Reasons Customers Prefer to Schedule Appointments on Their Own

Nowadays, more and more people simply prefer to do things on their own. Whether it’s using the self-checkout at the grocery store, paying for gas at the pump, or ordering meals online, using technology to make processes faster and easier is a hit across all industries. It’s no wonder why online appointment software has experienced so much success.

Why Customers Prefer to Schedule Their Appointments

There are many self-service aspects that online appointment software will introduce to your customers. In fact, you could easily see your calendar fill up by using online software since many customers prefer to schedule appointments on their own. Here are some of the reasons why that’s the case:

1. They Don’t Have All Day

Your customers have things to do and places to be. They don’t want to wait on hold or stand in a line waiting to confirm an upcoming appointment. Even if they did, wait times are frustrating and typically a waste of time. Online appointment scheduling is much faster and can be done at the customer’s leisure.

Another aspect of appointment setting that can get tedious is the amount of time customers have to spend writing or dictating their personal information. When booking an appointment online, they can add this information faster. If customers have autofill enabled, the software can add their pertinent details so they don’t have to type everything in.

Once customers add information to an online customer profile, it stays there. Each subsequent booking will automatically update any necessary information. They will only have to make small adjustments as needed.

2. They Can Correct Their Own Mistakes

We make mistakes every single day. That doesn’t mean it gets any less embarrassing when we commit one. In the case of self-service solutions, customers can discreetly fix their mistakes if they accidentally book the wrong appointment time or input the wrong information.

Some changes are necessary not because of a mistake but due to a simple change of plans. For example, a customer might have booked an appointment and then received a surprise visit from the in-laws. By going online, they can easily reschedule an appointment without making a scene.

3. They Can Make Secure Payments Online

Online payments are quick and efficient and are actually quite safe. There is great benefit in being able to pay for appointments in advance in order to cut down time spent waiting in a lobby. Knowing that these transactions are completely secure means customers can rest easy while taking advantage of this convenient option.

Just as customers can choose to save their information with your business to save time while booking appointments, they can also save their payment information. While fewer customers will want to save payment information online, this can be a convenient option for consumers who want a faster checkout experience.

If you do offer online payments, don’t take data security lightly, especially when it comes to financial information. Make sure you’re staying on top of cybersecurity trends and train your employees on proper data security. Software and hardware offer a lot of protection when coupled with cybersecurity knowledge. So be sure you provide the safest payment options for your customers.

4. Questions Are Easily Answered

Want to know how many appointment slots are available next Friday? With scheduling software, customers no longer have to call and hope they can speak with a representative to ask. Instead of waiting while a customer service rep scours the calendar for an opening, they can check available time slots on their own.

This feature makes scheduling so much easier for customers. If someone is trying to plan out their week on a Sunday afternoon, they can look at appointment openings and even schedule a time slot without having to wait for your business to open the next day.

Your scheduling software landing page can contain other useful information and answers to frequently asked questions. Information such as how long appointments normally last, cancellation policies, and what a customer is expected to bring to their appointment can all be listed for them online.

5. The Options Are Endless

Not only do customers like to do their own thing, they like to have options. Online appointment software enables self-service, but it also allows customers to customize certain aspects of the booking process.

For example, customers can book appointments from any device whether it’s from a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. In some cases, they might even be able to create appointment bookings through texting or email chains.

Other customization options can include aesthetic details such as changing the display to night mode or increasing text size. While these changes aren’t monumental, they can mean a lot to customers who like to tailor their experience to their personal preferences as much as possible.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask yourself what self-serve functionality you would want when setting appointments. Look to make that possible with your own business. By doing so, you’ll see those appointment slots start to fill up much more regularly than they did before.

How to Use Appointments to Improve Your Decision-Making

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How to Use Appointments to Improve Your Decision-Making

Snap decisions often cause regrettable damage to our finances, relationships, and overall well-being. When confronted with a difficult decision, especially one that evokes an emotional response, it’s important to take your time and think through it from several angles. Try to let the emotional side take a back seat and consider your decision objectively.

