Appointment scheduling software increases customer loyalty, grows revenue, and drives down costs. Today, it's used by countless retail, finance, technology, and telecommunications companies as part of their customer engagement strategy.
Because of its utility and effectiveness, appointment scheduling has become increasingly popular. And with so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to evaluate, review, and choose a trustworthy partner. However, it’s a worthy time investment because it will result in choosing the right partner that can scale with you.
In this guide, we'll cover:
- The various types of appointment scheduling software
- How different teams use appointment solutions
- How to evaluate vendors
- What to look for in an enterprise appointment booking solution
Types of appointment scheduling software
It’s an age-old question, to build or to buy? Many enterprise-scale companies lean toward building as they already have IT and development in-house. From a management perspective, it can be seen as easy and cost effective.
However, when you evaluate the level of complexity involved in creating and maintaining your own appointment scheduling solution, it is quite the opposite. It’s far from just merging some calendar functionality.
Time and resource strains
When evaluating whether to build or buy, you must consider crucial details like security, integrations, payment processing, user experience, and reporting needs. With each of these also comes the need to ensure the solution is optimized for each level of the organization, and scalable.
You must also consider your internal skill sets and time. Building complex and dynamic scheduling capabilities that can accurately automate the appointment booking process and management is extremely time-intensive involving researching, designing the application and its architecture, developing, testing, deploying, training, and ongoing maintenance.
Ongoing maintenance and support
The project is not over after your initial launch. Now, it’s time to focus on maintenance and upgrades.
As your business and industry evolves, your appointment solution needs to reflect and adapt to those changes. Top enterprise providers have a quarterly release process, where they will automatically roll out any improvements or new features to your environment. This ensures that customers and staff are always using the newest version of their platform.
Should you build your own appointment solution, it’s up to your technical team to vet feature requests and then design, develop, test, and deploy new updates on an ongoing basis.
Additionally, your technical team must be on call to support the solution 24/7/365.
Level of expertise
When you choose an enterprise provider, you instantly benefit from their years of expertise focusing on similar projects. They will create the best experience for all levels of your organization - from C-Suite executives, to regional managers, to your customer-facing staff.
Enterprise solutions are also better at predicting where your industry is going. Because these providers also work with several other customers, they can identify common consumer trends and implement them to keep pace with consumer expectations. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that enterprise platforms are inherently more flexible and able to adapt to a variety of use cases.
In summary, homegrown solutions require your team’s time and financial resources to consistently manage, upgrade, and scale the software. Another factor to consider is that this project is diverting your team’s focus away from your core business, and what they were hired to work on.
The end result? A high true total cost of ownership and limited expertise.
For companies that don’t want to use internal resources to build a booking system from the ground up, a specialist service provider is often the best choice. However, there is a significant difference between enterprise providers and the low-cost tools built for small/medium businesses (SMBs).
Free or low-cost scheduling tools built for SMBs are typically designed to help with a single use case. This is something to keep in mind if you are considering other appointment scheduling opportunities down the line.
You will find most low-cost vendors feature testimonials on their website from hair salons, fitness studios, photography studios, and similar types of SMBs. It’s likely that these businesses have fewer locations, and far less complexity than large enterprise businesses.
Often, these customers have a single need and do not need customizations, integrations, or optimization of their staff and resources.
When it comes to evolving a small-scale solution, all software providers typically have some sort of plan for how frequently they will evolve their tool. However, they’re simply modifying their existing product, which is often not suited to keep up with the growth of an enterprise company and its users.
Reviews left for SMB solutions include phrases like, “Good software...but could be much better if the software team solicited "new feature" suggestions from the actual users.”
Expertise with large enterprises
Large enterprises require their scheduling solution to offer seamless integrations, powerful analytics, and be designed for omnichannel conversion.
Though now free and SMB solutions are making their way into the enterprise market, their product is still designed for small businesses and small use cases. Ultimately, moving from being a product for small businesses to a product for enterprises is no simple feat – we learned firsthand that it takes time, experience, and top technical skills.
Despite limitations in features and scalability, the free/SMB option shines when it comes to price. However, keep in mind that price is also a key indicator of quality. Though these options may please your CFO, consider the amount of time and cost involved in switching providers after realizing that your solution will not scale or innovate as you do.
Like most enterprise SaaS companies, these providers are always evolving. Though most have origins rooted in appointment scheduling, many have expanded to focus on omnichannel conversion as a whole. Thus, queuing and events management can frequently be seen as part of the “total package” that enterprise solutions offer.
Since large companies already have several types of software embedded in their workflows and processes, enterprise providers must have a marketplace of pre-built integrations and apps. This ensures that appointment scheduling solutions are a helpful add-on, not an entirely separate system.
Enterprise solutions provide various opportunities for customization. Even better, they can consult you on what should be customized versus what should be standard. These vendors should have years of experience testing different layouts and calendar views, so they can recommend what’s best for conversion right off the bat.
Additionally, you can leverage enterprise vendors’ APIs to build your own custom apps that extend the platform’s core capabilities. This, combined with powerful integrations, means you can capture and analyze data in any way you’d like. This makes determining ROI a breeze.
Level of expertise
Reference calls and case studies are a great indication of proven success. When reviewing them, don’t simply look at brand names of current customers, but also look for data that shows scalability, volume, relationship tenure, and ROI.
Another way to gauge expertise is to ensure your project stakeholders are on calls with vendors along the way. For example, if your CTO is particularly interested in security, set up a call between your CTO and the vendor’s Head of Security to iron out any concerns.
With an enterprise solution comes an entirely different pricing structure than homegrown and free/SMB options. Price is based on multiple factors and is specific to your individual use cases.
