Thursday, September 13, 2012

Self Serve

Schedule Appointment

Last year I gave online booking a whirl and dang near put myself out of business.

On one hand, I realize that these self-serve options are all the rage in faster-paced, metropolitan areas. And, I realize that I don't live in one of those.

But Visalia is no longer a little hick town out in the sticks that nobody's ever heard of-- ok, maybe still a little "hick," but people outside the Valley have heard of it by now.

And not only am I notorious for hating to talk on the phone, but I also work very hard to not be on the phone while I'm with a client. There just aren't enough of us left in the business who want to actually interact with our clients-- I'd rather let the call go to voicemail and pay attention to the person who's actually in the same room with me.

On the flip side of that, is that we increasingly live in a world of instant gratification. And when clients and potential clients can't get ahold of me immediately, 24/7; I risk losing that business.

So online booking seemed like an awesome thing. People find me via the web all the time; I'd simply set up one of these systems and let my appointment book surprise me.

Yeah.... about that:

Thing is; my appointment book is MY LIFE. It's my business. I live by this thing. I can't risk having my information get lost or stolen. I can't risk having it unavailable. I can't risk opening my appointment book up to jealous competition, hateful exes, and disgruntled former clients or co-workers who might think it would be fun to sabotage me by booking a bunch of fake appointments. And I can't risk losing time to no-shows from good-intentioned folks who booked online and then found a faster opening somewhere else and just plum forgot they made the appointment with me.

So if I was going to give control of my schedule to strangers, I figured it was only fair to require that those appointments be secured with a credit card.

But, like I said, we aren't that citified in these parts yet. That's still a new concept for a lot of salon clients.

Also, I found that people didn't really understand that they weren't pre-paying for the service when they booked it. So there was a lot of awkward conversation when I asked for money at the end of a service. And since the credit card information was never actually in my hands-- it was held by the booking company in a secure server that's all PCI Compliant and stuff, so I never actually had the information, I couldn't just smile and charge the card after the service was completed.

Little by little, over the course of about 3 months, I saw a distinct decline in the number of bookings from new clients. And when all the math was done and the graphs and charts were drawn up, the variable most likely as fault was the online booking. It seemed that many people thought they had to book online, or would never call at all because they didn't want to leave a credit card number.

So the online booking feature got cancelled. *POOF!* Gone.

What I wasn't prepared for was how many of my regulars were going to come in and tell me that they really missed being able to go online and see what openings I had available-- they hadn't been using the system to book their appointments, but they could view my schedule and then just call or text me with a simply, "Hey, do you still have next Tuesday at 4 open?"

AND, they really liked the email and text message notifications that the system sent out to remind them of their appointments.


The Bank of Sierra building where the Art of Nailz is located.

So I did some searching and creative Googling and found "an app for that," a nifty little program that integrated with my Google calendar and sent out text messages to the contacts I chose.

And Life continued onward in a smooth and happy format for about a year. That's about how long it has taken for all of my clients to learn that I can send out text reminders-- the service charges for the texts, so I mostly only chose to send them new clients and "problem children." But, of course, when someone says, "I want a text reminder too!" I'm not going to argue with them!

The deal breaker between me and Google finally came down to Google's lack of contact integration: In order to send a text reminder, I have to include the contact's cell # in their appointment. Which means I have to type in their cell #. Which wouldn't be too bad if Gmail contacts wasn't so flippin slow (seriously? On every computer I've used, contacts = slow.) and, well... let's just say, for all it's conquering of the world, Google has just dropped the ball when it comes to making it easy to fill in events on their calendar with information that's already stored in their mail client contacts list.

I actually deleted one client's information altogether! I was glad I had her daughter's number so that I could get it back!

And, since I have an Android phone which automatically syncs up with my Google contacts-- yep, when I accidentally deleted that #, it was GONE.

some of the glitter

So I had to start simply asking every client for their phone # when I booked their appointment.

And I know, most people would just shrug that off and think, "no big deal." Except for those times when my client is running out the door and is on the elevator before I've entered their next appointment. And my next client is sitting in front of me already-- I'd tell myself I'd go back an fill in phone #'s later.. then forget-- I'm very easily distracted.

ooooh, shiney!

Then I'd get stood up and when I'd call, that poor client would be all like, "I didn't get a text, I thought it must be next week."

Well... let's not get into a philosophical debate about personal responsibility and how we are moving into a future where no one can think for themselves anymore... I have a business to run. And maybe it's my own fault for starting the text message dependency to begin with.


So, I started a new hunt for booking software, which has actually had me in quite a dither for the last few weeks.  Because while I'm easily distracted, I can also be quite obsessive, and when I'm obsessed, it's very hard to distract me.

So I was getting quite grumpy.

There are literally hundred-- maybe thousands-- of options out there for keeping an appointment book on a computer. And it seemed that none of them met my demands.

First: I needed it to integrate contacts with the events-- not a problem, they all do that.
Second: I needed SMS reminders-- not a problem, most do that.
Third: I needed to be able to set recurring events for all my standing clients-- oddly lacking, especially in some "salon specific" software.
Seriously?! If I have to go back to hand-inputting each, individual appointment for all my standing appointments, I might as well go back to a paper book! That was one of the most beneficial aspects of having an electronic schedule to begin with!

And then I got picky--

Many of these services are web-based. And that means that if their servers go down, or my Internet connection is unavailable, my appointment book goes black. As in, can't even look at it.

This is not acceptable.

So I realized that I really needed a service that either had offline editable features-- like iCal and Google calendar do-- or I need a service that syncs with Google Cal so that if the service or Internet is unavailable, I can still manage my book. It'll just update when Internet is available again.

my dog wearing socks
Yeah, there is some potential for conflict in this case what-with an online booking feature, but that's nothing compared to not having access to your schedule at all.

I have spent the last 3 weeks managing 3 to 4 calendars at a time. Seriously-- signed up for so  many 15 and 30 day free trial periods with various companies, I can't remember them all.

For the record: I really like They just don't (yet) meet all my deal-breaker criteria, but I'm looking forward to growth and changes for them and hoping to move my schedule there in the future. (Yes, that's a shameless plug for the folks at StyleSeat-- they are working hard on their company and I love that every time I contact them I feel like there are REAL PEOPLE behind the software!)

But several other services fell far below the mark for me.

Also, there are several options that offer exactly the features that I want, but are priced well out of my budget.

Well... you saw it at the beginning of this rant: my "schedule now" button. I think I found it.

I do nails better than I build castles out of cake.
 I'm still in the trial period of my account, but so far it has made me feel all warm and fuzzy. It syncs with my Google calendar, AND it seamlessly sync'd with my contact list too-- so I didn't have to hand enter contact information into the new software OR export info to a file and email that file to tech support only to have them screw up my contacts so badly that I wondered if I could trust their software to do anything right!

Naturally-- we're all on this ride together. I'll give it a month or two to make sure, but I think we have a solution!

You can book you appointment online if you would like. No credit card or deposit required-- although, you will have to verify your email address before the appointment will be confirmed.
Of course you can still call or text me directly to book your appointment! But the online option offers you the opportunity to check out what's available on my book first.

I'm pretty excited. Excited enough to write a long, blathering post on my blog all about how online booking works from the tech's perspective. And it's kind of a boring post, without any pictures that really go with it. That's why you get to see so many pictures that don't make any sense.

Except glitter, of course, glitter always makes sense!