Managing appointments is one of the biggest overheads for service-oriented small businesses. Businesses that handle appointments manually often hire one or more employees to book appointments, schedule staff, make reminder calls, and a host of other administrative tasks that go along with scheduling a busy office.
The personal touch is important, but managing appointments the old-fashioned way is expensive and inefficient. It’s also prone to errors, with double-bookings and missed sessions a common occurrence for many businesses. Forward-looking businesses automate the appointment booking process, reducing costs and errors.
The ideal appointment booking service is almost entirely automated. A client decides to make an appointment and visits the business’s website. They’re presented with a calendar that includes available appointment slots. They choose the slot that is most appropriate for them, and perhaps enter payment details. The system adds the appointment to the professional’s calendar, sends a confirmation to the client, and also sends one or more reminders on the day of the appointment.
WordPress is capable of doing all of this, in addition to being an excellent content management system on which to build a small-business lead generation site.
The Ideal Appointment Booking System
There is a basic set a functionality that all customer-facing scheduling systems should provide.
- An intuitive calendar interface that clients can use to choose an appointment date and time. It should be easy to use and not expect too much technical ability from clients.
- Multiple calendars for managing appointments for several professionals and for different appointment types.
- Automated reminders: it’s been shown that sending automated email or SMS reminders significantly reduces no-shows.
- Integration with other calendaring services: professionals may prefer to use their mobile device’s native calendar or a cloud calendar such as Google Calendar.
Because WordPress is such a popular business content management system, there are many appointment scheduling plugins to choose from. We’ll have a look at two of the most popular: BirchPress Scheduler and Appointment Calendar.
BirchPress Scheduler is a premium appointment booking plugin that ticks all the boxes. It provides an easy-to-use customizable booking form that can be embedded in any WordPress post or page, and configurable email notifications and reminders. BirchPress can also be used to take credit card payments with PayPal or other payment gateways via WooCommerce integrations.
For newer businesses without the budget to pay for BirchPress, Appointment Calendar is a viable alternative with a free option that would suit most small businesses. Appointment Calendar provides a mobile-friendly booking calendar with email notifications. The premium version of the plugin adds many more features, including unlimited staff and services, Google Calendar sync, email reminders, and payment gateway integration.
Neither of the plugins we have looked at includes native SMS integration, but if you would like to send SMS notifications to clients, the WP Twilio Core plugin provides text messaging functionality via the popular Twilio platform.
WordPress, when combined with performance-optimized WordPress hosting and one of the scheduling plugins we have looked at, is a complete website solution for any appointment-based enterprise.