Scheduling new Professional Services engagements is a major area of focus for an effective Professional Services Manager. Consultants don’t typically like extended downtime between customers, and customers rarely want to wait for their engagement to start. I’ve stripped the scheduling process to the bare minimum, which is a stark contrast to how I’ve seen other Services Managers historically conduct this job function.
Based on my experience, scheduling goes like this:
Contact the customer about scheduling a meeting to schedule services. Try to find a mutually agreeable time for the scheduling meeting. Perhaps invite the sales team, out of politeness. Schedule the meeting. Spend an hour on a call talking about people’s calendars. Agree the customer must check with their staff’s holiday schedule, or the schedules of other resources who did not attend the meeting, and agree to set a second call to schedule the services. Hold a second call to schedule services. Finally, schedule the engagement.
That’s easily three or four hours of work, none of it billable, and none of it appears scalable. Thus scheduling ten customers results in a lost week of productivity, and if your business has more than fifty clients, you suddenly need a dedicated scheduling expert whose sole function is to schedule engagements.
Some multinational/Fortune 500 customers require this personal touch, but the vast majority of customers do not.
My minimalist approach follows:
1. Email the customer. In the email, request pertinent details like the location where the work will be performed, if they have interest building security requirements, and if they have negotiated rates at local hotels. Provide an initial start date based on the available personnel, and explain that scheduling must be confirmed via email in order to book resources.
2. Set an automatic email follow up for one week later in case the client does not respond, just to prompt them to reply to the email.
3. Politely decline the meeting invitation where the client offers to set aside some time to talk about the schedule. Reaffirm the available starting date, or provide a new start date depending on resource availability.
4. Upon receipt of a confirmation email of dates from the customer, thank them, and then schedule the services engagement.
This approach now covers over 80% of the clients I schedule. The automatic email reminder to the client ensures that work is getting scheduled, and also means that I’m not having to remind myself to follow up with the client to follow up with an email that I’d sent. Requiring scheduling via email may seem foreign to the customer, but they’ll learn to appreciate that it gives them the time to check with all of their personnel and resource schedules before committing to a date.
The other benefit of this technique is that it’s possible to better focus on the exceptions - those customers that do require a personal touch, work overseas where permits and visas are required, or projects where there are multiple resources that need to be coordinated across multiple facilities in multiple time zones.