Small businesses must make important decisions for their operations to succeed. Rent their office space or buy it? Purchase new or used office furniture? Hire a receptionist or use an automated telephone answering system?
Another decision small businesses may have to make is whether to implement cloud-based or traditional appointment-scheduling system. With many differences between the two technologies, it’s important for small business owners to analyze their specific needs and conduct ample research into what software packages would work best for them.
AN OVERVIEW OF APPOINTMENT-SCHEDULING SYSTEMS
Appointment scheduling systems are software programs that allow small business owners and organizations-along with their staffers-to more easily book and manage their scheduled appointments. Without scheduling software, most proprietors rely on the more traditional manner of scheduling their appointments: A paper appointment book, pen and receptionist or staff member taking the appointments by phone or e-mail. Some may also utilize basic computer software, such as a database, to keep track of their scheduled appointments. Besides taking appointments, some businesses and organizations also inform their customers, clients, students and patients of their scheduled appointments with some form of reminder, such as a telephone call, e-mail or mailed card. In most instances, this process is inefficient and takes significant staff time to properly manager.
Additionally, a business’s office hours usually dictate when an individual can schedule an appointment. Considering the number of individuals who conduct their personal tasks online, the above appointment process is inflexible and does not allow a person to schedule his or her appointments when it’s most convenient, such as during after-hours.
With proper appointment-scheduling software, these essential-yet oftentimes time-consuming-tasks are managed automatically and with little user effort. However, like many software platforms, there can be many differences between providers. Case in point: Cloud-based appointment scheduling software offers features not found in traditional appointment-setting software packages.
Before we discuss the differences between the two, let’s first describe the general characteristics of each one. Cloud-based programs are a type of Software as a Service (SaaS) whereby users access the software online as a service on demand. As with most SaaS programs, online scheduling services are typically housed online on a secure server. Additionally, many do not require program installation or downloads. All it requires is an Internet connection to access the software.
The more traditional appointment-scheduling software programs are just that: The for-sales packages available at stores and online that require installation on each computer where staff will access it. Think of a word processing or accounting program for your home computer that you purchase and install. They can also be software purchased and downloaded online, but with no direct access to online databases, functionality and services. It’s basically the packaged software purchased through the Internet instead of a retail outlet.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO
Although both varieties of appointment software may offer similar scheduling capabilities, it’s important to note the differences found in each. It could have a dramatic impact not only on your business operations, but on your expectations of the product.
• Accessibility. This is probably the most important difference between the two. An online appointment scheduling system gives you the ability to access your account anywhere, at any time. All you need is an Internet connection. Traditional software you install on an individual computer is typically restricted to that device. Although you may have a program that allows you to access it from outside the office, it creates additional steps and is not an efficient way of managing your appointments.
• Self-Scheduling. More and more businesses and organizations are allowing their customers, clients, patients and students to schedule their appointments online at their own convenience. In fact, those that don’t offer this service may be missing the boat, as some individuals simply will not choose a service provider that doesn’t permit online transactions. Many cloud-based companies offer this feature, which is a natural fit for a SaaS program. Persons simply schedule their appointments in the same manner as other online services, such as purchasing travel or managing a bank account. It’s efficient, it’s easy, and individuals can schedule their appointments outside of normal business hours. Traditional scheduling software may offer this, but most likely would be an expensive alternative to Web-based technology, given the extensive programming and set-up procedures necessary to permit this functionality on existing computer networks and systems.
• Cost. With budget restraints a significant factor in most business decisions, cost of a new online appointment scheduling system is another consideration. Prices vary widely, from free to tens of thousands of dollars (for custom programming). Typically, Web-based software is the more affordable choice and provides the most “bang for your buck.” Additionally, some SaaS scheduling providers offer month-to-month service contracts without requiring a long-term commitment. This can oftentimes be the best option, especially for businesses and organizations with limited budgets or changing future needs.
In the world of online appointment scheduling systems, it usually comes down to two options: Web-based or non-Web-based. Make sure your business or organization examines its specific needs before deciding.