When Drew Freedman launched his now wildly successful Boston Bodyworker massage clinic in 1999, the seemingly simple task of booking client appointments quickly became the bane of his existence.
Today, Freedman has two locations, one downtown at Copley Square, the other in Back Bay, with 16 employees, including 12 massage therapists, an acupuncturist and a chiropractor. The firm books more than 300 appointments a week.
But in the beginning, it was just Freedman. And as he grew more popular, booking appointments became increasingly troublesome. Clients would call when he was in a session and leave a message. It might take two or three rounds of telephone tag before they connected and by then it might be too late.
I was definitely losing a ton of business, he said. You hope that theyll try to come back to you, but massage is a need-it-now type of business.
On days when he was booked solidly, and those days came with increasing regularity as word about his service spread, Freedman often didnt have time to return calls until seven or eight in the evening when he would have liked to relax. I was running into a brick wall, he said. The foundation of my business is customer service, and I wasnt providing very good service.
An Appointed Solution
Freedman finally went looking for a better solution than telephone tag and writing in a day book, and found it almost immediately in TimeTrade Systems' online appointment self-scheduling service. This was in 2001.
When clients go to his Web site now and click on Schedule On-Line, theyre taken to a branded portal page hosted for Boston Bodyworker by TimeTrade. Once they log in, they can see a schedule showing available time slots. They can narrow it down by choosing the location or the specific therapist they want from a pull down list. Then they simply click in an open white space on the calendar to book an appointment.
People love it, Freedman said of his clients response to the TimeTrade system.
Its popular because its so easy for them to log in and make an appointment or a bunch of appointments. He estimates that 60 percent to 70 percent of bookings are now made online. When clients do use the phone, its usually because they want a same-day appointment, and phone is the only way they can schedule those.
Digital String on Your Finger
We wondered if clients might be more likely blow off self-made appointments on the easy-come-easy-go principle, but Freedman said thats not the case. If anything, we have higher [appointment] retention with TimeTrade. I could count on one hand the number of times people have missed appointments because they forgot or just didnt bother coming.
The problem of ensuring that clients and patients actually keep appointments is one that TimeTrade anticipated. About 36 hours before an appointment, TimeTrade automatically e-mails clients a reminder. A fairly new feature lets customers drag a widget from the Boston Bodyworker portal page to their Outlook calendar. When they book an appointment, it's automatically added to their own schedules.
Some clinic-type businesses dentist offices, for example spend a lot of time and effort on calling patients on the phone to remind them of appointments. There was no way we could afford to do that, Freedman said.
He doesnt believe phone follow-ups would be more effective. His clients come from all walks of life, although many, because of the Copley Square location, are business people. But even his stay-at-home-mom customers use e-mail, he said. Maybe not back in 2003 when we first expanded the business [opening the second location], but now e-mail is a mainstay for almost everyone.
Still, if there is one improvement hed like to see TimeTrade make its the option to send an appointment reminder as a text message to the clients cell phone, something that cant be done now.
Pricing and Reliability
The TimeTrade service doesn't come cheap $130 a month, $389 a quarter or $1,550 a year. And in 2001, when Freedman was still a solo, the price seemed awfully high. But in hindsight, he said, it was the best money I ever spent.
The service saves the firm all the headaches of telephone tag with clients and the time the staff spent fielding calls and manually booking appointments. Freedman believes it also helps increase business. Once clients decide they want to use his service on a regular basis, they can and do book appointments weeks ahead, something they likely wouldnt do without TimeTrade.
Freedman sees the impact of this trend in the reports TimeTrade sends him. They show bookings several weeks ahead, and the proportion of timeslots booked has continually increased, he said.
TimeTrade also handled everything required for setup, which, Freedman said, made getting started very easy. The company offers tailor-made solutions for many kinds of business, including manufacturing, healthcare, retail, financial, government, higher education, law enforcement and human resources.
As for the service's reliability, Freedman remembers only a handful of occasions in seven years when the service was briefly unavailable. And when he calls with a problem or question, he sometimes receives as many as three different calls back from TimeTrade employees.
At first I thought maybe this was because it was a new business or that we were one of their first customers, but now I think its just the way they operate, he said.
Some business functions are so basic and have been done the same way for so long that nobody ever thinks about how they might be improved upon. Think about how much time you or your employees spend making appointments and calling people with reminders. Would your customers be willing to serve themselves?
Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.
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