Magazine Article | January 22, 2008

Web Technology Transforms Appointment Scheduling

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Drive more appointments and increase revenue while also reducing labor, telephone, and overhead costs.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, February 2008

The first step in a sale for retailers selling time-based inventory is scheduling an appointment and the subsequent resources required. For example, chains of bridal salons, national portrait studios, pet stores with grooming services, and home retailers with custom window treatments have to schedule consultants' time, facilities, and equipment. Additionally, service retailers such as hair salons often want to balance walk-in traffic with scheduled appointments. It is not uncommon for these chain retailers to schedule up to 12,000 appointments per hour when operating at peak levels.
Empowering customers to schedule appointments at their convenience, either in one step via a self-service model or through centralized call centers, is now a reality with Web technology. Retailers are seamlessly linked with customers, eliminating consumer frustrations such as having to call and be put on hold, finding out their time is in conflict with another appointment, or waiting in a store for someone to help them — often walking out before the sale.
Web-based scheduling provides on-demand schedule analysis, giving managers better visibility into resource utilization by unlocking information previously trapped by paper-based scheduling. Retailers can realize significant benefits by driving more appointments and increasing revenue while also reducing labor, telephone, and overhead costs. It also becomes easier for retailers to enforce their rules and procedures in appointment scheduling, virtually eliminating scheduling errors.
When evaluating Web-based appointment scheduling solutions, there are several things to consider:
n Can the solution support multiple scheduling methods, including self-service and assisted-service via phone, the Web, or in person?
n Can the solution support and set up rules across complex configurations, moving from the business unit to locations and departments, and then activities with primary and secondary resources required?
n Does the solution integrate easily with retailer portals, enabling customers to view their reservation history, modify future reservations, and ask for upgrades?
n Can the solution trigger transaction-driven e-mails such as special offers, appointment confirmations, reminders, and follow-up messages enabling actions such as satisfaction surveys?
n Is the solution designed to be quickly configured, integrated, and deployed?
n Can the solution scale easily to handle potentially millions of transactions over thousands of locations per month?
n Does the solution provide reporting capabilities?
n Does the vendor supplying the solution have experience supporting retail customers with measurable results?

End Customer Frustrations Through Efficiency
It is important to remember that every handoff in the scheduling process can lead to a lost sale. Retailers can leverage Web-based scheduling tools to schedule many more appointments and easily confirm them, sending reminders and driving a call to action through the use of e-mail. Call centers can have a centralized view of availabilities, providing the opportunity to schedule the appointment while the customer is on the line rather than necessitating a return call.
Customer satisfaction and loyalty for repeat business can skyrocket because of the efficiencies afforded by Web-based scheduling. TimeTrade surveys show that 88% of businesses leveraging Web-based appointment scheduling cite happier customers, 77% report increased revenues, and 75% point to reduced costs. Retail customers love the convenience and immediacy of self-service and assisted-service scheduling because it makes it easier to access the services or goods they are looking for, allowing them to maximize their time.