Set Up Self Scheduling For Your Customers With Microsoft Bookings

You have many customers who you see on a daily basis. Typically, these customers call your office, speak to the front desk person, and get an appointment scheduled. The front desk person has access to all of your employees’ calendars, and they go through the requested employee’s calendar to find an available slot. While that’s happening, there’s another person waiting in line (on hold) to get their appointment booked. Oh, and also, the appointments can only be booked between 8 AM and 4 PM- during office hours (while your human front desk person is available to take calls).

What if you could let your customers schedule their appointments themselves without having them to call the office? How convenient would it be for them (and you) to schedule an appointment any time of the day? It would be a relief too for people who don’t like talking on the phone. (like me!)

Picture the following scenarios:

  • Dentist’s office: New and existing patients call all the time to book appointments.
  • Auto body shop: Customers need an appointment to get work done on their cars.
  • Educational institution: Students need to schedule a meeting with their teachers, professors, advisors.
  • Not for profit organization: You work with victims of abuse. Your clients would like to meet with their case managers when they need help.
  • Bike shop: Your current customers want to schedule an appointment for a tune-up. New customers want to come to the shop to look at bikes.
  • Wealth Managers/ Tax Consultants: Your clients want advise on how to manage their wealth; need to meet with you so you could help them file their taxes.

You see what’s happening here? We are surrounded by businesses/establishments that require us to meet with them in person to get our work done. As an institution that caters to the needs of others, it is our responsibility to make things more comfortable and easier for our customers. For starters, we can let our customers schedule their own appointments!

Exit light. Enter Microsoft Bookings.

If you are an Office 365 customer, especially Business Premium, you may have seen a new product called Microsoft Bookings in your suite. You can use this product to easily set up self-scheduling for your customers. Here is what it does:

  •  Provides a web interface for your customers that they can use to schedule their appointments with either specific employees in your office or anyone (random selection). It finds available time on your employees’ calendars and lets customers schedule appointments in those slots.
  •  Lets you set work days & hours for the business and individual employees so that customers don’t schedule anything outside of those days and hours.
  • Lets you setup all services you offer. Customers can pick the service they want to schedule an appointment for.
  • Sends confirmation and reminder emails to both employee and customer.
  • Allows cancellation and rescheduling of appointments.
  • Provides a calendar view of how busy your employees are.

Who is it for?

  • Definitely small and medium sized businesses. Businesses that may not have the resources to implement a full fledged scheduling portal. Microsoft Bookings is a straightforward solution for them to help their customers with self scheduling.
  • Smaller groups/departments within larger companies that don’t have self scheduling on their portals yet. These groups can use Microsoft Bookings as an interim solution until their company moves to an enterprise-wide platform.
  • Not for profits/ educational institutions. Anyone who wants to schedule meetings with their clients/students/parents.
  • Others!

What it doesn’t have (yet)

Currently, Microsoft Bookings operates as a standalone solution. However, since it is an Office 365 product, we should see it integrate with Dynamics 365, and Microsoft Flow in the near future. An appointment in Microsoft Bookings will most likely be able to sync to CRM for Dynamics 365 or have Microsoft Flow create a record in Dynamics 365. Having said that,  you can
definitely use “Automatic Record Creation and Update Rules” now to create records in CRM based on notification emails you get from Microsoft Bookings. That would ensure that you could start a bunch of workflows that can perform several actions for you related to (pre/post) appointment.

Conclusion

This is one solution you should definitely try if you are seriously considering providing your customers with the ability to book their own appointments. It’s possible that in the future, as your requirements get more complex, Microsoft Bookings may not be the right solution for you anymore, and that’s when you can migrate to something else. (Or maybe Microsoft will keep adding more features to it!)

Availability

At the time of writing this article, Microsoft Bookings is available with the Business Premium edition of Office 365 and will roll out to other plans soon.

Check It Out!

Want to see how it works? I created a demo page that has self scheduling for a fake bike shop. Check it out!

If you are ready to get started, you can check out some tutorials here.

Tide: An App That Helps Me With Concentration & Focus

I’d be lying if I said that I am not going through a lot of stress these days. In the last two weeks, I have seen myself not very motivated to do things that I love to do – write, read, explore. In order to distract myself from all the stress, and to sort of get my concentration & mojo back, I decided to explore technology a little more than I usually do, and dive into the world of apps – apps that will possibly help me regain focus, and be more consistent with all the things I do. Maybe they will help me get even more creative, relaxed, and productive.

Is that too much to ask for from apps?

Tide

I am not the guy who listens to music when I am writing. I typically require peace and quiet around me for that, and that’s why I don’t like going to coffeeshops to write. My personal heaven is a library or my own apartment, at 5 in the morning. The pin drop silence early in the morning works wonders for me – no  traffic outside, no loud beeping of garbage trucks reversing and maneuvering to get to the dumpster, no chatter from people around me.

A week or so ago, I discovered Tide in the app store. The concept of Tide is simple – it has a few sounds that you listen to while working on things. Nothing more, nothing less. Apparently, it helps you stay focused. It had good reviews and ratings.

My apprehension immediately kicked in because of reasons mentioned above. However, I decided to give it a shot. It’s a free app after all – what have I got to lose?

The app has five sounds you can choose from – Forenoon, Rain, Forest, Muse, and Cafe. Forenoon is basically the sound little waves make when a boat glides through water. Muse is soft, relaxing piano music. The rest are self explanatory.

I cannot explain what really happened, but when I tried this app, by starting with Muse, I immediately got hooked. I was astonished by how instantly effective Muse was. I immediately had razor sharp focus, and forgot about everything else around me. I was calm. Not distracted at all. I gave it a few more listens (while writing and researching for my blog), and felt the exact same focus. In fact, I have written a couple of  posts for Assistive Technology Blog now while listening to it, and I am listening to it now as I write this post. The app uses Pomodero technique that set the timer to 25 minutes (by default) and provides 5 minute breaks after each 25 minute cycles.

Based on my experience with Tide the last few days, I will go as far as to say that I am slowly getting addicted to it!

The interface is minimal – it has a calming photo in the background, a round, sleek countdown timer, and an inspiring quote. If you care about statistics, it also keeps track of how focused you were each day, and gives you weekly, monthly numbers etc.

I will try the other sounds soon (probably) but I think I’ll definitely avoid Coffee Shop. That’s definitely not my cup of tea.

If you struggle with staying focused on things, or generally need some white noise/ background noise to stay calm, I highly recommend this app.

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Download Tide here.