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The Rise Of The Appointment Economy: The Last Mile Of Customer Engagement Will Be Scheduled, Optimized And Personalized

As the world starts to open up, digital-first behaviors are giving rise to an appointment economy to enhance customer engagement and experiences in the field. Appointments-as-a-service convey that customers’ and experts’ time is a precious commodity.

Have you ever booked an appointment with a service provider and been asked to keep an open window of several hours because they couldn’t commit to an exact time? Have you ever scheduled an appointment at a healthcare facility and still had to wait for what seemed like an eternity in a waiting room? Have you ever walked into a business and waited in a long line, wishing there was a way to book an appointment ahead of time? We all have experienced these inefficiencies. Now as a result of the pandemic and its acceleration of digital adoption, more and more customers are starting to expect innovative and personalized services that value their time. This is giving rise to an “appointment economy” and it can quickly become a competitive differentiator in earning customer relationships and ultimately, loyalty.

The Pandemic Disrupted Businesses and Transformed Customers

Covid-19 safety protocols and the fear of getting sick pushed customers to adopt digital-first behaviors in their personal and professional lives. Whether they were buying groceries, dinner from a local restaurant, sporting goods, leisurewear, their next car, or their next home, customers learned how to discover, shop, and procure goods through their digital apps and devices. In-person services, too, became digital-centric with health concerns and physical distancing rules put in place, creating the need to accelerate many virtual applications such as remote learning, telemedicine and telehealth, courtroom law, insurance claims processing, and more.

Covid-19 quickly reshaped society and behavioral norms. Combined with the rapid rise in digital-first activities, a new kind of customer, Generation-N, emerged. Within the first 90-days of pandemic disruption, customers were starting almost every buying journey on a digital platform, which influenced new routines and expectations in the experiences they preferred;

1. they move faster, across multiple touch points;
2. seek clear, contextually relevant, and visual information;
3. rely on peer reviews;
4. expect all touch points – across both physical and digital – to be integrated, convenient, intuitive and frictionless, experiential, and personalized;
5. are increasingly impatient and expect outcomes on their schedule; and
6. demand that companies expedite and enhance digital engagement and also introduce new types of experiences.

Businesses spent the past year reacting, simply digitizing dated processes and infrastructure during the pandemic. Now, there are immediate opportunities to proactively invest in next-generation experiences, especially in the last-mile of customer engagement.

Field services represent one of the most promising and immediate opportunities for innovation and growth, wth the traditional four hour appointment window simply unacceptable for today’s consumers And, it’s setting the stage for an appointment economy—a complete reimagination of the service journey to put the digital-first customer at the center of the last-mile experience.

According to a recent study, “The Appointment Economy: The Time Is Now to Reimagine Field Service,” customers see appointments as an opportunity to optimize time. It’s also a chance to rethink field service as a vital, person-to-person touch point, to improve engagement in-the-moment, and leave customers feeling more valued and satisfied.

Demand for in-person appointments is growing; digital infrastructure is necessary to support frictionless scheduling, on-site personalization, and meaningful follow-up.

The preference for face-to-face service is actually growing in a digital-first world. According to Salesforce research, 77% of U.S. customers said that they prefer in-person appointments over digital alternatives — up from 67% in June 2020.

In a world where digital-first is now becoming a post-pandemic norm, what do analog appointments mean for digital transformation? The answer is end-to-end digital infrastructure, from appointment setting, to on-time and personalized engagement, to post-service follow-up.

Looking out to the future, one-third of customers between the ages of 18-44 said that they prefer video appointments over face-to-face engagement. While that represents a minority today, it can be interpreted as a predictor to where the future of the appointment economy is headed. If a service or transaction can be delivered digitally, then perhaps saving time and expediting outcomes becomes more important as younger customers age and become the market majority.

Customers desire appointment-setting for in-person business transactions and services.

More than 80% of consumers say they’d feel more comfortable visiting a business in-person if they could make an appointment to do so. But comfort is just the beginning. What about inclination? Turns out, 82% say they’d be more willing to visit a business in person with an appointment. This all comes down to the likelihood of taking action and who you decide to do business with. Just over 75% said they’d be more likely to visit a business in person if they have an appointment than without one.

Personalizing customer experiences attracts more and more customers and charts a path toward future-proofing

Most consumers, 78%, say they’re more likely to make a purchase when receiving personalized service. That number is expected to jump in the near future, especially as digital-first experiences become fueled by artificial intelligence conditions. If younger consumers are any indication, teenagers and those in their twenties are significantly more likely to agree with this perspective. And these appointments don’t just save consumers time – they offer the brand a chance to learn about the customer in advance, either by asking a few well-chosen questions or tapping into customer data like purchase history, to deliver a truly white-glove, personalized experience.

Additionally, younger consumers prefer shopping online and picking up in-store or curbside. While technically this isn’t regarded as “shopping with an appointment,” it does reflect that younger, and arguably, most digital-first customers, want to experience their shopping journey on their schedule, to their standards. Said another way, they prefer screens than aisles and want to schedule when they pick up their purchases on their own time.

The Customer’s Time is Their Greatest Asset…Schedule Accordingly

As the world starts opening up, customers are not giving up the convenience, control and enhanced digital-first experiences they’ve grown accustomed to. They’re not going back to yesterday’s normal.

In the appointment economy, time and experiences are everything. Businesses must increasingly differentiate themselves through the personalized service that they deliver in the field. Appointment-setting represents an opportunity for businesses to be more thoughtful about field service, to plan more effectively, use resources more efficiently, and aim to deliver a higher quality of in-person service. Doing so values the customer’s time and presence to deliver outcomes that benefit everyone.

The key to doing this at scale is rethinking the last-mile for digital-first customers. To deliver the right experiences at the right time, in the most personalized manner, bringing in the right technologies that tailor desired engagement and outcomes at scale.

1. Invest in the capacity for real-time scheduling and analytics.
2. Facilitate easy, digital-first self-service for scheduling, rescheduling, and cancelling appointments.
3. Integrate automation, self-service channels and chatbots to handle the brunt of what’s needed today. Over time, scale automated tools to collect and unify important context from the customer, eliminate bottlenecks and empower human agents with the information they need to anticipate and solve problems and deliver desirable outcomes.
4. Make experiences part of the unified experience for customers, with digital at the core of engagement.
5. Follow up beyond a “how did we do” email or survey, let customers know how much you appreciate them. Try a personalized video or voice email or message!
6. Use insights from the appointment economy to predict the future. If you see bookings surging next month, or drop, adjust capacity. Introduce predictability into scheduling.

The way we expect service to be delivered has evolved. Upgrades to the experience are here to stay. Easy-to-schedule and personalized conveniences are among those critical experiences customers will be expecting more of in years to come.

In the appointment economy, the companies that are going to thrive are those that bring value to every customer engagement seamlessly, from online to curbside to in-person.
Source: Forbes

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