Consider the ROI associated with appointment scheduling:
- 80% increase in conversion
- Up to 5x increases in customer spend
- Up to a 50% cost reduction (after using appointments data to optimize physical locations and staff)
With results like that, an enterprise solution is the safest investment.
What to look for in an enterprise solution
Ultimately, using scheduling software will elevate your omnichannel customer engagement strategy. When considering an enterprise solution, there’s countless elements to consider, such as:
- Customer experience
- Staff experience
- Executive experience
- Technical ability
- Vendor expertise and support
Design and functionality are critical elements to consider when building your "booking journey," the front-end process that customers go through to schedule appointments. Besides being intuitive and consistent with your brand, your appointment scheduling solution has to be functional and easy to use. After all, if customers are confused by your online scheduling process, they simply won't use it.
In addition to a well-designed user interface, it's important to include other features that help customers book appointments, then prepare for and attend the appointment.
Appointment reminders can reduce no-shows, and keep your employees' days organized and on time. Whether sent as SMS reminders and/or email reminders, notifications ensure that customers are bringing the correct items or information to their appointment. Within these emails, you should also include a download link so customers can add it to their calendar, and the ability to reschedule, confirm or cancel meetings in advance.
Another important feature that improves the customer experience are booking questions which are asked at the time of scheduling the appointment. Booking questions collect information from customers about their upcoming visit, so that staff don't have to spend the customer's valuable time asking those introductory questions. This also helps staff prepare for the appointment in advance, so they can gather the necessary paperwork or items to bring to the appointment, and delight the customer rather than run out in the middle of the appointment.
Staff will be the most frequent users of appointment scheduling software, so it's critical to ensure the staff interface is built to handle all their daily tasks and responsibilities.
In the employee's centralized calendar view, the most important details of the day's upcoming appointments must be visible. This ensures employees can review the customer's booking questions, preferences, and needs in advance. As soon as the customer walks through the front door, a staff member can instantly begin the appointment. Upon completion of the appointment, staff members should be encouraged to log the appointment outcome, next steps, and schedule the next appointment for the customer's requested time (if any).
Employees also benefit from advanced settings, such as calendar blocking and follow-up surveys. Calendar blocking ensures that employees are only booked for appointments during their working hours. Their availability appears as "busy" to customers in the scheduling process.
Follow-up surveys are effective for providing staff with feedback on how customers felt about their appointment experience. For more advanced analysis, store managers can combine follow-up survey data with actual outcome data and start identifying ways to improve outcomes.
When it comes to enterprise scheduling software, executives are often involved to understand how it's being used, the outcomes when used, and to make decisions about how to optimize their location and staffing accordingly.
Comprehensive analytics capabilities are essential to monitor key online booking metrics including volume, outcomes, appointment type, appointment time, staff performance, staff utilization, and lead times.
With analytics at their fingertips, executives are able to answer questions like:
- Which types of appointments are most popular with our customers? Which are least popular?
- Which appointments drive the most revenue?
- How do customers schedule an appointment?
- How long is each type of appointment scheduled for? How long does these appointments actually last?
- Who are my top performing staff members across the country, region, and individual locations?
- What appointment times are least popular?
- Do we need to bulk up staffing on specific days or at certain times?
With answers to these questions, it's easy to make operational decisions to both improve performance and reduce wasted time.
For example, if you see that there are consistently no appointments on Tuesday afternoons, but there's a line out the door on Saturdays, you can adjust your hours or staff levels to accommodate these traffic peaks and lulls.
Another example is related to appointments driving revenue. When store managers or executives see that one appointment type brings in ten times more revenue than others, they can create targeted campaigns to increase appointment volume.
When you're researching providers, you should evaluate each vendor's technology and grade them on their level of extensibility, scalability, and security.
When reviewing extensibility, consider how the platform is built. Does the vendor have a modern tech stack and offer API integration? How flexible are their APIs? What solutions integrate with their online booking software?
Here’s a tip: RESTful APIs are much better to use in scheduling software because they're faster and more flexible – in fact, they were originally created to address problems with SOAP APIs.
When you evaluate technical ability, also examine how the solution can be integrated with existing tools. Do you have Salesforce, Microsoft Office, Google Calendar, analytics/BI tools, or other software already in use? The best appointment scheduling solutions ensure that you can connect your existing solutions to your booking software for a 360 degree view of your customers.
Don't forget to examine each vendor's platform security. Are these vendors all ISO27001, PCI, and GDPR compliant? Do they manage all compliance in-house?
After determining that the technology is sound, learn whether the solution will scale as you scale. Does the vendor have case studies that showcase their volume of bookings? This is just one way to analyze whether they’re the best choice to execute your project.
Vendor expertise and ongoing support
The appointment scheduling space has become quite saturated, and with varying levels of tools, and disparate levels of expertise across the industry. Look for a provider that offers 24/7/365 support, and provides you with a dedicated point of contact to make recommendations to increase ROI. This will ensure your stakeholders and staff constantly have a resource to help them.
Innovation is another key component to consider. Top enterprise SaaS companies have product roadmaps that outline which new features or upgrades they’ll be making, and when. The roadmap should include feature requests and requirements directly from their customer base, mixed with their own innovative ideas.
Most enterprise SaaS service providers also have beta programs, which allow them to secure customer feedback on new features before rolling out them out to their entire customer base.
Successful implementation and utilization of an enterprise solution will result in profitable customer engagements, increased revenue, and better utilization of your resources. Learn more about JRNI’s Appointments application.
June 24, 2019
12 minute read