If doctor’s offices, beauty salons, real estate agents and coaches had a dollar for every minute spent on setting appointments, there’d be a lot more millionaires in the world.
Many businesses still manage their appointments using pen and paper. Others use outdated appointment modules that are unable to identify the best availabilities without a great deal of human intervention. This means that several times a day, one or more people on the team have to interrupt whatever they’re working on to help a client book or reschedule an appointment, cross-check the availability of staff members and rooms, and try to find a slot that works best for the client. Sounds tiring, right?
The decision to move to an automated system that takes most of the work out of your hands is a no-brainer then. Automated booking solutions are popping up everywhere and it’s only a matter of time until most businesses realize how much time they can save with online agendas. But setting up a scheduling system that really supports your business is easier said than done:
Aside from deciding on your opening hours, determining the length of your appointments and planning all of your resources like staff, rooms and equipment, your agenda also needs to factor in unexpected events, such as
- Early and late arrivals
- Extra time spent on certain clients, or
- Unrelated situations that you must attend to during the work day.
Throw all that together with the fact that you have actual work to do, and you’re cooking up a stew that’s waiting to explode the next time you have a no-show.
That’s why we’re here to help! If you’re just getting started with your online agenda, you’re probably wondering how to set it up in a way that is both effective and easy to use for your team and your clients.
This step-by-step guide will help you create your agenda and find the best scheduling method for your needs.
Why it’s important to plan well
A well-managed appointment schedule keeps you in control of your work day and creates an efficient client flow that maximizes the amount of clients you can see during working hours. It also shows respect for everyone’s time by preventing excessive waiting times.
A hair salon located right in the center of a busy city may have very different needs from a hairdresser on the outskirts of a small town. A pediatrician’s practice may have different scheduling needs from a surgeon’s clinic.
This guide will show you how to create an automated appointment scheduling system that is adapted to your workflow and takes all of the lengthy admin work out of the task.
If you’ve already picked an online agenda that you’re going to work with, we recommend opening a new tab in your browser, logging in to your account and configuring your agenda as you’re going through the guide.
Part 1: Prepare the agenda
1. Block unavailable times
First create an outline of when you are not available to see clients. This includes holidays and vacations when the business is closed, times before opening hours begin, lunch hours and breaks, and afternoons or days when you are closed for staff training or other reasons.
Examples of when you should block time off are:
- Daily or weekly team meetings
- Lunch breaks
- Vacation and holidays
- Scheduled meetings and seminars
- For doctors: Hospital rounds or surgery
Some people set this outline up 6 months in advance, whereas others do it for a year in advance. This is entirely up to you and depends on the knowledge that is available to you at the time of creating the agenda.
If you are managing a team with multiple team members, create them as staff members or resources in your system. Once you have blocked unavailable times for your business as a whole, go through and do this again for each staff member. Enter their personal vacation, off days, trainings, other engagements, etc.
2. Mark available times
For each team member, mark times when the person is available to work on certain types of appointments and procedures.
For example, some doctors offices will only schedule longer physical examinations or surgeries between 8.00 AM – 13.00 PM. Hair salons may only let clients book coloring and highlighting services before 3.00 PM because these appointments take longer and they’ll be sure to finish before closing time.
Most appointment scheduling tools will allow you to set up different categories and types of appointments. You should be able to define during which times these appointments can be booked and assign staff members and resources to each type.
As a final step, some agendas let you decide which services can be booked by clients automatically online or over the phone, and which appointments can only be entered into your agenda by someone on your team.
3. Set appointment intervals
Depending on your industry and business, the time spent per client can be very different. While doctor’s offices usually see patients every 10, 15 or 20 minutes, a beauty salon or hairdresser may allocate 45 minutes to 1 hour per client. On top of that, different types of services and consultations take longer than others.
A common practice is to set appointment intervals or “blocks” of 15 or 20 minutes and determine how many blocks are needed for each appointment. For example, if a 15-minute interval is used, then
- a client coming in for a quick follow-up appointment might be scheduled for one 15-minute interval and
- a new client might be scheduled for three 15-minute intervals.
This helps you develop an instant understanding for the types of appointments that may take longer and the best way to group them during the day.
4. Integrate availability of facilities, resources, and equipment
A very important aspect affecting your schedule is the availability of facilities and equipment. Your schedule must be set up so that rooms and equipment required for certain services are available to all staff members who are seeing clients.
For each service you have created, go through and assign the rooms, equipment and facilities required for the service. Then assign all staff members that can provide this service. This way, a service will only be available if all of the required resources are free.
For example, if a doctor requires requires room A and device B for an examination, but one of these facilities is already in use by one of his colleagues, this appointment will not be available as long one of the required resources is not freed up.
Automating this process is a huge time-saver and avoids double-booking resources. It’ll save you the headache of having to move around appointments for clients and colleagues when you realize the mistake and helps teams that share facilities collaborate better.
