As part of Office 365’s productivity suite, Microsoft has extended its cloud based offerings with interactive calendar features. We’ll have a look at two separate calendar solutions, that will free up administrative duties, empower your clientele, and perhaps free up your phone lines. Eliminating the back and forth of scheduling communications with these solutions may make scheduling appointments and booking rooms much more efficient for your organization.
MICROSOFT BOOKINGS: Appointment Scheduling
Bookings is an online, interactive reservation calendar that you, your staff, and your clients can use to coordinate appointments. This scheduling portal creates a unique web page that clients access through any web browser (they won’t need an app, or an Office 365 account to access calendars).
You set up the availability you want your clients to see. The client selects a service, and the day and time that a member of your team is available. The appointment is booked. The reservation includes your client’s contact information which is saved into a contact list to help you easily stay in touch.
After the appointment is made, a confirmation e-mail is sent to the client with an option to add to their calendar. Bookings will allow you to set up a reminder e-mail as well, based on how much notice you want to give before the appointment.
Bookings is compatible with mobile or desktop devices. The scheduling page can be sent to your clients via e-mail, displayed on your business website or on your Facebook page. The admin controls how much advanced notice (one hour, one week, etc.) is required to reschedule or cancel meetings.
Right now only Office 365 Business Premium users that are signed up for the first release program can start using Bookings. In the coming months all Business Premium customers will be able to take advantage of the web based calendar.
Bookings is a valuable tool for SMB’s, the service industry and even law firms looking to schedule phone conferences with opposing counsel. Many will find it useful as it integrates with Oulook.com, Outlook in Office 365 and Google calendars.
As it currently stands, only one Office 365 Business Premium account is needed to set up and manage Bookings. The rest of your staff can use any e-mail service to schedule appointments. No additional costs will be incurred for creating multiple pages or adding additional staff.
MEETING ROOMS: Reserving Conference Rooms
Much of our daily tasks are collaborative in nature. Reserving and maintaining conference room calendars can become an administrative nightmare. Double booking, only a couple of people occupying the largest boardroom, and holding a conference room for people that never actually use it are common scenarios any organization with multiple conference rooms have faced.
A little know feature of Outlook called Meeting Rooms, can help control and maintain multiple rooms. Administrators for your Office 365 account can set up Meeting Rooms. Each room will have its own email address to be used for invitation purposes. Set up new meeting rooms that represent physical locations in your office space. Rooms can then be reserved by people as they send out meeting invites. The event booking will be reflected in your personal calendar too.
Meeting Rooms gives you all sorts of powerful admin controls on the back end. The length of time a meeting can occupy a room can be set. In high traffic areas, it is advisable to limit the amount of hours a meeting can hold onto any one space.
You can also ban recurring meetings and limit advanced bookings. Scheduling events too far in advance can cause conflict. The conference room appears to be reserved and yet is never actually used.
Things to Consider
These calendar solutions are scalable, meaning they will grow as your business needs change. They also have what today’s tech savvy users are looking for: mobile responsiveness and an app (coming soon) for admins to manage through. Because Bookings is an Office 365 micro service, if successful one can only hope it will integrate well with other offerings.
Cloud solutions like Microsoft Bookings comes with pros and cons. As an Office 365 user, you’ve already decided the scalability, efficiency and cost savings outweigh any potential cons. Microsoft’s data center hosts Bookings, which means it is backed by Office365’s SLA. Keep in mind that if an outage occurs (due to software bugs, hardware errors, storms, etc.) the service will essentially be unusable. If your business depends on high availability (i.e., hospitals) it is important to know what the SLA covers. However being able to coordinate the most valuable commodity–time– 24/7 through a web-based booking page may be just what your business has been waiting for.