Competition Customer service Entrepreneurs Management Marketing Sales Strategy

Figuring out what your customers REALLY want.

Last week, on Independent Street (a Wall Street Journal column about independent businesses), there was a story about businesses that don’t accept reservations. The story questioned whether it was good business to not accept reservations, or if not doing so was an inconvenient insult.

My view is that every business – not just restaurants – that CAN take reservations, SHOULD take reservations (aka appointments). It’s about your clients’ time, much less yours. No one seems to have enough these days.

Part of this might be a pet peeve:)  It’s annoying to walk into a restaurant or other business (like a barber shop) and be unable to get in because they are busy (time after time after time…), AND despite the busy nature of the business, they don’t accept reservations.

Accepting reservations and *requiring* them are two very different beasts. I prefer accepting, until requiring becomes mandatory. Your marketing is in charge of making it mandatory.

Thinking from the business side of the house, life can sometimes be feast or famine. When I was in the studio software business, two of the goals that most studios had were to (1) fill the appointment calendar, and (2) reduce no shows.

Why? Because they can look at their historical financial performance and tell, within reason, how much money they are going to make NEXT MONTH. If they have 300 appointments next month and they know the average value of those appointments is $271.32, then they have a strong idea how much is on their plate revenue-wise, as well as how their staffing needs to be setup. And they know this a month in advance. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Likewise, if they have 300 appointments next month and their calendar allows for a total of 420 (or 302) appointments, then they know how hard they need to be marketing next month’s time (much less the month after that).

What photographers figured out in a hurry is that once those slots are gone, they’re worthless – so it’s critical to get them booked and get them to show up.

Customers detest showing up and coming back time and time again because you’re too busy.

They don’t have time to stop in to your barber stop, butcher shop, steak house, auto repair shop. flower shop, clothing store (etc) 4-5 times to get what they need. If you don’t have time for them, they will find it elsewhere. How many restaurants are good enough (and have sufficient waiting areas) for a 10 minute wait? 30? 45? 60? How many of their clients have that kind of patience?

And THERE is another big reason for making reservations / appointments. If you drive people somewhere else, they aren’t likely coming back. If they know that reservations are how you get things done with your business, then they will make one. If you accommodate walk-ins on slow days (which your marketing should focus on), that’s fine.

For this reason, I even make appointments for clients at trade shows. I want them to know that I am dedicating time to them, and that I will not divert my attention from them to someone who is looking for another pen or stress ball to add to their collection. For the same reason, I *strongly* encourage phone appointments. They eliminate phone tag. They dedicate time to that person so both can be prepared, as opposed to getting a call in the john (yes, I have seen guys do business on the phone at the urinal – idiots), or in the line at Wal-Mart.  But I digress:)

Appointments allow your customers to get your products and services in a low-stress, less-hectic environment at an agreed upon time, with few (if any) delays or interruptions. Better for you, better for them. Makes their experience with your business more pleasant and less annoying/frustrating. Hugely less stressful for you.

They work for restaurants, auto repair, barber shops, car salespeople, Realtors, clothing salespeople, and they will work for most of you if you look at your situation hard enough. Does regular retail need them? Depends – particularly on the time it takes to complete a transaction. If you have a high end audio shop, do you want undivided attention from your expert salesperson, or do you want them distracted by someone who just wants a set of headphones?

What your customers really want? They want what they want, right when they want it. Appointments and reservations help you give it to them. If you look hard, you can even find additional revenue opportunities in them.