This can be admittedly difficult to do. These decisions and the stress they cause can weigh on your mind and consume your time. How can you think about work or other important matters when such big decisions loom?

Sometimes, putting a placeholder on your calendar can relieve immediate stress and help you assess a wide range of situations more dispassionately. Doing so can also allow you to put the decision out of your mind so you can focus on tasks at hand. Your calendar placeholder ensures you won’t forget to revisit the decision, meaning you don’t have to fret it about in the meantime. That alone will give you some peace of mind.

Block Out Time for Projects and Decisions

Sometimes we have so much to do it’s hard to sit down and concentrate. Scheduling our time through our online calendars and apps can help us get important things accomplished. 

Look at everything you need to get done for the day. Then schedule out blocks of time for each task. This will enable you to really focus on one thing at a time and boost your productivity. 

Doing this also helps declutter your mind. Keeping all your tasks for your professional and personal life in your head can add to your stress and anxiety. Getting it all down in your calendar enables you to clear your mind so you can actually complete your to-dos.

You schedule appointments to get things done at work all the time. Why not do the same for your personal life? Add in your haircut or your kid’s soccer game. The less you have to keep in your head, the freer you are to be fully present. 

Adding appointments for time to reflect or do research will facilitate your decision-making as well. You might schedule time to pore over your budget to see if you can buy the SUV you’ve been eyeing. You might also set aside time to compare various models and the dealer incentives different brands are offering. Taking this prep time lets you keep your purchase a priority but prevents you from recklessly signing on the dotted line at the urging of a smooth-talking sales rep.

Assess How You Use Your Time

As you begin to schedule time for decision-making purposes, you might feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. How can you decide on the best uses of your time? Start by learning exactly what takes up your time at work and at home.

Calendar analytics can show you what you’ve been up to and inform your decisions about how you spend your time. Are you in meetings all day? Do you devote lots of travel time getting to a shared work space? Do all your kids’ sports have you on the road several days a week? With calendar analytics, you can learn the distribution of your calendar appointment types and see the locations of your meetings. 

With this information, you can re-evaluate and make necessary changes so you can make the most of your limited hours. If you need to schedule a time for decision-making purposes, it can open your eyes to the best days and times available.

Use Dead Time for Productive Purposes

After reviewing your calendar analytics, you might discover blocks of wasted or dead time. You might find yourself waiting at the doctor’s office or when picking your kids up. Maybe you have a 30-minute gap between meetings or a long commute. You can make better decisions about how you spend this time, too. These little blocks of time can really add up!

You can leverage this time to learn a new skill or catch up on an enriching podcast. These solo moments could also be a good time to come to a decision on an issue at the office or at home. When you see that gap, go ahead and add an appointment to your calendar. For example, “Reflect on ways to save money this month.”

Improve Your Time Management

When deciding on the best use of your limited hours, it all comes down to time management. Effective time management will increase your productivity and help you stay on top of your obligations both at work and at home. If you find yourself routinely completing work tasks at the last minute or paying your rent late, you’ll need to find ways to be more organized.

After all, disorganization can spill over into those big life decisions as well. Poor time management can cause you to have to make a quick, last-minute choice that you’ll regret later. 

When it comes to big decisions, giving yourself plenty of time to make informed, cool-headed  choices is key. Setting calendar reminders for these moments can give you the space and mental clarity you need to to set yourself up for a great life.

6 Tips for Scheduling Appointments with Reluctant Customers

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6 Tips for Scheduling Appointments with Reluctant Customers

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought upon us a long, grueling, utterly unprecedented year. Everyone — from individuals to communities to entire countries — faced their own unique and strenuous challenges. 

Luckily, the pandemic appears to be on the wane at last. While case numbers continue to fluctuate, people across the country are receiving doses of highly effective vaccines. As the vaccine rollout accelerates, getting back to normal seems increasingly likely.

And yet, for owners of appointment-based businesses, the challenges of COVID-19 are still ongoing.

