Suppose you operate a business that schedules appointments, class attendance, consultations, seminars, workshops, or any other type of event from which you earn revenue. In that case, you must use easy-to-use yet powerful and interactive small business scheduling software.
If possible, with your business, I also encourage you to look for scheduling software that enables your customers to prepare themselves. This makes your life easier and is an outstanding website conversion tool. What I mean by this is that new customers to your website can instantly book themselves for your service—no phone calls or any other obstacles that might lose the sale.
Scheduling customers and clients takes time – yours and your staff’s time. When you book a customer, how much time does it take? How about the time you spend playing phone tag to book an appointment?
That’s why if you can set up software so that your customers can book their own appointments, you’ll free up a great deal of your time. You’ll also be offering very worthwhile customer service (and impressing them). Even if only 1/3 of your bookings do it themselves, you’ll be ahead and probably book more clients than otherwise.
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In today’s fast-paced world, customers want immediate gratification. If your phone line is busy or you must put customers on hold, you could lose that booking. Why not eliminate those losses and poor customer service by implementing online scheduling?
How Does Online Scheduling Work?
With the right business scheduling software, it’s simple, and you don’t have to worry about giving up control of your schedule. Different businesses use scheduling software for different purposes.
1. Simple Schedule Viewable Online
Some businesses, such as yoga studios, dance studios, martial arts schools, and health clubs, may wish to display class schedules on their website(s).
The key is getting scheduling software that makes it incredibly easy to change the schedule in one central location, which changes appear on your website(s). Let’s face it: class times, instructors, etc., change regularly.
Instead of displaying your schedule in a fixed table on different pages in your website(s), which is inconvenient to change, use a central schedule dashboard where you can easily make changes.
Have you ever forgotten to change the schedule on your website? When you maintain separate programs, it’s easy to forget to update your plan on your website(s). I don’t have to tell you how customers feel about being misinformed and relying on an outdated program.
Solve this problem by using scheduling software you manage in one easy-to-access location. This software updates your schedules wherever they are posted.
Moreover, look for scheduling software that lets you present pop-up descriptions of your classes and perhaps brief bios of the instructor teaching particular courses. The more information you place where it’s easy to find for your customers, the better your service.
2. Self-Booking Capability
Other businesses require customers to schedule appointments or reserve rooms/facilities. These businesses include hair salons, spas, tattoo parlors, massage therapists, and physical therapists. To reduce your involvement in the booking process, get scheduling software that enables your customers to book their own appointments.
The process is simple with the right software. Your customers register, and you provide them with log-in information to your online scheduling system. Once logged in, your customers see only availability and then book available time slots. Moreover, you add a contact to your database.
Online booking puts the scheduling power into your customers’ hands. They can easily do so if they need to change an appointment without taking up your time. What are other features to look for with business scheduling software?
1. Look Only For Cloud Computing Scheduling Software
The most important feature to look for in business scheduling software is that it’s cloud-based. This means the software you use is hosted by the service provider.
A classic example of cloud-based software is Google Docs. You log in to your Google account and use their fleet of document-producing software (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.).
I’ve used desktop scheduling software, and like most desktop software, it costs much more in the long run and is very difficult to add new users (i.e., adding computers to the network).
The bulk of the long-term cost with desktop software is paying a tech consultant to network the software among your computers. Moreover, your scheduling software is not available anywhere – only on computers on which it’s installed. Don’t even think about the cost when you upgrade computers or if you use a server.
Cloud computing solves all these problems because you need an Internet connection to access your software dashboard. You don’t have to pay for networking, installation, and a server. Instead, most cloud-computing software services require a monthly payment for access. It’s easy to scale up – you add new users to your account. Your cost only increases as your business grows.
2. Get E-Commerce and Credit Card Payment Processing Integration
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could have customers pay upon self-booking their appointments? This would free up you and your staff from two time-consuming activities: booking appointments and taking payment.
Moreover, you can book appointments if you’re busy, thus reducing lost charges. Saving one booking often pays for an entire month’s software cost. Not to mention gain you another potentially loyal customer.
If you want top-of-the-line scheduling software, look for software that can process payments automatically upon a booking.
3. E-mail and Text Messaging Reminders & Notices
Do you and your staff send appointment reminders via e-mail and text messaging? This, too, is time-consuming. Maybe you don’t do this because you’re too busy, but I wish you had the time or resources to send reminders to reduce no-shows.
