Online Appointment Scheduling Best Practices

Learn how to make online scheduling work for your business and your clients.

How To Book Appointments With Clients Online-Hero Illustration

A recent study showed that 46% of appointments that are booked online are booked by clients themselves and not by company employees on clients’ behalf. While the days of whipping out a thick paper planner aren’t over, the shift toward computerized and online appointment systems has been underway for quite some time.

But how do you know what kind of appointment booking solution to use? How do you add a booking calendar to a website? What’s the most efficient way to schedule meetings online? How much information can you gather from clients during the booking process? The following will help answer your questions.

Ways to schedule an appointment

There are a variety of ways to set up appointments, some classic and some high-tech.

  • Email is efficient and effective. Nearly everyone has an email address, and if someone forgets the details of an appointment, they can easily go to their inbox and find it.
  • Over the phone. Scheduling appointments over the phone allow you to develop a connection, discuss any questions the client has, and ask questions yourself. You can then enter the appointment information into your calendar software.
  • Invitation via a meeting or conferencing platform. You can send invitations to meetings on specific applications from the apps themselves. For example, you can generate meeting invitations with Zoom or Microsoft Teams. All the details are in the invite, and this can often sync automatically with the recipient’s scheduling software.
  • In-person. Sometimes, you may have to make an appointment in person. (Yes, this still happens! Think about scheduling a follow-up after an in-person meeting with a client.) You can create the appointment in your software and then invite them through the app, or both parties can enter it simultaneously on their respective devices.
  • An API on your website. If you’re wondering how to create a booking system on your website, in most cases, you’ll use some sort of API. Think of it as ready-made software but instead of storing what it needs to run on your computer, the provider stores it in the cloud.

Booking appointments online

To schedule an appointment online, you generally use software that interfaces with the cloud, a calendar app, or a website plugin.

Software

Software enables you to do several things that aren’t feasible with traditional scheduling methods. For example, software that stores appointment info in the cloud makes it easier to manage your business.

  • Schedule and check information about the appointment anywhere. Regardless of who initiates the appointment—you or the client—both parties can see and, in some cases, edit the appointment info from their own device. This kind of software comes with a simple interface that you can pull up to check out your appointments while on the go.
  • Choose when your appointment “book” will be open for signups. You can program the software to only accept new bookings during a specific time—say, certain days of the week or particular hours. This enables you to keep tabs on the number of appointments made.
  • Share your appointment calendar in multiple places. With some software, you can sync your calendar on your computer, a mobile device, social media, your website, and even in newsletters that go out to clients.
  • Arrange for clients to fill out paperwork before the appointment. Another convenient feature of appointment software is the ability to have clients enter information critical to the appointment. For example, medical offices have patients fill out health information, and the Apple Store has customers enter the issue they’re having with their device. Other businesses can use this feature to gather information on what the client wants to accomplish during the meeting.
  • Sync with everyone involved in the appointment. With appointment software, you can easily get everyone on the same page using the app or automated communication methods like emails, text messages, or phone calls.
  • Streamline the signup process. With software, you can have clients enter appointments through an online interface or on their devices. Then, the appointment can automatically sync with every device that runs the app as well as cloud-based calendars, such as Google Calendar.
  • Keep a running tally of appointments. Software allows you to track the number of appointments you have, including how many you’ve made each week, month, quarter, or year.

Calendar app on your mobile device or computer

Scheduling appointments using a cloud-enabled calendar app is becoming commonplace. If the calendar that comes with your device has adequate features, you can skip a step by not having to download and learn to use a different one. You can use cloud-enabled calendars to:

  • Schedule appointments
  • Enter appointment details
  • Change the date, time, and other specifics
  • Set up recurring appointments
  • Schedule alerts for a specific time before the appointment
  • Interface with other apps, such as Google Maps, to provide specific location information
  • Set up alerts for when you should leave to get to the appointment based on distance and current traffic conditions
  • Invite others to the appointment or meeting via text or email
  • Display to invitees the entire list of all those scheduled to attend the appointment
  • Display the status of those invited, showing whether they have accepted the invitation or not

Despite all these features, calendar apps have their limitations. They may not be able to collect information from people before the appointment or keep a count of the appointments you’ve had over a certain period of time. Another potential problem is that they may not allow other people to book appointments. You would have to ask them to set up their own appointment and then invite you as a participant.

