Whenever I run into a friend I haven’t seen in a while, they always mention the adventures that I post on Facebook. It seems that a lot of my friends are living vicariously through my travels, and I’m glad they enjoy my pictures! I accepted years ago that life is short, so I’m going to have fun and live it to the fullest. Of course, living life to the fullest means including friends in all the fun things I do.
Because getting people together for adventures is so important to me, I’m usually the guy moving all the mountains and herding all the cats to make things happen. Recently I managed to get 30 people together for a Bioluminescence kayak tour with 25 of them going to dinner beforehand. That was work! It can be somewhat frustrating to manage all the activities, but it’s completely worth it for the memories and hearing my friends say how much fun they had. One thing I’ve learned after creating all of these adventures for my friends is that it helps to get through the planning phase as efficiently as possible. Since helping businesses create efficiencies is what I’ve been doing for the past 30 years professionally, you could say that this part comes pretty naturally to me.
A particular inefficiency that has bugged me for years, even pre-pandemic, is how so many restaurants have stopped taking reservations or even doing call-ahead seating! When I’m planning for a group of 8-10 friends to have dinner before a show or celebrate a birthday, I really need to be able to make surefire plans. I was never really sure exactly how to solve this issue, but when I finally did, it happened in a completely unrelated way!
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It All Starts with a Desperately Needed Haircut
Yes, believe it or not, I figured out how to solve my restaurant booking problems while waiting (and waiting, and waiting – in a long line outside in Florida in May) for a haircut. You see, I’m really loyal to my barber. I enjoy chatting with him and feel like I’ve gotten to know him over the years. Plus, I like the way he cuts my hair. I was desperate for that first haircut when barbershops re-opened in May 2020, but I knew everyone else would be as well. My barber’s shop is walk-in only, so I called to make sure that the wait wasn’t insane. When I called, it wasn’t. But when I got there, the line was out the door.
While I stood in line wishing I had brought a water bottle, I started thinking about how silly and inefficient it was for all these grown men to be standing around outside on a weekday afternoon with nothing to do other than wait for a haircut. It made me realize that what my barber needed most was a simple online waitlist. Instead of standing in line outside, wasting at least an hour of productivity, we all could have joined a virtual queue that would have told us what time to show up so that we’d be on time for our turn.
Online Appointment and Waitlist Systems Don’t Solve the Whole Problem
Okay, so getting in line online only solves the problem for the guys standing around in the Florida spring heat. When the guy who’s next in line doesn’t show up for his haircut, the barber loses money. I already understood that problem because I had talked at length with my barber about why he didn’t take appointments. The main reason was that he would turn walk-ins away because of an upcoming appointment, and too many appointment holders showed up late or didn’t show up at all. Taking appointments or allowing people to join an online waitlist without guarantees that they’ll show up is too risky.
I recognized that this was probably the same reason that restaurants wouldn’t take reservations either, and that’s when all the dots started connecting in my head. Online waitlists are one-sided. You make the reservation or appointment, and then you’re on the honor system to show up when you say you will. Sure, the venue can have a bot text you, or they can manually reach out to confirm, but they have no guarantee you’ll show up until you walk through the door.
The provider side of the problem with online reservations, appointments, and waitlists is that if their timing changes, they don’t have an efficient way of communicating with upcoming customers. The result is either large gaps in time where the provider isn’t serving anyone at all, or crowded waiting areas with service bottlenecks that can’t be dislodged. The current online systems are all trust and no verify.
We Need an Online System that Can Verify Arrival & Provider Readiness
Shortly after that haircut got my juices flowing, I remembered a time right before Covid when I organized a group of friends to see a show at a local community theater. If you’ve read along this far, you know it’s a given that I was also organizing dinner before the show. I remember being so frustrated at the work it took to make that dinner happen!
I had to look at multiple apps to find the restaurants closest to the theater, and it only got more complicated from there. Some restaurants allow reservations through the app, others require a phone call. Some take reservations for parties of more than 8, while others only take reservations for less than 8. Some don’t take any reservations at all, but you can join the waitlist up to 30 minutes before your arrival, and some make you wait until you get there to get on the list. When you’re organizing a timed event, like I usually am, you really need some level of certainty in your plans. Now that we are living with Covid and every service provider is short-staffed, forget about it. If a restaurant still has a phone at all, good luck getting them to answer it.
I thought about what I needed as a consumer in order to schedule both tasks (the barber) and fun (dinner out) with more efficiency. In my ideal scenario, I would:
- open an app and see all the options in my chosen category on a map
- quickly see if the provider takes advanced reservations
- make a reservation right through the app
If the provider does not take reservations, or they don’t have my preferred time available, I would:
- join the waitlist so that I’m first in line for their next availability
- communicate quickly with the provider to let them know when I’m on my way, that the size of my party changed, or that I’m stuck in traffic
- check in when I’m close so that they are expecting me before I even walk through the door
The provider would communicate with me if their schedule changes so that I can arrive at a different time or reschedule. Finally, they would let me know when they are ready for me so that I can wait wherever I’m most comfortable.
I realized that the provider needs some certainties in the ideal system as well. They need:
- User-friendly tools that allow staff to reach out to customers with confirmations and updates
- Non-invasive GPS tracking on customers to verify timely arrival
- Automatic schedule re-ordering when there are gaps or bottlenecks and automatic communication of changes to customers, including rescheduling without any human labor
- A waitlist that integrates with the appointment or reservation list to keep incoming customers flowing through the stages of service
All of this came together in the first (of many) patent I filed: Dynamic Coordination between Service-Seeking Entity and Service Provider.
