An online booking system is now proving an affordable luxury for SMEs across the UK – in fact, having one in place has almost become a no-brainer given the multitude of benefits it offers
“Having an online booking system in this day and age is just as important as having a telephone.” The cynics among us may suggest that, coming from the CEO of BookFresh, a California-based online booking software firm with a handful of UK clients, such a statement should be expected.
Nevertheless, Evan Ginsburg talks a good game, and why shouldn’t he, when he has clients from these fair shores queuing up to sing the praises of the service he provides them?
“It has definitely cut down the amount of work I have had to do,” says Genevieve Faulkner, who operates holistic therapy service White Wave Healing out of her South Kensington home.
“When I am seeing clients, I am not able to answer the phone so my main way of contacting my clients had been email, and it was taking me up to six emails to arrange an appointment. With all the timeslots set out and customers picking their own time, it saves so much time for me.” Faulkner also identifies the automated testimonial facility and storing of client data as notable benefits of the system.
However, this is merely scratching the surface of what an online booking service can, with a relatively moderate investment, achieve for a business.
Compare Faulkner’s venture to that of Kate O’Neill who runs Drinking Classes, a corporate hospitality business that hosts cocktail-making master classes and other team-building events across the country. O’Neill is in little doubt that the rapid expansion of her business would not have been possible without the help of BookingBug, founded by Glenn Shoosmith in 2009.
“It has been invaluable really,” comments O’Neill. “We couldn’t have scaled up so quickly if we weren’t using an online booking system. It is saving us a lot in man hours because everything can pretty much be automated, both from a logistical back-end operations point-of-view and the customer-facing side of things. It is all quite straightforward.”
Indeed, online booking systems appear to be a win-win, such is the ease of use and maximisation of trade they can offer customers and business-owners respectively. Shoosmith explains that it does for service-led businesses – and equally customers seeking a service – what a search engine simply can’t.
“The internet has got really good at product data and e-commerce data, in helping you find any item of goods you want and where you can buy that and get it shipped to you tomorrow,” he says.
“But for services it is terrible, and that applies to children’s entertainers and bouncy castles, spas and haircuts and windscreen chip repairers. Any sort of time-based service is very hard to find.”
One could argue that the phrase ‘time is money’ is overused, but it resonates with some vigour as far as online booking services are concerned. As Ginsburg succinctly puts it, “You have a virtual assistant that accepts appointments for you online 24/7. You are available when customers want you to be available, not simply when you are available to take bookings.”
Time-filling is as important as time-saving for these businesses though, and an online booking system can surely only be fulfilling its purpose if it is helping secure its clients the custom they desperately need in that period most commonly referred to as ‘off-peak’. Rest assured, the majority of systems are capable enough of doing this.
“A lot of service-based businesses accept walk-ins and they know they are going to be busy with walk-ins during certain periods of the day,” Ginsburg remarks.
“What an online booking system allows you to do is to block out those sections from online booking thereby pushing those folks who are wanting to book online into areas that are, shall we say, less busy during the day.”
Most software usually has marketing tools embedded, too, Ginsburg continues, thus allowing businesses to offer incentives to customers to book appointments at times when business owners know staff will have idle hands. Such marketing facilities extend to social media and various deal sites – not too much of shock you might think – but it all adds up to a wholesome and rewarding experience for the entrepreneur.
“There are a number of opportunities to upsell,” says Vinnie Morgan, director of Bristol-based Booking Live. “If you came to me and bought a hot-air balloon ride, which might cost you £100, there would be the opportunity to buy a bottle of champagne, for example.”
However, where online booking systems arguably offer the biggest return on investment is in their elimination of or, at the very least, contribution to a significant reduction in client cancellations, especially when this coincides with a facility to accept payments, or take deposits, prior to appointments.
Ginsburg gives the example of the numerous hair salons his company works with. “Their fees might be £75 or $100 per appointment and just one appointment per month not missed due to a text-based reminder more than pays for the £20-40 or $20-40 they are paying for this online booking service.”
This reference to automated reminders provides yet another example of how these systems remove unnecessary burdens from an entrepreneur’s busy working life, and in the process allows them to get on with the important stuff – i.e. making money.
“We are never creating headaches for the merchant,” Ginsburg reflects. “We are always making them more efficient and helping them do business on their terms. That is the real beauty of online booking systems.” Who’s the cynic now?