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Online Booking – Should I Bother?

Today we’re having a quick look at the pros and cons of online booking. That is, if someone visits your website, makes the decision to use your service, and then books an appointment with you through the site. There are a couple of ways we can do this:

1. You have a contact form set up on your site

Most people now have some sort of contact form set up on their website – but these are usually pretty generic. You could set up a link/button that’s labelled ‘Book Appointment’ or similar, and link this to a page with a more customised form tailored to booking an appointment with you.

So that form might include name, email, service they want to book if you offer a few, time/date and a section for other comments (eg. listing contraindications).

2.  You get them to email you directly

You could just have a link or your email address displayed on your site which is a similar method to the form. The advantage of a form over displaying your email is that you can add Captchas or spam ‘honeypots’; so that you don’t get a ton of weird and spammy emails which you may get if your email is just displayed on your website.

The flipside of this is looking at it from a user-experience point of view – many people don’t actually like filling in forms, and sometimes just want to email or rather phone the practitioner directly as it’s more personal in what’s already usually a personal subject!

If you’re getting emails directly, it can be useful to have your inbox set up efficiently so that you can manage incoming enquiries and they don’t get lost in a pile of email marketing.

3. You get them to book through online booking software

There are a range of solutions for this – anything from an online availability calendar where the customer can choose a slot and book in (and you can either then take payment online or directly on the day); up to third-party online booking software which can be integrated into your website, which can also be used to efficiently schedule appointments and remind customers beforehand.

Pros of online booking software

  • Customers can book in any time of the day or night
  • Some software may remind customers beforehand, resulting in fewer missed appointments
  • If online payment is supported, you can take the fee upfront which can give the customer a wider choice of payment method and help reduce no-shows
  • Frees up time you would have spent taking bookings and scheduling them in in some cases

Cons of online booking software

  • Depending on the type of booking software, you may have to manually update your availabilty – this isn’t so bad when you have set appointment times which don’t vary week in week out, but availbilty calendars can get confusing if you offer many services of differing lengths, or if you tailor the appointment to the client and there’s no set timescale.
  • If you have various channels for booking; eg some book through email, some over phone and some are going in a paper diary, you’ll need to keep track of the ones through the website and make sure everything’s consoldated. Otherwise you could end up double-booked if someone’s booked online and you booked a customer in at the same time in your paper diary yesterday.
  • If you are taking online reservations but not payments or a deposit upfront, you may encounter problems with no-shows. However, the same applies with other booking methods.
  • It can be a bit less personal than dealing with a booking directly, and harder to gauge if you and the customer are a good ‘fit’ for each other before you go ahead and arrange a booking.

As you can see, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to online booking. Depending on your business needs, you may find a simple & lower-cost solution will suffice, or you may need to invest a bit more in something that works for both you and your customers.

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