AppointmentPlus Blog

Why Self-service Technology Is the New Business Differentiator

To date, our blog series on customer self-service has explored why the technology is establishing itself as a fixture within operational plans. Allowing customers to make appointments online offers them the holy grail of customer benefits — convenience — which delivers companies the business equivalent: customer loyalty.

In this post, we’ll examine some of the simple reasons customers choose one business over another. And we’ll talk about how employing some basic self-service technology can help you ensure your business is their first choice.

Companies like Apple and Google have become successful by delivering a truly unique product or service. Why do you think people camp out in front of an Apple store for the privilege of paying $600 or more for the newest iPhone®? It’s not for the experience.

Yet other companies enjoy equally noteworthy success, without offering a particularly unique product.

Amazon and Zappos didn’t invent retailing. And the Ritz-Carlton certainly wasn’t the first hotel.

These companies made it big by offering their customers a great experience. They looked closely at every point of interaction they had, or could have, with a customer. Then, they created procedures and policies to ensure customers would experience convenience and delight at each and every one of them.

Today, there are innumerable tools businesses can use to facilitate customer interaction. Depending on your business model, your industry, and maybe even the size of your company, some make sense for you to use, and others don’t.

But choose incorrectly, and a service channel you hoped would make it easy for your customers to do business with you can actually work against you, and drive people away.

A classic example is that of the outdated IVR system (a.k.a. Interactive Voice Response system). An IVR must be kept running in lock-step with all facets of your business. If your business changes — adds or removes departments, or creates a new process — and you haven’t updated your IVR architecture to reflect those changes, you know what happens. Frustrated callers get lost in endless loops, or find themselves trapped on hold as they wait for someone to transfer them to the right department.

The example is classic because the technology has been in use for decades. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person alive who didn’t have at least one horror story about getting stuck in an IVR, only to be disconnected without ever actually talking to a live person.

A single experience like that is enough to push a prospect right into the arms of your competition.

Too fast, too furious

Technology keeps giving us more, better, faster. So, not surprisingly, people have grown accustomed to getting more, better, faster.

When we discover a technology that makes things a little bit easier for us to do business with one company over another, we fall in love with it. The company that offers this little miracle is our hero, and we reward them with our loyalty. Meanwhile, every competitor without it falls miles behind.

I mentioned the perennial IVR problem earlier. Aside from the obvious solution of keeping the architecture up to date, what else could you do to avoid this problem? And avoid all the other customer complaints that have become all-too common in our fast-and-furious world?

Let’s take a look at how online self-service can wipe them out of existence, and serve as a key point of differentiation between you and your competition.

  1. For customers who can’t reach you by phone:You can’t be in several places at once. But you can reduce your need to by offering online scheduling.Allowing customers to self-schedule says, “We understand that you’re busy, and can’t always be available on our schedule.” That’s powerful stuff. It’s the kind of respect for your customers that creates real loyalty.

    Bonus for you: When customers can book appointments online, your incoming call volume drops. So those customers who actually need to speak with a human can get through to one. And your reps are available to provide them with the one-on-one, personal customer service that builds relationships.

  2. For customers who aren’t psychic:Setting an appointment without a specific time and date isn’t really setting an appointment. Yet some companies actually still try to use a “Contact Us” form on their website as a means of scheduling appointments.Sure, you can have a customer request an appointment this way, but they have no idea if you’re actually available then.

    And what happens when you get two requests for the same spot? A lovely round of email tag, followed by an appointment with an irritated customer.

    With an actual online scheduling solution, your customer is able to book a specific appointment date and time. There’s no wondering if the time slot is available — if it’s already spoken for, they can’t select it. No one on either end has to waste time volleying emails or voice mail messages back and forth.

    It’s a true win-win.

  3. For customers who are generally busy (a.k.a. everyone on the planet):Imagine it’s a Tuesday night. You’ve got a presentation to finish, a son to drop off at the orthodontist, and your daughter’s softball game has been rescheduled for tonight. Is the appointment you made three weeks ago to have your oil changed going to be top of mind? Not likely.In fact, an “as time allows” appointment like that is one of the first things to drop out of your memory when you’re overloaded.

