Today’s tech-savvy customers know what they want out of their service providers. Obviously, good customer service, quality and value are important, just as they’ve always been. These are pillars that help small businesses grow and succeed. Another factor that’s becoming increasingly important for owners and operators, regardless of the type of services they provide, is the ability for their customers to interact with the business and conduct transactions online, specifically scheduling appointments and booking reservations. An online business calendar is the perfect tool to accomplish this.
ONLINE BUSINESS CALENDAR: THE BASICS
An online business calendar is a term many small businesses use when referring to online appointment-scheduling software, a cloud-based technology that offers owners, operators and staff functionality to completely automate, streamline and improve their booking procedures. Typically, these applications are classified as software as a service (SaaS) programs, “pay-as-you-go” services that usually don’t require contracts, expensive hardware, downloads or installations, or in-house or contracted IT support. All that’s necessary to implement and use the software is an Internet connection. You simply access the online business calendar just as you would any Web site.
Although functionality can vary among providers, standard features found in many online business calendar applications include:
• Online customer self-scheduling. Ask any small business owner that utilizes an online scheduler calendar what’s their favorite feature and most will say its online customer self-scheduling. This feature alone can completely automate the entire scheduling process, as it gives customers the ability to book their services at any time of day and when it’s most convenient for them. The system does the rest and automatically books the individual without any additional effort from the owner or his or her staff.
• Automated e-mail and text message reminders. Reminders continue to be an important tool in keeping open time slots full. In fact, studies show that reminders of any kind can decrease the “no-show” rate by over 50 percent. However, reminders can require a considerable amount of staff time and resources, especially if done manually. Some online business calendar applications take the effort out of this important task by automatically sending out e-mail and text reminders prior to a scheduled appointment or reservation. Owners or operators simply select when they want the reminder sent, such as one or three days before the customer’s appointment or reservation, and the system does the rest.
• Record-keeping and reporting. Another benefit to an online business calendar is data management and storage. In short, the software can centralize all customer and appointment/reservation information in one easy-to-access location. Before implanting online scheduling software into their operations, most owners and staff would record appointment and customer information in multiple paper appointment books, spreadsheets, folders and other documents. Not only is this manner of scheduling time-consuming, it forces one to juggle back and forth between pages, files and documents to locate details on a specific customer or appointment. It can also make it a hassle to compile all of this information for a report. An online scheduler calendar makes it easy to quickly locate data on an individual or details about his or her appointment. Many also allow users to effortless create and download standard reports.
• E-marketing solutions. Reaching out to customers through e-newsletters and messages keeps them the loop on discounts, specials and other news. Keeping track of their e-mail contact information, however, can be tedious. Since an online business calendar centralizes all data in one spot, customer information is easy to access, including e-mail addresses. Some online scheduler calendars even allow users to send messages right through the software, instead of having to download it into an Excel or other file (although this option is usually available as well).
Other popular functionality available in some online business calendars include online customer payment options, repeat customer reminders (sent to individuals after a specific time of inactivity), gift certificates and package bundles of several service appointments.
HOW IT HELPS SERVICE PROVIDERS IMPROVE OPERATIONS, SAVE TIME AND MONEY
In addition to making it easier for customers to book appointments and reservations, an online business calendar can help a business save time and money and, ultimately, even help it grow. Although one of the main reasons many small businesses implement online scheduling is to provide a convenient way for individuals to schedule online, they soon find out that many of the features are beneficial to overall operations as well.
When properly implemented, an online business calendar can:
• Save time. Besides being convenient for customers, online self-scheduling can dramatically reduce the number of appointment phone slot demo calls and e-mails that must be answered by the owner or staff. This, in turn, frees them up for more important tasks. In cases where a business schedules a large number of daily appointments and reservations, an online scheduler calendar can eliminate the need to bring in a new staff member solely to handle scheduling.
• Save money. As the old saying goes, “Time is money.” The time savings from an online business calendar quickly equates into monetary savings, when you factor in employee salaries or an owner’s time. Additionally, automated e-mail and text message reminders, as mentioned above, can help reduce “no-shows”. This means fewer time slots will go unfilled…and more revenue from services rendered. And since the scheduling software provider typically oversees the maintenance of the software, an owner or operator does not to budget for any IT support, since all updates, upgrades and technical issues are addressed by the provider.
• Keep a business open 24 hours a day. An online scheduler calendar can keep a service provider open 24 hours a day, even if its business hours are only 9 to 5. Many people these days simply do not have the time to book a service appointment during the day, and instead conduct most of their daily transactions in the evening or early morning. And they’d much rather book an appointment instead of leaving a message requesting one. A service that offers 24-7 booking will undoubtedly see an increase in scheduled services.
• It makes a business more competitive. In addition to those individuals who are unable to make an appointment over the phone during normal business hours, there are those who simply do not want to pick up the phone and prefer to conduct all of the daily transactions online. In some instances, an individual may not even consider a service provider if it doesn’t offer online scheduling. Not providing an online option for booking a service can put a business at a major disadvantage, especially if its competitors do offer it.