7 Ways For SMBs to Maximize the Benefits of Online Scheduling

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More than half of small businesses are now using online calendars and scheduling tools to manage client appointments, but whether those merchants are getting the most from the platforms they’re paying for is still a matter of debate. In addition to straightforward uses, like allowing clients to self-schedule and sending automated reminders before appointments, most cloud-based booking platforms include marketing features that go unused simply because merchants are unaware that these tools exist.

Before adding more platforms to the marketing mix, merchants should fully utilize the scheduling systems they’ve already implemented at their businesses. Here are seven examples of ways that merchants can maximize the benefits of online booking tools.

1. Go all out on promotion. “Once businesses make the decision to use an online scheduling platform, they need to drive their customers to online booking. That means placing a ‘Book Online’ button on their websites, sending an email blast out to their existing clients, putting a physical sign on their store counters, changing their voicemails to encourage booking online, and working with a company that partners with search engines, social networks, ratings and review sites and online yellow pages, to make it possible to book that business online on dozens of other properties.” (Ethan Anderson, MyTime)

2. Enable review collection. “Customer reviews are among the most important marketing and promotional tools a small business can have. For Genbook users, we always recommend enabling review collection, publishing reviews and then sharing them over social media. Our reviews are collected from verified customers who’ve actually had appointments, so businesses don’t have to worry about competitors or others leaving malicious fake or unsubstantiated reviews, which we’ve seen happen on some of the review sites that aren’t able to ensure a reviewer has even been to that business.” (Cornelia Oancea, Genbook)

3. Use the booking widgets. “It’s important SMBs include the booking widget in any online or offline platform where potential clients can find them. If a business has a Facebook presence, including a booking application or widget prominently on that page can be key to generating new customers. Regarding offline communications, like ads in newspapers or on flyers, QR codes are a good way to wrap a customer’s offline experience into the capabilities of digital appointment booking.” (Raphaël Iscar, Agendize)

4. Take advantage of post-appointment messages. “A booked appointment provides valuable information that can be used to trigger personalized and timely communications to the customer. In addition to pre-appointment reminders, take advantage of automated post-appointment messages to thank the customer, share important information, and remind customers when it is time to schedule their next appointments. If your scheduling solution supports it, be sure to leverage service-specific information to make your messages more timely and relevant.” (Bill Lange, Full Slate)

5. Get the right design. “It’s important to give consumers an appealing visual experience as they proceed through the process of scheduling online Firstly, because they need to be shepherded to final confirmation of their appointment, and secondly, because the experience is more engaging and attractive if it’s consistent with a business’ brand image. Things like color choice, including your logos and making them prominent or presenting attractive pictures of your staff and services go a long way to improving the experience. Clients like to see what they’re booking, and the right visuals give them confidence in their decisions, making them more comfortable with scheduling online.” (Raphaël Iscar, Agendize)

6. Integrate scheduling with email marketing. “The value of having email marketing integrated with online scheduling is that it allows businesses to use information within their system to segment their client lists based on specific parameters, like birthdays, services booked in the past, or classes booked in the past. This allows the business to create smart, relevant offers that get the right message to the right client at the right time.” (Michael Wilson, Schedulicity)

7. Offer customers a booking app. “More and more smartphone users are moving towards doing everything from their phones via apps instead of the mobile web, and that includes booking appointments, so the ability to offer customers a booking app is important. We recently launched a Genbook customer booking app for iPhones, [and] some businesses have seen as many as 90% of their customers adopt the app. It’s definitely a bonus to be able to offer that functionality in a world that’s so smartphone and app-driven.” (Cornelia Oancea, Genbook)

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.