Small business owners are jacks of all trades, which is a great attribute, but can be overwhelming if there is not enough help and the business is growing faster than expected. However, digital technology has introduced many solutions that have made it possible to run a business single-handedly without pulling out your hair. The latest tool to lend a hand is Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bookings, an application that effectively removes the back and forth of appointment scheduling, which has become a task in itself because of the many different touch points available today.
The Traditional Route
For small businesses that provide services, keeping up with the scheduling of appointments is critical to bringing in new business is a time-consuming process that involves back and forth communications, whether it be on the phone, email or SMS.
Hiring a person is, of course, an option, but the vast majority of small businesses are solo operators that slowly add staff as their revenue grows. Having to stop what you are doing and break away from your core business — providing the best possible service you can for your existing customers — is costly and inefficient. But handling scheduling for new customers or additional appointments for existing customers is what keeps your business going.
The Microsoft Bookings Route
Microsoft Bookings gives your small business a unique webpage that has all the necessary information your customers need to schedule their own appointments, even if you’re not around.
The page has been designed to be just as useful whether your customers are on a personal computer or a mobile device, a post on the official Microsoft Office Blogs explains. Based on the availability you post for yourself or your staff, the customer selects the service they want, the day and time. They then enter their contact information and book the appointment.
See more of how Bookings works in this video from Microsoft:
Confirmations and Reminders
Once the appointment has been scheduled by the customer, Microsoft Bookings sends them an email confirmation right away. It also gives the customer the option of adding the appointment to their calendar as an added reminder.
Additionally Bookings lets you set up reminder emails before the appointment. The emails are sent based on the amount of notice you want to give to your customers.
The reminding feature also extends to your staff. If they use Outlook calendar in Office 365, Outlook.com or Google calendar, new or updated customer appointments are automatically added to their account.
Rescheduling or Cancelling Bookings by Customers
There are a myriad of reasons a customer might have to cancel an appointment, with Microsoft Bookings, they can do so with a self-service change that doesn’t require carrying on a conversation with anyone. All they have to do is click the link in the confirmation email or the appointment in their calendar. The link takes them to the scheduling page where they can cancel the current appointment and pick a time that is more convenient for them.
Another great feature of this application is the control that it gives your business in avoiding last-minute cancellations. You can set different parameters for how long customers have to give advanced notices to cancel their appointments. Whether it is hours, days or even a week, you will be able to more effectively manage the cancellations so you can book new appointments right away.
Managing Your Appointments
With Bookings, you can manage your appointment whether you are in your office or out and about. The app lets you view all of the bookings on your page on a centralized booking calendar, allowing you to change appointments to accommodate your customers.
It also lets you make an appointment for a customer if you are talking to them on the phone. Using the split view feature, you can quickly access the page to see who is available in your company at any given time to make the arrangement.
A customer list with contact information is also generated every time your customers book an appointment using your page. You can use this information to stay in touch with them, provide better customer service or offer special promotions.
Microsoft says a companion app will be released in the next few weeks for Bookings that will allow authorized users with an Office 365 subscription to manage and see all appointments along with the customer information.
Growing With Bookings
Because Bookings is delivered through Microsoft cloud, it will scale and grow with you, no matter how big your business gets. It doesn’t cost more to create multiple booking pages or add more staff members, because it only requires your Office 365 subscriptions.
Signing up for Bookings
Microsoft Bookings will roll out immediately for all Office 365 Business Premium subscribers in the First Release program. All other Office 365 Business Premium customers worldwide will get the new feature in the next few months.
If you qualify, all you have to do is sign into Office 365, open Bookings from the app launcher and click the “Get It Now” button. This will prompt you to fill out the necessary information about your company, after which you will save and publish it. Once this process is complete, your customers can start booking appointments immediately.
Booking an appointment and following through can take time away from one of the other most important activities in your business, proving a great service or your customers. And this is especially true if you’re an entrepreneur who wears many hats in your business. For customers and businesses alike, it is an inconvenience that should be avoided when possible. With Microsoft’s Bookings, small businesses will be able to automate the communication and confirmation process of appointments so everyone is on the same page.
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