5. Consider other types of appointments
You may need to see various individuals who are not customers during office hours. Time should be blocked from the schedule to accommodate these appointments. For example, you may have a specific time slot to schedule sales representatives of companies with specialized equipment that you might purchase.
There is usually a maximum of one or two appointments set aside for this type of appointment each day. Some teams may have only one day a week for such appointments. Many people like to set these during the lunch hour or just before closing time so that it they don’t overlap with their regular appointments.
6. Add color codes and helpers to your agenda
If your agenda allows it, add color codes and other internal pointers for your team. You could have different colors for different staff members, rooms, or types of services. It’s really up to you to decide what will help you get an overview as quickly as possible when you’re running through the day and only have time to catch a glimpse of the agenda before moving on to something else.
Part 2 – Work on the branding and workflow of your booking system
Your customer’s experience starts when a customer walks through your doors, right? Wrong! The customer’s experience with your business starts wherever they made first contact.
The moment someone looks for your company online, enters your website, books an appointment or dials your phone number, they’re interacting with your business and forming an opinion about your services.
In order to shape your customer’s experience with your company from start to finish, you’ll want to think through all of the steps your customer takes before they’re physically standing in front of you.
7. Add company branding
The first thing people notice about your business is your logo. A good logo reveals your identity, invites customers to get to know you, and distinguishes you from the competition.
Add your logo to your appointment scheduling page and to your confirmation and reminder emails for consistent branding.
What’s great about having a logo is that you can place it everywhere! On your marketing materials, social media page, website and everywhere else you want it to be. If you develop a great service experience, everything you do will be successfully tied to the logo and the brand.
8. Set your services apart with images and descriptions
You can even take it a step further by bringing across your unique business identity through your writing to give your customers a great experience during the pre-appointment phase.
Which hair cut would you rather book?
If you’re like most people, you’d book the second one. The description is inviting and makes potential customers feel like they will come out looking and feeling different after going to this hair salon. It also looks like the person who wrote this description took the time to write something inviting and set themselves apart from the competition.
Everyone knows what happens at the dentist’s office, during a manicure or at an apartment viewing. What will you do differently to make the experience worth their while?
9. Set appointment reminders at specific times
Most online agendas will let you decide how many reminders you can send and how you would like to space them out. Send it too early, and you still risk people forgetting and becoming a no-show. Send it too late, and even if they cancel or reschedule, you are left with an open appointment with no client to fill it.
A common practice is to send an appointment reminder 24 hours before the booking, but the ideal time really depends on your business. Ask yourself a few questions before deciding when to send your reminders:
- How quickly can you fill in an open spot to make up for cancellations?
If clients frequently call you or walk in for same-day appointments, you could probably send one of your reminders on the morning of the appointment or less than 24 hours in advance. If you can’t quickly replace cancellations with other appointments, you might want to send reminders earlier so customers can inform you well ahead of time if they can’t make it.
- How frequently do you communicate with or see your clients?
If you book frequent routine appointments, for example, a manicure or a haircut every 2nd week of the month, sending reminders 24-48 hours prior to the booking will probably work just fine for you. If you’re a dentist’s office who only sees patients once or twice a year (go twice to keep ‘em shiny, people!), your customers are more likely to forget their appointments. In these cases, we’d recommend sending a reminder 2-3 weeks in advance, and another one 3 days ahead of time to be sure. This way, you’re giving clients enough time to plan their day around your appointment or cancel early enough to give you a chance to fill the open spot.
Once you’ve decided on how to space out your reminders, make sure to keep an eye on your schedule and take note of no-shows and cancellations. If you notice that appointments are often being cancelled or forgotten, you can tweak your reminders to see what time led to the lowest number of missed appointments. Remember that what works for one business might not work for another, so it’s best to keep testing and reviewing your results to see what works best for you, your team and most importantly – your clients.
10. Decide how reminders should be sent
This seems like an easy one, but you need to make sure that the appointment booking solution you choose has all the features you want to use before setting everything up. Does it send SMS confirmations and reminders? How often? Are they included in your plan?
Many people appreciate short SMS reminders – and research shows that they’re more likely to be read. 98% of all SMS messages are read, compared to only about 30% of emails. If your agenda supports SMS confirmations and you want to make use of them, be sure to ask customers to enter their mobile phone number at the time of booking.
Part 3 – Publish your agenda
Now that you’re ready to go, there’s only one thing left to do: promote, promote, promote. Let everyone know that they can now book appointments with you online. Include links and buttons to your agenda on your website, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and wherever else you promote your business.
If you’ve integrated a virtual assistant into your agenda, let people know that they can also call to book appointments with you after hours. Show them that you’re making your business available to them 24/7 and watch their appreciation for your services grow.
You’ve made it! You’ll soon start to realize that some people will start booking their appointments online while others prefer to continue calling and booking on the phone. Whether you work alone or as part of a team, setting your agenda up correctly from the beginning will help you avoid scheduling mistakes and free up time so you can focus on creating value for your customers. Plan away!