Online self-service technology has blossomed in recent years, and for good reason. Self-service options equate to cost savings for businesses, and time-strapped customers appreciate the added convenience and flexibility.
In this multi-part series, we’ll talk about why self-service technology is necessary, the benefits of implementing DIY scheduling, and how self-scheduling leads to growth for appointment-driven businesses. In this first post, we examine the reasons self-service appointment scheduling is necessary in today’s market.
Customer self-service isn’t a new concept. We’ve been pumping our own gas since 1947.1 Banking via ATM since the ’70s. We check out our own groceries, then stop at a Redbox kiosk to rent a DVD on the way home.
Self-scheduling of appointments — allowing your customers to schedule their own appointments with you — has become one of the most common online self-service tasks. It’s a feature that’s most prevalent in service-based industries like healthcare and personal services. But it’s gaining a foothold in retail as well (think The Apple Store’s Genius Bar® and Best Buy’s Geek Squad®).
If you work for a company that doesn’t offer self-scheduling to its customers, you have my sympathy. Let’s take a look at your life without self-scheduling.
A typical day without self-service
It’s 7 am, and your auto service and repair shop is opening for the day. You check your paper appointment calendar to get a sense of what the day looks like. As customers arrive, they check in with your receptionist (if you have one) or one of your techs or mechanics (if you don’t).
Checking in takes quite a while, because your receptionist/service tech is shuffling paper files and dealing with incoming calls from other customers who need to schedule service appointments.
Service techs make frequent trips to the front desk to see what appointments are coming up, and if there’ve been any cancellations or changes.
The general atmosphere is chaotic, with customers, techs, service managers, and admin staff all unsure of what the day will hold.
But this is business as usual for companies without self-service scheduling.
5 ways you feel the effects
Without the option for customers to schedule their own appointments, your staff, your customers, and, ultimately, your business all pay the price. The old, manual way of scheduling appointments impacts you negatively in multiple ways:
It’s time intensive
When customers aren’t allowed to schedule their own appointments, they must rely on your staff to do it for them. Assuming an average of five minutes of staff time for every appointment scheduled (and that’s on the light side), just making appointments can take over 10 hours per week of staff time for an office that books an average of 25 appointments a day. And that’s not counting reminder calls.
It’s resource intensive
You hire great people because they are smart and dependable, and because they have a valuable skill set. Your employees, in turn, want to work for your company to gain experience and move up the ladder. You don’t hire these types of people to talk on the phone a quarter of their time.
Here’s another way to look at it: What higher-value tasks could benefit from an additional 10 hours’ worth of attention each week? When you answer this question, you have the beginning of a strategic plan — one that will increase your shop’s efficiency, as well as employee morale and job satisfaction.
It’s too easy to mess up
We all make mistakes. Sometimes it’s due to fatigue or boredom or even lack of attention to detail. Your goal is to reduce or even eliminate the number of mistakes made during a customer’s experience, so why not let your customers enter their own contact information and select their own appointment date and time? The approach removes your staff from the equation, reducing the chance of a transcription error.
It reflects poorly on you
There are plenty of opportunities to live in the past, in a good way. Old school hip-hop. Throwback Thursdays. Tiki Oasis. Technology is not one of those ways.
Today, consumers expect to conduct their business online. And that includes being able to schedule appointments, particularly outside of business hours. When you don’t offer an online self-service scheduling option, consumers can perceive you as stuck in the past. Technology averse. And, worst of all, as though you don’t see their time as valuable.
If people believe your company doesn’t value their time, they won’t be your customers. They’ll be someone else’s.
Need more proof? Take a look at this SlideShare presentation on customer self-service from Fast Company.2 According to the study, 70% of consumers expect a business’s website to offer some form of self-service function:
As humans, when our expectations aren’t met, we get annoyed. (I’m pretty sure this isn’t specific to humans; my dog gets pretty annoyed when he expects to go to the dog park and instead we end up at the vet’s office.)
Particularly frustrating is a company that doesn’t have what we perceive to be easy, commonplace technology. Forego self-service scheduling at your own risk — you could be annoying the heck out of your customers and clients.
So, now what?
It’s clear that a manual scheduling process can wreck your appointment volume and impair productivity, but never fear — the future is not all doom and gloom.
The good news is, implementing online self-service scheduling system can boost productivity, improve staff performance, and increase profitability — without disrupting your daily operations.
In the next installment of this series, we will examine the ways in which customer self-service options can benefit your staff, your company’s reputation, and your bottom line.
1Sarah Hamaker, “Self-serve Evolution.” NACS Magazine, October 2011.
2Steven Van Belleghem, “Why the Future of Customer Service Is Self-service.” Fast Company, May 19, 2013.