Appointment scheduling software increases customer loyalty, grows revenue, and drives down costs. Today, it's used by countless retail, banking, technology, and telecommunications companies as part of their customer engagement strategies.
Because of its effectiveness, appointment scheduling has become increasingly popular. With so many options on the market, however, it can be overwhelming to evaluate, review, and choose a trustworthy partner. Thorough evaluation is a worthy time investment to ensure you choose the right partner that can scale with your business.
In this guide, we'll cover:
- What is appointment scheduling software?
- Industry trends and appointment scheduling
- The benefits of enterprise software
- What companies are seeing great results
- The various types of software
- How different teams use appointment solutions
- How to evaluate vendors
- What to look for in a solution
What is appointment scheduling software?
At its core, appointment scheduling software allows consumers to book an appointment with a service provider via a website, mobile application, or kiosk, with no need for staff members to manually ensure the appointments are scheduled.
For executives and managers, appointment scheduling software should include:
- Multi-mode appointments that allow you to offer many different types of appointments.
- An easy way to manage multiple locations.
- Customizable pre-booking questions that provide deeper insight into what customers want out of each appointment.
- Centralized dashboards that give executives and managers an easy way to track KPIs and find areas for improvement.
- Key metrics such as capacity utilization, cancellation rates, top locations, most popular appointment types, appointment outcomes, and more.
On the customer-facing side of the platform, appointment scheduling software should include:
- An intuitive, easy-to-use customer portal that allows organizations to build seamless experiences that make it simple for customers to book appointments
- Real-time, automated booking that shows staff availability so customers can always find the best time slot for them.
- Personalized notifications and reminders that reduce appointment abandonment and improve the customer experience.
- A quick and easy way to cancel or reschedule appointments to ensure staff resources aren’t wasted on rescheduling customers manually.
- The ability to book an appointment through multiple channels, such as SMS, chatbots, email, and even face-to-face.
When customers don’t have to call or email you to set up an appointment, and staff don’t have to wade through spreadsheets or paper-based appointment systems, you’re taking a major step toward a more seamless omnichannel customer experience.
Industry trends and appointment scheduling
The growing importance of appointments in retail industries - consumer goods and retail banking in particular - is not happening in a vacuum. The use of appointment scheduling software, especially at the enterprise level, is part of the shift in how consumers prefer to interact with their providers.
In this section, we’ll take a deep dive into two industries, consumer goods retailing and retail banking, to understand how broad industry trends are driving the adoption of appointments as part of the customer service model.
Retail industry trends and appointments
- Serving the omnichannel consumer - During the early years of the so-called retail apocalypse, retailers were scrambling to figure out what to do about “showrooming” - when consumers come into the store to see, touch, and compare items before leaving and buying them online. The pendulum quickly swung the other way, however, and consumers began “webrooming,” which is when they do research online and then go into a store to make a purchase. The fact is that different buyer personas have different ways of moving through their decision-making process before buying. Retailers are starting to understand this, and aren’t thinking in terms of webrooming and showrooming being antagonistic to their goals. They are actively seeking ways to make it easy for the customer to do research, compare options, and make the final purchase through any means they like.
- Finding ways to differentiate from Amazon - There are a lot of hard lessons brick and mortar retailers had to learn from Amazon, and while the e-commerce giant did not kill traditional retail, it certainly changed the playing field forever. While Amazon is more or less unmatched in its ability to make finding what you want (and even the things you didn’t know you wanted) and buying it incredibly simple, there are still so many things Amazon cannot do. The retailers who have survived Amazon’s onslaught are finding growth opportunities by going where e-commerce can’t. Highly curated product selections, the ability to interact with experts and ask for advice, and exclusive events are all ways that traditional retailers are winning where Amazon can’t compete.
- Meeting the desire for personalized in-store experiences - Our research showed the one of the most important things for the modern consumer is personalization of their shopping experience. One way to do this is to provide personal shopping appointments that give customers an opportunity to work directly with an expert who can help them make the best choices for themselves, and find items they wouldn’t otherwise think to buy. With customer attention and loyalty coming at a premium, providing expertise and support for customers beyond the transaction can be a major driver of value for both retailers and shoppers.
Banking industry trends and appointments
- Moving toward omnichannel banking - Our most recent research focused on consumer attitudes toward retail banking, and we found that consumers crave the ability to do different banking-related tasks through different channels. For example, consumers prefer to do routine account management tasks online, but want to speak to a representative in a branch when solving a problem or opening a new account. As in retail, the goal for banks is to make it seamless for customers to transition between physical and digital channels.
- Personalized service to solve complex problems in-branch - Personalization wins in banking, just like it does in retail. According to a 2018 study from McKinsey, consumers are growing increasingly comfortable handling their finances through digital channels, but many of them still prefer branches for complex account servicing and learning about/applying for new products.
