Online Appointment Scheduling Software – What it is and Who Needs It

Mention the term “online appointment scheduling,” and different thoughts come to mind. Setting appointments in Microsoft Outlook? Using Google Calendar to communicate with friends and business acquaintances? Seeing the calendar pop up when you book a flight or a room?

Or maybe you think of the online software an increasing number of doctor’s, health clubs, colleges and many other businesses large and small are using for their clients, patients, students and customers to more easily book their appointments.

Most of us utilize the Internet in our daily lives, and we’re familiar with the seemingly endless array of calendars, time and date drop-down buttons, and location fields found on most Web sites. This technology makes it easier to manage the important events in our busy lifestyles, and it’s the basis for online scheduling services.

“Jane Jones, a mother of two young children, leads a very fast-paced life. In addition to her 9-to-5 office job, she also has the daily responsibilities many of us share: attending to family member needs, preparing meals, paying bills and scheduling appointments. She needs to book an appointment with her hair stylist, but this is usually a challenge, given her busy daytime schedule and the stylist’s limited office hours. Fortunately, her hair stylist now offers online self-scheduling.”

Online appointment scheduling, in the true sense of the term, is a software as a service (SAAS) program that allows individuals, businesses and organizations and their customers, patients and clients to easily book appointments online. Whether it’s for a service appointment or registering for a class, Web-based scheduler services give both providers and customers the flexibility to manage their calendars more efficiently and effectively on their own time.

We all lead very busy lives, and oftentimes something as trivial as a phone call to book an appointment can turn into an added hassle, especially if we’re put on hold for an extended period of time or are unable to speak with somebody during non-business hours. With all the technology available, why not take advantage of it for these simple, yet important, tasks?

HOW DOES IT WORK?

“Jane is ready to book her appointment with her hair stylist. With her personal calendar in hand, she accesses the stylist’s Web site and clicks on the appointment button. A calendar appears, and she see’s what dates and times are available. After checking her schedule, she clicks on the day and time she’d like to come in. Her appointment is booked. No phone calls. No e-mail inquiries. It’s as easy as that.”

Online appointment scheduling software comes in many forms, but most incorporate several basic principles.

Most organizations who allow customers, clients and patients to book services online typically steer them towards their Web site, which will have a button link or banner to access the online scheduling page. Some sites require the user to register first before making an appointment; these individuals are usually issued a login name and password for future appointments. Other sites do not require it and permit their customers and patients to schedule freely without logging in.

Once on the registration page, the user typically will view a calendar to see what days, times and locations are available to schedule their service. Unavailable dates are typically indicated on the calendar. The user selects a time by clicking on a date in the calendar. Depending on whether the individual has logged in and the system recognizes him or her, the service may prompt the registrant to provide information such as first and last name, address, e-mail and phone. Once confirmed, the appointment is automatically booked in the system. It’s as simple as that. No fuss, no waiting, no taking additional time out of our lives to make appointments.

Some scheduling services offer appointment reminders for both registrants and the service provider, usually 24 hours prior the scheduled date. These can be in the form of e-mail and/or text message. As most people have cell phones and Internet access, these reminders are invaluable in informing them of their upcoming appointments and, conversely, help the service providers reduce the number of “no-shows.”

Although self-scheduling can be a tremendous benefit to both users and service providers, some organizations opt not to provide this and instead utilize the appointment scheduling service for internal scheduling purposes only. They’ll still take appointments by phone, fax and e-mail, and then manually input them into the service. Online scheduling programs are perfect for this method as well, since it gives these small business owners the tools they need to better organize their appointment calendars and appointment reminders.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

Using a pen or pencil and notepad to take down appointments by phone or e-mail is becoming a thing of the past. Online appointment-setting services are helping individuals, businesses and organizations nationwide and around the globe improve staff efficiency, save money and provide customers more flexibility. Let’s examine how.

o Staff Time. Taking and setting appointments can eat up a large percentage of a staffer’s workday. The time wasted could be used more productively. An online appointment-scheduling software system can free up a staffer for more important tasks, which benefits the overall operations of the business or organization. Additionally, companies that do not allow self-scheduling still benefit by utilizing an efficient, easy-to-maintain internal appointment system.

o Money Savings. Referencing the above bullet item, a company that offers self-scheduling can save money by removing appointment-setting duties from staff members, thereby eliminating the need for a staff member whose primary responsibilities include setting appointments. Additionally, Web-based self-scheduling systems typically cost substantially less than custom-programmed systems.

o Customer Flexibility. An increasing number of your customers and clients-both current and potential-are expecting convenient online services. Not providing these could put your organization at a disadvantage, especially if your competitors are offering it. It may not seem like a deal-breaker, but many individuals are looking at service providers’ online features before making a decision.

“When she booked her appointment, Jane requested both an e-mail and text reminder. A day before her session, she receives both. Jane values the online appointment service offered by her hair stylist, and expects more of her service providers-including her doctor, dentist, personal trainer and chiropractor-to offer it as well. Some already have. It’s certainly benefited her and her busy lifestyle.”

WHO NEEDS IT?

The short answer is most businesses. Users of this technology encompass a wide range of industries, from small businesses to large Fortune 500 companies. If an organization provides a service that requires an appointment or specific time and location, chances are they can offer online scheduling for its patients, clients and customers. Let’s take a look at some of these industries and how they utilize online appointment scheduling services.

o Physician, Dentist and Chiropractor Offices. These facilities use online scheduling to book patient appointments and services, thereby freeing up receptionists and support staff for more important tasks.

o Photographers and Photography Studios. Photographers can more easily manage their existing customer appointments and attract new clients with an online scheduling presence.

o Massage Therapists, Salons and Spas. Online appointment scheduling is a great benefit for individuals who utilize these services and treatments, especially regular clients who can easily schedule their next appointment online without having to pick up the phone.

o Federal, County and Municipal Agencies. These government bodies use it for a variety of purposes, from scheduling flu shot clinics to booking sports practice fields and park facilities.

o Colleges, Universities and Educational Institutions. Many of our educational institution clients use online appointment software to book rooms, schedule student appointments at counseling and other facilities, and coordinate seminars and lectures.

o Personal Fitness Trainers. Online scheduling allows them to spend less time on manually managing their training schedule and more time focusing on their clientele.

o Freight and Delivery Services. Companies that specialize in freight and delivery are really benefitting from online scheduling, as it provides an easy way to assign dock times and locations for its drivers.

o Health Clubs. These groups typically offer aerobics, yoga and other activities, a perfect fit with online scheduling software.

o Tennis and Golf Facilities. Individual tennis and golf lessons are important services at these businesses, and online appointment software helps trainers book and manage their clients and lesson times.

o Counselors and Tutors. Whether they work at an educational institution or out of their homes, online scheduling software helps them properly manage their clients and students.

Last, but certainly not least, the service benefits the customer and client, the reason why organizations and businesses exist. If you provide a service deemed valuable, chances are they’ll remain loyal to your operation. Something as simple as online appointment scheduling could be that valued service.