Online booking is a great tool for local businesses. It allows consumers to schedule appointments without the back and forth of telephone/IVR interaction or after hours when no one is available. It’s also increasingly a capability that consumers are expecting, especially younger customers.
Survey data below from Yodle (2014) argue that nearly two-thirds of consumers expect or want online booking from SMBs. I strongly suspect the numbers would be higher if the survey had been done this year.
Most service businesses should be implementing online booking. However, they must choose providers carefully and not implement any system can’t be relied upon to fulfill customer expectations.
The dirty secret of some of these systems is that they’re more manual than automated. Some aren’t directly tied into the local business back office and thus appointments offered online don’t represent actual appointment availability.
In some cases, an email with an appointment request is sent to the business. That has to be entered and confirmed more or less manually. For this reason, there can be a meaningful lag between the entry of the “appointment request” and an email confirmation 24 or 48 hours later. (Yet most people believe that when they schedule the appointment online they’re confirmed for that time, like OpenTable.)
A recent case in point: I made an eye exam appointment through an online scheduling system at a local optometrist’s office. I was happy to encounter the online booking option, which enabled me to avoid the hassle of calling the office. But the system simply didn’t work.
I made an initial scheduling attempt, only to receive the above email informing me that the appointment I thought I had made was not available. This happened three times with three different appointments.The non-confirmations were not immediate however.
After the third failure I called the office, frustrated. I spoke to a person I imagine was either the receptionist or office manager. When I told her of my repeated failures with their system, she was defensive and grudgingly promised to pass along my feedback.
Ultimately I scheduled an appointment with her over the phone — old school. She explained that there is lots of patient rescheduling that doesn’t get reflected in the online system. I responded that it would be better not to have an online booking system than one that creates expectations and fails to deliver. A lead form — even voicemail — would be better.
New technologies (though online booking isn’t new) shouldn’t be used if they don’t work or can’t deliver a good customer experience. As a result of my bad booking experience, I now have a negative opinion of this optometrist, which will have to be overcome with very good service — that is if I don’t cancel and go someplace else.
This is not the kind of introduction a local business wants to make to a potential customer.