By Derrick Boston
You can increase your revenues and deepen your customer relationships by scheduling appointments for your customers. The problem, as we all know, is that the scheduling task can be burdensome. It is hard enough to stay abreast of a client’s changing work hours, not to mention which types of appointments they will accept and for how long; however, you can use the power and flexibility of the Internet to solve these problems. The Internet offers real-time, interactive scheduling in a cost-effective, secure manner.
In this article, I offer a checklist of items that are required for a real-time, interactive scheduling service to be effective. If the service meets these requirements, it will meet your unique needs, extend your customer service and help you increase your revenues.
A Flexible Solution. To be effective, a scheduling solution must be flexible. Your operators may take appointments for doctors, dentists, plumbers, carpet cleaners and a host of other businesses. Each business (and perhaps, each of the individuals within the business) will have different types of appointments and different ways of scheduling their customers. A scheduling service must accommodate all of the ways that these different businesses operate.
You need a solution that allows you to create a separate schedule for each “service provider” of your business customers (a “service provider” is the person who actually fulfills the appointments, such as a doctor, dentist, mechanic or plumber). Each service provider should be able to set his or her own work hours, work days and non-work times during the day (such as lunch). Each service provider should also be able to create different types of appointments–Dr. Jones may perform tooth fillings and root canals, but Dr. Harris may only perform reconstructive surgeries. Different time periods should be set for different types of appointments–half an hour for a tooth cleaning; one hour for a root canal. In addition, each service provider should be able to set rules about when and how many appointments may be made. For example, the system should allow the business to double and triple book appointments. The service provider should decide which multiple bookings to accept, and the system should automatically enforce them. Service providers also need to set the minimum lead time for accepting an appointment. That is, they can say how near to the actual appointment date and time a new appointment can be made (e.g., 24 hours in advance). Likewise, they may need to set the maximum lead time ( i.e., how far in advance the system will accept an appointment for them, such as six or nine months in the future). Service providers may also wish to set cancellation policies (e.g., no appointment may be cancelled on less than 24 hours’ notice). Special Requirements for Telemessaging Companies.
Since a call center is taking an appointment for a third party, there are certain critical requirements that must be met. You need to know, in real-time, whether a time slot is available or has just been taken. On the other hand, your business customer needs to know which appointments are new to the system. In addition, your operators must be able to move easily across a range of schedules, using a system that guides them through the appointment-taking process. Finally, you need to manage your employees, run reports and develop bills for your business customers. Therefore, you need a scheduling database that operates in real-time. More than one person may access the same schedule and enter appointments in that schedule. But once an appointment is entered (even if it is entered a millisecond before another request), all other requests for the same time slot should be denied. Second, the system should highlight new appointments entered by your operators. When an operator enters an appointment, it should be shown as pending. The time slot is taken, so no other appointments can be entered. But the business customer should be able to approve the appointment before the system will enter it as confirmed in the database. In this way, your business customer can tell, at a glance, which appointments require his or her attention. Also, an ideal system should periodically notify the business customer that there are pending appointments awaiting approval. Third, the system should automatically enforce all of the scheduling guidelines set by the service providers. Therefore, your operators do not need to memorize or look up the information about each business schedule. Instead, all of the cancellation policies, multiple booking rules, and minimum and maximum lead times for appointments will be clearly enforced by the system’s database. Fourth, the system should let you manage and monitor the work of your employees. A supervisor should be able to run reports showing how many appointments were made for your business customers and which operators made which appointments. In this way, you can answer a customer’s question about a particular appointment, or see which of your operators are the most productive.
The Business Case for Taking Appointments. After all this, can you convince your customers that it is better for you to schedule their appointments? Can you really make money doing so?
I believe that there is a real opportunity to generate revenues. For what it’s worth, here is my view. Let’s start with a few numbers. For many businesses, one appointment can generate about $100 in revenue. In some instances, such as a doctor’s office, it may be several hundred dollars. The cost to use an Internet service may be measured in the tens of dollars per month, and of course, you are free to add on a profit margin for yourself. So, even if you place only one appointment for a business in an entire month, you will have increased the business’ revenue by more than you will charge them for the service. Furthermore, it costs your customer about $2,500 per month (if not more) to employ a receptionist or office assistant to answer the phones. Your ultimate strategy may be to use a service to take over the entire scheduling function for some of your customers, thus relieving them of this cost or allowing their employees to focus on other office tasks. You would then have the opportunity to charge the customer some portion of the salary savings you helped bring about.
[From Connection Magazine – July 2001]