Most small businesses are united by two common ingredients: time poverty and straightforward money poverty. So, anything that can help with either one of these problems is a breath of fresh air. Anything that can help with both is out of sight and needs implementing right away, if not before. This is especially the case if it can do this while increasing sales. Step forward to the online appointment system.
What are online appointment systems?
Oftentimes, businesses, especially small businesses, tend to stick with what works, regardless of whether it works as well as it could. It works well enough. Great, now let me get on with sorting these invoices into pay now, pay soon, and pay yesterday piles.
Such is the case with many businesses that still use a trusty book to make records of appointments. Don’t get me wrong – the book has done us all a great deal of sterling service up to now, and it deserves our gratitude. But just as that pen you’re using with the book is no longer plucked straight from a goose and dipped in a vial of ink, that book needs to go the way of history.
Imagine having all the benefits of that book (convenience, ease of use, clarity… that’s about it), but combined with a whole lot of other tasty nuggets. Wouldn’t that be a great thing to have? Well, “yes” is the answer.
Here’s what we’re talking about. An online appointment system is a web-based application that permits customers to securely and conveniently make appointments and reservations through any web-connected device.
This model, i.e., one of the customers making their own appointments on your system, has so much going for it. Let’s have a look at each plus in turn.
Online Appointment System Benefits:
- Time-saving for the business owner and the customer
- Automate staff schedule management
- Extra source of income
- Reminders can help you curb no-shows for meetings
- Use as a CTA on your site
- Generates leads
- Balance your schedule and avoid double-bookings
1. Time-saving for the business owner and the customer-saving
Think of all that time spent slaving over that book. Yes, you love the book. The book’s reliable. The book delivers. It’s a reassuring old friend.
But what about when things go wrong?
“Oh no – the customer’s changed their mind about an appointment: I’m going to have to amend the booking record, and there’s only a small space on the page for it, which I’ve now filled with a big crossed-out entry. If anyone else wants to write something in there, that’s going to be an unpleasant and hard-to-read sight.”
Or ‘“Help! I’ve lost the book! Last time it took us all afternoon to find it (it was in the bathroom – don’t ask).”
Also, what about when things go right?
“I’ve spent all day on that phone, explaining booking options and telling people when we’re open. Just think of the creative things I could have been putting my energies to… ooh, I could take this company places, I really could… .”
If you’ve ever taken bookings on the phone all day, you’ll know that it can be dispiriting work. That’s not to say that, in the right business, call staff isn’t invaluable. For some businesses, good staff who have had good call coaching are the backbone of the operation.
However, small businesses need all staff to contribute everything they’ve got to make the business work. If you’ve got an imaginative member of staff, who could be coming up with all manner of creative marketing ideas if they weren’t shackled to the phone all day dishing out routine and repetitive parcels of information, then that’s not an optimal use of your staff.
Actually, another nice thing about online appointment systems is that they can save the customer time, too. Sometimes, a customer won’t necessarily have time for niceties. They just want to book an appointment, thanks very much. They can do this at a time that suits them, and they can be in as antisocial a mood as they like while they do it. That’s customer empowerment.
2. Automate staff schedule management
An online appointments system will not just tell you which customers are coming in and when. It’ll also tell you who needs to be doing what shift.
The last thing you want is to be paying employees who have nothing to do but sit and twiddle their thumbs. Just as you don’t want to deliver a lower standard of service because only two staff members were scheduled and you’re having to deal with five clients at once.
An online booking system can help you identify your busy and quiet days so you know how many staff to schedule. By organizing your staff schedules based on these patterns you’ll be able to deliver a better service to your clients and ensure your employees have more to do than drink tea.
3. Extra source of income
Let’s address the biggest worry that business owners will have: how much is this going to cost? Well, the answer, of course, depends on the exact model of the system you choose, along with the attendant SaaS pricing strategy. But there are significant savings to be made, which will offset that initial investment in short order.
That member of staff who was tied up with bookings all day is now free to dream up amazing marketing campaigns that deliver a tsunami of customers to your door, and you all end up dancing around in a fountain of cascading money.
OK, it might not always be quite that good a result, but what you can be sure of is that you will have a level of service that you would have to pay a fortune for if it was still run with a phone and a book. Your business will benefit from having a 24/7 appointment service without having to pay your staff for 24/7 work.
You can also require your customers to prepay for the appointment. This can all be factored into your system so that customers are automatically prompted to pay when they confirm their appointment. It’s much better for your business to have this money upfront.
Finally, in finance, you can build upsells into the booking process, enabling customers to benefit from services they may not have realized were available in a specific context, encouraging them to place a thing or two more in their online shopping cart.
4. Reminders can help you curb no-shows for meetings
Somewhat counter-intuitively, email and SMS reminders tend to be better received than human-delivered ones. Why’s this? The main reason is that a call tends to take a bit longer to deal with and has to be dealt with at a time that suits the caller, not necessarily the person being called.
SMS and email can be attended to any time that the recipient is free, so they are a more convenient option. Now we are in an age of the AI call center and the chatbot, and people are more and more used to dealing with machines in order to get what they want.
5. Use as a CTA on your site
You have all the promo material any business could want, and it’s working wonders with grabbing attention, but customers are wondering what to do. Where do they go? What’s the CTA here? With an online appointment system, you can have a nice clear “BOOK NOW” or “AVAILABLE DATES” right alongside the marketing content.
That way, you avoid the pitfall of sending a customer elsewhere to book, only to see them drift off into a sea of distractions.
An online appointments system will give you the choice of a number of different booking looks to choose from so that you can optimize effectiveness at the same time as tailoring your business image accordingly.
6. Generates leads
A great benefit of an online appointment system is the facility it gives for initializing and nurturing a relationship with your customers. You may think that this can’t be the case – after all, the customer’s dealing with an online interface now rather than someone on the telephone. Well, the great thing now is that you have a record of engagement with this person that you would never have if you were just talking to them on the phone and using that old book.
You’ll have all the relevant information for the client, including all the touchpoints they’ve had with your organization. This can then be mega useful when you want to run offers or promotions that you know will be of interest to your customer, knowing as you do their previous activity with your company.
In many ways, we’re moving beyond the paradigm wherein person-to-person is everything. Just as meetings have to have a meeting notes format to make them really effective, bookings need to observe certain rules. They need to be convenient and reliable. If these qualities are solidly in place, many customers will happily eschew talking to an employee, as the data testifies.
7. Balance your schedule and avoid double-bookings
It’s a nightmare that is all too common: somehow, the business has booked too many appointments for that particular time.
One customer goes home aggrieved, and the business looks ramshackle. Even the customer who ends up with the slot can be left thinking that the business has processes that are a little unreliable, to say the least.
When you put your appointments into an online system, such embarrassing gaffes become a thing of the past. This is because it’s impossible for the system to issue too many confirmation notifications. So it’s impossible for too many customers to turn up with a confirmation in hand.
Yes, online appointment systems can benefit your business hugely in a multitude of ways. But perhaps the most important benefit is what it delivers to the customer. The improvements in UX that an online appointment system can bestow will render your customers very happy indeed. And that will only make you happier.
Guest Post Author
Jessica Day – Senior Director, Marketing Strategy, Dialpad
Senior Director for Marketing Strategy at Dialpad, a modern business communications platform that takes every kind of conversation to the next level—turning conversations into opportunities. Jessica is an expert in collaborating with multifunctional teams to execute and optimize marketing efforts through call center as a software, for both company and client campaigns. Here is her LinkedIn. She has also written content for eHotelier and Recruitee.