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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. 

What Are Scheduling Links and How Do They Work?

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What Are Scheduling Links and How Do They Work?

Mastering your time is the key to becoming successful in any industry. It’s how professional athletes find time to train and recover, how top executives can seal so many deals, and how entrepreneurs can grow a startup while still raising a family. A lot of time management comes from self-mastery and dedication, but it never hurts to deploy a few tools to help you along the way.

One such tool is the scheduling link. Adding these links to your repertoire will save you tons of time when organizing your schedule; they will also improve the way you communicate. This guide will explain the ins and outs of scheduling links so you can reap the benefits for yourself.

What Is a Scheduling Link?

A scheduling link is a URL or web link that you can send to anyone online to share your availability. Recipients can click on the link to view your calendar and set up a meeting with you. You can create a link for one-time use or develop a template that you can use repeatedly.

After you send a scheduling link and the recipient selects a meeting time, you’ll receive a notification to confirm the time of the meeting. This allows you to quickly block out times on your calendar for meetings, interviews, and phone calls. 

Scheduling links can be attached to emails, sent via text message, or even embedded in your company website. This flexibility will enable you to use scheduling links in the way that best meets your needs. 

How Do You Set Up Scheduling Links?

To start, you need an online calendar that allows you to create scheduling links, which then use the contents of your calendar to create availability windows. Lest you think you’re throwing your entire life open to the world, rest assured that there are settings to hide information you don’t want others to see. You can keep your calendar entirely private or show teammates and customers the reasons you’re unavailable at various times.

To create the link itself, you only need to click. Each time you do, the link will analyze your calendar to create an accurate picture of your availability. Permanent scheduling links, which always stay up-to-date and never expire, can be sent to your closest connections. 

Some scheduling links give you even more control over your schedule. Even if you don’t have anything marked in your calendar for a certain time, you can close that span of time off in your scheduling link so no one books it. This will leave your lunch breaks uninterrupted when they’re not explicitly listed or guarantee some downtime during the day. 

What Are the Benefits of Scheduling Links?

First and foremost, you’ll save a lot of time with scheduling links and improve your overall communication. No one enjoys the back-and-forth emails required to coordinate times for meetings and phone calls. Life is so much easier when you can send a simple link and identify times where your two schedules line up.

Scheduling links will also help you with your time management. One simple distraction can derail your productivity by over 20 minutes. Don’t let an unnecessary phone call disrupt your flow when a scheduling link could prevent it.

Of course, as a leader, you might say that your door is always open to your employees. You can be true to your word and still maintain your productivity by making your scheduling link available to everyone on your team. At any point, they’ll be able to request a meeting at a time that works for you. 

Are Scheduling Links for Business or Personal Use?

The short answer is both. A scheduling link will go as far as you take it. Whether you want to use scheduling links to stay connected with a small team or all and sundry is up to you. Just take your goals into consideration.

For business purposes, scheduling links can be used in two ways. As mentioned, the first is for managers to make their availability accessible to employees. Team members from the top to the bottom of the corporate ladder will find this feature quite useful.

Scheduling links can also help businesses establish a relationship with customers. Account managers can create scheduling links for each of their clients to enable better communication. Small businesses can add scheduling links to their website for customers to book appointments more easily. 

For personal use, scheduling links can help you connect with all the groups in your life. If you volunteer at a charity, belong to a church group, or coach a Little League baseball team, you can use scheduling links to arrange work sessions, meetings, and practices with ease.

What Else Can Scheduling Links Do?

As basic as they are, scheduling links have a couple of additional tricks up their sleeve to help you master your calendar. Be sure to leverage the following capabilities to get the full benefit:

Meeting Buffer

Need a 15-minute breather after one meeting before tackling your next one? Add some buffer time to your scheduling link so no one will catch you off guard. 

Time Increments 

How long do you want your openings to be? You can make them as long as an hour or more or shorten them depending on how much time you think you’ll need. 

Notifications

What good is a meeting if you forget it? Get notifications hooked up to your links so both parties keep their end of the commitment. 

Double-Booking Prevention 

Having two people book the same time slot would lead to one big mess. Luckily, an updated scheduling link can prevent that from happening. 

Start using scheduling links today so you can get a feel for how they work. After a few test runs, you’ll be able to incorporate them into your daily routine and get so much more out of your time. 