On the bright side, many companies have opened their doors and resumed in-person work. However, even if employees are happy to return, many customers don’t feel the same way. Thus, persuading these customers to return for face-to-face appointments remains a hurdle.

If you’re facing this issue, don’t stress out — you’re not alone. Read on for six tips on scheduling appointments with reluctant customers.

1. Follow your state and local COVID-19 guidelines.

Official COVID-19 guidelines were implemented for a reason: to keep us all safe. Adhering to these guidelines will benefit your customers and your employees alike. So before your grand office reopening, be sure to brush up on these essential rules. 

Every state is different, so you’ll have to do a bit of research on your own here. Fortunately, there are convenient tools that can help you keep track of state-by-state guidelines, restrictions, and more.

Not only does following applicable laws protect your business, but it also helps put your customers at ease. If they know that officials have deemed it safe to conduct in-person business, they’ll be more likely to book a face-to-face appointment with you.

2. Continue to adhere to social distancing policies.

Social distancing has been the name of the game for over a year now. Remaining six feet apart and wearing masks feels like second nature these days.

As a result, even though restrictions are easing up, lots of customers don’t feel ready to return to mask-free, shoulder-to-shoulder life. This is why staying socially distant for a while longer is the right move.

Basically, you should continue to take precautions to handle your appointments safely. Ensure that everyone in your office wears a face covering, stays six feet apart, and avoids eating or drinking in common spaces. To take it one step further, you could even require daily temperature checks or rapid COVID tests.

By continuing to follow strict health guidelines, you’ll show your clients that you’re still taking this pandemic seriously. Customers will feel safe, protected, and ready to show up for an appointment.

3. Communicate with your customers.

Communication is more important now than ever. It seems as if the world is constantly changing, especially as COVID-19 restrictions can loosen or tighten every day. Right now, it’s vital to respond accordingly and keep your customers in the loop. 

If clients are uncertain about your current mode of operation, they may be reluctant to reach out and schedule an appointment. That’s exactly why you should make an effort to keep them informed about all the details of your office reopening. 

In other words, be sure to let them know that you’re following tips 1 and 2 above. If you consistently maintain communication with your customers, you’ll be well on your way to a rush of new appointments.

4. Use social media to your advantage.

Social media is an indispensable business and marketing tool that’s only grown more popular during this pandemic. There’s no doubt it will remain just as important post-COVID.

As you and your business readjust to normalcy, don’t forget to leverage your social media channels. It’s an effective way to interact with customers, provide real-time updates about the business, and promote your company. 

Whenever COVID-19 guidelines change in your area, make sure to post about your business’s response to the changes. This will help ease any lingering concerns your customers may have about COVID dangers.

5. Give customers an at-home option.

Although we’re moving closer to normalcy each day, the pandemic is still not over. Yes, cases have gone down in most areas, and vaccinations are well underway. Despite this progress, however, many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of returning to in-person work and social events. 

Unfortunately, some customers won’t feel ready to return to your business just yet — it’s that simple. If this is the case, convincing them otherwise may be impossible.

The good news is that we live in the 21st century, and we have modern technology at our disposal. If the nature of your services makes it possible, allow your customers to opt for a virtual appointment if they desire. It may not be ideal, but it’s better than missing out on the opportunity entirely.

If you give customers the choice to stay home, they’ll certainly feel safer returning to your business in the future. Even better, they will greatly appreciate your effort to be accommodating. 

6. Be open to adaptation.

If we can offer one final tip, it’s this: don’t be afraid to adapt. After the year we’ve had, perhaps this goes without saying. 

When you discover that one of your normal practices isn’t working, it may be time to try something new. For example, a hairstylist whose customers are still hesitant to return for in-salon appointments could make house calls. Or, weather permitting, they could move one salon chair outside for alfresco haircuts. 

Much has changed in the past year, and there’s no doubt that things will continue to change throughout 2021. So as your business transitions from virtual to in-person, it’s important to remain flexible. 

The pandemic has forced all of us to reevaluate and rearrange our priorities, both business-related and otherwise. Just remember: you’ve made it this far. Stay adaptable, and you’ll be fine.

