In the back of your mind, you’re aware that your scheduling system is a little dated. You tell yourself that having customers call for appointments is charming, rationalizing that people appreciate the one-on-one attention. But having a scheduling system that relies on your availability and your clients’ willingness to talk on the phone opens your business up to lost customers — and revenue.
The good news is that there are plenty of great options available for small businesses when it comes to online booking tools. Services like BookFresh and Acuity Scheduling offer robust features at a very reasonable cost. With these features in mind, here are 8 reasons to get your booking online — today.
1. Project a professional image. There’s no question that having a “book online” link on your website leaves people with the impression that you run a professional and legitimate operation. Follow through on that assumption with a quality system that actually allows clients to successfully book appointments — not just a form that only lets them email you and request a reservation (this is a personal pet peeve). Whether you run a hair salon, interior design service, photography studio, or doctor’s office, clients will appreciate the convenience.
2. Lower barriers to appointment making. We can get into what it says about our society later, but the fact remains that people are increasingly resistant to talking on the phone when they don’t absolutely have to. This could be because it’s always a little uncomfortable to talk to strangers by phone, or maybe because offices are increasingly open and it’s awkward to book a hair appointment with your boss five feet away. Either way, offering a way to quickly book an appointment online allows clients to cross that item off their to-do list without disrupting their day. I can tell you that all things being equal, I will always choose a service that allows me to book online over one that I have to find time to call.
3. Reduce your incidence of “no-shows”. Most booking services have a feature that will send text or email alerts sometime prior to the client’s appointment reminding them of it. I like to believe that people are inherently good, and few of them knowingly miss appointments without giving a heads-up. Many people will, however, neglect to write things down, assuming that they’ll remember. So sending out a friendly reminder will prompt them to either make sure they show up, or to look at their schedule and go ahead and cancel if they have a conflict. It’s win-win, they are not too embarrassed about a missed appointment to come see you again, and you can schedule another client in their time slot.
4. Never miss your own appointments, either. It’s hard to imagine a bigger customer service gaffe than being a no-show yourself for an appointment with a client. But when your schedule gets busy — and especially if you’re managing multiple team members’ schedules — it’s not outside the realm of possibility. And I can tell you if I fight my way through harrowing commuter traffic to make it to an appointment and the person I’m supposed to see is not there, not only will I never go back to that business, I will probably have something to say about them on social media. That’s why the ability to manage your own calendar and that of other employees is such a useful feature of online booking systems.
5. Encourage social sharing and reviews. Word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations are among the most valuable marketing tools a business can leverage. Online booking systems make it easy for clients to share the appointments they’ve made with friends who might want to come along (mani-pedis, anyone?) and to share reviews and testimonials on social media. Studies show that one of the most important factors people consider when making a purchase these days is recommendations they see from their network on social media.
6. Save time and money. Imagine how productive you’d be if you could take all the time you might be spending answering phones and scheduling appointments and put it back into your business. You’re probably aware that your business know-how would be better spent on other things, but you might not have it in the budget to hire an extra set of hands just yet. Luckily, most small business-focused online booking systems are available for less than $20 per month.
7. Accept payment and reservation fees. Would it be more convenient for your clients to pay for their services in advance and ‘skip the checkout line’? Most booking services can accept major credit cards or PayPal through their systems. Or maybe you’d like to discourage cancellations by charging a reservation fee that will be credited toward your client’s purchase later? You can do that too. Or perhaps you could encourage people to book and pay for a service to treat a loved one for the holidays — your online booking service can take care of that too.
8. Monitor trends by tracking bookings. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a digital record you could easily look through to see what kinds of insights you can glean about your business trends? Maybe there’s seasonality to your business that you never noticed before — like more women booking manicures around New Years Eve when they might be expecting a marriage proposal and want their hand to look nice when showing off that ring. This kind of insight could allow you to optimize your marketing efforts and increase revenue.
This month on the blog we’ll be talking a lot about customer appreciation and customer service. And there’s no doubt that offering clients the convenience of online booking shows them that you appreciate them and consider their needs. Have you tried online booking systems, either for your business your as a client? What did you think about the experience?