Scheduling and managing appointments and reservations is an integral part of a service-oriented business operation. And they can be one of the least enjoyable tasks for owners and staff, especially if the business primarily accepts appointments and reservations over the phone and manually books them into a paper appointment book, electronic calendar or file. This method is time-consuming, tedious and wastes precious staff resources.Click here Online Appointment Scheduling for more details.
It is, therefore, no surprise that a growing number of small business owners and operators are seeking out an alternative for their scheduling processes. For many, this comes in the form of appointment-scheduling and reservation-booking software. But with some many different types to choose from, where does one begin to look? The answer is online for Software as a Service (SaaS) appointment-scheduling applications.
THE SAAS ADVANTAGE
Technology has come a long way in recent years. The days of traveling to an electronics or department store to purchase “boxed” software applications is quickly becoming a thing of the past, as most software applications are now accessible online. Some still require the purchaser to download and install them on an individual computer. Others require no additional steps from the user and are as easy to access and use as any Web service, such as online banking, e-mail and social networking sites. Known as SaaS programs, these are typically “pay-as-you-go” services that small business owners and their staff can access from any Internet connection. Typically, they do not require any additional-and expensive-hardware, downloads or other installations to utilize. Businesses simply visit the provider’s Web site, sign up for the service (many offer free trials to test out the software and see if it will be a fit for its scheduling needs), create an account, and begin using the service.
WHAT FUNCTIONALITY DOES ONLINE APPOINTMENT-SCHEDULING OFFER?
Although functionality does vary among providers, in general, most online appointment-scheduling programs offer such features as:
• Online customer self-scheduling. This is one of the most popular features of online appointment-setting software, as small businesses can experience an almost immediate decrease in the number of phone calls from customers looking to schedule appointments. It gives customers the ability to schedule their own service times at their own convenience from any Internet connection and at any time of day. This is truly appreciated by many of us who simply do not have the time to book appointments during normal business hours. In essence, it keeps the business open 24 hours a day.
• Automated e-mail and text message reminders. As most small business owners can attest to, “no-shows” can be the bane of their appointment-setting processes and have a significant impact on operating revenue, as they waste time slots that other customers could have filled. Surveys have shown that reminders of any kind can help reduce the number of no-shows by 50 percent. But how many small business owners have the time or resources to make reminder phone calls or send e-mails? Some online appointment-setting software providers automatically send e-mail and text message reminders to customers prior to their scheduled times. Users can simply set when they want the system to send them-for example, one day prior to the appointment or reservation-and the software does the rest.
• Record-keeping and reporting capabilities. Accurate recordkeeping of appointment details and customer information is important for all service-oriented businesses. But it can also be a challenge when relying on traditional methods for managing appointments. Does this scenario sound familiar: A customer calls in to schedule appointment, the owner or staff member checks availability on one calendar, books the appointment in another, and then adds additional information in a separate file or spread sheet. In all, information could be spread out in several locations, making reporting difficult and inaccurate. Because online scheduling systems centralize appointment and customer date in one secure, easy-to-access location, gathering and viewing this information can be a snap. Some even offer standard reports that users can quickly create with just a few mouse clicks.
• E-marketing capabilities. Another benefit of SaaS online appointment-scheduling providers is the ease by which a small business can launch an e-marketing campaign through the software. As with recordkeeping and reporting tasks, maintaining customer e-mail records can be tedious and require a separate file, in addition to the appointment book or calendar. It can also be a challenge to update customer e-mails. As mentioned in the above bullet item, scheduling software centralized customer information, including e-mails, making them easy to access and store. They’re also more likely to be current, as customers can update them when managing their accounts on the scheduler. Some systems even permit users to seamlessly send bulk e-mail messages right through it.
• Online payment options. Customers may wish to pay for their services at the same that they book them. Adding an online payment module can help improve payment-processing procedures as well as reduce the number of missed appointments, as customers are almost certain to make an appointment they’ve already paid for.