- Addressing the lack of patience for long waits - Consumers have taken note of how convenient it is to work with retailers that offer appointments and queuing solutions, and expect their banks to catch up. Appointments are a great way to provide convenient, personalized service because they give staff insight into the customer’s needs and eliminates the time wasted by doing basic discovery for every visitor. This increases customer flow, prevents walkaways, and ensures every visit a customer makes is impactful for them.
The benefits of enterprise appointment scheduling software
Provide seamless customer journeys
Customer experience today must be viewed broadly. It’s not just what happens in-store, online, or on mobile platforms, but is the total sum of the experiences customers have across and between all touchpoints.
Consumer retail and retail banking have felt the trend of having fewer brick-and-mortar locations, but that doesn’t mean that physical locations have diminished in importance. The fact is that they are touchpoints to be thought of as part of a digital-physical ecosystem of touchpoints for customers. Your customers should be able to move easily between interacting with digital channels and going to a physical location when face-to-face service benefits them most.
Appointment scheduling software should be able to integrate with your website and mobile app to allow consumers who are researching your offerings or making routine transactions an easy path to making an appointment and getting the personal touch they need.
Improve your customer experience and drive revenue growth
Appointments are a powerful means of serving customers in a way that got lost with the explosion of big box retailers. Big box retail made massive selections available at cut-rate prices, and spent untold billions advertising those facts. The draw was that you could get everything you needed in one place with little/no support.
Even the innovation of eCommerce didn’t do much to change this dynamic, with the main difference being the added convenience of doing your research/comparison and purchasing from your personal devices instead of driving to a store. It’s still very transactional.
But competing on price and convenience will ultimately be a race to the bottom - one that Amazon will likely win. Instead, what forward-looking retailers are doing is opting out of that race and are letting service and expertise be their differentiator. Appointments are a powerful way to facilitate that. For example, fashion retailers are using personal shopping appointments as a means of building deep relationships with engaged customers and increasing basket size. Personal shopping appointments are a way for your expert shoppers to have a face-to-face session and create a unique shopping experience with valuable customers.
According to the Business of Fashion, retailers who are effectively implementing personal shopping appointments are seeing direct impact on their revenues.
“It can increase a sale to grow almost 100 percent on average,” Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm The NPD Group, told Business of Fashion. “Imagine a person going into a store to buy a new skirt; personal shopping can turn that skirt into an outfit.”
After implementing our appointment scheduling solution, one of JRNI’s customers with over 250 stores noticed that customers who schedule and attend appointments spend 4x more than walk-ins. Another multinational retailer saw basket sizes increase 3x for customers who had scheduled appointments over those who did not.
Maximize your staff productivity
With an appointment-enabled service model, skilled staff will be less subject to the peaks and valleys of a typical day where the ebbs and flows of customers dictate their workloads. Appointment scheduling makes it possible for staff to know exactly who they will be helping in a given shift, and be able to come to those appointments prepared to serve the customer effectively.
Employee downtime is a major cost driver for service-based businesses such as retail or banking. A steady stream of appointments will keep staff productive and focused on serving customers, rather than passively waiting for someone to walk into a store.
Design your customer journey with custom or pre-built workflows
No two organizations will provide the same services, products, or overall customer journeys, so your appointment scheduling solution shouldn’t be limited in what you can input as a customer path. Flexible booking rules should give you the freedom to customize the kinds of appointments you want to offer, what staff will be made available for those appointments, and how they will be tracked within your systems.
That said, there isn’t always a need to reinvent the wheel. When we introduced Adaptable Journeys, we analyzed over 70 million bookings and found that many journeys followed predictable paths, even across verticals. The result was that we could offer pre-built templates and workflows that adapt the best practices we discovered to all of our users. These make it simple to create customer journeys that make sense for your customers without having to design something from scratch, or having to pay significant development fees to make alterations to a flow.
Automate customer communications
Managing appointments at scale requires a significant degree of automation. It doesn’t benefit staff or customers if appointment details need to be changed manually in the event of a postponement or cancellation, or if an employee needs to send reminders manually.
To that end, your appointments solution should include automated messaging that keeps customers up to date on everything they need for a hassle-free appointment. This automation is crucial for increasing attendance rates for your appointments.
Use powerful integrations with the rest of your customer experience stack
Appointment scheduling cannot and should not exist in a vacuum. It needs to be an integrated part of your customer experience strategy that works with the other systems you have in place in your CX stack.
For example, if a retailer wants to understand its customer base broken down by most frequent appointment setters, or clients with the largest average basket size, the appointment scheduling solution used should integrate with CRM software to ensure that data is properly piped into the customers’ profile.
From there, that information can be used to build email lists for targeted promotions, or for data that can assist in cross-sell or upsell strategies.
What companies are using appointment scheduling software?
Debenhams - one of the U.K.’s most venerable department stores with 240 locations across 27 countries - uses appointment scheduling software to give its customers a way of making personal shopping appointments through the website or mobile application.
