Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast
Keep in mind the Swiss Railway system when running a business. Why? Because being on time and delivering on time is important. Luckily, the beauty of technology has now made possible the ability to automate even time scheduling, thereby allowing more time to be spent on the things that matter.
Being late or disorganized in scheduling weakens one’s position and wastes time, as one would need to catch up and possibly rush the task at hand. It gives the impression of not being in control, and when managing other people like staff, suppliers, or customers, that creates stress. There’s one view that not being on time to a meeting equates to “stealing” from the other person who was on time, and so being on time is also about respect and consideration of others’ time. For time-based businesses, being late or not being there at all wastes money. People get judged on the ability to manage themselves, and that translates into how clients think the work will be managed for them. Promising efficiency at the job but showing up late displays a lack of control of one’s own faculties, let alone of the faculties of the client.
With most people working remotely, it’s not longer possible to simply ask people if they’re free on a certain day and time. It needs to be more organized than that. The challenge is that with technology, more than one operating system is normally used. It’s a combination of personal systems, like mobile phones running on Android or iOS, and professional systems, like Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Google, or iCloud, plus the huge number of project management software available like Asana, Slack, and Trello. Tackling time and scheduling, the issue is how to schedule professional time across timezones, how to coordinate schedules across teams and clients, how to differentiate between personal time versus professional time.
How to pick the right appointment scheduling software
Another issue is payment processing. There are different payment methods such as PayPal, Stripe, and Transferwise. Some allow direct payment to a bank account. Some allow taking a deposit for an appointment before the appointment has actually taken place, and some enable refunds. Because so many people now attach time and money to one another, it’s obvious and essential to link the appointment booking with the payment processing, because it prevents having to send an invoice after the event, which creates extra work.
Having multiple points of access is another criterion. Even with appointment booking through a website, attaching a link in emails to make a booking is also helpful. Some of the more established booking applications allow embedding widgets into social media websites, such as Facebook, WordPress, or Google My Business. Another element to consider is the integration with other calendars. Outlook, Office 365, Exchange, iCloud, and Google Calendar are the main ones, but some of these newer platforms like Asana or Basecamp also work well to synchronize with desktops and mobile phone calendars. Next would be SMS integration. The more powerful calendar systems send notifications to all parties, not just through email, but through SMS too. Sites like Acuity do this, and that replaces the need to call or send an email. Even Zoho has an integration with SMS.
One other point worth considering is if appointments can be set offline and then synchronized. Back in the late ’90s, there was the Microsoft Exchange Server, but it would only go online to synchronize with everybody once a day. Now, there’s a platform called Setmore which has a desktop app for people to set appointments on. This could be useful if you’re in the field and don’t have mobile connectivity. It also operates and allows for integrations with business software like MailChimp, QuickBooks, Salesforce, Zendesk, and Zoho.
The power of Zoho
Integration is such a key part now of scheduling, because everyone’s using multiple platforms and multiple apps on multiple devices. For those using the Zoho CRM or Zoho One, which is the platform with over 50 apps in it, appointment scheduling can also be done through the use of Zoho Bookings. For those using Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the integration of Calendly with Zoom is great. It enables someone to make a booking and automatically issue an appointment generated by Zoom along with the domain and the passcode, making it an all-in-one solution. If you need to integrate Microsoft Teams, that’s extra work.
Zoho Bookings is part of the $30-a-month bundle on Zoho One. Acuity Scheduling, on the other hand, has a free option and a paid plan for $15 a month. With Calendly, it’s around $150 a year for the companywide account which enables multiple users. You can book for not just one person, but for teams which is another dimension to consider. There’s also a company called Timify which claims to have 45,000 businesses in 26 countries using their software. They’re free for single users and startups with a £18, £30, £52 monthly plans for businesses with unique needs. On Capterra, there are 68 companies that offer free trials for their automated scheduling services. Zapier has even got a blog post on what they consider the best appointment scheduling software.
A few things to take into consideration are the business process and the reputation. In 2018, The Bild in Germany released an article saying that the pride of the German state was once its railways, that it used to be the envy of much of the world, but the national railway network is now showing considerable signs of strain and decline, and there were accusations of chronic underinvestment in its infrastructure. The Bild ran the article and in it, it said, “To the neighboring Swiss who are annoyed by German unpunctuality because it messes up their own train timetable, we’re becoming a joke.” The point is that one’s own time and how it’s managed isn’t just important to that person. Much like the German train system impacting the Swiss train system, one’s own time management impacts those in his/her environment. Even though a business may be small and using multiple locations, logins, and platforms, there are tools out there that enable the automation and personalization at scale of time management.