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. 

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 Make Cancellations Less Common

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How to Make Cancellations Less Common

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

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

Understand Why Clients Cancel 

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

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

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

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

Create a Cancellation Policy

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

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

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

Don’t Schedule Too Far In Advance

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

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

Send Reminders 

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

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

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

Offer Self-Serve Rescheduling

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

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

Use Rewards to Your Advantage 

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

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

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

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

7 Things Customers Want in Their Online Booking Experience

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9 Collaboration Mistakes You’re Making With Your Remote Team

Online booking and appointment software makes life easier for you and for your customers. But investing in software is just the start. How are you going to give them a great booking experience?

Customers have high expectations for online scheduling software. They want a personalized experience, just as they’d receive from your receptionist. But they also want certain things humans simply can’t offer, like always-on account access. 

Are you meeting their expectations? Here’s what they’re looking for:

1. 24/7 Access to Online Booking

Many people manage their personal appointments before or after regular business hours. Appointment software can and should be available 24/7. That way, customers can add, adjust, and cancel appointments at their leisure. 

If you’re worried about customers with unanswered questions hesitating to book after hours, set up a frequently asked questions page or, better yet, a customer service chatbot. These automated scripts can address most, if not all, of the questions customers might ask in the booking process. 

Just as important to customers as being able to access your appointment software at all times is being able to access it from any device. Make sure the program you use is accessible on mobile. Try it from a few different devices to be sure it loads well on screens of different sizes. 

2. Online Booking Speed and Efficiency 

Booking an appointment online should be a lot faster than it would be over the phone or in person. After all, no one wants to wait on hold for 15 minutes, just to be told that the time slot they desire has already been booked.

The less time it takes for customers to book an appointment online, the better. If there are still kinks in your system, take the time to straighten them out. Broken links or long loading time will not reflect well on your business. 

3. Prepay Options

Most online appointment software gives customers the option to prepay. Not forcing customers to pay on site makes their appointment experience run faster and more smoothly.

Consumers also appreciate companies that accept a variety of payment options. You’ll have customers who will want to use debit cards, credit cards, mobile wallets, gift cards, and perhaps even cryptocurrency. The more forms of payment you accept through your online appointment software, the better.

4. Online Booking Reminder Settings

Life gets busy. Forgetting an appointment is all too easy to do. Make sure your appointment scheduling system sends reminders to make sure customers know what’s coming up. 

With that said, not everyone enjoys getting reminder messages from companies. Make it possible for them to change their reminder settings. Some might prefer an extra reminder or two, while others may want to turn them off entirely. 

Make settings adjustable for other notifications as well. Some customers would love to know when you unveil a new promotion or close for the holidays.  

5. Instant Verification

Just as important as those reminder messages are verification statements confirming that an appointment has been made. After going through the online booking process, customers need confirmation that their appointment has been set. Wondering if their request has gone through may prompt them to make a second appointment, which can result in double bookings and general confusion.

Be sure your online appointment software sends confirmation emails. The copy doesn’t need to be out of this world; you just need a simple message to let customers know that their appointment slot has been secured. 

6. Appointment Viewable Availability

Don’t make your customers go through the entire booking process just for them to find out the slot they want is unavailable. From the second they open up your interface, they should have access to all available appointment slots for the next several weeks or even months. This way, there’s no question as to what times are available to them in the near future.

This shouldn’t be difficult to accomplish, as your online appointment software should automatically update your appointment calendar every time someone books. Make it an option for customers to receive updates when last-minute appointments open up, giving them a chance to walk in on a day they would have preferred originally. 

7. Simplified Check-In

Online appointment software shouldn’t just simplify the booking process; it should make check-in a breeze. Most systems do this by maintaining a profile on each customer, which is then made available to the customer service staff. 

Some online appointment software can transfer booking details directly to your CRM system. This integration makes it easy to start each customer’s appointment as soon as they walk in the door. 

Knowing what customers want is one thing; delivering it is another. If your booking software makes signing up for a slot easy, customers are all the more likely to do it again. 

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