Resource type: Blog
How online booking systems can add real value to your business
Imagine that you run a consulting business or install and repair renewable energy systems and your business takes bookings over the phone from customers keen to use your services. The only problem is that you miss calls, double book appointments, forget about cancellations and end up failing to maximise your revenue and damage your reputation in the process.
So, what can be done? The answer might well come in the form of an online booking system. This is a software product that allows a potential customer to book an activity or service either through your website or via your social media page. And not only does it streamline the booking process, it also handles appointment cancellations, rescheduling and online payment processing, as well as sending out automated reminders and capturing customer information.
All of which helps to enhance the ease with which customers can make bookings at times that suit them, through their favoured tablets and smartphones, which in turn increases the number of bookings you’re able to handle, and ultimately generates more sales and profit!
From your business’s perspective it means that your ‘booking service’ is available 24/7. Furthermore, the availability of time slots is updated in real time, so there’s no chance of double booking.
The online booking system also helps to cut down on administration – it can handle all the aspects of the booking, freeing up time for you and your staff to spend on more productive activities. And the fact that it can track forthcoming appointments and automatically send phone, text, or email reminders to customers about their appointments all help to minimise the perennial problem of no-shows.
What’s more, online booking systems increasingly provide integration with electronic payment gateways so that you can collect payments when customers book appointments, which certainly helps with cash flow.
Although developed as a stand-alone application, in reality an online booking system very rarely works in isolation. In fact, a key feature is that you’re able to share data with third party apps and services directly from your booking platform.
For example, from an accounting perspective you may wish to create invoices seamlessly for appointments in the calendar or view payment histories for individual customers.
Similarly on the customer relationship management (CRM) front, there are significant benefits in being able to create custom CRM fields, keep customer notes, view past bookings and filter booking data for targeted email campaigns.
Putting a specification together
If you’ve decided that an online booking system could benefit your business then a sensible first step is to develop an outline specification that you can share with potential suppliers or developers. Some of the key factors to take into account are:
The basic features that you might class as ‘must have’ include:
- A web interface that enables your customers to book services through your website or via your social media page;
- A live calendar that automatically updates as customers sign up for services;
- Payment processing capabilities so that you can collect payments when customers book appointments;
- Automatic reminders that can be sent to customers about upcoming appointments by notifying them via email messages or SMS texts.
In addition, as we’ve already mentioned, integration with third party business applications will almost certainly be a key requirement. So think carefully about which other business applications you feel are ‘essential’ to integrate and whether any existing apps you already have would benefit from linking to the online booking software.
Ease of use is another important consideration – both in terms of customer usage (if they can’t complete the booking simply and easily there is every chance they’ll go to a competitor) and your own management and ongoing operation of the software.
Off-the shelf or bespoke?
For those businesses that have unique or unusual scheduling processes then a bespoke solution may be required. In this case you will typically need to contract a developer to put together a solution that addresses your particular requirements.
However, for most small businesses an off-the-shelf solution is the preferred option, not least because it’s significantly cheaper and is available ‘now’ rather than having to wait for the design, development and testing of the bespoke version. You should also bear in mind that some of the off-the-shelf solutions do offer a degree of customisation, particularly in terms of ‘look and feel’.
It’s important that, as your business and customer base grows, your booking system is able to handle increased numbers and throughput. Any system you select should be scalable and capable of expanding to meet your projected future requirements.
The good news for sole traders and micro business owners is that a number of suppliers offer a free option which is typically a cut-down version of the software incorporating the basic scheduling features. Whilst there will be a relatively low limit in terms of the number of monthly bookings that can be taken, for some this will be a practical solution. There are also a number of open source solutions available for free and these are well worth investigating.
However, the majority of booking systems are available on a range of monthly plans, typically for a small to medium business, a larger business and an enterprise. These offerings will include an increased number of allowed bookings per month (in some cases unlimited), a wider range of features and integrations and greater customisation capabilities, with the prices rising accordingly.
If taking bookings or reservations is an integral part of your business then online booking software can deliver significant benefits. Your booking operations will become more streamlined and efficient, the time and cost spent on basic administration will be significantly reduced and customer numbers will rise. All of which, ultimately, can have a very real impact on your bottom line.