This post was first published in December 2019, but the information may be useful to businesses affected by COVID-19. Please note that some information may not be up-to-date – you can find our latest COVID-19 guides here.
Please click here for Welsh Government’s latest COVID-19 advice for employers.
Imagine that you run a business where you rely on your customers ringing you to make a booking.
The only problem is that you miss calls, double book appointments, forget about cancellations and end up failing to maximise your revenue and damage your reputation in the process.
This scenario (and frustrations!) will be familiar to many Welsh business owners, including restaurants and accommodation providers, plumbers and electricians, and even dentists and hairdressers.
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So, what can be done?
Instead of sifting through voicemails or missing out on business, you might want to consider using an online booking system.
This is a software product that allows a potential customer to book an activity or service, either through your website or via your social media page. Not only does it streamline the booking process, it can also handle appointment cancellations, rescheduling and online payment processing, as well as send out automated reminders to minimise the risk of no-shows.
All of this helps making things easier for both you and your customers. While you keep your appointments all in one place, your customers can make bookings at times that suit them, through their favoured tablets and smartphones.
As well as freeing up your time, you can greatly increases the number of bookings you’re able to handle, ultimately generating more sales and profit!
What are the benefits?
Save time and money
From your business’s perspective, it means that your booking service is available 24/7. Furthermore, the availability of time slots is updated automatically, so there’s no chance of double booking.
The online booking system also helps to cut down on administration. It can handle all the aspects of the booking, freeing up time for you and your staff to spend on more productive activities. And the fact that it can track forthcoming appointments and automatically send phone, text, or email reminders to customers about their appointments all help to minimise the increasing problem of no-shows.
What’s more, online booking systems can link up with payment systems (such as PayPal or Sage Pay) so that you can collect payments when customers book appointments, which certainly helps with cash flow.
More efficient ways of working
While online booking systems can work on their own, you can make even more time savings when you link it with third-party apps and services directly from your booking platform.
For example, you may wish to create invoices seamlessly for appointments in the calendar or view payment histories for individual customers. Link your online booking system with your accounting platform and you’re good to go!
Similarly, on the customer relationship management (CRM) front, there are significant benefits in being able to create custom CRM fields, keep customer notes, view past bookings and filter booking data for targeted email campaigns. Building up a clearer picture of your customers will help your track trends and maximise repeat sales.
90% of the Welsh tourism and restaurant trade are making it easier for new and existing customers to find them online so they attract bookings from far and wide. Find out more.
What do I need it to do?
If you’ve decided that an online booking system could benefit your business, a sensible first step is to develop an outline specification to make sure the system you choose or develop does what you need it to do. Some of the key factors to take into account are:
The basic features that you might class as ‘must have’ include:
- A web interface that enables your customers to book services through your website or via your social media page;
- A live calendar that automatically updates as customers sign up for services;
- Payment processing capabilities so that you can collect payments when customers book appointments;
- Automatic reminders that can be sent to customers about upcoming appointments by notifying them via email messages or SMS texts.
As we’ve already mentioned, integration with third party apps makes perfect sense. So, think carefully whether any existing apps you already have would benefit from linking to the online booking software.
Ease of use is another important consideration, both in terms of customer usage (is it easy enough for them to complete the booking process?) and your own management and ongoing operation of the software.
Off-the shelf or bespoke?
If you have a unique or unusual scheduling processes, then a bespoke solution may be required. In this case, you will typically need to contract a developer to put together a solution that addresses your particular requirements.
However, for most small businesses an off-the-shelf solution is the preferred option, not least because it’s significantly cheaper and is available ‘now’ rather than having to wait for the design, development and testing of the bespoke version. You should also bear in mind that some of the off-the-shelf solutions do offer a degree of customisation, particularly in terms of ‘look and feel’.
It’s important that as your business and customer base grows, your booking system is able to handle increased numbers. Any system you select should be scalable and capable of expanding to meet your future requirements.
How much does it cost?
The good news for Welsh SMEs is that a number of suppliers offer a free option which is typically a cut-down version of the software that includes a few basic scheduling features. Whilst there will be a relatively low limit in terms of the number of monthly bookings that can be taken, for some businesses this will be a practical solution. There are also a number of open source solutions available for free if cost is an issue.
However, the majority of booking systems are available on a range of monthly plans to suit all budgets. These packages will include an increased number of allowed bookings per month (in some cases unlimited), a wider range of features and integrations and greater customisation capabilities, with the prices rising accordingly.
Real life example: Fron Farm Yurts
A mother of two and French teacher at a secondary school increased profits by 20 per cent at her family’s glamping business, which now includes a wedding venue with a yurt big enough to accommodate 90 people.
Natasha Davies-Puddy manages marketing and PR for Fron Farm Yurts, which also boasts a secluded spot with three regular-sized yurts for smaller groups.
Natasha, who had no prior experience of digital marketing, attended courses run by Superfast Business Wales, as well as received 1-2-1 business support. Read the full story.
What options are there?
If you’re not sure where to start, Superfast Business Wales is here to help. As well as expert advice from our digital business advisers, we run workshops to show what tools are available.
To help you choose from the wide range of tech out there, we have the Software Essentials directory – a complete, impartial guide to a whole host of digital tools that can transform how you work for the better.