SMS Appointment Reminders – A Step By Step Guide

improve-sms-marketing

We get a lot of customers asking us how to best use SMS to remind their clients of their up coming appointments.improve-sms-marketing

This article will hopefully give you a quick overview of how easy it is to use SMS for appointment reminders, and better still we’ll show you how to get up and running quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

Why SMS Appointment Reminders?

The short answer is because it works. And works well. Compare the effectiveness and timeliness of SMS to email and other methods. SMS is also way more cost effective than making phone calls when you factor in the cost of the person(s) making the calls.

Want more proof?

Have a look at the following case study where Briz Brain & Spine used SMS appointment reminders to save 22 man hours per week that was spent on calling clients to confirm their up coming appointments.

What else can you do with 22 man hours per week?

Considerations

When looking at adding SMS appointment reminders to your business process, you need to keep the following in mind.

How do you manage your appointment?

Do you use a software package? Do you use a calendar like Outlook Calendar or Google Calendar?

Does your software package have a reminder function?

Can you get an export of your appointment data easily?

What do you currently do?

What does your current business process look like? Do you call to remind clients of their appointments? Do you write little cards with their next appointment on them? How will your customer base respond to being reminded via SMS?

What is your current “no-show” rate?

Each business is different. Typical no-show rates are around the 5-6% range. Some businesses can run as high as 10%+… Imagine if every 10th appointment did not show up or cancelled on you at the very last minute. This is what we are trying to reduce here.

Step By Step Guide To Appointment Reminders

If you use a software package to manage your appointments and it already has a reminder function integrated in, using this function will present the easiest way of reducing your no-show rate.

It should be very easy for the vendor of your software package to guide you in how to configure and use their software’s integrated reminder functionality to send out your SMS appointment reminders.

If you are not using a software package or the package you do use does not have a reminder function, you can easily use our Web 2 SMS solution to send out your personalised reminders in bulk.

1. Prepare Your Appointment Data

We start by exporting or preparing your appointment data. The aim here is to generate a CSV file or Microsoft Excel spreadsheet similar to the one in the screen grab below containing the appointment data for the following business day.

Mail Merge - Sample Excel File

Sample Mail Merge Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet needs at a minimum the client’s mobile phone number as well as their appointment time. If you want to, you can add additional columns for things such as their first name as well as any other information which maybe pertinent to each appointment.

2. Prepare Your Reminder Message

Once we have the data we are going to use, we need to prepare a template message to mail merge the data into.

Our reminder message needs to take the following into consideration:

When are you going to send the reminder?

Best practices dictate we send reminders the day before the appointment. Typically sometime in the morning. This allows clients to ensure the appointment is on their radar (on their personal calendar). It also gives them enough time to call you should they need to cancel or re-schedule. Which is the whole point of this exercise.

Having said this, every business is different and you know your business best.

Do you want your clients to reply?

This depends largely on the process you want to follow.

Our advice to customers is to send out the reminders assuming the client is going to attend. And to provide instructions for them to follow should they need to cancel or re-schedule. This way, you are only having to action the exceptions rather than every appointment.

Please see the screenshot below showing a typical reminder message.

If you follow the above method, you can then send out your reminders as 1-way SMS messages with your business name as the sender. This stops clients from replying back, and forces them to call you to work out an alternative time.

This gives you the chance to speak with them to re-book the appointment, instead of having a cancellation and losing out on the revenue if you simply ask them to reply Yes or No to confirm their attendance.

3. Use Web 2 SMS To Send Your Reminders

Step 1. Create or export your appointment data for the following day.

Step 2. Log into directSMS customer portal

directSMS Customer Portal

directSMS Customer Portal

Step 3. Click “Messaging Tools” and then “Send Mail Merge”

Mail Merge - Upload File

Mail Merge – Upload File

Step 4. Upload your CSV or Excel file. Our sample file contains 3 columns: Mobile, First Name and Appointment Time.

Mail Merge - Sample Excel File

Sample Mail Merge Spreadsheet

Step 5. Enter your message and the Sender ID. Something like the screen grab below…

“Dear [FIELD],

Your next appointment at the XYZ Sports Clinic is tomorrow at [FIELD].

If you are unable to attend , please call us on 9800 9120.”

Mail Merge - Type Your Message

Mail Merge – Type Your Message

Keep your eye on the character counter. This will tell you how many SMS segments each message will contain. If you go over 160 characters, the system will split each reminder over 2 or more SMS messages.

Note how the Sender ID is set to “XYZSports”. This blocks clients from replying back to the message and forces them to call your reception to cancel pr re-schedule the appointment if they can not make it.

Step 6. Send Now or Send Later. Once you’ve previewed the messages that will be sent out by the system, you can can click “Send Now” to send the messages straight away. Or if you want to schedule the reminders to go out at a later date. Click “Send Later”.

Handy tip… On Friday, you can schedule the reminders for Monday’s appointments to go out on Sunday morning or afternoon using the “Send Later” functionality.

Mail Merge - Send Now or Send Later

Mail Merge – Send Now or Send Later

Step 7. Test the results. Measure your no-show rate before implementing this new process and then after implementing it. The savings made by ensuring your clients show up and on time, should pay for the SMS reminders and then some.