If you operate a business where you schedule appointments, class attendance, consultations, seminars, workshops, or any other type of event from which you earn revenue, it is critical that you use easy-to-use, yet powerful and interactive small business scheduling software.
I also encourage, if it’s possible with your business, to look for scheduling software that enables your customers to schedule themselves.
This not only makes your life easier but is an outstanding website conversion tool. What I mean by this is new customers to your website can instantly book themselves for your service. No phone calls or any other obstacles that might lose the sale.
When you book a customer, how much time does it take? Yeah, scheduling customers and clients take time – yours and/or your staff’s time. How about the time you spend playing phone tag just to book an appointment?
That’s why if you can set up software where your customers can book their own appointments, you’ll free up a great deal of your time. You’ll also be offering a very worthwhile customer service (and impress them). Even if only 1/3 of your bookings do it themselves, you’ll be way ahead – and probably book more clients than otherwise.
The fact is in today’s fast-paced world, customers want immediate gratification. If your phone line is busy or you have to put customers on hold, you could lose that booking. Why not eliminate those losses and poor customer service with implementing online scheduling?
How Does Online Scheduling Work?
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It’s simple, and you don’t have to worry about giving up control of your schedule with the right business scheduling software.
There are different uses of scheduling software – it depends on your business
1. Simple Schedule Viewable Online
Some businesses, such as yoga studios, dance studios, martial arts schools, and health clubs may simply wish to display class schedules on their website(s).
The key is getting scheduling software that makes it incredibly easy for you to change the schedule in one central location – which changes then 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 schedules, it’s very easy to forget to update your schedule on your website(s). I don’t have to tell you how customers feel about being misinformed and relying on an outdated schedule.
Solve this problem by using scheduling software you manage in one easy-to-access location – which updates all your schedules wherever posted.
Moreover, look for scheduling software that let’s you present pop-up descriptions of your classes and perhaps brief bios of the instructor teaching particular classes. The more information you place where it’s easy to find for your customers, the better service you’re providing.
2. Self-Booking Capability
Other businesses require customers to schedule appointments or reserve rooms/facilities. Examples of these types of businesses include hair salons, spas, tattoo parlors, massage therapists, physical therapists, etc. Take yourself as much as possible out of the booking process by getting 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 log-in information to your online scheduling system. Once logged in, your customers see only availability and then book in available time-slots. Moreover, you then add a contact to your database.
Online booking puts the scheduling power into your customers’ hands. If they need to change an appointment, they can easily do so without taking up your time.
What Other Features to Look for With Business Scheduling Software?
1. Look Only For Cloud Computing Scheduling Software
Without a doubt, the most important feature to look for with business scheduling software is that it’s cloud-based. This means the software you use is hosted with the service provider.
A classic example of cloud-based software is Google Docs. You simply log in to your Google account and use their fleet of document-producing software (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.).
I’ve used desk-top scheduling software and like most desk-top 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 desk-top 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 all you need is an Internet connection in order to access your software dashboard. You don’t have to pay for networking, installation, and/or have a server. Instead, most cloud-computing software services simply require a monthly payment for access. It’s easy to scale up – you simply 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 frees 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 appointments. Often saving one booking will pay for an entire month’s software cost. Not to mention gain you another potentially loyal customer.
If you’re looking to get 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 out appointment reminders via e-mail and/or text messaging? This too is time-consuming. Maybe you don’t do this because you’re too busy – but wish you had the time or resources to send out reminders to reduce no-shows.
When deciding on scheduling software, be sure to opt for the capability for 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 reminders and text message reminders about upcoming appointments.
This serves three very important functions:
You’ll provide a great service reminding your customers about their upcoming appointment;
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 wait-list giving them an opportunity to take up that time – all done automatically.
4. Additional Sale Opportunities
Most small businesses earn the bulk 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 of each month. Instead of having to enter in their booking information manually for each month, use software to automate recurring bookings. Better yet, with self-scheduling, make it easy for your customers to book their own recurring 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 very powerful 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 an extremely powerful sales tool. If you don’t, it’s probably because it’s a hassle to track referrals. 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 that has e-commerce capabilities, you automatically have a shopping cart available with which 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 absolutely crucial in order to get the most out of your scheduling software. Why? Because you can then use that contact database to manage your operations, financials, and of course 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, report generation (to track your sales, attendance, etc.) to your marketing campaigns.
Impress Your Customers with Your Scheduling Software
If you offer self-booking capability and/or extremely informative up-to-date schedules on your website, you’ll impress new and existing customers. When they get reminders, they’ll be delighted. When you send them notices for openings, they’ll think the world of you and your business.
Even if you’re a small business, the right software doesn’t need to break your bank in order to appear and offer a level of service large, resource-rich companies offer. When you deliver a high level of 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 – and you’ll not only get more customers, but you’ll get regularly attending customers.
How Much Should You Pay for Business Scheduling Software?
This will depend on the size of your business and how many users you’ll need. Most cloud computing software pricing is based on the number of users. 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.
I know getting the desk-top software, which usually is 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 desk-top scheduling software costs much more than the initial purchase cost.
I know, because I’ve used desk-top scheduling software and the cost 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 a lot of software applications available for small businesses. I’m a small business owner and am always looking for ways 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 is one that has all the features you’re looking for built-in the system itself. Integration sounds great on paper, but can be a real nightmare in practice.