Microsoft wants to put an end to the missed calls, endless email chains, after-hours voice mails and other hassles that come with trying to book appointments. The software maker this week unveiled a new service for Office 365 that allows salons and other appointment-based small businesses to extend online, self-service scheduling to their clients that works all day, every day.
The offering, dubbed Bookings, is currently being rolled out to Office 365 Business Premium subscribers that are enrolled in the First Release program. Over the next few months, Microsoft plans to make it available to all Business Premium subscribers.
"Bookings provides your business a unique web page that your customers can use to schedule appointments, even when you're not around to pick up the phone or respond to an email," stated Microsoft's Office 365 team in a July 20 announcement. "The web page is simple to use: the customer first selects the service they want and, based on availability you provide, chooses a day and time when you or one of your staff is available, enters their contact information and books the appointment."
Once an appointment is made, Bookings sends a confirmation email that contains a link to add it to the recipient's own calendar. For subsequent reminders, business owners can configure Bookings to send email reminders at a predetermined time before the appointment.
Bookings also makes it possible for a small business' customers to reschedule or cancel appointments without having to pick up the phone or send an email.
Confirmation emails and calendar appointments contain a link back to the scheduling page. From there, users can opt to reschedule, cancel or make new bookings. To help cut down on last-minute cancellations, Bookings allows businesses to set the advance notice requirements.
Businesses can sign up for the service by selecting Bookings from the Office 365 Web interface's app launcher. After entering some information about the business and the services it provides, users can publish their scheduling pages to the Web and start accepting appointments online.
A centralized booking calendar displays upcoming appointments along with their assigned staffers. Users can cancel, reschedule, reassign or create new appointments as needed. Microsoft is working on releasing a mobile app over the next few weeks that will provide smartphone access to the product's management features and client information.
To help manage appointments and customer lists, Bookings also offers a healthy dose of automation.
When appointments are made or changed, it is reflected on the calendars of individual staff members. Bookings integrates with Outlook, Outlook.com and Google calendar. The service also maintains a customer list by automatically creating a contact when a customer or business owner schedules an appointment.
Although Bookings is aimed at Small Businesses, Microsoft said the service will also be made available to some enterprise customers. Responding to comments in this blog post, Microsoft representatives revealed that Bookings will be included in Office 365 Enterprise E3 and E5 plans sometime in the future.