What is Appointment Scheduling?
An appointment scheduling solution makes it easy for businesses and service providers to manage appointments. Most solutions provide a way for end users or customers to “self-schedule” through an internet web site or mobile app. In some cases, the system is also used “in house” by employees, for example, where a customer may wish to book a future appointment. Or, appointments may be taken over the phone or at a call center, but use the same system.
We define an Appointment Scheduling solution as follows:
- Must allow a consumer or business customer (“user”) to schedule with one or more people (“recipient”) through 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 an appointment. This is usually an email that notifies the user that they have indeed made the appointment. This notification will contain the date, time, meeting location (or virtual call information), and any other information about the meeting. Typically, a message will also go to the recipient(s) at the business who is being scheduled with.
- Must allow the user or the recipient to reschedule or cancel the appointment. This is provided as a URL link which can be clicked within the scheduled message itself, or may be part of the notification email. (Note that the built-in calendar “decline meeting” or “reschedule” will not normally work for this.)
- 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 allow additional users or recipients to be added to the scheduled appointment.
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 Appointment Scheduling work?
Appointment scheduling systems assume that the person scheduling has an electronic calendar. These “personal calendars” are provided by Microsoft, Google, and Apple and can accept an email notification with an attachment (“ICS file”) that puts the scheduled appointment on the user’s personal calendar.
Behind the scenes, the recipient of the request has a “calendar of record”, which could be a personal electronic calendar or one that is provided by the business. For example, retail workers often use a calendar provided by their employer, who uses a workforce management (WFM) solution.
In either case, the scheduling system looks for available dates and times and will ask the “calendar of record” for free time slots. There are also rules that govern the days or times shown to the user. For example, if a business is open 9AM to 5PM Monday through Friday (except holidays), that would be a basic rule that sets what time slots are shown. On top of that, other rules may include “buffer time” before or after an appointment, or rules that show only a subset of times for certain appointment types.
The process of scheduling the appointment typically is as follows:
- A user schedules an appointment on a website, mobile app, or by phone with a staff employee or call center. The user can choose the service they require, and if appropriate, the specific staff member or physical location they wish to be served at.
- The customer receives their confirmation email.
- 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.
Beyond these basics, some businesses may offer a method for customers to “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. This approach is often used when there is a mixture of “walk-in” appointments and pre-scheduled appointments, and can be offered as part of a Queuing Solution. See “Queuing Solutions” for more on this.
What are the benefits of an Appointment Scheduling solution?
Appointment scheduling solutions benefit both the customer (user) and the business.
First, for the customers, the key benefits are:
- No more back and forth. With a self-serve system, there is no email or “phone tag” to set up an appointment.
- Better Customer Experience. Customers know they are getting the right person to serve them for what they need, and that the employee knows who they are and what the appointment is about
- Convenience. Customers can schedule a time that works for their schedule and know they don’t have to wait.
Secondly, for the business, the key benefits are:
- Operational Efficiency. With a system serving customers, you can spend time on more important tasks than scheduling and re-scheduling appointments.
- Better Employee Utilization. You can match the appointment requests to the right staff member, or share inbound appointments across staff members fairly.
- Happier Employees. Employees get more certainty on how they spend time, and feel more empowered.
Appointment scheduling is really one of the true “win-win” solutions that a business can implement. And, no matter what size your business, there are numerous vendor solutions for every use case and type of business at very affordable prices. In general, the monthly fee for a solution is less than the cost of a single missed lost appointment, double-booking, or loss of a new customer.
Finally...You’ll hear “appointment scheduling” and “appointment booking” referred to as the same thing. But, we define Booking as something different. So keep reading!