The issue of scheduling is one that frustrates many small business owners, especially in the world of field service where everything revolves around the next appointment.
Customers cancelling, field techs being late for (or missing) scheduled appointments, and emergencies that happen off the clock can all put a dent in an otherwise perfect calendar.
But the biggest mistake many small businesses make when it comes to scheduling is this: Not giving the customer more control over how and when they can schedule with you.
Choosing times that are both convenient for your team of workers and the customer can be difficult, as customer’s demands may not always match up with operating hours. And it can be equally risky to allow customers to self-schedule.
But there are benefits to setting schedules in the customer’s favor and giving them the ability to choose their own appointments, and the biggest upside is financial: A customer-focused schedule makes you more money.
Why Set Customer-Focused Service Hours?
Working in a service business means that the customer is your priority, and chances are good that you’ve developed protocols, processes, and procedures that reflect this attitude.
Your website is (hopefully) user-friendly, your field techs are trained to answer questions and be responsive, and you work with customers to find solutions to their problems in a speedy manner.
But this customer focus doesn’t always make it to scheduling. In fact, inaccurate scheduling – under-scheduling and overbooking – is one of the top reasons why most businesses lose money.
If your profit revolves around appointments being filled and kept, then it makes sense to have appointment times that are convenient for the customer to fill. Without them, you can’t make money, so why make it hard for them to choose your services?
Customer-centric scheduling can also help you gain a competitive edge over other businesses that only fill their schedules with appointments convenient for their teams. This can significantly impact your bottom line when it comes time for customers to choose between your competitors and you.
Putting yourself in their shoes, who would you be more willing to pick – the company that lists operating hours that are difficult for you to make or the company that will work around your schedule?
How to Set the Most Convenient Hours
The trouble with trying to set service hours, however, is that the customer’s schedule may not always align with your workforce’s schedule. When it comes to choosing which hours are most convenient, there are a few things to consider.
- Your Target Customer
Do you primarily serve other businesses, or do you make residential visits? If your target customer is also in the business sector, it may make sense to hold operating hours during the workday. On the other hand, if your target customers are primarily residential, they may be inconvenienced by having to miss work or wait around at home for an appointment in the middle of the day.
If you’re not sure when it’s most convenient for customers, ask. A survey or a questionnaire can help you gauge preferred appointment times.
- Your Competitors
How late are your competitors open? If you close your doors at 6:00 p.m. but your competitors are taking appointments after dark, you could be losing out on potential income.
Take a look at competitor’s operating hours and see if you can match them (or beat them). You should take your target customer into consideration first, however, as there’s no point in tailoring your hours to customers that you don’t actually want or need.
- Your Employees
Having longer or odd hours may not always be practical for your employees, but there are ways to make sure that they are sticking to a regular schedule while still meeting your customers half way. You could keep your full-time staff at regular workday hours while supplementing odd hours with contingent or part-time/freelance employees, for instance.
For off-hour customer service needs, you could outsource your customer service team or automated phone calls to a third-party. If you have a mix of customer types (residential and business), you could also split your schedule to accommodate later hours for residential customers.
- Your Technology
Even if you can’t tweak your hours to fully accommodate every type of customer, you can give them more control over the hours you do have by allowing them to schedule their own appointments online. This allows them to choose times that are the most convenient, even if they aren’t totally convenient, and it allows you to “stay open” after hours, even long after your customer service team has gone home.
The Biggest Benefits of Self-Scheduling
Self-scheduling is actually one of the best ways to give customers more control over their scheduling choices, and it comes with a few benefits that impact your bottom line.
Your business stays open around the clock. Using an online booking system means that your business is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Customers can schedule the moment they think to do it, which means you lose less appointments due to forgetfulness or busyness.
You reduce the chances of cancelled or missed appointments. Customers that book their own appointments are less likely to cancel because they had the ability to choose a time of day that works for them. This means less revenue lost due to cancellations or rescheduled appointments.
Your calendar is easier to manage. Online scheduling tools allow you or your team members to check appointments and availability on the go using any mobile devices, which means you’re not tethered to the office to manage your calendar. This gives you and your field techs more freedom.
You can see which hours are most profitable. Over time, you can better gauge which operating hours are consistently booked and which have a low volume of appointments. You can then adjust your hours as needed to truly maximize your schedule and grow your business.
You can prevent telephonophobia. Another reason to institute customer-focused scheduling is the growing phenomenon of telephonophobia, which is apprehension of making phone calls. Studies show that more customers have anxiety when it comes to scheduling over the phone, preferring to book online instead. You can capture more appointments by offering digital scheduling.
You have a first contact touch point. There are some cases when online scheduling isn’t ideal, like if your field techs need more information about the extent of the issue before the appointment is booked. In these cases, online scheduling can still be a first touch point for customers. You can follow-up with a phone call to get more detailed information and adjust the service as needed.
Giving customers more control over your schedule may not always work, but even so, there are ways you can adjust your schedule to make things more convenient for them.
Take a look at your operating hours and look for appointment times that are rarely filled. If you’re consistently not booking appointments during certain times of the day, or customers continually ask if you can make exceptions or work later, consider switching or adjusting your hours to meet that demand.
If you’re worried about meeting the scheduling needs of your workforce, considering hiring freelance or contingent workers to fill in the gaps, or using automation tools and other digital software (like scheduling systems or CRMs) to manage your schedule when you’re not in the office.