You may be surprised by the variety of on-demand apps that have online appointment scheduling as one of their core features. Just look at Seamless, TaskRabbit, ShortCut, Squire, and, surprisingly, even Uber. Appointment scheduling makes it much easier and more convenient for people to find and connect with professionals. Booking appointments online has become a breakthrough feature for health insurance companies like Oscar, driving sales and virality.
However, there are still a lot of sports centers, private clinics, cleaning companies, beauty salons, schools, and other organizations that schedule meetings over the phone, manually add bookings to Google Calendar, and register clients in an Excel file that regularly breaks.
These procedures are time-consuming and often lead to mistakes or even monetary losses. More than that, by staying offline, companies are missing out on a giant piece of the cake: online bookings allow businesses to get a significant revenue increase and a more stable client flow.
[Statistics of booking online during vs after working hours]
As you can see in the graphic above, by simply allowing users to book online when business hours are over, businesses can expect a revenue increase of 30% to 45%, depending on the industry. But scheduling appointments online is not a single feature. It’s a complex solution that:
- drives more sales
- helps retain and gratify clients
- streamlines the management of clients, employees, and appointments
- brings more accuracy to reports
- saves a lot of time and money
This is why a complex appointment scheduling functionality can easily become part of a company’s official website or loyalty app – for example, for a chain of beauty salons all around the US. Let’s see what your appointment scheduling software should be able to do.
Booking online is actually the tool to drive you more sales. Therefore, online bookings should be simple and convenient. Your clients will directly interact with your booking service on your website or in your app, so you should give them a detailed listing of your services and service providers, plus dates and times for them to choose from.
In order for users to see your services, service providers, and schedule, you’ll need your own custom content management system. This system should contain information about your services, booking times, the duration of each service, prices, pictures, and descriptions. The system should also assign employees to these services. Some of your clients might not have any preferences among service providers, so it would be a good idea to allow the option of booking with any available service provider. As possible technical solutions, you could use the Strapi framework that’s based on Node.js or the ActiveAdmin framework for Ruby on Rails. Let’s look at the service management tool provided by one of the top appointment scheduling apps, Simply Book:
[Adding and editing services in Simply Book]
After a customer selects a service, service provider, and time, they can complete the booking, scheduling a single or recurring appointment (sometimes users need to visit a number of classes and trainings, for example). To complete the booking, the customer needs to enter their contact details and, if necessary, add a comment to the booking to clarify details. There are two basic types of booking flows:
- Guest bookings, in which a user enters their name and an email address or phone number but doesn’t create a profile. With this method, users have to enter their contact details every time they book an appointment
- Bookings through a user profile that can be used for logging in to the app and for getting personalized offers and discounts, tracking bonuses, and more.
To let customers create user profiles and register with your service, you can integrate with Facebook and Google. You can also offer users simple registration via email or phone number. More options to use are SMS or voice verification APIs by Sinch!, Twilio, or Nexmo to verify a customer’s phone number. A great idea would be to allow users to add confirmed bookings to their personal calendars (Google Calendar, iCalendar, Outlook, Yahoo) right from the web or mobile app interface. For clients that don’t use any calendar apps, you can give an option to get an SMS that reminds them of the appointment some time in advance (consider adding options like 2 or 4 hours before). To send SMS texts to your clients, you can integrate Twilio or Nexmo.
You can also let multiple users register for the same appointment if you’re providing services like math or yoga classes, fitness trainings, or makeup workshops to groups. Here’s an example of the Acuity Scheduling interface to add a group class.
[Adding a group class in Acuity Scheduling]
Don’t forget to add prepayments, package deals, or subscriptions for group appointments. We’ll give more details on payments below.
Ensure that appointments aren’t booked by accident, which could lead to your losing precious time and money. And allow users to reschedule or cancel appointments. This way other clients will be able to book the open slots and you won’t lose money at the last moment. You should also give users a tool to explain why they’re canceling or rescheduling. This way you’ll collect user feedback and can improve the quality of your service.
It’s a good idea to keep all data about your bookings within a single system. Keeping track of appointments is way better with a custom cloud calendar, which can show pending and scheduled appointments, estimate the workload of employees, and show when they’re available. If you already use a certain tool or calendar for managing bookings, think of integrating it and importing all of your previously created bookings to your appointment scheduling app.
Square Appointments is just one example of a comprehensive appointment scheduling calendar for businesses. Using the cloud-based Square Appointments calendar, businesses are able to see all current and upcoming bookings, check the details of appointments, and approve and cancel them manually, if necessary. If your employees can manually approve and cancel appointments, they should mention their reasons for cancelling.
In Square Appointments, managers can choose among different types of notifications when manually approving appointments and informing that an appointment is successfully scheduled. They can even add personalized text to these notifications.
[Accepting and declining client appointments in Square Appointments]
Managers should also be able to manually add new appointments to the system, as people may still use the phone to sign up (for example, for a doctor’s appointment). Moreover, manually adding appointments can be useful if you need to add appointments that were made earlier but somehow missed.
Businesses like hair salons often have several service providers (in the case of hair salons, stylists) that customers can choose from. This is why it’s important to have a tool to add, delete, and edit the list of service providers. Simply Book offers a custom solution that allows businesses to create pages for each service provider, including their name, contact information, and photos. Businesses can edit, hide, and delete profiles.
