What is Appointment Booking?
You’ll often see “appointment scheduling” and “appointment booking” referred to as the same thing. We often say “I’m booking an appointment” and use both terms interchangeably. However, for the purposes of this site, we’re going to define Booking as something different. This makes it easier to classify vendors that offer solutions that have different capabilities in our Vendor Directory.
The main difference is that a booking solution can be used for activities, such as classes, events, tickets, or used with resources such as restaurant tables, auto repair bays, or meeting rooms. In general, booking solutions schedule more for a resource or activity than for a specific person.
For example, a restaurant reservation is a booking since it involves the allocation of a table (a resource) for a period of time. It’s not for a specific “person”, even though there may be a wait staff person. We don’t think of scheduling an appointment with the waiter! Similarly, booking a time for a 2PM Yoga Class with 10 people involves an instructor, but this is not strictly considered scheduling an “appointment” with that person. Of course, if you had a one-on-one time scheduled with that same instructor, that would be considered appointment scheduling!
We define a Booking solution as follows:
- Must allow a consumer or business customer (“user”) to schedule an activity via a self-serve mechanism. This could include a website, mobile app, voice interface, message bot, or any system that enables self service.
- Must provide a user notification upon successful scheduling of the booking. This is usually an email that notifies the user that they are confirmed This notification will contain the date, time, meeting location (or virtual call information), and any other information about the booking. There usually is no “message” that goes to the person on the receiving side, although there may be a web portal or app that the business can check status.
- May allow the user to cancel—but not necessarily reschedule—the appointment. This is provided as a URL link which can be clicked within the message itself, or may be part of the notification email.
- May include a message with an ICS file attachment, which is a universal calendar format used by Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, and Apple Calendar. This will allow the event to be placed on the user’s calendar automatically.
- May include the option of collecting payment from the user, or requiring payment at the time of the booking.
- May include the ability for users to go onto a “wait list” for classes or events that are full. If the slot becomes available, the user would then receive a notification letting them know they can try to book again at the same time.
- May allow the business to notify all users who have booked of a change or cancellation, with information on refunds, rescheduling, etc.
Vendors offer many features in addition to these basic capabilities, especially for larger scale systems. For example, user administration, reporting, analytics, or complex business rules and workflows are needed with large numbers of employees or locations.
How does Booking work?
Like appointment scheduling systems, Booking systems assume that the user that is booking has an electronic calendar. These “personal calendars” are provided by Microsoft, Google, and Apple and can accept the email notification the user will receive. The email will have an attachment (“ICS file”) that puts the scheduled appointment on the user’s personal calendar.
Behind the scenes, the business that receives the request will use a specialized system to check availability. This system may be a “calendar of record” such as a workforce management (WFM) solution, but can include systems to check capacity (class or event), seating locations (for venue tickets), or table capacity (for restaurants). In addition, many booking systems include e-commerce capabilities, allowing the business to charge for the class or activity in advance, which requires integration with Stripe or other payment systems.
A booking system looks for available dates and times, as well as checking for additional resources required for the appointment. Other rules may be enforced, for example, some restaurant systems have “VIP” and “blacklist” systems that check if a particular customer should be upgraded—or not provided with a reservation.
The process of scheduling the booking typically is as follows:
- A user schedules a booking on a website, mobile app, or by phone with a staff employee or call center. The user chooses the activity or service they require, and if appropriate, the number of tickets, seats, or resources required.
- The customer receives their confirmation email. This email may contain additional information, for example, to instruct the user to bring documents or identification to the appointment.
- As the appointment date approaches, the user receives an email or SMS text reminder. This reminder may include a “check-in” link which allows the user to confirm their appointment. It can also include links with the option to reschedule or cancel, if allowed, or require the customer to call a phone number for a late cancellation.
Beyond these basics, some booking systems require a “check in” when they arrive at a location. This check-in can occur on premises by the user accessing a kiosk, or can be done by an employee with an app. With ticketing solutions, this check-in can be done via a QR code which will invalidate the "ticket" of the user. When you have a mix of “walk-ins" and pre-scheduled bookings you may want to offer a Queuing Solution. See our next section for more information!