If you are running a small business where you regularly set up one-on-one (or small group) appointments with your customers, you already know the importance of making sure there aren’t any conflicts. Regardless of whether you’re running a consultancy, salon, SEO consultancy, or a personal training service, having everything in a centralized location is great for this. But how easy is it for people to be able to self-serve and book their own time slots with your team?
When someone wants to meet with you, they might get in touch with you by walking into your brick-and-mortar shop, calling you, or sending an email after visiting your website. However, as more and more communication takes place online, you can add the ability for your customers to schedule their own appointments to your website.
Why Accept Appointments Online?
When you place online appointment booking on your website, customers are empowered to book right there and then. If they have to talk to you, they have to wait until you open for business and hope that they can get a hold of someone, which is less convenient and can result in them giving up and going to a competitor.
Typically, online tools will present your customer with timeslots that fit their schedules, eliminating the “When can you come in?” dance that ensues anytime someone tries to book an appointment. If necessary, they can update their appointments if something comes up and they need a new time slot.
All in all, being able to book online appointments is something that reduces friction, meaning that you’re more likely to get appointments.
The best way to implement this kind of system is to find a suite that integrates into your existing website or blog. In this article, we’ll cover how you might choose to implement this feature, what features you might want to consider when deciding on which appointment software you’d like, and some software options we think will work well.
Features to Consider
There are a lot of tools out there for scheduling, but many are designed for internal use. That means that the purpose of said tools is to facilitate scheduling of meetings for those who work with you, or for people known to your business already.
But if you’re open to the public, you need a tool that allows users to schedule their appointments themselves, without the need to sign up to an internal system.
If your business operates in a highly-regulated industry, such as banking, finance, or medicine, you’ll need to keep an eye out for calendars that offer state-of-the-art encryption and security features so that your customers’ data stays safe.
Many calendars offer extra features designed to make the whole appointments process easier, including:
- Customized homepages or social media integrations so you don’t even need a website to use the product; this will work well for you if your website is mostly static and contains basic information like address, contact details, and hours of operation
- Automated notifications, both to you and to your customers, via text messages and email to confirm appointments and send reminders
- Reporting and analytics, so you know how many appointments were made, how much time was blocked off, and when you have free time in your schedule
- Support for recurring appointments so that you retain the customers you’ve converted
- Payment processing functionality, including support for coupons and promotions and things like frequent visitor programs.
If you have any scheduling tools already, you’ll want to make sure that your scheduling tools integrate with your new calendar. For example, if you’re already using Outlook to manage your personal appointments, you’ll want a calendar offering Outlook integration so that you don’t have to block off time slots in both. If you’re accepting payments for bookings your customer’s schedule on their own, see if the product in which you’re interested works with the payment processors you’re already using.
Stand-Alone vs. Integrated Calendars
Generally speaking, there are two ways to add self-scheduling functionality to your website or blog:
- Use a stand-alone calendar. These typically come with a host of other features designed to make scheduling and managing appointments easier, and because they’re so feature-rich, you typically link to these calendars from your website. You can think of these tools as those that complement your existing website or blog (though this is certainly not a hard-and-fast rule).
- The other option is a calendar that integrates with your site (though some do let you link to them as an external site). These calendars generally offer fewer features, but their simple nature means that you can easily embed them directly onto your site for a seamless user experience without any of its sacrificing its built-in functionality.
All-in-One Appointment Schedule Software
The following products are full-featured offerings. In addition to offering scheduling functionality, they have extras such as email automation and payment processing. Rather than begin widgets or plugins that you integrate with your website or blog, these tools tend stand-alone offerings to which you link.
10 to 8
10 to 8 was created at Cambridge University, where several founders were involved in research on appointment workflows, communication, and design. Since then, 10 to 8 has evolved into a free, all-in-one appointment scheduling software that’s used by private surgeons, financial consultants, and more. It helps you to coordinate with clients (even within the calendar, since there’s built-in chat functionality), automate text message and email reminders, and track your business’ performance in terms of bookings.
Additional 10 to 8 features include the ability to sync with multiple calendars, support for payment processing (PayPal, SagePay, and Stripe), staff coordination, full encryption and security, and support for devices of any type.
Appointy is a free online scheduling software that is designed to help you grow your business. In addition to allowing your customers to self-schedule appointments 24/7, you can easily manage multiple staff members (or multiple business locations), and set up promotions via social media. Appointy can be used with your Facebook page or your website, but if you don’t have either, all Appointy accounts come with a subdomain that you can share with your customers.
