By Dominic Iafigliola

Business is more competitive than ever, and your clients are constantly being solicited by competitors. For service-based businesses, keeping your appointment book full at all times requires smarter scheduling practices. As a small business, you need to make it easy for clients to book appointments, keep their appointments, and return for more.

1. Make Appointments Simple for Clients with Online Booking

Life is hectic and everyone seems to always be on the go. Smartphones have allowed us to work and socialize around the clock. It only seems fitting that we should also be able to book appointments with our favorite businesses anytime, anywhere. In fact, most customers are unable to call within business hours and when they do, they may not be able to reach you live, instead leaving a message and starting a chain of phone tag. By contrast, online appointment booking is simple and accessible for clients.

Most scheduling applications like a service schedule software or even a WordPress appointments plugin,  allow real-time booking with as little as three clicks from your website or Facebook page. This reduces frustrations associated with the booking process and guarantees you the most appointments. The cherry on top? It’s also convenient for you. Appointments booked online automatically appear in your calendar without risk of double-booking, reducing the number of calls and messages to return.

2. Engage Your Clients Pre-Appointment with Notifications and Reminders

One of the primary reasons for last-minute cancellations and no shows is simply forgetfulness. That’s why it is important to be proactive and reach out to your client pre-appointment. Luckily, most scheduling software applications allow you to send automated email and SMS notifications.

At the time of booking, a confirmation is sent including all the appointment details, and clients can easily save this information to their smartphone or personal calendar. A few days prior to the appointment, a reminder is sent to the client to confirm their attendance. If they can no longer attend, the client can also cancel the appointment online, giving you ample time to fill the slot.

3. Retain Business During Busy Periods with Waiting Lists

Many businesses underestimate the power of a well-maintained waiting list. While some appointment-based businesses don’t have a waiting list at all, others simply scribble down names on a piece of paper or use an Excel sheet. This manual approach can be very time-consuming, so automating your waiting list makes sense.

When you are fully booked, clients can add themselves to your waiting list online and include their preferences for an appointment (ex. day of the week, morning/afternoon/evening time slot). When a time slot becomes available, clients in waiting receive an email, allowing them to snatch up the spot before it becomes available to the general public. Not only does this keep your clients from looking elsewhere for an appointment, but it’s also fully automated and requires no intervention on your part. Talk about smart scheduling!

4. Develop Ongoing Client Relationships with Retention Reports

The biggest drawback of using paper and pen, or even a basic personal agenda like Google Calendar or Outlook is the lack of analytics. Scheduling applications store and organize data into detailed reports that allow you to track revenue; your most popular services, staff and client appointments; and my very favorite: client retention!

A retention report produces a list of clients who have not booked an appointment within a specified time period. This allows you to design targeted promotions for repeat business or to even follow-up personally with clients to drum up new appointments.

Smart scheduling is more than just taking down appointments efficiently – it’s an approach that supports your entire business. Existing and new clients can book appointments with you any time of the day, reducing last-minute cancellations and no shows while retaining clients over the long run.

Being smart about your appointment booking practices is a no-brainer with the right scheduling software. With a new year now underway, it’s worth re-evaluating your scheduling process so that your calendar will be full with appointments throughout 2017.