Accurate appointment-scheduling is an important piece of the operations puzzle at service-based businesses. In fact, it’s a task that could make or break a small business. Imagine the chaos that could ensue if a salon, spa or massage therapy office did not require appointments and was suddenly inundated with dozens or even hundreds of walks-ins. Not only would it place a tremendous burden on staff, it could also have an effect on other operational considerations, such as inventory on supplies and items needed for the provided service. And, perhaps most important, it could create a negative experience for customers or clients, who may go elsewhere for better service.
Given these scenarios, it’s no wonder why service-based businesses of all sizes are turning to cloud-based scheduling software to help automate, streamline and improve their appointment-scheduling and reservation-booking processes. These applications are accessible right through the Internet in the same manner as online banking, e-mail and social media sites, and they generally don’t require any additional hardware or internal IT support, a plus for small businesses operating with a tight budget.
As with any software, there’re a slew of different providers and services available. While many seem alike and appear to offer the same type of functionality and benefits, looks can be deceiving. It is, therefore, important for a service business considering scheduling software to thoroughly exam the service provider before deciding.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SCHEDULING SOFTWARE PROVIDER
When conducting research into scheduling software providers, service-based businesses and organizations should keep the following items in mind:
• Cloud-based versus “traditional”. This should be a given, but those not familiar with current technology may have a tough time distinguishing “traditional” software-applications purchased at retail outlets and electronics stores that require installation-and cloud-based software, which are accessible in the same manner as any Web site or page. Cloud-based applications are usually more appealing to service-based operations than “boxed” software, since they don’t require any installations, downloads or additional (and sometimes expensive) hardware. Additionally, they don’t require an internal IT staff member or outside contractor to oversee. The scheduling service provider will typically manage the software and any updates or upgrades without any additional action required from the business utilizing it.
In addition to the administrative side of the software, another distinguishing characteristic is the functionality a cloud-based program offers. Important features such as online customer self-scheduling and automated e-mail and text message reminders are typically not found in traditional, store-bought software. Without them, the application is simply an internal scheduler with no online interaction, something that’s important if a business wants to accept appointments online and improve their scheduling procedures.
• Features. Not all scheduling software applications are the same when it comes to functionality, and it’s up to the business owner or operator to determine what he or she plans on using it for and what features the business could benefit from. Common features found in many scheduling software applications include: online customer self-scheduling, whereby an individual can book his or her appointment or reservation at his or her own convenience, 24 hours a day; automated e-mail and text message reminders sent prior to scheduled service time; online customer payment options; record-keeping and reporting capabilities; and e-marketing.
A good way to get a feel of what the software offers, its ease of use and how it will fit into overall business operations is to try it out first. Many online scheduling software providers offer a free trial of their product, which is highly recommended before actually purchasing it. Both owners and staff need to feel comfortable using the software.
• Cost. Budget considerations factor into every purchase a service-based business or organization makes. Fortunately, most cloud-based scheduling software services are affordable and fit into any operational budget. Some providers offer “pay-as-you-go” plans, with no long-term contracts. Common clichés such as, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” and “You get what you pay for” are applicable in so many different facets of our lives, and choosing the right scheduler for your business is no exception. If the price and services seem too good to be true, they probably are.
• Security. Although sometimes overlooked, security is an important consideration when choosing a cloud-based scheduler. Both your business and customer information will be housed and maintained externally by the service provider on servers and database. Most scheduling software providers utilize the latest and most secure processes available; nonetheless, the peace-of-mind of knowing data is safe can be priceless. Inquire on what security, safety and back-up measures the provider utilizes.
• Support. Some software providers have a reputation of offering less-than-ideal customer support once a business owner purchases a product or service. An appointment-scheduling application will probably play an important role in operations, and an owner, operator or staff member should not be left in the dark. Find out what type of customer support the provider offers, such as phone, e-mail or chat. An FAQ page may not always be sufficient, and communicating to a live person can be a tremendous benefit when an issue arises.
An online scheduling application may be exactly what a service-based business needs to improve the way it manages its customers and their appointments. Before jumping in, be sure to do a little research. It can go a long way in choosing an appointment-scheduling application that’s just right for you and your business.