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Making Online Appointments Effective

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With an increasing number of consumers using the Internet to find auto repair shops, having an online appointment-booking feature can be an effective, convenient way to engage customers. While adding and managing an online appointment feature can be seamless, there are several important considerations that shop owners should take. Anne Lazo, a marketing expert and owner of industry consulting firm Motorhead Advantage, breaks down the do’s and don’ts of online appointments.

Business owners have started training consumers to have a more self-service mindset. It started in the banking industry with ATM machines, then phone banking and now mobile banking. We’ve trained customers to take care of themselves. There are pros and cons to that. 

If you want to engage your customers, you have to do it in a way that they feel most comfortable. Although you may still have some people who like to pick up the telephone, the new millennial generation wants you to engage with them. They’re the ones with their heads in their phones all the time. That’s where having an online-booking service is helpful. They can easily go online and set an appointment at their convenience. It makes it a lot easier for them to connect with your shop.

The first consideration is that you have to find a service or a system that you feel comfortable using. If you don’t, you’re not going to use it to your benefit. There are a lot of different ways you can incorporate online booking into your website. You can have a service like Demandforce add a booking feature to your website. You can also do it on your own. If you have a WordPress site, there are some plug-ins that can be used. BirchPress Scheduler is one of the most popular ones and it’s very easy to use. You can also create a basic email form. 

The online booking should be a prominent call-to-action button. As soon as you get on the website, you’re seeing that. It’s a graphic and draws attention. It’s driving people to take that action on the website.

Next, you want to decide the time slots available for them to book appointments. I would recommend having those appointment slots for just after you have that morning rush of people coming in and before the afternoon rush. Give yourself a buffer and make sure you have enough time to serve all of your customers well. You don’t want someone coming in while you’re trying to get everybody signed in or picking up a vehicle at the end of the day.

As for the information needed at the time of booking, you don’t need major details. Get their name and contact information, the make and model of the car, and a general idea of why they’re bringing in their vehicle. You could have a drop-down box with a few selections or a box that allows them to explain their problem. I think that online appointments are more geared toward those wait-while-they-do-the-work type of services, like oil changes and tire rotations. A larger repair will definitely need a conversation with the customer and it could be more difficult to deduce the length of time needed upfront.

After they book the appointment, you need to make sure that there is some type of auto-respond email or text message sent. The customer should receive a message that says their information was sent and that someone will be in touch. You can also let them know if there’s any additional information needed. You want to make sure that the customer knows they are valued and that you’re paying attention. It’s not something that just went out to cyberspace; you’re trying to bring that personal connection back in there, even though it may be electronic.

Finally, it is absolutely necessary to assign a person in the shop to manage the system and respond to customers. It could be you, your service advisor or a front-office staff member. It is very important that someone confirms those appointments and makes a connection with the customer. If the appointment is made during regular business hours, you should have someone respond right away. Have the system notifications sent to your phone so you are immediately alerted of a booking. If the appointment is made at night, confirming should be one of your first priorities in the morning. That’s why having someone assigned to handle those appointments first thing in the morning will make your process much quicker and smoother.  

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