As a business owner, your availability is truly how you acquire new clients and create lasting connections. Unfortunately, what many businesses face as they expand is an increasing difficulty in connecting — that is, leaving time for appointments and making it easy for their clients to make them.

We get it! It can be hard to keep track of your calendar and your appointments. It can be even more difficult to keep your potential clients interested in working with you when they are forced to work with robots or confusing calendar applications to get a piece of your time. 

So, how do you change this? How do you keep people interested and engaged during the scheduling process to retain more leads and efficiently keep track of your calendar? In this article, we’re going to break down the three most common options for online appointment setting. 

Phone Scheduling: When ‘Old School’ Isn’t a Good Thing

One of the questions we hear all too often is “What’s wrong with good ol’ phone scheduling?” You are more than welcome to use phone scheduling — as long as you’re cool with moving your business headquarters to the Smithsonian with the rest of the dinosaurs.

All jokes aside, phone scheduling simply isn’t a viable option anymore (and we break down the reasons why it’s time for companies to start ditching phone scheduling for good). In a world where there’s an entire website dedicated to how annoying phone calls are over texts, do you really want to make the only way for your clients to connect with you a method they dread? 

This is where you should be shaking your head ‘no’ and asking what other options you have. This is also where the power of online scheduling comes into play. With online scheduling, the opportunities are endless and the actual engagement rate is significant. 

The Power of Online Scheduling

Unlike phone scheduling, online scheduling is an option that is actually viable. With the average consumer praying that they can simply schedule all appointments on their phone in the blink of an eye, online scheduling is the answer. 

However, some industries are more suited for this scheduling format over others. This is why knowing how your particular industry fares with online scheduling is essential. The industries that are seriously benefitting from online scheduling are healthcare, online coaching, fitness, entrepreneurs and small businesses, and the music industry. 

Although almost all industries are sure to benefit from online scheduling, these industries are setting the standard and proving the viability of online scheduling daily. According to Accenture, digital self-scheduling is so revolutionary for the healthcare industry that they expect 64% of all U.S. patients to book appointments digitally by the end of 2019.

Furthermore, according to LSA Insider, 40% of bookings occur after hours. This means that 40% of a business’ leads are lost simply by not having online scheduling options set in place. 

What online scheduling options are there and which one is right for you? To answer this, let’s look at the pros and cons of the three most popular online scheduling options. 

Calendar Booking: You Get What You Pay For

Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock, chances are you’ve used at least one calendar booking app to schedule an appointment for yourself. Considering how many calendar apps there are and the relative ease of use, it’s not surprising that calendar booking is a go-to for many businesses.

Pros: Easy-to-use, some free options

The main pros associated with calendar booking are simplicity and price. In many cases, calendar booking can be set up in a matter of a few minutes and, often, for free. This is why this option is a great choice for those looking for something basic to schedule a small number of clients starting out. If your business is new or still in a growth phase, this may work fine for you. 

Cons: You’ve got to pay to get the good stuff

The main con associated with calendar booking is the lack of functionality. Essentially, the free calendar applications are great starting off but, when things begin to expand and grow, the limits of these apps become very clear. 

Many of these free apps require tons of work and tinkering to get them to do what paid applications can and, in some cases, there really is no way to have them do these functions without busting out the AmEx. At this point in your business’ growth path, it’s time to move on to more functional options. Sorry not sorry, calendar apps. 

Chatbots: Robo-scheduling

If you’ve ever chatted in a website’s chat box with someone who couldn’t seem to answer a single question correctly, you’ve definitely dealt with a chatbot in your time (albeit, one who isn’t programmed very well!). Chatbots are also the functionality behind the automatic messages you often see when reaching out to a business on Facebook. 

Because chatbots are easy to use and can be customized for any business type, they are growing in popularity. So, what makes them useful and where do they fall flat? 

Pros: Automatic

The main reason companies use chatbots is because they provide that sense of human interaction without the expense of an actual person. They also are hands-free, meaning that you can keep your site visitors interested without doing anything at all. Essentially, the minute someone comes to your page, the chatbot can pop in and work with your visitor to schedule an appointment. 

Cons: Requires heavy customization to seem real

Not shocking? The main negative to chatbots is that, no matter how advanced they are, they will never be a real person. They don’t pass a Turing test and they aren’t equipped for more in-depth conversations. That can upset some — potentially many — of your customers. 

Even an advanced bot takes technical and ongoing planning to make it handle human idiosyncrasies. This can be a lengthy, stressful, and expensive process. This is why many people that are ready to take the next big step in their business move to live chat agents. 

Live Chat Agents: The Gold Standard

When a business is successful, you can see it. The way they handle their customer service, the client acquisition and retention process, and their ability to quickly solve problems are all things to take into account. When you reach a success point beyond free calendar apps and chatbots, it’s time for a live chat agent. Why are chat agents better than other options and how are they still improving? 

Pros: They’re human

The pros of live chat agents are clear before they are even outlined. Let’s face it, having a fellow human helping you through the scheduling process is pretty nice. Live chat agents are up to three times more productive than phone scheduling. A phone agent can only handle one call at a time; Flow’s chat agents take up to three chats at a time.

Furthermore, live agents can handle the nuances of dealing with another human being with ease. They provide consumers with the technologically advanced systems they want while giving them the human touch and connection they still crave. 

Cons: Consider after-hours coverage

Providing live chat agents is the gold-standard in online scheduling, but it does have limitations. Namely, if you don’t staff 24/7 or utilize an after-hours chatbot, you will lose those after-hours leads that online scheduling can provide. Fortunately, Flow not only provides the live chat agent management you require but also offers after-hours chatbot services to solve this issue. 

If you plan on seriously expanding your business through customer service and scheduling, there truly is no option better than to work with a qualified live chat service. 

In the end, online scheduling is the future of client retention and engagement. With multiple options available for online scheduling, each having its own unique qualities, the best solution for you depends on current lead volume, conversion goals, and what your growth plans look like.