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?

How to Tell Challenging Customers the Truth

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How to Tell Challenging Customers the Truth

It goes against every professional instinct to disappoint the person signing the checks, but the truth is, the customer is not always right. 

If a client has you working around the clock, rearranging your online calendar around their needs, or scrambling to provide services you don’t usually offer, it’s time to have a conversation. Can you reasonably meet their expectations?

Perhaps not. Sometimes, you’ll need to push back on challenging customers without hurting your relationship or losing business. 

Threading that needle is not easy, much less enjoyable. Here are some tips to help you have constructive conversations that reinforce your boundaries and prevent client relationships from deteriorating:

1. Go Back to the Contract

A lot of client overreach is born not out of entitlement, but out of the fact that the client has simply forgotten the scope of work. This is why it’s so important to establish clear expectations at the beginning of a client relationship, and to put those expectations in writing. If you don’t, you will have a much more difficult time telling a pushy client why something can’t be done.

Moreover, pointing to a contract is a respectful way to turn down a request, and one few reasonable people will argue against. If the client still wants you to perform extra work, you can offer to renegotiate their contract — and find opportunities to upsell them in the process. 

2. Take Time to Listen

When a client makes a demand that sounds unreasonable, it’s easy to assume they’re disrespecting you and your time. But it’s possible that they’re facing extenuating circumstances you don’t know about: Perhaps they’re under immense pressure from their own boss, or perhaps they simply don’t understand how much time and effort their request would require. 

Before saying “no,” schedule a meeting to talk through their request. Ask clarifying questions, and practice active listening when they answer. Fully understanding their needs will help you brainstorm a solution that works for both of you. And if you do still need to turn them down, the respect and consideration you showed them will soften the blow. 

3. Pick Your Battles

Being flexible without becoming a pushover is a difficult balance to strike, but an important one to master. If a task is technically out of scope but wouldn’t significantly strain your resources, consider the pros and cons of taking it on. If your contract allows you five business days to complete your deliverables, but the client’s CEO wants it on their desk in four days, it’s likely in your best interest to make an exception. 

In these situations, it’s helpful to make sure your client is fully aware that you’re pushing the bounds of the contract. Tell them, “While we usually prefer five business days to complete this task, we’re happy to expedite the process in this particular circumstance.” This reminds them what the norm is while highlighting the fact that you’re going above and beyond for them.

4. Be Specific

This should go without saying, but just saying “no” without an explanation won’t do much for your customer retention. The more clarity you offer your client, the more likely you are to end the disagreement amicably.

When explaining why a request can’t be met, point to specific aspects of the client’s request that are misaligned with what’s in their contract. This gives the client more clarity into what you can and cannot do. Plus, it emphasizes the fact that your denial is due to business needs, not your personal feelings. 

5. Remove Emotion from the Equation

When dealing with pushy clients, it’s easy to feel frustrated, angry, or insulted. But it’s important to remember that the matter probably isn’t personal for your client; it doesn’t have to be personal for you, either.  

When speaking with the difficult client, take a mental step back. Think of yourselves not as two individuals having a disagreement, but as two business representatives trying to work out the most mutually beneficial business deal. Speak in a calm tone, explain the situation with professional precision, and avoid getting into arguments.

There’s little you can do if your client behaves rudely. But if you make an effort to avoid retaliating in kind, you can prevent the conflict from getting worse. 

6. Consider Matching Their Request 

In some situations, you may be able to get some concessions from the client that make their request a little fairer. Just be sure you don’t insult them in the process.

“If the client asks for something outrageous,” Shortpress’s Sam McKeith suggests, “it can sometimes pay off to deflect with something equally as impossible.” 

Say a client asks for a massive discount. You could say that discount is available if they lock into a two-year contract or if they refer you to their own clients. This way, you can turn an extreme request into an opportunity for new business. 

7. Keep the End Goal in Mind 

Clients can often have you running around in circles as you try to meet their every whim. What they forget is that their own actions are delaying completion of their project. 

It’s your responsibility to keep the end goal in focus. Avoid letting them sidetrack you with irrelevant requests. Remind your client what you’re there for, and emphasize that it’s in their best interest to focus your joint energies on that end goal. 

