Picture you’re handling the bookings of an in-demand field service management business. It’s been a busy day. Requests have been flying in all afternoon and you’ve been filling up your diary for the days and weeks ahead. You confirm a 3pm booking for tomorrow afternoon. You take a glance at tomorrow’s schedule and you realise something. There’s already a 3pm booked in. You’ve got it written on the white board. But you just forgot. It’s one of those days. You’ve got one of those scenarios on your hands where you know you’re going to disappoint someone. Do you call one of the clients to apologise and postpone? Or, do you rather riskily try and split up your team to tackle both jobs? Something could easily go wrong, how best to proceed? Let’s try to figure it out, and we’ll start by asking ourselves an important scheduling question:
ARE YOU OVERBOOKED OR DOUBLE-BOOKED?
Double booking is fairly straight-forward. You’ve booked in yourself or your team to be in two different places, at the same time. Maybe you did it on purpose, you sneaky so-and-so. Perhaps you had an inkling that one of those bookings would cancel. But, that’s a gamble that could end up biting you on the proverbial. More on that just below. Chances are, you made an honest mistake. Thus, unless there is a monumental leap forward in our understanding of quantum physics and you somehow manage to splice your DNA into two identical copies by 3pm tomorrow: you’re in trouble.
There is another possible cause to this potentially customer satisfaction-slashing scenario. Overbooking means you’ve booked in more jobs than usual, or more jobs than you’re quite equipped to handle, on an given day. Perhaps this means you’re pushing for less travel time, or you’ve noticed a pattern that jobs often end early – allowing travel time to be included.
Overbooking can work if used carefully, but you’re going to run into inevitable risks when operating on the edge in this way. There’s no room for error, and if one job runs long, it can mess up the rest of your day’s work. It also places unnecessary demands on your team, can lead to an unhappy workforce, and contributes to burnout.
WHAT ABOUT THE OCCASIONAL, SNEAKY INTENTIONAL DOUBLE BOOKING?
Well, obviously you’re in charge of your own business. But let’s be honest, you shouldn’t really be doing it. Just because it’s a common practice for hotels, spas and many budget airlines, it’s generally bad practice for service professionals like electricians, plumbers and cleaners – even if you have a fairly high cancellation rate.
One important thing to consider, and something that we’re really focussing on at Workever, is how intentional double-booking can affect the stress levels of your team. What new problems and challenges are you creating for yourself if customers don’t cancel as you expect?
You could argue that double booking is okay, if you handle the process well on specific jobs. For instance, if you’re busy with a big job, why not schedule a smaller one with another client that only requires one team member? There will surely be a moment during the day where a team member can slip away for a few hours, so what harm could that do?
Potentially, a lot. Many customers will take great displeasure if they catch field service team members sneaking off, especially if they perceive it to be making their job take longer. Fundamentally, it’s perhaps not the most professional look. But, you know what works best for your business.
The key issue to consider here, is not the desire to double book – but the desire to overlook the fact that you have job cancellation issues. What could be causing your high cancellation rate? That is the problem that should be solved first and it isn’t done by double booking.
HOW TO HANDLE AN (UNINTENTIONAL) DOUBLE BOOKING
Ok, let’s be honest: there is no perfect, set way to handle a double booking. You need to evaluate the intricate complexities of each situation delicately, and think. about the impact of your decisions. We’ve picked out some key steps that you should consider throughout this process:
Step 1: Decide Which Customer Takes Preference
Yep. There’s no easy way around this. You’re going to need to decide which customer is going to get lucky (whilst being blissfully unaware of the stress-inducing schedule-juggling that is going on) and who is going to get the awkward phone-call and the inevitable booking change. Think about the below:
Who did you book in first? This might be the fairest why to decide. You can’t argue with a clock. But you can argue over your poor time management skills and decision making. But…
Is the job urgent? A project that can only happen on a given day, might just take precedent over one that can, in theory, be delayed. But, then again…
How much money are we talking? If you decide you’re going to call a customer and inform them of your despicable scheduling negligence and that they now need to re-arrange their planned job – you need to be open to the fact that they may very well choose to simply cancel on you all together. Are you willing to lose their revenue? The smarter business choice may be to simply honour the more lucrative booking. But… what about…
Is the job for a loyal customer? If the job is smaller, but for a long-time customer, you may decide to keep their booking to maintain the relationship because you know you’ll get repeat business in the future. Similarly, a loyal customer may also be more understanding of the odd scheduling mistake, so you may be able to simply tell them and let them know you plan to move their appointment. If one of the customers is new, you may want to keep their booking to start the relationship on a positive note.
Deciding which job to move is mightily tricky, as there are a lot of important variables to consider. Ultimately, you’ll need to choose based the circumstances at the time and what you feel is right for you, your business, and your customers. On top of this, you must make sure to make the decision quickly, so you can start communicating and resolving the issue.
Step 2: Communicate your decision
This bit needs to be handled much like it was a personal relationship.
Sending a text message is certainly better than no communication, but it’s impersonal and will likely only exacerbate the issue. Clearly the best option here is to communicate in-person or as is most likely, via a phone call.
If you can’t immediately get through to the customer, leave a message, send a follow-up email letting them know you tried to contact them, and set a reminder to call them a little later.
When communicating, be genuine. A disingenuous apology will only make things worse. If you fail to offer a sincere apology for double booking a job, the customer may simply take their business elsewhere and quite possibly, for good. Make a short, clearly worded apology to appease the customer, and let them know that you want to find a solution to the scheduling issue.
Step 3: Offer a Solution
First up, you’re almost certainly going to suggest that you move the client’s booking to another date or time. Just, be sure, 100%, with no doubt that the new booking offered will not get cancelled or arranged for a second time. That would just be embarrassing. Finger’s crossed that your new date works for them too!
Avoid the temptation to immediately offer any kind of financial incentive to the affected customer. Try to just find a way to provide actual value to them, that doesn’t hurt your bottom line. Perhaps you can provide an even better, an even more personalised service to the customer than originally booked in. Communicate better and more often, send follow-up emails and be attentive, make sure that they are happy. Be on time, respond promptly to questions – ensure that your entire team are aware of this prioritisation too. Wounded customers can be healed surprisingly effectively, if every effort is taken to do so.
The customer understands that mistakes happen – it’s how you handle them that is the real deciding factor in their satisfaction level.
If you do decide to offer a financial incentive, keep it small and bare in mind that simply throwing money a bad situation can sometimes come across as insincere or thoughtless. Provide an offer that depends on the client using you again. For example, bundle together a free service with one of your service packages.
HOW TO AVOID DOUBLE BOOKING AND OTHER SCHEDULING HEADACHES
If only there was a way this whole process could be easier? Some kind of tool, an online one perhaps, that I could use to plan my job bookings and schedule my engineers? Wait, hang on a second, what about us, Workever? Yes! That’s right. That’s one of the many field service management related tasks that we can absolutely make your life easier in. Instead of babbling on any further – just checking out our job management and scheduling tools.