When deciding on scheduling software, be sure to opt for the capability of automated reminders. Yes, this is available. Once you have a customer’s contact information in your system and a customer books an appointment, you can set up the software to automatically send e-mail and text messaging reminders about upcoming meetings.
This serves three essential functions:
You’ll provide a great service reminding your customers about their upcoming appointments; You’ll reduce no-shows; and If a customer realizes they can’t make an appointment, they can re-schedule. This frees up appointment space, which you can fill from your wait list. Speaking of wait lists – with the right software, you can configure it so that once an appointment slot becomes available, e-mail notices are sent to your waitlist, allowing them to take up that time – all done automatically.
4. Additional Sale Opportunities
Small businesses earn most of their revenues from loyal, repeat customers (especially service-based businesses that book appointments). With the right software, you can make it extremely easy for customers to book recurring appointments.
Perhaps they like to visit your business on the same day each month. Instead of manually entering their booking information for each month, use software to automate recurring bookings. Better yet, self-scheduling makes it easy for your customers to book their regular appointments.
Many small businesses that are appointment-based offer a variety of services. If you do, make it easy for your customers to create customized booking packages, or you can create pre-arranged packages they can easily choose and book. This is a powerful up-selling option to earn more revenues per customer.
Gift cards are a potent sales tool. Not only do you make sales, but it’s a way to attract new customers. If you’re looking for powerful scheduling software, look for the ability to sell gift cards within the system.
Do you offer referral incentives to your existing customers? If not, you’re missing out on using a potent sales tool. If you don’t, it’s probably because tracking referrals is a hassle. You can automate referral tracking with some business scheduling software.
When a customer makes a referral, the software tracks that referral and credits the referring customer with whatever incentive you offer (i.e., discounts, free services, gift cards, etc.).
Online Point-of-Purchase Opportunities:
If you get scheduling software with e-commerce capabilities, you automatically have a shopping cart your customers can access while booking an appointment.
Point-of-purchase works both in-store and online. Why not increase sales by making it easy for your customers to buy your services and products online while they’re already in your system, booking an appointment?
If your customers can’t figure out how to book their appointments online or read your class/event schedule, then you’ve wasted your money. Sure, automated scheduling software will save you time – but the main goal is serving your customers. Look for a user interface that is extremely easy to use and pleasing to the eye.
6. Centralized Contact Database
Integrating your scheduling software with your contact database is crucial to getting the most out of your scheduling software. Why? You can then use that contact database to manage your operations and financials and leverage it for marketing.
When a new customer signs up with your business, you want scheduling software that automatically adds their data and profile to your contact database. Once in your database, you can leverage that information throughout your entire business operations, from client management to report generation (to track your sales, attendance, etc.) and marketing campaigns.
Impress Your Customers with Your Scheduling Software
You’ll impress new and existing customers if you offer self-booking capability and extremely informative, up-to-date schedules on your website. When they get reminders, they’ll be delighted. When you send them notices for openings, they’ll think about the world of you and your business.
Even if you’re a small business, the right software doesn’t need to break the bank to appear and offer a level of service large, resource-rich companies provide. When you deliver high customer service, you’ll build trust and make dealing with your business a pleasure.
Look for scheduling software that makes it extremely easy for your customers to use your services. You’ll not only attract more customers but also regularly attend to them.
How Much Should You Pay for Business Scheduling Software?
Most cloud computing software pricing is based on the number of users. This will depend on the size of your business and how many users you’ll need. If you’re looking for some or all of the capabilities set out above, expect to pay at least $40 per month for a starter package.
Getting desktop software, usually a one-time payment, seems more attractive cost-wise. However, you’ll give up features, and in my experience, the cost of maintaining and upgrading desktop scheduling software costs much more than the initial purchase cost. I know because I’ve used desktop preparing software, and the price alone for my tech consultant over the years is staggering.
Think of your “on-the-cloud” scheduling software as an investment. Better yet, if your software, because of its automation in booking and sending out reminders, saves you one sale, that sale likely pays for your entire month’s cost of the cloud-computing solution.
As you can tell by reading much of the other content on this site, I’m in tune with many software applications available for small businesses. I’m a small business owner and am always looking to improve my customer service with technology (and automate processes to save me time).
I’ve used many business scheduling software applications, including Google’s online calendar. The problem with many scheduling software services is they are limited in features.
Sure, you might be able to integrate it with other software applications you have, but the ideal software has all the features you’re looking for built into the system itself. Integration sounds great on paper but can be a real nightmare in practice.