We Need Queues that Flow…Flow + Queue = Floqque
While the patent describes exactly what I am creating, the technical title doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. When I talked with colleagues about my plan, I usually shortened the description to a Predictive Queuing Platform. That’s still not a cool name, but I was working on it.
As the summer of 2020 wore on, I was meeting with a friend regularly for breakfast. Since we talked about both life and business, I brought up a fair amount of business. As we explored the challenges in service provider scheduling, we hit on the operative word: flow. Once again, that concept of all trust and no verification means that everyone is operating on the hope that people will show up on time and providers will be ready for them. But how often does that really happen? The result is unreliability across the board, even when people are trying their best.
When I think about flow, I envision a service model where customers and providers have mutual respect for each other’s time while understanding that not everything always goes according to plan. In this service model, customers can initiate their need for service, then commit to verification of their arrival to do their part to keep things flowing. In exchange for the customer’s commitment, the provider gives an accurate picture of when the customer can expect service upon arrival. If anything changes, both parties are notified as quickly as possible and able to re-calibrate their expectations.
One other important element factored into my thoughts on all this, driven by my tendency to be the guy organizing all the moving parts. When multiple people are getting together for some kind of service, they need to be funneled into the flow process as well. How great would it be to coordinate all the confirmations and headcount changes right in the provider’s own booking system?
Even though I know this need is widespread, the concept itself is intensely relevant to my life. With that in mind, I set out to coin a new word, or maybe even a verb to describe this innovative way of scheduling and organizing service. I had the idea of “let’s flow to the restaurant,” but that didn’t have the right sound. One day, I was talking to a cousin who referred to my mom by her nickname, Flo. I loved how my mom’s own name was a homophone for the word that had been constantly on my mind and started workshopping it with my team. It was my assistant who connected flow to queueing and landed on our verb: Floqque.
So What the Flock is Floqque?
In short, Floqque solves all the issues I mentioned so far that prevent people from flowing through a service experience. It turns current booking, reservation, appointment, and waitlist systems into trustworthy arrival verification systems.
When providers and their customers coordinate through this predictive queuing system, they will enter a whole new era of service experience. With automatic 2-way coordination and GPS-determined arrival, realistic expectations set everyone at ease and cultivate better relationships.
Floqque is bringing a new standard of efficiency to existing scheduling systems by enabling providers to time their service on the customer’s arrival, not the reservation.
My Vision for Floqque Technology
I imagined a world in which people access service provider availability in a similar way to how accessing travel works today. When we want to book travel, we usually go to one of several travel aggregator websites to see a bird’s eye view of all the options.
My goal is to work with, rather than compete against, existing scheduling systems in order to create an aggregation platform that literally puts their client businesses on the map. Our aggregated system allows end users to discover all the service providers of a particular category in a specific location and book service (make an appointment, join a waitlist, walk-in without wait, etc.) with just a few taps.
The Arrival Management System is designed to do for the service industry what the Global Distribution System (travel aggregators) did for flight schedules. To accomplish this, I’m building on the foundation of what I have been doing for over 30 years: designing software that addresses real-world practical needs with efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability.
The world’s first Predictive Arrival Queuing Platform, or ArrivalOS,™ is a patent-pending system that integrates Artificial Intelligence into current scheduling systems to achieve better flow for customers and providers.
The ArrivalOS platform will develop in 3 phases, which I call the 3 Ps:
- Allows existing provider booking systems to advertise walk-in availability and establish a clear set of expectations for customers joining and maintaining their priority in the list.
- Allows customers to see what’s near them and join a list.
- Allows providers to see when a customer is actually EnRoute™ and track arrival time with accuracy.
Punctuality Pays Off
- Users can gain preferred status by reliably checking in within their selected window or communicating any change of plans in a timely manner.
- Demonstrated on-time check-ins improve users' access to advanced reservations and other “insider” tools.
- Allows providers to serve customers in the order they will actually arrive, which creates a better flow of service and encourages on-time check-ins.
- With phase 3, enough user and provider data will be available to predict hotspots in service schedules in advance.
- Customers are notified when providers are running late, before they arrive.
- Providers will have enough data to reliably predict which appointments will show or no-show and how close to on time they can be expected so that bottlenecks can be avoided.
I’m actively seeking connections with scheduling software developers as early partners in the first phase. We are developing demos that integrate seamlessly with existing platforms in order to give both providers and end users an enhanced yet familiar set of booking tools that create customer flow.
Not Forgetting Where We Started
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that the current lack of restaurant bookability is a real strain on my social life. With far too many restaurants today, you have to show up in order to prove you want service. A guy like me just can’t live like that.
I get it though, people are unpredictable. They make reservations at 3 places and decide at the last minute which one to keep. They arrive 30 minutes early and give the hostess a hard time that they have to wait. They show up 40 minutes late and traipse right by all the hungry people who couldn’t be seated because of them. 8 groups show up at once, all pressuring the poor hostess to seat them first.
My Predictive Queuing Platform eliminates all of these stressors with EnRoute by Floqque. Working off the same powerful technology as ArrivalOS, EnRoute allows hungry people to find all the restaurants in a specific location and join an arrival list from within a geofenced radius. It’s a new type of reservation where you simply say, “I’m on the way.” EnRoute will integrate advanced reservations and waitlists into one simple arrival list that allows a stress-free hostess to keep customers flowing to their tables. EnRoute is planned for several phases just like ArrivalOS, and I’m working with scheduling providers in this industry to onboard pilot restaurants.
Take Flight with Floqque
Now that you have an idea of how the Floqque I got here, why not join me on this journey? I’ve been developing both my visionary and practical knowledge skills for decades, so I have every confidence in the trajectory of this ambitious concept.
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