The department store chain has always been well-known for exceptional personal shopping services, but realized that far too many of its customers were not booking time slots for appointments. Moreover, Debenhams was managing appointments through legacy systems that made the entire appointment booking process a hassle on the back end.
Donna Hudson, Senior Marketing Coordinator at Debenhams told us, “The customers who regularly used our personal shopping service knew it was a great experience, but because the booking system didn’t reflect that, too few new customers were making an appointment to experience it for themselves.”
Debenhams implemented JRNI’s appointment scheduling software to streamline the appointment booking process for its mobile-savvy audience and start tracking data for the appointments being booked.
Within the first 12 months of use, Debenhams saw a 25% increase in bookings for its personal shopping service. Though the overall number of online bookings doubled, staff spent less administration time booking and recording the appointments manually.
Donna explained the impact of this with customers: “More personal shopping appointments means more customers than ever are receiving the ultimate, VIP treatment with Debenhams. This grows their loyalty and helps them become advocates for the unique, differentiated and exclusive experience we work hard to offer.”
JoJo Maman Bebe
JoJo Maman Bébé is a boutique multichannel maternity and children’s wear retailer with nearly 100 stores across the U.K. and U.S.
In response to being in an increasingly competitive space, JoJo Maman Bébé was looking for a way to personalize the shopping experience for expecting mothers while also helping staff work more efficiently. The retailer needed to provide a more bespoke service by enabling customers to schedule online appointments for the year-round Maternity VIP Shopping Experience, which lets pregnant mothers book appointments for a variety of services including bra fittings, fashion consultations, and baby product demonstrations.
In the 10 months after implementing JRNI’s appointment scheduling solution, the retailer booked over 3,000 appointments, with about 60 percent of consumers purchasing items as a result of their appointments. It also saw a significant increase in lifetime value for customers who shopped via appointments versus those who shopped without appointments.
“JRNI plays an important role in our strategy to grow our in-store customer experience events,” said Jessica Hartnett, JoJo Maman Bébé’s marketing executive. “The dynamics of the JRNI platform help us to achieve our business goals, which include driving more conversions through online scheduling and in-store events.”
B&H is one of the world’s largest independent retailers of photography, video, and audio equipment.
Initially, B&H sought to provide an easy way for customers to schedule online appointments with its in-store experts at its 34th Street SuperStore in New York. The goal here was to ensure that customers could have a simple way to book personal meetings with B&H experts to answer questions and explain technical issues with newly purchased gear.
Previously, B&H customers could only book appointments over the phone or by email. This was inconvenient for customers and staff, who had to manually schedule and track appointments.
B&H chose JRNI for its ease of use, customization offerings, simple navigation, and robust security features. The results of the initial implementation were stellar - over 1,000 appointments booked through the appointment scheduling on the company website. B&H is using appointment scheduling as a key part of its engagement strategy, and is planning on using it as one of many tech-enabled touchpoints in its overall customer experience.
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 time 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 into your website or app.
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, while still being easily 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. It involves researching, designing the application and its architecture, developing, testing, deploying, training, and ongoing maintenance.
Ongoing maintenance and support
As your business and industry evolves, your appointment solution needs to reflect and adapt to those changes. Top enterprise appointment scheduling solution providers have a quarterly release process, where they will automatically roll out any improvements or new features to your environment. This ensures that your 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 specific, 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 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, fewer employees, and far less complexity than large enterprise businesses. For example, some free options put a cap on how many employees you can have in your scheduling system. This would be untenable for an enterprise that could have dozens or even hundreds of employees in one location.
Often, these SMBs 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 tools. 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 feature suggestions from the actual users.”
Expertise with large enterprises
Large enterprises require their scheduling solution to offer integrations with other customer experience and relationship management solutions, powerful analytics, and be designed for omnichannel conversion.
Though now free and SMB solutions are making their way into the enterprise market, their products are 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 look cost-effective at first glance, it’s worth considering 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 event 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 indicator 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, you should have the option for your team to meet your vendor’s security and technical leadership and address 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 appointment scheduling solution
Ultimately, using scheduling software will elevate your customer experience 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.” That is 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, 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. This should help employees feel that their time is more structured, and they aren’t wasting time on non-value-added tasks. By making appointments a benefit to employees, you will have more success in driving adoption and promotion of your appointment scheduling.
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? Are our appointments driving revenue growth in a meaningful way?
- How do customers like to schedule an appointment?
- How long is each type of appointment scheduled for? How long do these appointments actually last?
- Who are my top performing staff members across the country, region, and individual locations?
- What appointment times are least popular? Are we overstaffed at certain times, leading to excessive employee downtime?
- 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, 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 use of an enterprise solution will result in profitable customer engagements, increased revenue, and better utilization of your resources. Want the downloadable version? Click here.
December 23, 2019
2 minute read