Appointment scheduling software serves multiple purposes for a burgeoning business.
For one, it helps to guide traffic from online into a physical location. It also helps businesses better allocate and utilize staff. Plus, it provides a multichannel solution for consumers who want a human touch or need some assistance during their journey.
Choosing the right appointment scheduling software provider
On a broader scale, appointment scheduling software increases customer loyalty, grows revenue, and drives down costs. Today, it's used by countless retail, finance, technology, and telecommunications companies and fills a key role in their customer engagement strategies. All of these solutions may look the same on the surface, but when you peel back the cover, there are key differences and considerations that need to factor into your purchasing decision.
Enterprise companies look at their technology investment and in-house skills and often consider the possibility of building their own solution. In most cases, if you’re a retailer, your specialty is retail: inventory systems, supply chain, payments, and point of sale solutions – not integration with a multitude of calendar systems, time zone synchronization, and staff experience.
In addition to a potential knowledge gap, there are endless details to consider, including security, user experience, reporting, integration of customer information, and payment processing. This is all in addition to the sheer time and priority a project of this scope requires as compared to other projects and the time for scalability testing and staff feedback. Then there’s the ongoing maintenance, updates, patches, and fixes as integrated systems change and improve. It’s a tall task and far more complex than simply booking a date on a calendar.
Freemium or SMB options
The second class of solutions are freemium or SMB solutions. For companies that don’t want to allocate internal resources to build a booking system from the ground up, a specialist service provider is often the best choice. However, there is a significant difference between enterprise providers and low-cost tools built for small/medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
Many of the free or SMB solutions are built to manage the same repetitive task rather than complex tasks. You’ll often see them specialize in services for gyms, salons, and dog walking services. One of the keys to consider is how many locations your business has that need coordination and oversight.
Small-scale solutions don’t have the wherewithal to innovate at the pace an enterprise requires. Reviews left for SMB solutions include phrases like, “Good software...but could be much better if the software team solicited ‘new feature’ suggestions from the actual users.”
They are often built for a single channel without the ability to accept payment, and if they accept payment, they may not be able to refund in the case of cancellation. Smaller-scale solutions are great for very transactional tasks, but aren’t designed to grow with your business or provide any real level of service. That being said, there are some reliableonline scheduling solutionsin the freemium and SMB space that work great for booking appointments and one-to-one meetings.
Enterprise appointment scheduling software
The third option is true enterprise-scale appointment scheduling software. Like most enterprise SaaS companies, these providers are always evolving. Though most have origins rooted in appointment scheduling, many have expanded to focus beyond one-to-one appointments to address one or many events – or queuing management.
Enterprise-level solutions, as part of a larger more complex engine, must integrate with other enterprise solutions including CRM and workflow management – not to mention backend payment processing systems.
Because no two companies are identical, it is imperative that enterprise level appointment scheduling solutions can be customized to maximize previous technology investment. Providers should provide consultation on what should be customized versus what should be standard. These vendors should have years of experience testing different layouts and calendar views, so they can recommend best practices from the onset.
Additionally, you can leverage enterprise vendors’ APIs to build your own custom apps that extend the platform’s core capabilities. This, combined with powerful integrations, means you can capture and analyze data in any way you’d like. This makes determining ROI a breeze. Reference calls, security audits, and case studies are a great indicator of experience. When reviewing vendors, look at customer rosters and data that demonstrates scalability, volume, relationship tenure, and ROI.
Once you’ve determined the goals of your project, and selected the best type of solution, it’s time to scope your requirements. Some of the key considerations include: customer experience, staff experience, executive/supervisor experience, technical ability, and vendor expertise and support.
Customer experience (CX)
From a CX perspective, the keys are seamless, multichannel, and straightforward as you are building out a booking journey. Customers should feel a connection from the online booking experience until they reach a physical location as a result of consistent branding. They should be able to book from their preferred platform whether that’s online, via mobile, or even through a voice interface. The follow-up is as important as the journey. The system should provide a confirmation via email or SMS as well as appointment reminders.
