For many personal-service entrepreneurs, the struggle to achieve small business success starts at the front desk.
The friendly face behind the front desk at the local yoga studio or fitness center often masks the complexity of running client-facing business. Not only must they provide exceptional, stress-free customer experiences, they must also juggle billing, payments, and the most challenging task of all, client-and-staff scheduling.
Managers typically resort to paper calendars or Excel spreadsheets to manage their staff's time, said Jon Zimmerman, CEO of Front Desk, a Seattle startup, in an interview with Small Business Computing. Many a pencil eraser has been rubbed down to nothing as businesses try to align their customers' schedules with those of their part-time workers or employees that keep non-standard hours. Well-worn whiteboard aside, good luck communicating scheduling changes.
Mobile Client Management Software
Front Desk pulls those antiquated scheduling practices into the mobile-powered 21st century.
The company creates "client-management software for businesses that sell their time," said Zimmerman. In terms of headcount, Front Desk is a small business of about 50 employees, and it's growing quickly after tackling a "market that has gone highly underserved for a number of years."
Front Desk's cloud-delivered software platform integrates client management, secure payment processing, and scheduling for gyms, spas, studios, tutoring services—practically any type of business that gets paid for its time, facilities, and expertise. In the three-and-a-half years that Front Desk has been in business, it has attracted $14 million in venture capital and thousands of clients, including a "couple of large franchises" like Kidville, said Zimmerman.
Front Desk scheduling on a smartphone.
Online Mobile Scheduling for Small Business
Today, consumers can book travel, make purchases, and hail a car service all from their smartphones. Why should signing up for a spin class be any different?
Businesses that rely on setting appointments by phone or with sign-in sheets are neglecting a major chunk of their potential customer base. "Their clients want the ability to book online," Zimmerman said. Front Desk provides mobile-friendly online scheduling for both clients and staff. It reduces data-entry errors, prevents calendar conflicts, and eliminates the endless back-and-forth while clients and front-desk staff attempt to narrow down a suitable time over the phone.
Clients also want no-hassle ways to pay.
Front Desk's automated billing and payment services make it easier to collect recurring fees. Recently, the company released new options that let businesses break out of the monthly billing cycle.
New flexible billing options enable "billing on a custom, recurring basis, business owners can establish a payment period that works for their business model," blogged Cassandra Schwartz, senior marketing and communications manager at Front Desk. "Whether it's every two weeks, once a month, quarterly, semi-annually, annually, or a customized cycle—it fits your needs."
In Australia, for instance, Zimmerman discovered that "a lot of gyms like to bill their clients every two weeks" instead of once every four weeks. The tactic essentially allows them to squeeze an extra two weeks of revenue out of the calendar year.
Front Desk scheduling on a tablet.
Improve Employee and Customer Engagement
The client-management software lets small business owners and their employees spend less time scheduling appointments and collecting payments. They can also access Front Desk from any mobile device at any time. The combined result, Zimmerman observed, is that everyone becomes more invested in their companies, which in turn leads to more satisfied clients.
"We see a lot of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) adoption," he said, "and that really drives business engagement."
Front Desk also drives customer engagement with new recurring enrollment capabilities and by integrating with a growing number of companies and third-party applications.
This month, Front Desk announced that the platform now supports ClassPass, an extensive network of 8,000 fitness studios that provides members with a diverse variety of classes. Front Desk also works with other small business favorites including MailChimp, DocuSign, and Bond Street.
Front Desk starts at $129 per month for the basic Business plan with schedule, attendance and payment management, and reporting. The Pro plan, at $179 per month, adds digital document signing, payroll management, and automated email marketing.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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