Other Appointy features include setting your staff’s working hours, as well as support for flexible time slot intervals, back-to-back service bookings, and recurring appointments.
If you have an international clientele, Appointy supports displays in over twenty different languages.
Setmore offers you the ability to manage your calendar with ease, your customers the ability to book appointments 24/7 and (if necessary) pay for their appointments in advance. Setmore also comes with automation so that you can do things like send reminder emails or text messages. You can organize appointments according to the staff member that the customer needs, get notifications when someone makes an appointment, and manage multiple calendars (both the one you have in Setmore and those you’ve integrated with Setmore).
Setmore works across devices, so regardless of whether you (or your customers) are using a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, your calendar will look good and, most importantly, work well. With regards to integrations, you can use Setmore with Facebook, Instagram, Slack, WordPress, Weebly, Wix, Google Calendar, and more.
SimplyBook.me offers a combination of site builder tools and scheduling software. You have the usual features found in appointment-related tools, such as the ability to accept online bookings, automated text message and email notifications, and payment processing.
What makesstand out, however, are its site-building and security features.
If you don’t already have a website or blog, you can useto set one up. The product includes a do-it-yourself web editor, and you can customize and build a professional looking site even if you don’t have any technical knowledge or design experience. All you have to do is select a template, customize its appearance (if desired), and replace the placeholding text and images with your own content.
If you’re in a highly-regulated industry, such as banking or health/medicine,boasts robust encryption and security features to ensure that your data (as well as that belonging to your customers) stays safe.
Simplified Calendars/ Appointment Tools
If the all-in-one tools that we mentioned above are too much or too complex for your needs, you might find one of these options more to your liking.
Acuity Scheduling‘s goal is to make the question, “What time works for you?” obsolete. Acuity Scheduling allows your clients can see your calendar availability in real-time, self-select the appointment slot that works best for them, and pay for their appointment.
Acuity allows you to share your calendar via social media, customize your calendar so that it reflects your brand, and embed your calendar right onto your existing website for a seamless booking experience. If you’re in the medical field (or you’re a business associate of an organization that must comply with HIPAA), you should know that Acuity Scheduling is secure enough for booking such appointments.
You probably know Square as the purveyors of the tiny credit card readers that work with smartphones and tablets, but the company also Square Appointments.
Using Square Appointments, you can let your customers view your calendar, set up appointments, and pay for bookings, and receive notifications. If you use Google Calendar, Square Appointments syncs with Google seamlessly.
The biggest limitation with Square Appointments is its focus on Apple devices; the company does not currently support Android devices, so if you don’t have a mobile website, you’re limiting the use of your calendar for a sizable portion of the population.
YouCanBook.Me is a scheduling tool that you can use for your internal meetings, as well as customer-facing appointments. It integrates with Google, Microsoft, and iCloud calendars (which is where your appointments are stored — is not a calendar itself per se), and you can customize a booking page for your business. After something has been scheduled, everyone involved can get notifications and reminders via email and text messaging.
If you’re using WordPress, you have a few additional options. Many of the products mentioned above work with WordPress sites (and some, such as Acuity Scheduling, have dedicated plugins to make the installation and set up process even easier).
However, there are many more plugins that offer you similar functionality. These plugins don’t differ much from their stand-alone counterparts in terms of feature set, but as plugins, they probably integrate better (and are much easier to get working) with your WordPress site. Some options you might consider include the following:
- Appointment Scheduling and Online Booking by CozyCal
- Appointment Booking and Online Scheduling Plugin by vCita
- Booking Calendar
- Booking Ultra Pro Appointments Plugin
- Online Appointment Scheduling Widget and Booking System
- Ultimate Appointment Scheduling.
If you’re using any other content management system (CMS) such as Magento or Joomla! we recommend checking the relevant plugin repository for add-ons that work with your site.
Adding the ability for your customers to schedule appointments is a great way to increase your conversion rate since such self-service calendars are easy to use and always available. Regardless of how you want to implement yours, there is a host of options available. Many also offer additional features you may find helpful, such as automated notifications and reminders, payment processing, and integrations with any other small business-related or productivity tools. In some cases, your calendar app might be able to replace your site entirely, especially if all you have on your website are static blocks on information, such as address, phone number, email address, and hours of operation.
Writer: Katie Horne