Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Can online scheduling services save time and money?


External Online Scheduling
A sample schedule calendar view based on a Web service provided by Net Appointment. ­
A sample schedule calendar view based on a Web service provided by Net Appointment. ­
©2008 HowStuffWorks

Companies that use online scheduling with external customers usually do so as a supplement to traditional scheduling systems. For example, a car dealership might allow customers to schedule a service center appointment online. Customers wouldn't have to call in to the center and speak with a representative. Instead, they would first register an account on the dealership's Web site. Then, they'd open the schedule and choose a time slot. The system might ask them about the nature of the service. At that point, the system would either send an e-mail to the customer or a representative would call to confirm the appointment.

Many businesses can take advantage of systems like these. Here's just a small sample of companies that could use online scheduling systems:

  • Airline reservations
  • Doctors' offices
  • Event sites
  • Party rental agencies
  • Restaurant and theatre reservations
  • Salons and spas

One of the considerations companies must make when implementing such a system is how much time it takes to complete a given task. While an appointment might have a specific time limit, that doesn't necessarily mean the business can accommodate two appointments back to back. That's why most online scheduling systems allow businesses to create time buckets. The bucket acts like a buffer, giving the business a little spare time on either end of an appointment. Subsequent appointments can't overlap the buffer. This helps keep all appointments on time and decreases delays.

Online scheduling can also give business owners an idea about how close to capacity they'll operate on a day-to-day basis. Using this information, owners can rearrange employee schedules to maximize efficiency. When coupled with an internal scheduling system, owners can balance customer needs and employee satisfaction.

Most businesses don't abandon traditional scheduling systems completely for online ones. They don't want to neglect customers who are unable or unwilling to use the Web to make appointments. In that respect, they consider online scheduling to be a convenience feature rather than a pivotal business function.

Customers' adoption of online systems depends on several factors. Those include technical, regional, generational and cultural traits. It's entirely feasible for a company with offices in different cities to see dramatically different usage levels of online scheduling among customer bases. For example, a chain of restaurants might have a lot of customers who prefer to schedule reservations online for restaurants in big cities, but see very few online reservations for locations in rural areas.

Just as companies need to consider if an internal online scheduling system makes sense for their business, they need to take these factors into consideration for external systems. It's important to keep in mind that such systems are supplemental. While they might make it easier to stay organized and reduce customer calls, they won't entirely replace traditional scheduling.

To learn more about online scheduling and other topics, schedule some time with the links on the next page.


More to Explore