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July 28, 2016

Microsoft's Appointment-Booking Software Could Revolutionize Business Websites

By Dan Steiner

Microsoft (News - Alert) recently debuted Bookings, an Office 365 expansion that will make it easy for businesses to accept appointments directly on their websites. The software will provide a mobile-friendly website where customers can choose a date and time based on what is currently available on a person’s schedule. Once an appointment is set, Bookings sends a confirmation to the customer via email, as well as a reminder in advance of the appointment.

While online appointment scheduling is hardly a new concept, adoption has been slow, with many service-based businesses still requiring customers to make a phone call to schedule an appointment. This puts a burden on the business, since employees must log the appointment and set up reminders based on those phone calls. By allowing online booking, businesses can connect with today’s tech-savvy customer, who often prefers to use every type of technology but a phone call to complete a task. Here are a few industries that could see a boost in business from increasing acceptance of online appointment booking software.

Medical Practices

Most medical offices stay fairly busy throughout the day. Receptionists often juggle ringing phones with arriving and departing patients, which sometimes requires pulling medical records and capturing billing information. Some medical practices have set up forms on their websites that invite patients to request an appointment, but an employee still must manually follow up on each of those requests. With automation in place, the software delivers only the times that are available to the patient, then books the appointment and sends a confirmation. There is no need for a medical practice’s employees to get involved in the process at all.

Before choosing a booking software solution, businesses should make sure their choice has the ability to be customized to an individual practice’s needs. Keith English, founder of practice management solution LocalMed, says a solution should take into account how long each appointment should take and book appointments accordingly.

Salons and Spas

In recent years, hair stylists have become more independent than ever, often keeping their own books and communicating directly with their customers. Logging appointments while taking care of clients can be challenging, leading to an occasional scheduling error. By automating the scheduling process, stylists can focus on helping their customers while also having the confidence of knowing their scheduling is being handled. Booking software also sometimes includes payment integration, which lets customers pay without presenting a credit card once their information is securely stored in the system.

One important feature for salons and spas is the ability to set recurring appointments. It’s important that stylists ensure the client approves before setting this up. If a customer routinely gets a haircut every six weeks, for instance, automatic scheduling may be a big convenience. Some customers may see it as too inflexible, however, leading them to state a preference for setting each appointment separately.

Law Firms

Legal professionals now know the importance of having a strong online presence, since potential clients often look first to the web for information. In addition to improving search engine visibility to attract new clients, a law firm’s website can also be a useful way to conduct business. Firms can upload important documents for clients to complete or print out before showing up for an appointment, saving time. They can also set up a form for potential clients to complete if they want a consultation from an attorney.

However, law firms may soon begin embracing the concept of online appointment booking, which makes it easy for existing clients to schedule appointments without calling the office. This could also be a way for interested new clients to schedule a consultation, whether by phone or in person. The best feature for attorneys will be that the appointments automatically populate their calendars. Automatic confirmations and reminders will help prevent no shows, which protects a firm’s billable hours and gives clients the opportunity to reschedule well in advance.

Appointment-booking software offers a convenience to customers, who no longer have to pick up the phone for scheduling. The biggest benefit comes to the business, though, since professionals can continue conducting their daily work while knowing their calendar is being handled by software. With built-in notifications, automation reduces no shows and doubles bookings, which helps businesses provide better customer service.




Edited by Alicia Young

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