If your business relies on client appointments, careful planning will be essential. Even the most knowledgeable lawyer, the most skilled doctor or the most experienced accountant cannot run an effective practice without efficient scheduling.
No shows, double bookings, cancellations, rushed appointments – all of these issues can quickly crop up if you’ve arranged your appointments sloppily. If they crop up a lot, it’s going to mean stress for you, frustration for your clients and bad news for your bottom line.
This guide lays out some simple things you can do to avoid the pitfalls of poor scheduling and ensure your business is not interrupted by a chaotic timetable.
Making the appointment
Let’s start at the start: setting up the appointment. Nailing a customer or client down to the right time is a balancing act. You might think it best to simply pick a time and send it to them, ensuring it fits into your schedule. Yet this opens up the door to two problems.
First off, they might feel pressure to say ‘yes’ even if the time and date doesn’t suit them and then cancel or no-show when it comes around. Secondly, they could turn down the date and tell you they’ll get back to you with a better one. This leaves the ball in their court, leaving you out of control as to when, if ever, the appointment will actually take place.
Another option is to leave it up to the client - simply ask them for a suitable date.
By putting control in the hands of the customer, you’ll keep them comfortable and at ease with the process but the lack of pressure means they may never get around to picking a time at all.
It’s best, then, to contact your customer with two or three dates and times in mind. Casually check which of them suits best (“so, are Thursdays or Fridays better for you?”) and get them to confirm on the first contact. If you have an indecisive customer, it is sometimes helpful to make the date seem exclusive or difficult to come by – “I’ve just had a time become available next Wednesday morning.”
Once you get them booked, follow up with a written confirmation via email, text or post at the soonest possible time, establishing that the appointment is now in your schedule and should be in their schedule too.
Priming the attendee
Now is also a good time to ask yourself how much or little you would like your attendee to know before you meet face-to-face. Is there any information you can send to the customer to prepare them in order to keep the appointment as focused and effective as possible?
Again, there is a balancing act here. You do not want to inundate the client with homework that might turn them off your service entirely. You also do not want them showing up unprepared for the event, full of superfluous questions that will derail whatever you are hoping to do.
Pick some clear, simple information to send them that they can casually look over at their leisure in plenty of time before the date. If you need them to read a lot of text, consider hiring a professional copywriter or content company to produce your material. It will keep the attendee's view of your business professional and ensure they read it all.
Even an enthusiastic attendee might forget an appointment, so it is up to you to keep it at the front of their mind. Inundating them with follow-up calls, however, will merely leave them feeling annoyed and you sounding desperate. If you drift out of touch before the meeting, on the other hand, you risk a no-show.
So how do you handle the reminder? Traditionally, companies have reminded clients with phone calls and, certainly, there are advantages to this method. The phone is personal. You get to speak to the actual person and they get to speak with you. This is a real human connection that creates a warmer image of your business in the customer’s mind.
Plus, once you’ve got through to them, you know they have got the message, so you can relax.
Yet phone reminders have many, many problems. For one thing, they are intrusive. If your customer is busy, a phone call from your company could well be the last thing they want to deal with. In fact, it might seem like a real nuisance. If they ignore you, the only thing you can do is call back again later. Quite quickly, your customer will start thinking of you as a bit of a pest and that nice warm image you were hoping to engender will be gone.
Voicemails are no good either. Once you’ve left one on a client’s phone, you have no way of checking whether or not they have listened to it and are left with no option but to call back once again.
A more effective way to handle reminders is through an automated service that sends a text or email directly from your calendar system to the attendee’s phone one or two days before your meeting. A service like this can be set up directly from your Google Calendar, Outlook or Web Calendar.
The benefits of this are many. For one thing, they won’t annoy the recipient. All they’ll hear is the single tone that lets them know a message has arrived on their phone. They are then free to read it whenever they have time, though it will stay on their phone’s front screen or in their email inbox until they do. With no intrusion, you have a much better chance of making contact than via phone.
Another advantage is resources. While phone reminders will drain man-power from your company, these reminders are automated. You can get on with your core business, knowing that the messages are taken care of with no extra work on your part.
After the appointment
So, the customer came on time and the appointment was a success. Great, but what next? Though the exact steps you take at this point will depend very much on the type of service you offer, chances are you would like the client to return to you at some stage in the future. It’s always wise, therefore, to keep some sort of contact with a customer after a meeting.
There are a number of options for messages you can send to a customer in order to keep them engaged with your business and service between appointments. Here are a few possibilities:
Thank you message: This is one that pretty much every company should be sending. A simple, short email, text or letter thanking the customer for their business and telling them you’d love to see them again. You might even like to combine this with a little gift – perhaps a discount on their second appointment.
Newsletter: If your clients take long spaces between appointments with your company, a newsletter is a good way to keep them engaged with your brand. This doesn’t suit every business, of course. You have to have enough going on to fill an A4 page or so each quarter and you’ll probably need a budget to hire a professional to help with the layout and text. If you tick both those boxes, however, it’s great for reminding your clients about the service you provide.
Promotional material: Now that you have your customer’s contact information, you have a direct route to marketing to them. That’s great for letting them know about new products, new services or new deals you have on offer but you should do so sparingly. If you flood their inboxes with hard sell emails every week, they’ll quickly put your email address on their block list and you’ll have lost a customer forever.
Content emails: Another option is to give your customer something useful. Sending them short, compelling videos or articles supplying tips, tricks or advice related to your core business is a smart way to sell without selling.
Don’t let poorly organised appointments take away from the service you provide for your clients. By setting up your meeting carefully and keeping your client engaged and informed, you can cut down on cancellations, no-shows and unsuccessful appointments. Then, using the right sort of messaging and content, you can keep your business at the front of their minds so they are certain to book another appointment in future.