Online calendars, scheduling software and appointment programs abound in computer programs and the Internet. On the surface, they may appear the same. Delve in deeper, however, and you soon learn that they are not. This is especially true when comparing online appointment scheduling services and Google calendar.
WHAT IS ONLINE APPOINTMENT SCHEDULING?
Online appointment scheduling is what’s typically known as Software as a Service (SaaS), an online program that users access through the Internet or a secured online portal. Geared primarily toward large and small businesses that have a need for an efficient appointment and reservation system, SaaS scheduling providers typically charge a fee for using the software, which the user can set up and manage by logging into his or her account. Think of e-mail and online banking or shopping. It’s the same principle.
Generally, online scheduling systems do a good job of pinpointing the specific needs of its clientele, and most providers offer functionality relevant to scheduling and managing appointments and customer, patient and student information. This includes:
• Online self-scheduling. Clients, customers, patients and students can book and manage their own appointments online. This can significantly reduce the number of phone calls and e-mails the business or organization receives.
• Automated e-mail and text message reminders. “No-shows” can have a dramatic negative impact on business operations. Surveys have shown that appointment reminders can help reduce these by 50 percent. However, many operators do not have the time or resources to call or e-mail clients, patients or students prior to their scheduled appointments. Automatic e-mail and text message reminders accomplish this without any effort on the part of the business or organization. Appointment-scheduling software typically sends these to both the owner/operator and the scheduled individual.
• Customizable templates. To help design a scheduling page that best fits their individual preferences and focus, some scheduling software allows users to incorporate specific color schemes, images, logos and other objects for that perfect look.
• Record-keeping and report-generating capabilities. Businesses and organizations typically depend on accurate, easy-to-create reports to examine the overall productivity of their operations. Managing multiple files and folders can be tedious. Some online schedulers give users the ability to manage and easily access this information from one central location.
• E-marketing capabilities. Many online appointment-scheduling software applications also provide excellent opportunities for e-marketing, as your current and past client information e-mails are readily available. It’s a great way to communicate specials, events and other information with them.
HOW IT’S DIFFERENT THAN A GOOGLE CALENDAR
When it comes down to it, online appointment-scheduling software and Google Calendar really are two different things.
Google Calendar is, well, a calendar. Designed primarily for individual users, it provides a free and efficient way to store and manage events, as well as receive event reminders. As a Web-based application, it, too, can be accessed from any Internet connection and can synchronize with many mobile devices, such the iPhone and Blackberry, as well as PC applications such as Microsoft Outlook. You can use Google Calendar to share your events with friends or the public, as well as invite guests to an event. You can also send reminders to those guests.
It serves its purpose, but does not provide most businesses with the functionality they need to adequately manage their appointments, reservation and bookings. Scheduling software companies like Appointment-Plus know what businesses and organizations need in appointment-setting solutions and continuously examine ways of improving functionality and creating new, beneficial features. Who better to develop and improve on small business scheduling solutions than appointment software providers, who typically are small businesses themselves and can better relate to the every-changing needs of their clientele?
Google Calendar lacks important functionality in several areas, which reinforces the notion that its primary purpose is that of a personal calendar rather than a small business tool. Limited or missing features include:
• Scheduling “rules.” These are important for successful scheduling, both internal and online self-scheduling. Not having the ability to properly manage days and times-when customers can schedule, blocking off days and times, limiting the number of registrations-can have a negative impact on business operations. In fact, a small business owner or staff may spend more time managing it than they would with a paper appointment book and phoned-in appointments.
• Sufficient database capability. A robust database is vital to small business operations. Not only does it accurately store customer information to access and review, owners and staff can use it to record notes and other details, as well as use it as a mailing list for e-marketing campaigns. Because it stores entire customer contact records and business-related information, it eliminates the need for maintaining separate files and folders. It’s a beneficial component of a proper scheduling application…and one that Google Calendar lacks.
• Credit card processing. Most small businesses charge for their services. And most who offer online payment of these services realize the benefit, both from their end and their customers. Some appointment-scheduling systems allow for “point-of-sale” functionality on their clients’ scheduler pages. Google Calendar and similar applications either do not provide this capability or require additional steps to incorporate it.
• Multiple Locations. Another advantage of online appointment-scheduling software is the ability to manage appointments and staff at multiple locations, a feature that’s not available in Google Calendar. A business or organization would have to create a separate calendar for each of its offices, sites and other locations. To centralize scheduling and client information, a merging of the calendar data would be necessary, which can be a difficult and time-consuming task.
For a business owner just starting out or making his or her first venture into online scheduling solutions, these inefficiencies may not appear to be a stumbling block to accepting and managing appointments and reservations. However, they can have a tremendous impact on a small business operation and may force the owner and staff to rethink the way they handle their appointments and reservations.
A good way to demonstrate how a business owner realizes the importance of online scheduling software is through a “real-life” scenario.
John Smith, a personal fitness trainer, left a position at a large health club to start his own personal-training business. He found a small office to conduct his sessions and began advertising his business. In a short amount of time, his clientele rose from a handful to several dozen. Business was good, but his scheduling procedure was not.
While employed at the health club, Smith used a Google Calendar to personally manage his appointments. A receptionist and support staff was responsible for client scheduling and management, which included online client self-scheduling and processing session fees. Additionally, they monitored the schedule to prevent double-bookings.
Unfortunately, Google Calendar does not offer the functionality Smith needed for his growing business. He tried using the application for online scheduling, only to find that client double-booking occurred. After discontinuing online scheduling, he got bombarded with phone calls from clients looking to schedule and cancel sessions, which interrupted his sessions. Because the calendar lacks adequate database capability, he was unable to use it for e-marketing and general communication with his clients. And it didn’t give him the ability to process credit-card transactions. Without a receptionist or support staff, he found himself spending long hours managing his calendar and clients.
Smith soon learned that a change was necessary, which came in the form of online appointment-scheduling software. With this technology, he’s been able to completely automate his scheduling procedures. His clients now book and manage their appointments and session information securely online. They also pay for their sessions through the point-of-sale feature available on the scheduler. Smith also receives e-mail notifications when clients schedule, change and cancel their sessions.
Thanks to online scheduling software, his focus is on his business and clients, not managing sessions.
Google Calendar can be a perfect tool for your own personal appointments. However, when it comes to managing appointments and reservations, as well as your clients, you just can’t beat Web-based scheduling software. Appointments are its business….it’s what it was designed to do.