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Why are you whippersnappers making such a fuss over online scheduling?

The times, they are a-changin’. More and more organizations are giving their customers the freedom to book appointments online. Still, you may be a little apprehensive about heading in this direction. Especially if you’ve been using a desktop scheduling system, or good-old-fashioned paper and pencil.

So what do you need to know when considering an online scheduling system?

Likely more than you think. Take a seat, sit up straight, and get out your notebook. Class is about to start.

The first thing you need to know is that online schedulers are cloud-based. From a practical standpoint, that means you sign up for an account, set it up, and access it via the Internet. There’s nothing to download, and you can log in any time, from anywhere.

Nice, right?

But let’s talk about how it actually works. The software and all of your important data is housed on servers in a data center, such as Rackspace, IO Data Centers, or Amazon. These data centers are built to be highly secure (visiting one is a lot like a trip to Fort Knox). And, they all have sophisticated backup systems, including gas-powered generators for use in the event of a power outage.

Big reveal: When you hear people refer to “the cloud,” this is what they’re talking about. The cloud is the network of computers that make up the Internet, along with all the data centers that house the files and data. (And you thought a cloud was a big white fluffy thing in the sky? Come on, that’s soooo 4.54 billion years ago!)

People do everything online

Technology allows us to do more and more online every day. We go online to manage our bank accounts, listen to music, conduct research, plan and book trips. Heck, we go online to talk to each other. And because so much of our daily routine is handled online, people now expect to be able to book appointments for services online too.

Consider this: 70% of U.S. businesses now have cube-based or open-office environments.1 Ever tried scheduling an appointment — any kind of appointment — sitting in a room full of people? You’re essentially broadcasting personal information like your phone number, date of birth, address, sometimes even your Social Security number, to everyone within earshot.

Even if you don’t give a flip about identity theft, who wants all their coworkers knowing exactly how old they are, or their medical history? And not all companies offer private rooms for making personal calls.

Provide online scheduling to someone in this predicament, and you’ve got a pretty powerful edge over your competition.

“So,” you wonder, “If I were to go with this cloud-based online scheduling software, how would my customers use it to make appointments?”

Great question.

Your organization can allow a customer to schedule online . . .

. . . via your website

Your scheduling software provider will give you a code snippet to copy and paste into your website’s HTML code. When you do this, a “Book Now” button will display on your site. If you use a free website builder, you can do it yourself. If your site is run by a webmaster, simply email them the code snippet, and they’ll insert it for you.

. . . from an emailed link

When you create an account, you will be assigned a unique link to your customer booking page. You can put this link in the text of a marketing email and send it to customers and prospects. They’ll be able to click the link right from the email to book appointments. How cool is that?

. . . on your Facebook page

Place a “Book Now” button on your Facebook page, and convert the casual Facebook browser into an instant customer. And adding the button takes just a couple of clicks. Even those of us who aren’t techno uber-geeks can handle this one.

Prefer to keep it in the family?

If the idea of customers booking their own appointments doesn’t quite work with your business model, no problem. Online scheduling can be set up for internal use only, so your staff controls the process.

When a staff member logs in, they can:

  • Make, change, or cancel appointments
  • Add new customers
  • Add notes to a customer’s file
  • View complete customer appointment history
  • Put customers on a waiting list
  • Find open time slots, and a whole lot more.

And remember, we’re running on that magical cloud, so they can do all of this stuff from anywhere.

Maintain complete schedule control

At this point, you might be wondering, “If I open up my scheduling calendar to the world, don’t I lose control over it?” It’s a valid concern, but you actually have a lot more control than you might initially think.

Your online scheduling system can be configured to allow or disallow same-day appointments. And it can be set to provide a buffer time for same-day appointments. For example, if you need at least two hours’ advance notice for a same-day appointment, you got it.

With an online scheduler, you also control how far into the future appointments can be set. And you can control staff booking and customer self-booking separately, giving staff the ability to book, say, two years in advance, while restricting customers to three months. Easy-peasy.

Mobile access

The number of mobile users is skyrocketing. According to Pew Research, 64% of American adults have a smartphone.2 Chances are, you have one. And if you don’t, your secret is safe with us. But, I bet you’ll be getting one soon.

Scheduling systems can be accessed via both smartphones and tablets (through the magic of the cloud, of course!). And while some online scheduling software is optimized for use on mobile devices, it’s all accessible via Internet-enabled mobile devices.

This makes it very convenient for you and your staff to check your appointment calendar at any time, from anywhere.

Are You SaaS-y?

Online appointment scheduling software is known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). You don’t actually own the software. It’s more like you’re renting it. The days of walking into Best Buy and purchasing software off the shelf are numbered. Many computers don’t even have disc drives anymore, so loading software from a disc will soon be about as prevalent as using a floppy drive.

What’s the cost?

Instead of paying $179 for that desktop software system (which would probably be obsolete by next year), you pay a monthly or annual fee to use easily updated online software that can be accessed from any device with an Internet connection.

If you’re looking for free scheduling software, you can find it. There are low-feature/low-service versions designed for one-person operations with very low appointment volume. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, so if you choose to head down this road, just remember the sage words of Mike Brady: “Caveat emptor.”

Fees for scheduling systems usually vary based on the features you need and your usage (number of appointments, number of users, etc.). It’s common to see this in the form of price plans or price tiers. If you elect to pay annually, you will usually get a discount.

In most cases, a credit card is required as payment. For some organizations, though, such as departments within universities, it’s not always possible to pay with a credit card. So most schedulers can accommodate invoicing for certain types of clients.

If you pay with a credit card, the monthly fee will be automatically charged to your card on the same day each month (or year), and you’ll receive an emailed receipt.

Adhering to HIPAA

Data protection is critical to any organization’s operations. But it is especially critical in the health care field.

Let’s say you run a multi-location counseling facility. Your business must abide by HIPAA regulations, so you have to be very careful about what data is visible and accessible in the system. That means the software you select must be able to work within HIPAA regulations.

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You’ve passed Appointment Booking 101!

You should now have a much better feel for how it all works. But, what do you do now? If you think it’s something that would work for your organization, and would like to give AppointmentPlus a try, your next step:

The demo will help you quickly determine if the system would work for you without you having to invest a lot of time.

We’re here to help you! If you have any questions, please email or call us.

Questions? Call us.

We’re here to help. Call us and speak with a Scheduling Software Expert who will answer any questions you might have.


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1Kaufman, Lindsey. “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.” The Washington Post, December 30, 2014.
2Pew Research Center, “Mobile Technology Fact Sheet.” October 2014.