Management

Finding the Appointment Scheduling Software for Your Industry

January 25, 2017 • 7 min read

For small businesses, technology offers access to economies of scale that were once the sole territory of larger competitors. In the same way OpenTable and Yelp Reservations altered the restaurant industry, cheap or cheapest — free — tools like appointment scheduling software now allow any small shop to play the role of giant.

Scheduling software has transformed—and simplified—the way small business owners manage their operations, from integrating employee rotations to sending automatic notifications to clients. The most profound effects have been in the service industries, where the constant flux in bookings can cause unpredictable costs. Scheduling apps smooth out and reduce the cost of some of that variability.

At their core, these platforms allow customers to make appointments with your business at any time of the day, without involving you or an employee manning the phone or monitoring email. For owners, scheduling software means additional value in streamlined communications with customers: text and email updates, billing and payment integration, and in some cases, branded mobile apps.

But how to choose among the options? No clear leader exists, but a few repeatedly rise to the top in reviews.

Acuity

Great if you … have a few locations because this well-rounded choice costs just $19 a month for up to six staff or locations.

Genbook

Great if you … want to dive into the deep end — this platform offers more than 100 features and supports two to five staff members for $50 each month.

Square Appointments

Great if you … already use Square for payment processing, with a similar price point at $50 per month for two to five staff.

These general scheduling solutions prove useful for many businesses, but sector-specific apps fill needs not covered by some of the popular options above. Three small business owners talked with Townsquared about their experiences with these time-saving tools.

Sector-specific appointment scheduling software

Animal Care

dogs

Doggy Lama Pet Care, Inc. uses Pet Sitter Plus.

“We try not to get a lot of last-minute changes,” says Molly Kenefick, owner and founder of Doggy Lama Pet Care, Inc. “We try to have our clients sign up for a regular schedule. Every time there’s a change, it can introduce the opportunity for error.”

Errors carry costs, whether in time, actual dollars, or missed sales. Kenefick started scheduling with spreadsheets, but she recognized the need for a more integrated system as her team grew. The East Bay pet care business employs about 30 people, making it one of the larger clients for scheduling software Pet Sitter Plus. That means Kenefick and her team enjoy the kind of priority treatment a larger corporation might receive from some of the general apps. “A lot of pet sitters are pretty small fry,” she notes. “It would have been hard to compete with some of the other companies with different business models.”

Doggy Lama specializes in pack hikes, so Kenefick uses scheduling apps to help her fit a new client into a diverse set of animal personalities, moods, and health levels.

“I’m hiking with six dogs twice a day in rain or heat. To integrate a new dog, we have to think about that carefully. The dogs have to get along. It’s good for us to get something specialized.”

Kenefick says Pet Sitter Plus replaced a handful of various management programs, and the interface includes far more than a simple calendar.

“It’s a record of what vet the dog goes to and emergency contacts. If we have an earthquake or a dog gets stung by the a bee, we have that info in our hand.”

Plus, the platform has unified the hodgepodge of invoice formats employees used to submit into unified, automated statements.

Other platforms for Animal Care: Time To Pet, Revelation Pets, 123Pet

Sector: Spas and Salons

massage

In-Symmetry Wellness Spa uses Booker.

Candace Combs started out with Gmail and Google Calendar, but that didn’t last.

“It did everything I needed as a single therapist,” says the founder and owner of San Francisco’s In-Symmetry Wellness Spa. “When I started hiring people, there was no way we could use that. A lot of people were using books. Physical books. No.”

Combs brings a tech background to her work, and she anticipated some of the direction in her field. But software presented a cost-prohibitive option, complete with servers and shelves of gear needed to operate digital, in-house scheduling solutions in the early 2000s.

“You were losing small business people,” she says. “It was geared to the big spa. Having online booking software changed everything. It is my everything.”

Combs manages thousands of customers and corresponds with texts and emails via Booker. Customers can even download a mobile app that Booker branded with the San Francisco spa’s logo and design needs.

In other words, technology has lowered the barrier to entry for service-based businesses like In-Symmetry.

“You pay $30 a month and this is what you get, or if you pay $50, you get this. It allowed me to compete in the big spa world without having a million dollars. Even Google Calendar helped the average small business owner become bigger. You can send an email notification — that’s huge.”

In-Symmetry now employs 30 people, and Combs has started planning franchises. Booker helps her manage the expanding network.

“Booker seemed more intuitive for my employees. Massage therapists are not techy people. I needed something really simple for them.”

Other platforms for spas and similar businesses: Vagaro, SimplyBook.me

Sector: Health and Fitness

rock steady boxing seattle

Rock Steady Boxing Seattle uses MINDBODY.

“When you’re a small business owner, there’s never enough hours in the day,” says Karen Johanson, founder and owner of Rock Steady Boxing Seattle, boxing training for people with Parkinson’s.

“Having [fewer] things to think about is where technology can make running a small business a whole lot easier.”

For Johanson, that means eliminating long lines of customers waiting to sign up for classes and scrambling to answer phone calls from potential customers who want to know about classes and hours. Johanson says she managed in the early days, but the growth of her Seattle business pushed her toward a digital aid.

“I realized that in order to serve my clients well and have a good teacher-student ratio, it would make sense to have a better idea of who was coming every day.”

She picked MINDBODY because it operates as one of the leaders in the fitness arena. MINDBODY’s app won the 2016 Webby Award for the fitness and recreation category. With a customer base of more than four million users, the company also has broad data to share with owners.

“I haven’t run all the reports yet, but MINDBODY has some tools where you can look at ebbs and flows. It can help you determine where to add classes or where you might want to scale back because it’s worked with a lot of people.”

However, only a small percentage of Rock Steady customers have adopted the online sign-up and other tools Johanson offers. Her business works with people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and with her technology background, she sees an opening for digital tools to better serve customers.

“I’m a fairly niche type of business, but there’s certainly other businesses in the fitness and wellness space who deal with people who are not as tech savvy, whether it’s because they’re older or because they have a disability that makes it difficult to use it.”

Johanson says improvements that accommodate people who don’t interact with technologies in typical ways could improve the interactions for her and her customers. For example, companies could add voice control to appointment booking pages.

“With Siri or Alexa, we may be heading toward that, but we’re not there yet.”

Other platforms in this sector: The Training Notebook, TrainerFu

If you’re interested in trying any of these scheduling solutions, check out Capterra, a website that collects user reviews for business software.

boxing image courtesy of Rock Steady Boxing Seattle


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