Plugin on your website

A website plugin is an app that integrates with your website to offer extended functionality. There are a wide variety of booking plugins available, allowing you and others to enter appointments online. Look for a scheduling plugin that allows you to:

  • Customize the hours when appointments are available
  • Set permissions for clients to book appointments on their own
  • Set up automated notifications for meetings
  • Integrate the plugin with calendar tools within other programs
  • Incorporate lead-generation tools that can collect client information
  • Accept payments
  • Switch the language or currency according to the location or background of attendees
  • Automatically change time zones for people attending from different areas
  • Integrate it into a social media post or webpage

Choosing the best platform for your business

When evaluating different booking platforms, you should of course consider your own needs, but keep in mind those of your clients, too. It won’t do you any good if your clients can’t use it or access it. You want to find an appointment platform that can:

  • Manage new and existing client information
  • Encourage clients to enter details when booking
  • Allow clients the option of suggesting changes to the appointment within the app
  • Integrate with marketing or outreach campaigns and email tracking systems
  • Show who accepts or rejects appointments
  • Offer clients the option to explain why they can’t attend an appointment

Features to look for

You should check for certain must-haves when choosing your appointment booking platform.

Usability features

  • Is easy to use by you and your clients
  • Is mobile-compatible
  • Offers payment options
  • Allows invitees to reschedule or even cancel their appointments
  • Can schedule a meeting with multiple people
  • Has appointment confirmation options
  • Includes calendar views, such as by the week, day, or month
  • Has an automated check-in system, if applicable
  • Has an automated reminder system

Integration features

  • Has a plugin that can interface with your website
  • Is able to run on its own, separate from your website, in case your site goes down
  • Incorporates links to scheduled voice calls or video conferences
  • Works with your other cloud-based calendars
  • Connects with cloud-based mapping solutions such as Google or Bing, as well as their link- and location-sharing features
  • Integrates with your customer relationship management (CRM) tools

Best practices when booking appointments

To make booking appointments easier for you and more convenient for your clients, you should keep the following best practices in mind.

  • Leave a time buffer between appointments. This leaves room for clients who are running late and gives you time to collect your post-meeting thoughts before your next engagement.
  • Schedule recurring appointments all at once rather than wait until shortly before each appointment. This way, you won’t miss periodic meetings or follow-ups with leads or strategic partners.
  • Set the system to automatically send reminders to clients. Reminders are great for preventing no-shows. But be careful not to overwhelm clients with reminders, or they’ll tune them out. Consider asking the client if and how often they would like reminders.
  • Arrange to have confirmations sent automatically to you and your clients. You can review the meeting request to prepare ahead of time.
  • Use a plugin or app that can detect the time zone of participants. This is especially helpful for participants in different countries, where daylight saving time may kick in—or end—on a different date than in your own country. Automatic time zone detection solves this problem.
  • Use your appointment scheduler to set up customized work schedules for your staff. You can keep project milestones and deadlines on track by setting up work schedules that take your employees’ time and work styles into consideration. An appointment program can be a powerful tool for arranging flexible work times that change from week to week or month to month.
  • Use a custom form builder in conjunction with your scheduling platform to gather feedback before appointments. You can create fields for attendees to enter contact information and personal data necessary for the appointment. You can also have people answer questions that will make it easier to create action items, verify what will happen, or arrange specific details.
  • Accept payments. Whether you’re offering a subscription service or a product, or want to coordinate a payment made by multiple individuals, you can integrate a secure, reliable payment system with your appointment scheduler. This makes it easier for clients to pay you. It also enables you to keep track of who made the payments and for which appointments.

Making and managing online appointments can be simple and convenient for everyone involved. Remember to identify your needs as well as your clients’ needs before choosing a final solution.

With Mailchimp appointments, you can customize the name of your services, service descriptions, and the duration of appointments. You can also customize availability times. Give it a try today and start booking appointments through your website.

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