I love getting questions from readers, not only because I enjoy sharing what I've learned, but also because the questions sometimes challenge me to consider subjects in a new light. For example, consider this question (slightly paraphrased) that I got in response to my ongoing ADR marketing survey... (If you haven't already taken the survey yourself, go do it now! Don't worry — I'll wait here.)
Should intake systems be online or outsourced? How can I make scheduling more efficient, secure a deposit, and avoid rescheduling?
At first, the question surprised me. When I wrote about appointment scheduling last month, I wasn't even thinking about marketing. Is this really a question about building and marketing an ADR practice?
Yes, it definitely is.
Here are two ways in which business processes intersect with marketing...
1. Good Business Processes Free Up Resources for Marketing
I've never met a service professional who wouldn't be thrilled to have more (1) time and (2) money to run their practice. Especially for those of us who run solo operations, handling all the little things that keep a practice running can feel a bit like a juggling act. At some point, we start thinking about delegating or automating certain tasks, with intake and scheduling being high on the list. Delegation and automation free up time to do more client work, which means more income. It also gives us more time to work on our marketing, which unfortunately can take an undeserved back seat when time is tight.
To this specific question, when I wrote about scheduling last month, I suggested using Calendly, which I still use. It's not a perfect solution, though, particularly for mediators who are trying to schedule appointments with multiple parties who might not even be on speaking terms. I'm still on the lookout for an easy, automated system for multi-party scheduling.
I may have found it. Just this week, I learned of x.ai, a digital personal assistant that goes by the name of Amy. Amy can handle all your scheduling by email, for up to five (!!!) participants. You just CC her on an email to the other attendees (e.g. mediation clients) and ask her to schedule the meeting. She takes over the emailing with the other attendees from there. Amy has access to your Google calendar (she'll support other online calendars in the future, including Exchange), so she knows when you're available. You don't have to participate in the rest of the emails at all. She also knows your personal preferences and has lots of additional features like appointment reminders.
I wish I could say I've tried working with Amy already, but the service is currently in beta testing, and there's a wait list. The feedback from people who've tried it has been overwhelmingly positive. There are reports of people thanking Amy, sending her gifts, and even inviting her to their office parties! I'm on the wait list for beta testing and encourage you to get on the list, too!
If x.ai lives up to the reports (and I suspect it will), here's how I envision an automated workflow:
- Have a form on your website that gets the clients' email addresses.
- Automatically forward the form to Amy with a request for her to schedule the appointment.
- Send additional emails to the clients with instructions on how to make a deposit, and potentially a link to a supplemental intake form.
This process will provide a level of service similar to having a full-time receptionist. You'll be able to schedule clients and take deposits without having to handle it personally. You'll be aware of the scheduling process, but your actual first contact with the clients will be at the time of the appointment. I can't wait to try it out and I'll be sure to post here once I do.
2. Business Processes Are Marketable Features
Remember what I wrote above, about people thanking Amy, sending her gifts, and inviting her to office parties? Wouldn't you love to have an appointment scheduling process that not only works, but makes clients overtly grateful? Imagine having a form on your website that says, "Enter both your email addresses here, and my friendly digital assistant will work with both of you to schedule your first meeting right away." I would consider that a huge selling point over the standard approach of having a client call, leave a voicemail, wait for a call back, provide email addresses, and eventually find a meeting time that works for everyone. If I were looking at two mediators' websites that were otherwise indistinguishable, you can bet I would choose the one with easier scheduling!
Lots of other processes can be marketable, too. Potential clients might like to know, for example, that you provide instructional materials at the initial consultation. Or that you have a multi-page checklist that you reference throughout the mediation, to help ensure that the final agreement is thorough and reliable. If you have a secure online portal that you use to share documents with clients, you might market that as a feature of your practice, too. The more potential clients recognize that you have a deliberate, efficient process for managing their cases, the more likely they are to hire you and trust your guidance.
Do you have any processes that you consider marketable features of your practice? Any others that you're exploring or curious about? Share your thoughts in the comments section!