Notifications ensure that customers are bringing the correct items or information to their appointments. Within these emails, you should also include a download link so customers can add it to their calendar, and the ability to reschedule, confirm, or cancel meetings in advance.
Another important feature that improves the customer experience are booking questions which are asked at the time of scheduling the appointment. Booking questions collect information from customers about their upcoming visit, so that staff don't have to spend the customer's valuable time asking those introductory questions. This also helps staff prepare for the appointment in advance, so they can gather the necessary paperwork or items to bring to the appointment, and delight the customer rather than run out in the middle of the appointment.
Staff or on-site personnel will be the most frequent users of appointment scheduling software, so it's critical to ensure the staff interface is built to address their daily tasks and responsibilities. In the centralized staff calendar view, the most important details of the day's upcoming appointments must be visible: who is booked, what time is still available, any no-show information, and so on.
This ensures employees can review the customer's requirements, preferences, and needs in advance. If the employee knows that this is a meeting about planning for college savings, they can be prepared in a vastly different way than if the appointment had been set about applying for a first mortgage – and the customer feels like their needs were met. For follow-up, once a customer is logged as having shown up, the employee may initiate a thank you, a follow-up survey, or even send a promotion for similar services in the future.
When it comes to the enterprise, executives and supervisors need a view into how physical locations are being staffed, and staff is being utilized, which locations are performing as they should be, and which require some adjustments. This data can be critical to optimizing the profitability of each location.
Analytics capabilities and insights are essential to assessing online booking metrics including volume, outcomes, appointment type, appointment time, staff performance, staff utilization, and lead times.
With analytics at their fingertips, executives are able to answer questions like:
Which types of appointments are most popular with our customers? Which are least popular?
Which appointments drive the most revenue?
How are customers scheduling appointments?
How long is each type of appointment scheduled for? How long does these appointments actually last?
Who are my top performing staff members across the country, region, and individual locations?
What appointment times are least popular?
Do we need to bulk up staffing on specific days or at certain times?
With answers to these questions, it's easy to make operational decisions to both improve performance and reduce wasted time.
When you're researching providers, it is critical to evaluate each vendor's technology and grade them on their respective levels of extensibility, scalability, and security. When reviewing extensibility, consider how the platform is built. Does the vendor have a modern tech stack and offer API integration? How flexible are their APIs? What solutions integrate with their online booking software?
When you evaluate technical ability, also examine how the solution can be integrated with existing tools. Do you have Salesforce, Microsoft Office, Google Calendar, analytics/BI tools, or other software already in use? The best appointment scheduling solutions ensure that you can connect your existing solutions to your booking software for a 360 degree view of your customers.
Don't forget to examine each vendor's platform security. It is important to understand if they’ve been built for multiple security protocols. Are they ISO 27001, PCI, and GDPR compliant? Do they manage all compliance in-house? How regularly are they audited? Are they willing to share proof with you?
Vendor expertise and ongoing support
With so many solutions offering varying levels of complexity, expertise and experience can help make your decision. Is the vendor providing a consultative approach to help you get up and running quickly with an eye towards expansion. Does your vendor grow with you or charge for every tweak to the system?
Top SaaS companies will share their product roadmap outlining new features or upgrades they’ll be making, and when. The roadmap should include feature requests and requirements directly from their customer base, mixed with their own innovative ideas. And there should be an open channel for you to make requests and understand where they fall into the timeline.
Begin using the right solution today
With most consumers reporting they’d spend more after a face-to-face interaction, it’s clear that successful implementation and utilization of an enterprise solution will result in profitable customer engagements, increased revenue, and better utilization of your resources.
Nancy Liberman is VP of Marketing at JRNI, the enterprise software-as-a-service scheduling platform for personalizing and optimizing the customer journey. Prior to JRNI, she served in various marketing leadership roles for high-growth companies, including ATG, Searchandise Commerce, Dailybreak Media, and OutSystems.