The “illusion of choice” in managing appointments

Posted: 21st June, 2023 in Business start-up, Case Studies, Communications, Customer Service, Personal effectiveness, Sales , Strategy & planning, Time Management, Tips & Tricks

Sometimes in life, what can feel like a real headache can have a simple enough answer. We are so engrained in the day to day running of our business that we don’t necessarily slow down, stand back and consider what we are actually doing.

We take the hard road out of pure habit, without thinking about the consequences of our actions.

I remember mentoring an amazing your lady who was setting up her business. Mary (fictious name) told me she was experiencing a real problem trying to balance client appointments.

She explained that when a customer called, she would enthusiastically ask them when they would like to book in, as she thought it was good customer service. 

Needless to say, many customers would ask for their preferred option of early morning, lunch-time or even after-work appointments. Not only were some of these times before or after her normal working day; they also were the most popular times for all her clients. 

The situation caused Mary to feel quite overwhelmed and regularly anxious. She had an ongoing internal battle trying to decide if she would work earlier or later each day. She wanted to please her customers, yet it was impacting on her personal and family life. And ironically, she had plenty of other free slots for other times of the day that were being left idle.

Unbeknownst to Mary, she was doing herself a disfavour by giving customers free range with appointments. Practically speaking, Mary considered changing her working hours to suit clients. Yet, what felt like a major problem for this business woman had a simple solution.  So, I introduced Mary to the “illusion of choice” concept.

In psychological terms – “the illusion of choice is known as a cognitive bias which causes people to believe they have more control over their lives than they actually do

The concept is used in marketing and advertising campaigns on a daily basis. It can also be easily applied in any sales or customer related conversation.

I suggested to Mary that she use this technique every time she got an enquiry. Starting with a thank you, Mary could offer the customer two options for an appointment – this time based around her diary (free slots) and zooming in on particular times if needed.

An example being “Thanks so much for your enquiry, I would be delighted to fit you in. How about Wednesday afternoon or would Friday morning suit you better…?”. 

The key in this model is that we encourage the customer to focus on making the choice between the two options offered – always based around free slots or our own diary. 

I realise there will be times when a customer may request a particular date or time in their enquiry. So, we can apply the positive sandwich whilst embracing the illusion of choice.

An example might be “I’d be delighted to fit you in this week. Unfortunately, Wednesday is currently full. I can fit you in on Thursday instead. How does 10am suit you or would 4pm suit you better?

By giving a choice, the customer feels we are being helpful especially when we use positive language and a proactive response. In the case of the second example, it also deflects the customer away from their original desired request. Finally, it also saves us having to go back and forth telling clients certain dates and times are unavailable.

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