Choosing an online schedule maker & booking system

Changes are hard and often when we’re making changes we over emphasize the bad instead of focusing on what benefits the change will ultimately bring us.

If you’re considering switching from paper-and-pen method of scheduling to an online schedule maker, you’re likely to come across many aspects of the change that are frustrating. While we could talk endlessly about the benefits you’ll get (and big mistakes to avoid), it’s hard to brace ourselves for all the frustrations that come with making changes to the way things are “typically” done.

Since we work closely with hundreds of companies to help automate their scheduling, we’ve heard a lot about different businesses seemingly endless search for the “right” scheduling software. Over the years, we have come up with a good list of items to take into consideration when selecting the right scheduling system.

In picking out the web scheduler you are going to use for your business be sure to answer the following questions to figure out which features you require.

8 considerations for a web scheduler

Question 1: Do you work out of multiple locations (including if it is just that you accept appointments at your office and take phone appointments)?

If yes, you need to find a scheduler with support for multiple locations. Most of the online scheduling systems out there will only support your business if you operate out of one location. This is because having multiple locations adds to the complexity of the scheduling process especially if the locations span different time zones. If you need multiple locations, then look for this on the software’s features or pricing page as any scheduling system who has it knows how valuable it is and doesn’t miss a chance to promote it.

Question 2: Do you service clients internationally?

If you work with clients internationally, I’m sure that you already know the squabble around trying to figure out the right time to meet and having to adjust proposed meeting times based on where the client is. To keep this from being an issue for you, choose a scheduler that supports multiple time zones so that your clients don’t get confused about the start time for the appointment. Selecting a scheduling system that doesn’t adjust appointment times based on the time zone of the party booking may just wind up being duplicate work for you.

Question 3: Do you have one on one appointments, group appointments, or both?

If you just have one on one appointments, then almost any scheduler will work for you. If you do just group appointments, you need to find a scheduler that allows for class or workshops booking. Almost any scheduling system that allows for group booking will also allow for one on one booking, but not vice-versa. If you need group appointments, make sure to scour the features list to see if they allow for “class” type booking.

Question 4: Do you need to explain something specific in email confirmations and reminders?

Many businesses use emails as a tool to market their offerings, especially if the appointment is for a free consultation or something similar. If you need to customize the appointment based emails so that they read exactly as you want them to, make sure to choose a scheduling system that let’s you tweak the default email template. If you don’t need customize messaging based on the service or class that’s booked, the free version of almost any scheduling system will work for you.

Question 5: How much control do you need clients to have on their appointments?

If you just want clients to be able to cancel or reschedule appointments from a link on their appointment email then that’s available with almost any web scheduler. Some schedulers, however, let clients have a lot more control on their upcoming appointments with login functionality. If you want clients to have access to appointment history and be able to cancel or reschedule (even if they’ve lost their confirmation email) make sure to choose a scheduler that lets client register and login.

Question 6: Do you want to allow clients to pre-pay for appointments?

Many professionals who start an online scheduling account are not doing it so they can accept pre-payments for the appointments. University professors, for instance, do not typically accept payments for students who want to reserve office hours with them (although that may be a good thing to reduce the high volume before final exams :). If you do want to accept payments before your clients’ appointments can be confirmed, you’ll want to make sure to sign up with an online scheduling system that allows you to accept payments upon booking. Just FYI: TimeTap does not have this functionality as of the publishing of this blog post (1/13/2015) but plans to have it added shortly.

Question 7: How long has the company been around?

One of the most difficult processes to go through is switching software providers, especially if the software is deeply rooted into the day to day operations of your business. That being said, most of the online scheduling companies are new (at least relatively) and there can be a lot of uncertainty in new business-essential softwares. Before setting up your entire web scheduler, make sure that the software team behind it plans to stick around. Most likely the team will be willing to tell you at least how many years they’ve been around (we will tell anyone we’ve been in the online scheduling space since 2006). So long as they’ve been around for at least 3 years, I’d say you’re safe.

Question 8: At some point you need support. Choose a software team that proves they’ve got it.

Make sure to send the support team some questions during the period of time when you’re testing a software out. With almost all software, you will eventually need some support. When that day comes, it is best that you are working with a software that you know has a team behind it ready to help you out with your questions. Even if you don’t have a functionality question for them, send the support team just a quick note to gauge what their response time is like. You can write to them and just say “Hey there, I just wanted to say that I am trying out your system and hope it will be a good fit for me! Look forward to learning more about it.” This isn’t an urgent support request, so you shouldn’t expect to hear anything immediately, but if you don’t hear at least a “Thanks for writing in to us! Glad you’re checking us out!” within 48 hours, you can rest assured that the support team’s not too sharp.

So there are my 8 considerations when choosing a scheduling system for your business. I know I have others but they mostly start applying on a business by business basis. If you have questions for us, come over to our Facebook page to ask them or tweet them to us at @tmtap.

Have you set up an online scheduling system for your business in the past? How did it go? What did you wish you had considered beforehand? Tell us about it in the comments below!