Eliminating Waste – Scheduling

Eliminating Waste – Scheduling
June 28, 2018 Joseph Paris
waste

If you ever find yourself saying; “There must be a better way”, I can guarantee you that there is.  All we must do is find it.  And, once a successful solution is suspected, try it.  And when found, implement.

One of the biggest stones in my shoe was scheduling appointments and calls.  It was a giganormous time-suck.

I am sure we have all experienced it.  Two people want to schedule time together.  One sends an email suggesting a time, and perhaps a few hours (or days) pass.  Then the response comes confirming.  But in the meantime, the slot has been otherwise confirmed with someone (or something) else.  And the cycle perpetuates until a date and time is settled – or we just give up.

And God forbid if the time had to be rescheduled by either party.  The game just starts over.

All this back and forth is not only frustrating, its wasteful.

Sure, we can hire (at a cost) someone to help expedite the scheduling of calendars.  But the reality is that this just shifts the frustration (and waste) to someone else.

There must be a better way…

This has been a real source of frustration to me for a long time.  When I had an assistant, this would be one of their duties.  But a full 20% of their time was devoted to calendar management – their speaking with the other party, speaking with me, perhaps having to include others.

If you figure the burdened cost of this assistant to be $40,000 per year (a conservative number), the annual cost would calculate to be $8,000.  Then there is the additional cost associated with under-utilization and delay.  All the back and forth would result in holes in my calendar and cause any progress to be pushed out into the future.

If you are a consultant (as I am) or otherwise rely on the efficient monetization of time (which applies to many people – especially those customer-facing), the result will be a decrease in productivity (a reduction in revenue or progress realized in a given time period).

There must be a better way…

I must admit, I have seen people who use online scheduling software.  However, I have always been reluctant to use them because they were different than the way I had become accustomed – even if I recognized there was considerable waste in the traditional method.  But mostly I was reluctant to use them because I felt it rather impersonal and that I was somehow giving control away (this is and example of ego and resistance to change over pragmatism).

As with most impetus for change, when the pain becomes acute enough, the idea of doing something different becomes increasingly appealing – until the need become a want and we act.

So, I began investigating the various solutions that are available (and there are many).  And later in this article, I will share my personal transition from manual to automated – as well as the challenges I encountered along the way that had to be overcome.

For those wanting to cut to the chase and know the pros and cons of online scheduling; all I can say is that there were no cons.

As mentioned, there are many scheduling solutions available.  In fact, the number of solutions available is overwhelming.  I started my search like everyone starts every search, I googled “online scheduling solutions”.  This generated a near inexhaustible list (not to mention the paid advertising).  So, I googled “best online scheduling solutions”.  In addition to the advertisements, the query also returned to me a series of articles that greatly skinnyed-down my search.

waste

The most helpful lists/articles I found were “Appointment Scheduling Software” on the Capterra website and  “The 17 Best Appointment Scheduling Apps” on the Zapier website.  Mind you, there are a great many other articles and lists, and you should not feel compelled to stop at the ones I suggested.  But I am sure you would find them good starting points.

I liked the Capterra website because it appeared to be the most exhaustive all-in-one list I could find.  But navigating this list was made simple by the application of sorts and filters for features.  I could sort by “Sponsored” (with the expected bias), but also “Highest Rated”, “Most Reviews”, and “Hot Products” (whatever that might mean).  I found “Most Reviews” the best indicator.  Would you give more weight to a solution with a “5-Star” rating but only six reviews?  Or a solution with a “4.5-Star” rating and 100+ reviews?  Indeed, the real power on the Capterra website was the ability to filter for ratings and the features you needed.

And I liked the Zapier website because it provided a “short-list” of 17 selected solutions.  The applications were listed in alphabetical order, so there was no obvious bias for one solution or another.  It also provided a good side-by-side snapshot and summary. Further down the article, the author offered their commentary on each solution and I found the narrative interesting and educational.  There were also links to other Zapier pages where a more extensive review of each solution was offered.

In the end, I used the Capterra website to select the features I needed, then I compared the results to the Zapier website to see which of those made the “17-Best” list.  I felt this was a reasonable approach to developing my personal short list.

