Guest Column - July 2010
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Perfect Timing
Online Scheduling Software Offers Reservation Solution

By Eric Richard

Capt. David Hennessey needed a solution for the way he booked reservations at his boat-rental business. As the owner—and sole employee—of North Carolina Boat Rentals in Southport, N.C., Hennessey took reservations from vacationers and boating enthusiasts the traditional way: by telephone. Besides the fact that telephone bookings were inefficient for Hennessey, his clients also did not have the option of booking their reservations and paying rental fees online at their own convenience.

Hennessey finally found the solution in online appointment-scheduling software. "I've been doing this for six years, and the main reason for using scheduling software is simplicity," he explained. "People want to book their reservations themselves before they come down for their vacations."

North Carolina Boat Rentals is just one of a growing number of recreation facilities that have tapped into the power of the Internet for their appointment- and reservation-scheduling needs. They're turning in their paper appointment books and electronic calendars for a more robust option to this important—yet very time-consuming—task.

Most online reservation and appointment scheduling technology is what's commonly known as Software as a Service (SAAS), whereby a company provides an application to customers for use as a service on demand. Like most SAAS programs, online scheduling services typically are housed online on a secure server, eliminating the need for a facility or individual to upload software or purchase costly hardware components for their computers or network. It's the same concept as checking your bank account online, sending e-mail or updating your social network page. You simply access a Web site or page, log in and manage your reservation scheduling.

Once the reservation solution is created and customized, facilities and instructors typically direct customers to their Web site, which features a button link or banner to access the online scheduling page. Depending on preference, operators can either require customers to register first before making a reservation or booking an appointment (the system typically will issue the individual a login name and password for future appointments) or bypass this step altogether and allow them to book freely without logging in.

After accessing the page, customers follow the instructions and book their reservation or appointment, which the system will then confirm automatically.

Automating the reservation process by allowing customers to book online, sending e-mail and text message reminders and centralizing data has its benefits. These include:

  • Saves time and money: Manually booking reservations can take up a lot of time, especially when using an appointment book or electronic calendar. Online scheduling software frees up valuable time and lets facility operators, instructors and staff members focus more on their customers and services.
  • Easy to access: Because they're Web-based, the online schedulers are accessible from any Internet connection.
  • Customer convenience: Both current and potential customers expect convenient online services. Not providing these could put a facility or business at a disadvantage, especially if competitors offer it.
  • Customer reminders: Many facility operators and instructors do not have the time to call or e-mail customers to remind them about their upcoming reservations. Since most people have cell phones and Internet access, automated e-mail and text reminders generated by the software are invaluable.
  • Better recordkeeping: Paper appointment books and electronic calendars are not an efficient way to manage your reservation and customer data. An online reservation scheduling system can centralize information and make it easy to generate accurate reports.
  • Reducing number of "no-shows": Few things cause as much anxiety among recreation facility operators as "no-shows" who make reservations and don't appear at their scheduled times. Surveys have shown that appointment reminders can help cut a company's no-show rate by 50 percent.