8. If All Else Fails, End the Partnership

“Firing” a client can and should be a last resort. After all, they’re the one who initially hired you. But a client relationship that isn’t mutually beneficial isn’t worth maintaining. 

Remember that your company is in the business of making money, not providing charity to your clients. If an overbearing client is costing more in terms of manpower and morale than what they pay you, it may be time to end the relationship. 

Keep opportunity costs in mind. Your team could better use its time serving the clients that value their relationship with you. Your efforts could improve retention, generate more upsells, and create a healthier business in the long run. 

In most cases, though, consulting your contract, listening to your client, and communicating openly is enough to ease client challenges. Either way, professionalism and honesty go a long way toward encouraging clients to better respect your time. 

How to Handle Appointment Scheduling When Schedules Change

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How to Handle Appointment Scheduling When Schedules Change

As Americans return to work, many are losing their 9-to-5 freedom. No longer can they book appointments whenever they please thanks to the flexibility of remote work prompted by COVID-19. Appointment-based businesses must know when and how to adjust their own schedules as work practices revert to the old norm. Here’s what you can do to handle your appointment schedule when schedules change:

Manage Walk-Ins Wisely

Walk-ins can be both a blessing and a curse for appointment-based businesses. On the one hand, walk-ins represent welcome revenue on slow days when appointments are hard to come by. On the other hand, turning prospective customers away due to high volume is always a bummer. The best approach is to allow a set number of walk-ins per day or per hour and to work everything else through appointments.

Some of your customers might not know their availability until after they clock out. This may prompt them to stop by in an attempt to squeeze into your schedule. Instead of playing the odds, use their desire to your advantage. Send out notifications to your customers informing them of available appointment slots throughout the day. This way they’ll know beforehand whether you’re full to the brim or whether there’s a slot they can book right then and there using their device. 

Adjust Your Business Hours

When your regular customer base returns to a 9-to-5 schedule, your own business hours might see a decline in appointment volume. To cater to changing needs, consider adjusting your business hours to accommodate schedule changes. This could involve opening up a little earlier and staying open a couple extra hours to give everyone an opportunity to stop by.

Before making any changes, gauge the interest customers would have in amended store hours. If you’ve been developing a personal relationship with them, you can ask directly. Otherwise, send a survey asking for input or do a week-long trial run to see whether the new hours are popular. 

Be sure to get your employee work schedules straightened out beforehand, though. You’ll need to know that you have people willing to fill the new time slots. 

Go Virtual

If the nature of your business allows it, try incorporating virtual appointments into your services. This allows customers to book appointments and phone in even while they’re at the office, filling your 9-to-5 slots when physical appointments are infeasible. The convenience of virtual appointments will also benefit stay-at-home parents who struggle with dragging the kids around for errands.

While we’re still a long way from virtual haircuts, plenty of appointment-based businesses can pull off virtual appointments. Healthcare providers can check in on patients’ treatment plans, for example, while counselors only need to speak with their clients to make an impact. 

When deciding to go virtual, make sure to do it right. Invest in proper sound equipment, solid internet service, and robust videoconferencing technology for a high-quality appointment experience. Ready yourself for virtual appointments by doing extra preparation in advance and brushing up on online etiquette

Take Advantage of Customers’ Availability

Even as your customers return to their desk jobs, you can still take advantage of certain times to lure them in. The most reliable is the lunch hour, when employees might grab a quicker-than-usual bite to eat so they can fit in an appointment before clocking back in. Capitalizing on these brief moments of availability will give your business a nice boost of revenue each day.

Take a page out of the restaurant industry’s book. To get workers to stop by for lunch, they offer specials available only during certain times of day. Any appointment-based business can use this tactic to give customers an incentive to book a lunchtime slot. For example, a car detailer can offer a free exterior wash for any customer who brings in their ride between noon and 2 p.m.

Bring Your Business to the Customers

Back in the olden days, doctors would travel to private homes to care for their patients. Bringing back this old trend mould allows busy professionals stuck at work until 5 p.m. to book more appointments with you. 

Remember our car detailer? They could travel to their customer’s place of business and clean out their car in the parking lot. This way the service is still being performed without the customer having to take time off work or sacrifice part of their evenings or weekends. Any appointment-based business with enough creativity can pull this off as long as there’s demand. 

