Norm Green, MASSAGE MagazineWhat answering service options, including online tools, are available to me, and what are the pros and cons of each?

Norm Green responds:

The foundation of a successful massage practice is solid bookings—so, in order to build and maintain your practice, you have to promptly respond to requests for service.

In a perfect world, it would be great if you could personally answer all your phone calls and respond to every caller’s request as you see fit. The reality is, in order for a massage therapist to make money, you need to have appointments. Therefore, while you are in session with a client, you cannot personally answer all your calls—and since you have additional things to get done related to your profession and personal life, there are other times during the day when not being available to answer your phone is unavoidable.

So without someone to answer your calls, you often miss out on a great deal of business.

Since cloning yourself is not yet legal, what are your options to manage your calls in order to capture every inquiry, appointment opportunity and gift-certificate sale?

I have profiled the pros and cons of the common options available to manage your general inquiries, requests for appointments and gift-certificate sales.

1. Answer your own phone
Pros: It’s your business, and who knows it better than you?

Cons: You cannot possibly make yourself available 24/7/365 to personally answer your phone.

2. Automated answering with voice mail
Pros: This option is better than answering your phone when you are in session.

Cons: As inexpensive as using voice mail is, it is costing you more money and time than you realize. Missed appointment and gift-certificate sales opportunities can cost you thousands of dollars every year.

If you are fortunate enough to have callers even leave messages, you are consequently left with numerous calls to return and possibly caught in an endless game of phone tag.

Using voice mail is frustrating for you and your callers. Many clients call with the hope and expectation of booking an appointment that day or as soon as possible. Leaving a message does not give clients much confidence that their need to receive a treatment in their timeframe will be met, so they typically will call other therapists until they schedule an appointment.

A caller looking to buy a gift certificate but gets your voice mail is likely going to hang up and call the next massage therapist on her list.

3. Personal receptionist
Pros: A good receptionist is the link between you and your clients and can also perform office administrative tasks that can help you manage your practice.

Cons: Finding a good receptionist is hard to do and keeping one long term is even harder. I have talked to numerous clinic owners who have hired and fired numerous receptionists until they gave up on the idea of having one.

Even the best receptionist will need time off for vacations and sick days.

This option is not cost-effective for most practices.

4. Online interactive scheduling system (Software as a service, or SaaS)
Pros: Scheduling appointments on the Internet is gaining popularity each day. You can literally make money while you sleep by allowing clients to schedule appointments and purchase gift certificates online, anytime.

Online systems are affordable and do not require software to be installed on your computer.

These systems allow clients to view your appointment availability and, if you choose, even let them book their own appointments. Interactive scheduling systems offer a variety of practice-management features that enable you to retain customer data to use for marketing and practice management. Plus, some offer point-of-sale and virtual payment options.

Cons: If a potential client is uncomfortable with the Internet or not computer savvy, the use of a SaaS alone falls short in providing that person with the opportunity to talk to a live person (to schedule an appointment or buy a gift certificate). The reality is many of your clients and prospective clients will want to call to ask questions or complete a task.

The fact is, your phone is going to ring, and if you do not answer it or have someone answer it for you, you will miss out on appointments and sales.

5. Forward your calls to an answering service
Pros: Many answering services provide service 24/7/365. They take messages and relay them to you or members of your staff. Clients get a live response and know their call was answered. The operator can help callers with basic information about services and prices.

Cons: Most answering services do not have experience in scheduling appointments or taking gift-certificate orders.
You still need to call the client to make an appointment or take a gift-certificate order. Similar to using voice mail, you run the risk the caller has booked a session or bought his gift certificate with someone else by the time you return his call.

6. Remote receptionist service that includes an online interactive scheduling system
Pros: A remote receptionist service that has experience in the massage industry and utilizes an online interactive scheduling system can help you increase your revenue and free time by making it very easy for your clients to “buy” from you.

By giving your clients the option to go online or call 24/7/365 to get what they want, when they want it, you have implemented a service that empowers your clients with information and results. Simply put, if they get what they want, you get paid.

In addition to providing you with a robust SaaS system, a massage-centric receptionist service will give you the ability to forward your phones whenever you choose. By implementing this option, you now have a way to respond to your inquiries and capture all your revenue-generating opportunities.

In addition to helping you capture more revenue, a massage-centric receptionist service also can help you manage the growth of your practice.

Adding therapists can help you increase your revenue-generating capabilities; however, with more therapists come more administrative responsibilities and more inquiries. A remote receptionist service with experience in the massage industry can help you manage your additional administrative responsibilities and inquires.

While you are in session, a remote receptionist service can communicate new appointments to your therapists on an up-to-the-minute basis. This feature alone will help you increase your same-day appointment opportunities and reduce your need to be involved.

A remote receptionist service will cost you pennies an hour, never call in sick—and given the reasonable fee structures, will typically help you earn a considerable amount more than it will cost you.

Cons: No one can always give the same response to a caller you would.

I encourage you to research these options and then implement the one that gives you peace of mind and your clients the convenience and responsiveness they deserve.

Norm Green has been a massage client for 27 years. He is the director of business development for My Receptionist (www.myreceptionist.com/). He has a background in franchise development and consults massage therapists on how to increase their revenue, cash flow and free time by utilizing the services offered by My Receptionist. He can be reached at (800) 686-0162.

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