Grow Your Business With Online Appointment Scheduling

By Sid Mandel and Douglas Duncan

Long years of experience operating high-volume telemessaging services has caused us to wrestle with the same question that many owners deal with: How can we increase revenues without disproportionately increasing expenses? The most obvious opportunity arises from a problem we encounter almost on an hourly basis. If you own or operate a telemessaging company, you know this scenario by heart:

It’s 2 a.m., and Larry wakes up with terrible back pain. He can’t straighten up and he needs to visit his chiropractor, Dr. Frankel. He wakes his wife, Susan, and begs for help. Susan dials Dr. Frankel’s number. The service promptly answers and the agent says, “Frankel and Associates Chiropractic, this is Brenda, how can I help you?”

“Oh thank goodness,” says Susan. “My husband has terrible back pains and needs an appointment with Dr. Frankel. Can he see him first thing in the morning?”

The attendant replies, “Sorry, but I can’t make appointments for Dr. Frankel. He has office hours tomorrow beginning at 8:30 a.m. Please call the office then to make an appointment.”

Susan says, “Brenda, I need to know if Dr. Frankel will be seeing my husband, not one of his associates. Also, I need to know if my husband can see him as early as possible.”

“I’m sorry,” Brenda says, “We don’t have his schedule or his appointment book. If you’ll just call the office in the morning, I’m sure they can help.”

This has always been a problem for the telemessaging company and its clients. Until recently there was not much that could be done. But things are starting to change.

Angry and frustrated, Susan hangs up. She tells Larry that Dr. Frankel’s service can’t help but she has another idea. She calls information and gets Dr. Crosby’s number. Her best friend has told her something about Dr. Crosby’s new service and she decides she’s going to check it out. Susan dials Dr. Crosby’s number.  The service promptly answers the phone and says. “Crosby Chiropractic, this is Nadine, how can I help you?”

Susan says, “My husband has a terrible back problem and needs to see the doctor as quickly as possible.” Nadine responds, “Let me see what I can do to help, give me a second, let’s see…tomorrow morning Dr. Crosby has office hours beginning at 8:00 a.m. and has an opening at 8:15. I can book the appointment for you if you wish.”

“Oh thank goodness, yes please, that would be just great,” Susan says.

What happened here? This is what’s going on today in forward-looking services around the country. Dr. Crosby’s service took a bad situation and turned it into a win-win situation. Larry’s a winner because he’s been saved additional hours of pain by getting the earliest possible appointment with Dr. Crosby. Dr. Crosby is a winner because he got a new patient. The telemessaging service owner wins because she’s increased her billables, thanks to her company’s Web-enabled, online appointment scheduling capability. But Dr. Frankel and his service provider came up short.

Web-centralized appointment scheduling software is now becoming more widely available. The market for appointment scheduling for the telemessaging industry is wide open. Some scheduling software available allows customers to book their own appointments. These systems have enjoyed limited success and are in direct competition with the telemessaging industry. They effectively cut out any call center involvement. The only vertical market in that arena that has been somewhat successful is in scheduling of conferences and meeting rooms. Additionally, a few non-equipment-aligned companies have stepped up to tackle this new market. Most are companies that have produced software for the conference room market and are now re-packaging themselves with redesigned modules that will allow their software to interact in a telemessaging environment. There is only one, so far, that has been designed specifically for the answering service and call center market.

The successes of Web-based client scheduling in our example are clear. The challenge, however, is not limited to health care clients. It affects every one of your clients using an appointment book and with customers struggling to arrange appointments. Operating hour constraints, lunch breaks, overworked staff, and the callers’ need to book appointments at convenient times present major customer service challenges at every company.

The proliferation of low-cost, high-speed cable and DSL Internet connections, coupled with today’s wireless products and secure networks, had delivered real-time accessibility to almost everyone. The concept of real-time accessibility by both the book owner and the telemessaging company is a significant advantage of Web-based scheduling. The ability for a call center to accurately schedule appointments is a vital enhancement to the telemessaging company’s menu of services. The extremely low cost of entry into this market is unique in an industry that is so capital-intensive. The idea of pay-as-you-go, with no software purchases or upgrades, and a price that leaves plenty of room for the telemessaging company to profit, is truly an innovation.

For the client, being able to see what’s happening in real time provides a sense of control and security never before possible. Further, the ease with which the client can collect contact information and re-process that data is a powerful marketing tool. The telemessaging company, that can now offer this new level of service to clients around the clock, is sure to enjoy greater revenues and a broadened client base.

So, how do you get on the bandwagon and offer Web-based scheduling to your clients? Explore your options and find out what platforms are available. Create a brief feature-by-feature comparison, to determine which application provides the most of what your customers want and need. Make sure you understand the costs involved. What is the expense necessary to bring this service to market?

What do you need to make it work? You must have access to the Internet. If your system is PC-based your agents will be able to toggle between your existing service and the Internet on their PCs. If your equipment is able to pop a Web page then you’ll be even better off. If you have a closed system that cannot interact with PC-based software you will need to set up a PC next to the existing operator screen. Either way if you can access the Web you can offer this type of service.

How do you sell it? The best way we found is through a direct marketing campaign, geared to individual business models, using direct mail and billing stuffers with a follow up effort from the sales staff.

What kind of revenue can you expect? As with any other service you offer, your billables increase when the phone rings, and Web-based appointment scheduling will make your phones ring. Whether you bill by time, by call, or by features, if priced correctly, this new service will improve your bottom line.

Simplicity is what this concept is all about. Increase billables, keep your expenses down and you win. There’s no software or equipment to buy, so there are no barriers to entry. The low pay-for-what-you-use concept offers huge profit potential.

Sid Mandel and Douglas Duncan of Almond Hill Enterprises received the Connections Magazine Innovation Award winning TurboSchedule system at the 2002 ATSI Convention in Denver, Colorado. TurboSchedule is a true Web-based appointment scheduling solution. Almond Hill Enterprises can be reached at 888-398-6100 or by email at cs@turboschedule.com.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2003]

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