Adjust Your Late and Cancellation Policies

What happens if a customer can’t make it to their appointment because their boss asked them to stay late? Take a look at your late and cancellation policies to determine how best to accommodate these types of scenarios. Some leniency on your part will encourage customers to try — and try again — to visit your business and develop loyalty to your brand.

Of course, there will always be times when your late and cancellation policies must be enforced. Repeat offenders shouldn’t be given the same benefit of the doubt as loyal customers who have to cancel last-minute due to unforeseen circumstances. 

As a business owner you’ll always have to make adjustments on the fly when circumstances change — and the workplace upheaval caused by COVID-19 is certainly one of those circumstances. As the 9-to-5 norm is re-established, work to give your customers the service they deserve, and you’ll always come out on top. 

Best Online Calendar and Scheduling Apps

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Best Online Calendar and Scheduling Apps

As a leader, you most likely keep a schedule. Your schedule keeps you on track and tells you what you need to accomplish each day. There may be meetings, appointments, and events listed that you don’t want to forget.

Leaders have always found that work and personal life intertwine and calendaring is the best weapon against missing the essentials in either world. With scheduling and calendaring, besides work requirements, your schedule also includes gym appointments, concerts, and your kids’ games or recitals.

Best Online Calendar and Scheduling Apps

Here are some of the top schedule apps for business owners that will help you juggle everything in your business and life. You’ll work smarter — and never again will you forget an appointment or task.

  • Calendar for smart scheduling, unifying all of your calendars, and time analytics.
  • Google Calendar for basic online calendar functions for Google users.
  • Apple Calendar for basic online calendar functions for Apple users.
  • Microsoft Calendar for basic online calendar functions for Windows users.
  • Deputy for scheduling employees at various locations as well as the capability to publish schedules through email or SMS, and create shifts.
  • Hot Schedules for business owners with a team of employees to oversee in industries like restaurants, hospitality businesses, retail, and recreation and entertainment.
  • When I Work for its compatibility with payroll platforms like Quickbooks and ADP and its mobile accessibility, online scheduler, messaging, and customer support features.
  • Timely for its dashboard view, scheduling feature, and cloud functionality.
  • Planday for its simple scheduling by job role, push notifications and email alerts, payroll reporting, labor cost and overtime tracking, and customer support.
  • Fleetmatics Work for field service management businesses that have this type of team, cloud-based system, and integration with accounting software like Quickbooks.
  • Shiftboard for employee and workforce management scheduling, communications tools, employee self-serve options, and time and attendance processes.
  • FreeBusy for its artificial intelligence, compatibility with Outlook desktop and web app, embed feature, and integration with major digital calendars.
  • Meekan for its ability to work Slack and HipChat, flight search, RSVPs, double booking alerts, and meeting reminders.
  • Meetin.gs for its functionality, live communication tools like Skype, Microsoft Lync, Google Hangouts, and teleconferencing.
  • NeedToMeet for its collaborative meeting scheduling and management, custom URL to invite attendees, notifications and comments, and a dashboard view.
  • X.ai for its personal virtual assistant capability and artificial intelligence.
  • Fantastical for Apple users wanting to try a different option with a critically acclaimed design and user-friendly features.
  • Yahoo Calendar for recreation event integration, solid to-do lists, and long-term planning.

Best Online Calendar and Scheduling Apps — the Details

Calendar

Calendar is a calendar, scheduling, and appointment app. The web portal and mobile app provide a machine learning-enabled platform that learns about your contacts and typical schedule. The more Calendar works with that information, the better it becomes at understanding your schedule and those you interact with regularly.

Not only does the schedule app see how it can help with scheduling, but it also does a lot of the heavy lifting for you. That means you can enjoy automated reminders and real-time updates that get you where you need to go. It integrates with other apps and tracks information about routes, weather, and traffic to make sure you stick to your schedule.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is one of the most accessible online calendars out there. You can download it on virtually any device and can dive in even deeper on a desktop computer. If you love the other products included in the Google Suite, you can easily integrate them into this calendar for easy use. Schedule meetings with Google Hangout links and attach Google Documents, Sheets, and Presentations as needed.

Google Calendar is also one of the most versatile of calendar apps, able to sync with most other apps to easily move from platform to platform or collaborate with users of other online calendars.