** Disclaimer and Transparency:  The offerings below are not to be considered endorsements nor express disfavor.  They are merely a reflection of criteria important to me, my journey, decision-making process, and experience.  I was not compensated in any way by any company for writing this article.

Selection:

A successful solution for me had to be web-based (SaaS) and had to support; a) mobile devices (iOS, Android), b) online booking, c) automated scheduling, d) automated reminders, e) online payments, f) website integration, and g) sync to my Outlook Calendar.

This narrowed my selection down to Acuity Scheduling (consistently top-rated), Calendly (commonly seen by me as used by others), and vCita (an unknown to me, but highly rated and fitting my criteria).

The good thing about most of these solutions – and all the ones I tried – is that they offer a trial period of at least a couple weeks.  And the ones I tried did not require you to provide a credit card to start the trial period which, in my opinion, is a really good thing.  I don’t like to provide credit card information and then chase a refund if it gets charged but I decide I don’t want it.

All the solutions would satisfy my requirements.  They all supported the features that I wanted, were easy to set-up and use, and the pricing of all the solutions were reasonably in-line with one another.

After trying them all, I decided to go with vCita.

I selected vCita because it had a very sexy user interface that doubled as a promotional page and included support for; embedded video, opportunities to submit documents, send a message, and make payments.  By comparison, the others were rather Spartan in their presentation and what a user could do other than schedule and manage an appointment.

You can see my vCita page, or see how it looks as an embedded scheduler at my company website’s “Contact” page, or see it as a pop-up here on my “eBusiness Card” page.

Deployment:

The roll-out was simple.  I configured the solution the way I wanted; available times, appointment types, integration to PayPal, user experience and content, integration to my Outlook calendar, integration on websites, and so on.  All of this was very simple and making changes was also easy.

But I was faced with some real challenges that I did not anticipate.  Once I deployed it, started using it, and sharing across my network – I got slammed with appointments.  The challenge now being people were booking nearly 100% of my time.

No kidding.  Within a week’s time of deployment, my appointment bookings increased 400%.

Since vCita integrates with my Outlook, it makes available to those wanting to book an appointment all the time that is available on my Outlook calendar, and within the “business hours” set in vCita.

So, I had to manage my Outlook calendar better.  If I want lunch on a daily basis, I better put it in my Outlook Calendar – or if I have a personal appointment or am going on a business trip, I better put it in my Outlook Calendar.  Otherwise, people were booking the time – because they could.

The other thing I did was to restrict how far into the future people could book.  We all know with reasonable certainty what our schedule and availability is near-term.  But this gets less predictable longer term.  So, I set my vCita so people could only book four-weeks in advance of the current date.

Another thing I had to do is switch my configuration of vCita from a 24-hour clock (which is what I am used to using) to a 12-hour clock (am/pm).  I was getting appointment bookings from the States for 09:30h (9:30am) here in Germany but which would be 3:30am (Eastern) in the States. I knew this was a mistake.  After some investigation, I discovered people were selecting 03:30h thinking it was 3:30pm.  Switching the clock to am/pm solved that problem.

Because of the clock issue, I discovered the unexpected benefit of people (including myself) being able to easily cancel or reschedule an appointment right in the system and otherwise communicate regarding the appointment (adding agenda-items, for instance).  The automated reminders to all parties involved in the meeting helped to maintain the accuracy of the schedule.

Conclusion:

In a corporate environment, where most of your meetings are going to be with people within your organization, you could almost certainly be satisfied with using whatever your corporate calendar solution might be.

But if you have considerable interface with people who are external to your organization (certainly, if you are a service provider), and scheduling is a perpetual “stone in your shoe”, then you really should implement an online scheduling solution.

You will reduce friction and costs and increase your utilization and productivity.

And if you would like to speak with me about this topic, or any other topic, you can easily select a date and time from my online scheduler and calendar; https://live.vcita.com/site/JosephParis

I look forward to hearing from you.

Joseph Paris

Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence.

He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 60,000 members. Connect with him on LinkedIn or find out more about him here: www.JosephParis.me/card

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