How do you prefer to schedule your client's appointments? Do you schedule dog walks at specific times or do you use time blocks to give customers an arrival window or time block? Based on our research, it seems like business owners are split down the middle on this question. At Scout, we debated this topic for hours on end when we were developing Scout and came up with a list of pros and cons for each method.
For those of you not familiar with this term, block scheduling is a method for dividing the day into time blocks. Some common time blocks are:
- Morning (7am - 10am),
- Early Afternoon (10am - 12pm),
- Afternoon (12pm - 3pm),
- Late Afternoon (3pm - 6pm)
- Night (6pm till close).
Based on the feedback we get at Scout, the number one reason business owners prefer time blocks is to stop clients from being overly sensitive to timing. I understand the sentiment. A lot can happen during the day and dog walkers can fall behind for a lot of reasons. Early in my career, I was often on the receiving end of a customer who was unhappy because we didn't arrive at exactly 12:45 on the dot.
Using time blocks can certainly alleviate issues with time-sensitive customers. It can also mask bigger operational issues. About two years into running my company, Walk It Like A Dog, I switched to time blocks for the exact reason stated above. I thought this would eliminate all my problems.
Changing to time blocks seemed like common sense. The software I used at the time didn't use specific times whatsoever; both walkers and staff were shown the arrival window. Time blocks gave my walkers more latitude and lower my customer's expectations about the timing of walks. In practice, what happened was quite different. My walkers became less reliable. Why? First, the walkers would show up late for the first appointment all the time. After all, they weren't really late, yet, because there wasn't really a set start time. This would cause them to be late for pretty much everything else.
Another issue arose when a time block would be full. When a customer would request a 12 pm - 3 pm start time and the time block was completely booked, my only option was to move the appointment into the next block, 3 pm - 6 pm and this would not go over well. Most people want their dog walked between 12 pm and 2 pm and settling for 3:30 pm is not the end of the world. When a customer wants a walk from 12-2, and you scheduled them for a block that can be as late as 6 pm, it does not go over well. I would end up having to do a lot more communicating with customers so they would know we couldn't come by 3 but we weren't going to show up at 6.
Exact Time Scheduling
As I mentioned, my company has been using exact time scheduling for about 6 years now. Using specific times has been great for my company for a number of reasons, and the Scout system has mitigated most of the issues I previously had.
One of the Scout tools I rely on most is our late notices. I have over 15 dog walkers working during the middle of the day, The setting is customizable, but I set it to a 30-minute threshold. Because I schedule at exact times, it doesn't take me long to figure out that something may be wrong Then, I can take steps to correct the situation. This gives me enough time to get someone over to an appointment without being more than an hour late. When using a time block, you're not technically late until the end of the block, and at that point, you haven't lived up to your clients' expectation.
Scheduling at specific times requires a lot more communication with my clients. During every meet and greet, I tell people "we schedule you for a specific time, but sometimes I have to change things last min for routing. The walkers may run late by an hour or so if an issue arises during the day". I give them a few examples of what can happen so they are informed.
Also, when I do make routing changes, I have to send a new confirmation out to the pet owner. While Scout takes care of this almost automatically, I often get a text or phone call asking why I moved the appointment after it was approved.