Apple Calendar

Apple Calendar is the default calendar for iPhone, iPad, and Macbook users. For those who live and die by the Apple brand, this calendar is great because it syncs across all your Apple devices, allowing you to switch seamlessly from one to the other. Don’t have access to one of your many devices? Your calendar information will be stored in Apple’s exclusive cloud, and you can access this from anything with a web browser and internet connection.

The Apple Calendar also doesn’t discriminate, allowing you to add additional online calendars from other sources for easier and all-inclusive time management.

Microsoft Calendar

Microsoft Calendar, also known as Outlook or Office 365 Calendar, is comparable to Google Calendar in that it works seamlessly with the other applications in its suite. It’s an optimal calendar for businesses that already rely on Microsoft products for their daily operations. This is an easy calendar for Windows users as Microsoft integrates well into virtually any PC.

While being able to create multiple calendars isn’t a unique feature, Outlook takes it a step further by allowing you to easily view separate calendars in a side-by-side view, as well as the ability to stack them. This way you can more easily balance your work and personal calendars, along with any others you have created.

Deputy

Deputy helps you stay on top of your schedule and anyone else on your team. It’s made for business owners to take care of staff management duties and lead more effectively. The complete scheduling solution includes a way to schedule employees at various locations, publish schedules through email or SMS, and create shifts. You can also get shift costs and compare wages to sales forecasts. It’s easy to add new employees to this scheduling system.

Other features include timesheet management, communication channels, and tasking tools. The cloud-based scheduling system also lets you oversee schedules from anywhere because it works with Android, iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch.

Hot Schedules

Hot Schedules is another scheduling app that is ideal for business owners with a team of employees to oversee. It’s especially ideal for certain industries like restaurants, hospitality businesses, retail, and recreation and entertainment. The scheduling app provides a cloud-based platform so that schedules can be produced quickly and optimize the available labor force. Features include time and attendance record-keeping, shift communication, labor compliance, and employee engagement.

In addition to the scheduling functionality, it provides a full-scale back-office solution for businesses like restaurants, including inventory management, talent development, forecasting and budgeting, and more.

When I Work

When I Work is another scheduling app that works for those leaders that have a team. This scheduling app is for numerous types of businesses across industries like hospitality, customer service, retail, healthcare, nonprofits and more. It specifically benefits those business owners with hourly employees because it makes scheduling so easy. It also works for all types of employee meetings, and task scheduling.

The scheduling app also works with payroll platforms like Quickbooks and ADP so the work schedule can transfer over easily. The app works with Android or iPhone so it makes employee requests for shift trades or time off even simpler. It’s free for up to 75 users, including mobile accessibility, online scheduler, messaging, and customer support features.

Timely

Timely is a scheduling app for individuals, freelancers, and business owners that also works as a team management platform, overseeing hours, projects, and tasks. The dashboard view provides a business owner with an overview of all projects to see what everyone is doing. Plus, you’ll see how much time it actually takes them. Over time, this can help you reduce overhead costs and optimize productivity while also balancing the team’s workload.

The scheduling feature helps you schedule work according to available capacity while also tracking who has recorded their hours. All it takes is a few clicks to create the schedule as well as put together detailed results that can be used along with invoices to bill clients. The scheduling app can be used from anywhere, including iOS and Android devices.

Planday

Planday is a powerful, yet affordable, scheduling platform that grows with you as you add users. There are starter and pro levels of the scheduling app set at different price points. Even the starter level is packed with features. For example, it includes simple scheduling by job role, an app for iOS and Android, push notifications and email alerts, payroll reporting, labor cost and overtime tracking, customer support and more.

The pro-level includes these features and adds even more. Some features that come with the upgrade are HRM tools, vacation management, scheduling statistics and reporting, electronic signatures, and employee file management.

Fleetmatics Work

Fleetmatics Work is a field service management platform for businesses that have this type of team. The scheduling tools are easy to read and only require a few clicks so you can assign jobs in a way that lets you maximize the number of customer appointments you can book each day. The format also makes it easy to change or cancel appointments, including alerting each employee to a change in their schedule.

Since you have a mobile workforce, it offers a cloud-based system that can be accessed anywhere, most importantly your field service technicians. Additionally, the platform allows you to efficiently manage dispatch, invoices and quotes, and reports. Also, it integrates with accounting software, such as Quickbooks.

