Ask a service provider what’s one of the most important considerations in running a successful business, and he or she is most likely to say accurate appointments. From massage therapists and chiropractors to auto service centers and pet groomers, these small business operators rely on effective and efficient appointment-setting methods to ensure a good customer experience, the best use of staff time and resources, and, ultimately, a full calendar with every available time slot taken.
The appointment-setting process seems simple enough, but in many cases it’s a tedious and time-consuming task that requires a significant amount of staff hours and resources to properly handle. This is especially true for service providers who continue to rely on traditional and outdated scheduling methods, such as booking appointments and reservations primarily over the phone and recording the details and customer contact information in a paper appointment book, file or spreadsheet.
In today’s tough economy, few businesses have the option of one or more staff members devoted entirely to answering phone calls and writing down appointment information. That’s why a growing number of service providers are turning to Web-based scheduling systems to help them improve this important process.
INTERNET CONNECTION IS ONLY REQUIREMENT
Many small business owners and operators cringe at the very mention of computers, software and technology, as thoughts of expensive installations, hardware and ongoing maintenance flood their head. Cloud technology has eliminated the need to spend a small fortune on most software programs, and now many are as easy to access and utilize as online banking, social media sites or e-mail. They function in the same manner as any other Web site. Users simply go to the Web site or online portal, log in, and access their software. Such is the case of most Web-based appointment-scheduling software applications, which only require an Internet connection to implement.
The Web accessibility aspect also makes online scheduling software ideal for businesses with multiple locations and owners, administrators and staff that routinely conduct business from outside the office and need access to their appointment schedule from home or on the road. It’s also what differentiates itself from the more traditional “boxed” software that’s installed on individual computers. Those software programs typically confine the appointment calendar or schedule to one local computer, making access difficult unless the individual is working on that specific computer.
The science behind cloud-based scheduling applications also allow for some really beneficial features for both the service provider and its customers. Standard functionality found in online scheduling services includes:
• Online customer self-scheduling. This gives individuals the option to book their own appointments and reservations at their own convenience. The Internet is always open for business, and so are service providers who offer online customer self-scheduling. In addition to the benefit to customers who are increasingly conducting tasks online, this feature can also dramatically reduce the number of telephone calls, which in turn frees up staff for more pressing responsibilities.
• Automated e-mail and text message reminders. Reminders are appreciated by customers. They can also reduce the number of “no-shows” who fail to arrive at their scheduled times. They also can also require a considerable amount of staff time, resources and money. Some online appointment-scheduling programs will automatically send e-mail and text message reminders to customers prior to their scheduled appointment and reservations times.
• Record-keeping and reporting. Proper record-keeping is important for most business operations. But for many service providers, managing appointment details and contact information involves managing separate calendars, appointment books and spreadsheets. This information must then be sorted and organized to include in operating reports. Online appointment-scheduling software helps simplify this important task by centralizing all inputted information in one easy-to-reach location. Some programs even provide standard reports that take only a mouse click or two to generate.
• E-marketing capabilities. It goes without saying that accurate e-mail addresses are a key component of a successful e-marketing campaign. But maintaining and continually updating customer e-mail can be a job in itself. Just as online appointment scheduling software makes record-keeping and reporting a snap by centralizing and maintaining information, this concept also makes e-marketing a simple process. In some instances, a service provider may be able to send the marketing message right through the schedule without any additional steps. And because customers have the ability to update their contact information, the likelihood that the e-mails pulled are current is much greater.
Regardless of the type of service a business provides, chances are it can benefit from online appointment-scheduling software. Users of this technology include spas, salons, massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, home service providers, remodelers, pest control technicians, auto service shops and many others. For most operations, there’s not a more efficient or effective approach for managing, automating and improving their appointment-scheduling and reservation-booking processes. And since most appointment-scheduling providers offer a free trial of their service, there’s nothing to lose. Except, of course, the old and tedious way you previously scheduled appointments!