    In a previous post, I shared the story about the pharmacy offering automated prescription refills. The same kind of automation technology is available with online scheduling software.

    Text messages and email reminders are a simple but extraordinarily helpful tool for people juggling multiple responsibilities. It’s completely automated, so there’s almost no effort on your end. But what the customer experiences is, “This is really helpful and thoughtful. I’m so glad I got that reminder!”

    On the flip-side, if your competitors use automated reminders and you don’t, you risk being perceived as lacking a basic service.

  4. For customers who like to live life on the edge:
    Hiking Trail Huashan Mountain China

    When you have self-service scheduling on your side, one business’s loss can easily become your gain.

    Journey back in time with me to my first post, when we talked about our buddy Dave’s waste of a Saturday morning at the tire shop. Dave was smart enough to know that might happen, so he didn’t plan anything else until much later in the day.

    Let’s imagine a new scenario, in which Dave isn’t interested in sticking around to find out what else this shop might mess up. Instead, he decides to see if he can grab an appointment at another shop. He takes out his smartphone to see what other tire shops are nearby.

    When he finds one, he spots a “Book Now” button on their site. He clicks it, and about a minute later, he’s got an appointment, and is on his way.

    The point here is that you never know when someone’s going to find themselves with the unexpected opportunity to do business with you. If you’re accessible to them when and where they are when it happens, you will get their business.

    In case you’re wondering, offering an online scheduling option doesn’t obligate you to accept last-minute appointments. If your process requires advance notice before a service can take place, you are free to restrict the booking process to give your staff as much notice as you’d like.

    But if you do decide to take advantage of last-minute opportunities, the software can notify your staff in real-time.

  5. For customers who don’t enjoy broadcasting personal information to everyone around them:Privacy protection is a huge concern for your customers, and it should be a concern for you too. In fact, another Pew study found that 46% of Americans don’t feel secure sharing private information over the phone.2If you don’t offer an online scheduling option, your customer has to call you during your office hours. Chances are, those are also your customer’s office hours. So he or she has to call you from work.

    I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but not many people have private offices anymore. Open floor plans and cube farms have replaced traditional office environments. Some companies offer private rooms where employees can make a personal phone call, but not all of them do.

    Think about what it’s like to sit in a room where you’re in earshot of 30+ coworkers, and have to give out your birth date. (News flash: Not everyone wants their coworkers knowing their age.)

    Or your social security number. Or a credit card number. Or even your home address. (This New York Times article relays a lovely story about an architect who had no choice but to share the details of his upcoming colonoscopy with six coworkers.)

    Now think about shopping for a new healthcare provider or financial advisor. As you scroll through your list of options, which one is going to look more attractive to you: the one you must contact by phone during work hours, or the one you can deal with online, at any time of the day or night?

    When you offer online appointment scheduling, you make yourself available to the subset of consumers working in open-office environments in a way other businesses don’t (that subset is all the people working in 70% of U.S. offices, by the way3). To these people, you’re the one company who cares about their circumstances, and wants their business.

    You’re the hero.

In every industry, competition is fierce, and it’s a buyer’s market. Incorporating self-service options is an easy way to differentiate yourself, while providing a primo customer experience.

With one simple upgrade, you can give your customers what they want, eliminating a host of reasons they could be bypassing you in favor of another company.

In the next post in our series, we’ll look at both the history and future of our self-service culture, and why it’s time for you to get on board, or be left behind.

Catch up on previous posts in our blog series:

Part 1: Trends in Self-service

Part 2: The Benefits of Self-service Technology

Part 3: The Psychology of Self-service

Or, continue on to Part 5, The Self-service Culture: Where We’ve Been, & Where We’re Going.

1Pew Research Center, “Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era.” November 12, 2014.

2Maria Konnikova, “The Open-Office Trap.” The New Yorker, January 7, 2014.

iPhone is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.