Shiftboard

Shiftboard is an employee and workforce management scheduling solution. This cloud-based system provides a way to automate much of the scheduling and time tracking process. It can forecast resources and build schedules based on that data. Additionally, the scheduling app can assign the right people to each job and make real-time scheduling adjustments should anything change.

Other features include a set of communications tools, employee self-serve options, and time and attendance processes. Also, the scheduling app offers reproving and analytics on shifts, workforces, teams, and financials. When you have new hires, you can use Shiftboard for applicant tracking and onboarding. Lastly, it integrates with hundreds of other apps and software for payroll, time management, and other business processes.

FreeBusy

FreeBusy is powered by artificial intelligence and serves as your scheduling assistant for teams and enterprises. You can use this scheduling app within the Outlook desktop and web app. The Outlook add-in features provide a way to identify the best time to meet for those who will be attending from inside your company as well as those from the outside. It also does the same with Google Calendar when you add the FreeBusy Chrome Extension.

Additionally, the scheduling app gives you a personalized webpage. Here, your contacts can see your availability and book meetings. You can also embed your availability on your website, blog, or LinkedIn. Integrating with major calendars will cost you a monthly fee. Otherwise, the basic version is free.

Meekan

Meekan is another scheduling app that uses the power of artificial intelligence to optimize your scheduling processes. it works with Slack and HipChat. The free app is very simple to use. Just request a new meeting in a simple language and then invite who you want. The AI machine goes to work to match everyone’s time and preferences, selecting an optimal time.

Once it has been established the meeting is synced for everyone on their Google, Office 365, or iCloud calendar. Other features include flight search, RSVPs, double booking alerts, meeting reminders, and more.

Meetin.gs

Meetin.gs is an app that helps you create, schedule, and manage meetings as a business owner or manager. It simplifies the meeting scheduling process by allowing you to integrate your calendar with its functionality and easily share that personal scheduling page as par at of an email tagline or website. You can access meeting information from your mobile device, respond to meeting requests, or get or make meeting updates.

The schedule supports Google apps, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Contacts, Outlook, Live People, and Office365. Additionally, it offers live communication tools like Skype, Microsoft Lync, Google Hangouts, and teleconferencing. It’s available as a monthly or yearly subscription.

NeedToMeet

NeedToMeet is a scheduling tool for collaborative meeting scheduling and management. This is a simple, yet highly effective, app for business owners and their teams. Features include simple scheduling, a custom URL to invite attendees, notifications and comments, and a dashboard view of all meetings. It works on multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, and the Web as well as with their Microsoft Outlook plug-in.

Even the standard free version of the schedule app is ad-free so there are no distractions. Two other versions of the schedule app come with more features and offer various pricing plans.

X.ai

x.ai is your personal virtual assistant for scheduling that leverages artificial intelligence to lighten your workload. It’s easy to use. It’s just a matter of CCing [email protected] on any email. Then, she does the rest to make sure a meeting time is coordinated and scheduled. She learns pretty much everything about you. This includes appointments, phone number, Skype username, and any information that a colleague or client might need to schedule time on your calendar.

The artificial intelligence component to this virtual assistant studies people’s natural speech patterns to reply in the most human ways possible. It’s free for up to five meetings per month. A fee-based version adds more features, a customizable signature, and unlimited meetings each month.

Fantastical

Fantastical is exclusive to Apple users and is another option for those who aren’t the biggest fans of the default Apple Calendar. The app can be used for free but is greatly restricted without an account subscription, but $4.99 a month isn’t a steep price to pay for calendar efficiency. Critics and users alike rave about Fantastical’s layout, giving it high ratings on its clean and user-friendly design.

One of its unique features is calendar sets, allowing you not only the ability to organize your daily schedule but a myriad of calendars of different types. For example, a business owner can create different calendars for their sales, customer service, and IT teams and add them to a calendar set focused on work. Another set can contain a specific calendar for each one of your kids including their individual events and commitments.

Yahoo Calendar

Yahoo Calendar is a blast from the past. While it has been outpaced by many other calendars as far as updates are concerned, it’s still a very serviceable program in the right hands. Being able to sync with Apple and Outlook calendars is a huge plus, helping you begin integrating right away. Something that sets it apart is the ability to work flawlessly with event sites such as Evite and Eventful, which allows you to more easily book events to attend and have them added automatically to your personal calendar.

