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As small businesses across Australia emerge from COVID-19 restrictions, lockdowns and border closures, they’re re-entering a dramatically different operating environment from the one they’re accustomed to.
With restrictions easing nationally, business owners are emerging into something of a strange new world. Business-as-usual is no more – our ‘new normal’ means meeting new requirements around physical distancing, hygiene, collecting customer information and more.
With businesses generally operating with reduced customer numbers and keen to maximise revenue at the end of a tough year, many are looking to streamline the way they work and simplify appointment management. Online booking systems are becoming a key tool to manage customers for different businesses in a post-COVID-19 world, from hairdressers to gyms, bars, restaurants, healthcare providers and more.
What’s an online booking system?
An online booking system allows customers to book and pay for your service through your website or social media channels. Sometimes called appointment scheduling software, it streamlines the booking process for both you and your clients, handling reschedules, cancellations, online payments and reminders according to business rules set by you.
What are the benefits of an online booking system?
- Accept bookings 24/7. An online booking system lets customers make their bookings 24 hours a day, seven days a week, wherever they are. It’s more convenient for clients, and you won’t lose business because you weren’t able to answer a booking call. (Make sure your voicemail refers callers to your website if they’re looking to make an appointment).
- Take deposits. Last-minute cancellations and no-shows are particularly tough for businesses operating with reduced customer limits due to COVID-19 restrictions. Your online booking system should outline your cancellation policy and charges; many hospitality and beauty businesses are asking for deposits upfront to confirm a reservation.
- Reduce admin. Managing bookings manually creates an administrative burden – sifting through voicemails, returning calls and the inevitable phone tag that often arises can consume a lot of your time. A quality online booking system lets clients view all available appointment times on the dates that suit them, and book and pay (either in full or a deposit) or at the click of a button.
- Access customer insights. Managing reservations digitally allows you to capture a wealth of client information compared with a manual approach. Software like Square Appointments enables you to create customer profiles, view each client’s appointment and sales history, and add notes to capture birthdays, special preferences and more.
- Keep pace with competitors. ‘Walk-ins’ are fast becoming a thing of the past with businesses from all industries encouraging clients to pre-book where possible, and customers learning to plan ahead. If your competitors offer online booking and you don’t, you’re likely to lose customers who want instant confirmation that you can accommodate their reservation.
What features should I look for in an online booking system?
- Website integration. Encourage clients to book directly from your website and social media pages. Square Appointments is compatible with web software like Wix, providing a seamless booking experience for users.
- Real-time booking. A system that updates bookings in real-time shows customers only the time slots that are available and means there’s no chance of double bookings.
- Flexible payment options. Make it easy for your customers to book and pay online by offering multiple payment methods. Square Appointments enables you to take secure payments with no hidden fees through the Square Appointments POS system.
- Automated reminders. Sending customers automated email or SMS reminders prior to their booking will reduce no-shows, save you from contacting clients manually, and eliminate lost revenue due to missed appointments.
- Cancellation management. Last-minute cancellations and no-shows are inevitable, but a quality online booking system will allow you to manage them professionally and minimise any financial impact on your business. Square Appointments lets you create a no-show fee policy that clients must agree to when making a booking, so you’re not out of pocket if they don’t show up.
- Gift cards. Offering physical and digital gift cards alongside appointment booking capability allows clients to spend money with your brand and introduce your business to others outside your operating hours.
- Loyalty program. An online loyalty program can encourage customers to keep using your online booking system. Reward them for their next online booking, offer volume discounts or create exclusive member-only online offers. Square Loyalty works alongside Square Appointments to allow you to create a customer loyalty program tailored to your brand.
As businesses of all types and sizes adjust to a new way of operating, they’re looking for tools to help them run efficiently and profitably. Online booking systems like Square Appointments are a useful tool for business owners needing to manage bookings in a more structured way than before.
A good booking management system will become a virtual receptionist for your business, allowing you to spend less time managing appointments and more time with your customers. From a client perspective, appointment scheduling software delivers a convenient and hassle-free experience, allowing them to choose a date, select a time and pay for their booking whenever it suits them.
With your business able to manage bookings in real-time 24/7, an online reservation system means you’re effectively always open for business and able to accept bookings and payments while you sleep – utopia for any business owner!