Different employees in your company may have different goals and tasks. That’s why your appointment scheduling tool should support different user roles:
- admin – full access to all services, schedules, service providers, clients, management sections, tariffs, payments, and settings
- senior employee – access to all service providers, schedules, and clients
- employee – access to their own schedules and clients
- viewer – access to view some schedules and client details or any other limited information
These roles are just examples, and you can develop your own with a more or less complicated hierarchy.
One more good idea for businesses with multiple employees is to integrate with an HCM (human capital management) system like BambooHR. An HCM system will show you the workload of your employees and help you properly distribute time slots between your workers when some are on sick leave or vacation. For instance, let’s say Jack, your hairdresser, takes two weeks off to visit his family. Your HCM system notifies you and your employees that Jack is going on vacation so you can inform his clients and assign them to other hairdressers.
Another example of using an HCM system is tracking your employees’ work time. Let’s say you own a cleaning company and all your workers have to check in with an electronic badge when they come to work. Your HCM system can let you know if an employee is late so you can contact your clients and let them either choose another employee or wait.
Every business wants to turn its customers into regular, long-term customers. To do this, service providers need a powerful tool to find, register and contact users, inform them of new services, use the obtained user contacts for marketing purposes. All of that can be done with the help of a customer relationship management (CRM) system that provides information about your clients, their purchase history, and notes from employees.
One option is to build your own custom CRM system with custom fields, which might take some time. Another option is to integrate an advanced CRM solution like PipeDrive, Salesforce, or HubSpot to better interact with clients and know the actual number of sales accounting for no-shows and canceled appointments.
You should be able to add clients to the system manually or import client information from an existing Excel file or Google Sheets document.
With all this information in hand, you can easily nurture your customers with personalized emails, inviting them to an exclusive workshop with a special discount, for example. And for marketing purposes, you’ll definitely appreciate integrations with:
- email services like MailChimp to send email campaigns;
- customer engagement services like ReferralCandy to hold referral campaigns;
- social media networks like Facebook and Instagram to book appointments and advertise on social networks.
You can accept online payments by integrating with Braintree, PayPal, Stripe, or Square. Find out more about integrating a payment gateway into your web or mobile app in our exhaustive guide.
Remember that there could be different scenarios for each separate service you provide as a business:
- requiring full payment or a deposit for services that are often canceled at the last moment, like English classes and other types of tutoring
- allowing to pay later for services ike cleaning or nursing that aren’t often canceled
- paying with promo codes and bonuses, which are particularly good for recurring appointments like fitness training and yoga classes
- tipping for services like hairdressing and taxi rides
To accommodate these payment options, you’ll need to develop a custom tool to choose the payment processor, assign the payment to a service, select the price, allow promo codes.
You should also think of cases when an appointment is scheduled and paid for but later is canceled before it actually happens. In this case, think of ways to refund the client. The top players on the appointment scheduling market don’t provide an automatic refund feature, as the number of canceled and paid bookings is very low. However, when an appointment that was already paid for gets canceled, solutions like Acuity Scheduling send you an automatic email with details on the canceled booking and payment. Knowing when and how the payment was made, you’ll be able to refund the customer manually.
But online payments are just the tip of the iceberg, as a lot of businesses receive money offline when users check out through a cash desk. Therefore, businesses need a point of sale. Square offers its own tool for offline customer checkout. Square allows you to charge a client for a service and include extra services or discounts in the same payment.
[Customer checkout in Square Appointments]
You can also consider creating your own custom tool to provide clients with service bundles, gift cards, gift certificates, subscriptions, discounts, and special offers. Let’s check out the Simply Book tool that lets you create custom gift cards, name them, choose a service, and choose the currency to pay with:
[Creating gift cards and vouchers in Simply Book]
Analyzing business performance
To know how well your company is performing, you’ll surely need an analytics tool that provides you with data on:
- total bookings
- number of booked appointments by service and service provider
- number of canceled appointments by service and service provider
- number of rescheduled appointments by service and service provider
- payments by service and service provider
In most cases, web apps for appointment scheduling come with their own custom analytics tools that are simpler to use than Google Analytics, which is quite difficult to set up. Below is an example of a report by Simply Book.
[Statistics on service providers in Simply Book]
How can you reduce no-shows and cancellations?
When you allow clients to book online, there’s always a risk that they’ll schedule an appointment but not show up. Medical clinics figure the probability of a no-show at between 5% to 30%. These numbers may vary for different service providers, but no-shows still remain the main revenue drain.
For now, the best way to lower the no-show rate is to develop a proper cancellation policy – and users need to agree with it when sending a booking request. For example, you can restrict the time to cancel an appointment or charge a deposit that isn’t refunded in case the appointment is cancelled (make sure you mention that in the service terms and conditions).
Waitlisting can help you fit in other people when there are no-shows, allowing another client to book an appointment if the person who originally booked doesn’t come on time. One more option is to switch to subscription or package deals after one or two appointments. Simply Book has a special integration to embed the cancelation policy in a service provider’s site, so you might think of using it.
Appointment scheduling can be easily implemented in a website or an app. Moreover, there are a whole lot of additional tools like CRM, HCM and others that can significantly enhance the booking experience for both clients and businesses.We’ll gladly help you add booking functionality to your site or application.