Yahoo also excels with its to-do list feature, helping you plan out all the details of your day to accomplish all of your short-term goals. Additionally, for what it’s worth, a 100-year calendar allows you to plan as far in advance as you would ever need to.

The Right Appointment Reminders Will Get Your Customers Through the Door

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The Right Appointment Reminders Will Get Your Customers Through the Door

Any business that works with appointment bookings should be sending reminders to all of its customers. Even the simplest reminder can slash no-show rates and late appearances by customers who have a hard time keeping track of their schedule. Online appointment reminders can also be automated, so there’s no additional work for your team.

However, the best appointment reminders require a little more thought and effort. Carefully crafting your appointment reminders will improve their effectiveness in bringing customers through your doors. Here are a few tips to bear in mind when developing your own appointment reminders:

Provide Multiple Options

Not all forms of appointment reminders will be effective for all your customers. Some will prefer email reminders, while others are more likely to respond to a text message or automated phone call. Having a variety of options lets customers select the method that fits them best; multiple options will help ensure they never forget an appointment.

Also consider allowing customers to select the time of the reminder. Some individuals only need an hour’s notice to get ready for an appointment, while others will want a nudge 24 hours in advance. For clients who book appointments very far out, multiple reminders over a month or two will prevent you from falling off their radar.

In some cases, businesses are prohibited from sending direct messages to customers without their approval. Follow any opt-in requirements that may apply to your business to make sure your reminders don’t run afoul of the FCC. 

Include Appointment Information

You could have the loveliest copy and cleanest design, but your appointment reminder won’t be worth much if it doesn’t contain key information. Before you add bells and whistles to your reminders, start with the basic structure.

Be sure that the time, date, and location of the appointment are front and center. The purpose of a reminder, after all, is to call attention to the commitment a customer has made with your business. Your company name and logo should be immediately visible so customers know where the reminder is coming from.

Get (Reasonably) Personal

You probably can’t send a calligraphed note for each individual appointment reminder, but there are ways you can add a personal touch to each one. A little personalization helps customers feel important and valued, not just another face in the crowd. 

Automation allows you to easily give your appointment reminders some personal flair. It can add the customer’s name as well as other relevant information that makes the reminder theirs and theirs alone. Adding time, location, and — if possible — the name of the service provider will prevent appointment reminders from sounding too generic. 

Be wary of messages that are too personal, though. For instance, appointment reminders for a doctor’s office shouldn’t include sensitive patient information. Such information should be stored securely and accessed via an online patient portal with messaging that requires a username and password.

Keep It Concise

Don’t let a lot of copy defeat the purpose of your appointment reminder. A wall of text will swallow up the important information your customer will need in order to fulfill their appointment commitment. 

So keep it super simple. Address the customer by name, and notify them of their upcoming appointment. If you want to make more use of the reminder, you can include contact information. This way, should customers need to cancel an appointment or adjust their booking, they’ll know how to get in touch. 

Use the Right Tone

The tone of your writing should reflect your brand imaging in a way that resonates with customers. A high-profile lawyer wouldn’t use the same tone of voice as, say, a hair stylist. One is more serious, while the other allows for more flexibility and fun.

Think about your target audience and what sort of message would appeal to them. Customers of a more light-hearted business might appreciate a fun tagline with their appointment reminders or a quote fit for an Instagram post. Others, like our lawyer friend, will want to use official-sounding language that exemplifies their expertise in the legal field. 

Include a Call to Action

Use appointment reminders as a way to increase engagement by adding a call to action. This will prompt customers to act on your reminder instead of dismissing the notification and forgetting about it immediately. 

A simple click-to-confirm button will solidify bookings in your business calendar and get customers to take control of their appointments. Other calls to action can include taking advantage of deals or setting up a future booking from their device. 

Send Reminders From a Consistent Source

When sending out your appointment reminders, stick to the same phone number or email address. Customers will recognize the validity of your messages when they come from a consistent source. Otherwise, they might dismiss reminder messages as spam.

To remove all doubt, make it easy for customers to verify where you send messages from. Add this information to an easily accessible location on your website, such as a frequently asked questions page. You can also add your contact info to confirmation messages that come with the initial booking. 

