High-tech hair Featured

5:48am EDT June 30, 2003
No industry has escaped the impact of high technology, not even the hair care and spa industry.

Charles Penzone Inc., with three grand salons serving more than 100,000 clients in a six-month period, now offers these clients the ability to schedule appointments online.

"What excites me the most about this is that we're the first ones [in our industry] to do this," says founder and CEO Charles Penzone. "I've been asking around, and we are the first to be doing it on this scale."

Penzone says Internet appointment booking is one of several steps the company has taken in the last few years to make the customer's experience easier.

"We have two full-time information technology employees," Penzone says. "I told them to grab ahold of every technology product they can find to make it as easy as possible for our clients and staff to do business."

One of the first steps the company took toward this end was to establish a centralized call center, where clients can book appointments for all three spas. The staff of nearly 20 employees works 12 to 16 hours a day answering the phones and making appointments.

The online booking system should relieve some of the influx of calls, as well as offer clients the ability to book appointments 24/7.

"We hope the online booking feature will reduce some of our call center costs," says Penzone.

Staff members can see their schedules online, and see how many clients have made appointments for the day and the week to date.

"It's a more efficient system," Penzone says.

Michael Falter, director of information technology, says that while online booking is being used by customers, it is not the primary way they are making appointments.

"We had more than 200 people book appointments online the first two weeks the feature was available," says Falter. "We average about 10,000 calls at the call center a week."

But Falter feels online booking will take off soon.

"We surveyed nearly 250 clients in a one-week period, and 51 percent said they would book appointments online if the capability was available," he says.

According to Falter, online booking works best with existing clients.

"Because you have to choose a technician to book an appointment, it helps if you are familiar with the spa," he says.

Falter says the online feature will allow the company to expand without adding call center employees. And online booking offers express checkout service. Online customers must use a credit card to reserve appointments, and can authorize the company to charge their card at the end of the appointment.

"Customers won't have to wait to pay; they will get a receipt as soon as the appointment is complete and go," says Falter.

And Penzone, whose company distributes five internal product lines to salons and spas in the region, says technology will play a role in the company's future marketing plans.

"We're going to expand the site to sell product online," he says. "That's one of our next steps. We'll also piggyback on that site and offer the same capability with the products we distribute.

"Customers and sales reps can order products online," making more efficient use of sales rep and company time. How to reach: Charles Penzone Inc., (614) 898-1200 or www.charlespenzone.com