The right appointment reminders will help customers keep their commitments and businesses maximize their time and revenue. Review your appointment reminders now — and often — so that they’re always optimized for the best results. 

How Freelancers Can Keep Manageable Schedules Without Losing Work

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How Freelancers Can Keep Manageable Schedules Without Losing Work

Freelancers love the flexibility their no-boss lifestyles provide, but some clients don’t know how to take a hint. They email at all hours of the night and get upset when the project isn’t finished by midmorning. No freelance worker enjoys turning down a good job, but when clients make unreasonable demands, contractors must make a choice. The contractor must adopt a  policy for themselves, between taking a stand and sacrificing the schedule their lifestyle provides.

According to research from Upwork, more than half of freelancers wouldn’t take a traditional job for any amount of money. To make the most of the self-employed lifestyle, freelancers need to know how to maintain control of their schedules without sacrificing income in the process.

This five-step strategy can help freelancers take control of both their calendars and their earnings:

1. Put clear schedule expectations in contracts.

Every regular freelancer should get contracts signed by their clients. Formal agreements protect both sides in the event of a disagreement and provide context for ongoing partnerships.

Some freelancers mistakenly limit their contracts to deliverables only. Guillaume Leverdier says that’s a bad idea. Instead, freelancers need to include scheduling agreements in writing — including hours of contact and expected times for a response. This gives clear “no mistake” guidelines for the clients,  that they deserve the same respect as any traditional vendor.

2. Don’t let actions betray words.

It’s one thing to talk tough. It’s another thing to follow through. Freelancers who set strict hours in their contracts and then let clients walk all-over their schedules might as well not require contracts at all. Be aware, this lapse in your contract usually happens more with friends who are also clients. We won’t mention the “F” word here: family.

The ideal strategy, as recommended by Freelance to Freedom, is to set regular hours and respond to client communications only within those hours. Of course, sometimes that isn’t possible. For occasions when clients need rush jobs, contract workers should include contract clauses on expedited rates. That way, if clients want something done outside of normal hours, they understand the price of asking.

3. Set upfront expectations for project deadlines.

Clients outsource work for a lot of reasons, primarily to control costs, but also to gain access to skills not found within their organizations. Freelancers know how to do something their employees don’t. That makes the freelancer valuable, but it also means that their clients often don’t understand how long projects should take.

Rather than let trial-and-error wreck promising beginnings, contract workers should take the time to talk with their clients about the scope their project will demand — to establish reasonable deadlines. For larger projects, deadlines should include both the end date and intermediate benchmarks. By setting this schedule at the outset, freelancers can prevent scope creep.

4. Learn to say “no” without being rude.

Sometimes, no amount of money is enough to make a job worthwhile. A freelancer on a family vacation probably doesn’t want to tackle a big project no matter how much the client wants to pay.

Brent Galloway, a freelance designer, wrote extensively on Digital Freelancer about three times he had to turn down work from clients. Some responded with understanding, while others got personal. Freelance workers face it all eventually, and the best ones learn how to let down clients firmly, but kindly.

5. Track working hours and make changes where needed.

In the struggle to succeed, plenty of people don’t realize how many hours they actually work. Freelancers are especially notorious for tracking only the time they spend working on projects. In the confusion of the hustle, they forget to track all the hours spent emailing, researching and thinking. Those hours are just as valid, and when freelancers consistently work outside their scheduled times, they undersell the amount of effort their projects require.

Smart freelancers use scheduling tools to make their lives easier. To discover bad habits, freelancers should keep a journal of hours worked and review that journal at regular intervals. Answering emails at night is fine, but when work bleeds into life too frequently, it can lead to burnout.

As challenging as self-employment can be, freelancing remains one of the most rewarding life paths for an increasing number of people. Setting and keeping a schedule helps contract workers maximize their earnings and make the most of their flexible calendars. Marking lines in the sand is never easy, but with work-life balance on the line, the rewards are worth the hard conversations.

8 Industries That Need to Start Using Online Appointment Software

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8 Industries That Need to Start Using Online Appointment Software

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

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

1. Education

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

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

2. Car Dealers and Mechanics

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

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

3. Fitness Trainers

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

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

4. Entertainers

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

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

5. Mobile Services

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

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

6. Child Care

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

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

7. Recreation Centers

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

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

8. Real Estate

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

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

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

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