CXO

Online scheduling takes the headache out of making appointments

Online scheduling can make booking appointments with doctors, other businesses, and a variety of service providers simple and easy. Two companies are ready to roll out their hosted scheduling services this summer. Here are their business plans.


Are you tired of falling asleep to a telephone symphony while waiting to schedule an appointment with your doctor? Does it take you two weeks to track down someone to paint your kitchen? Soon the remedy to your appointment headaches will be provided with online scheduling, or e-scheduling, services. By the end of June, two such companies will be offering these scheduling services over the Web.

ServeClick and jacknabbit.com are releasing two different types of e-scheduling services geared towards making appointment scheduling easy and efficient. ServeClick, run by a three-year-old application service provider (ASP), Connectria, allows users to browse lists of service providers and then schedule appointments based on the provider a customer selects. Jacknabbit.com enables a customer to schedule appointments directly with a service provider like a doctor or an optometrist. Both services can also be leveraged to fit into business-to-business relationships.

How it works
“Anybody that ever scheduled anything anywhere anytime needs this kind of an application,” said Warren Aut, president and chief operations officer of jacknabbit.com. Aut, a retired rear admiral of the United States Navy, was once the chief of staff for the Supreme Allied Command of the Atlantic Ocean. Aut’s newest responsibility is to make jacknabbit.com an IPO success within the next year.

The service jacknabbit.com provides is simple. A provider signs up and configures an online appointment book that reflects the needs of the service. A link to a jacknabbit.com browser is set up on the provider’s Web site. Customers make appointments using the browser to pick from a list of available times. “All we’re doing is providing a real-time online Internet-based replacement to the appointment book,” said Richard Schulenberg, the company’s founder and CEO.

ServeClick’s service differs slightly from jacknabbit.com’s. With ServeClick, a customer selects a particular service they are in need of. Customers use ServeClick to browse through a list of providers in a certain geographical area that provide the service desired, much like looking though a phone book under a specific heading. Instead of calling a selected provider, a ServeClick user can automatically make the appointment online.

E-scheduling in real time
Scheduling appointments in a Web environment means customers can book appointments anytime, even in the middle of the night. Since both services can be integrated into an existing call center, real-time capability is critical to keeping all incoming appointments organized. The way to make this possible is coupling a browser with a real-time management system. ServeClick and jacknabbit.com use real-time functionality to keep appointments in check.

Keeping it simple is key
Jackie Engel, vice president of marketing and communications at Connectria, believes in keeping ServeClick’s scheduling service user-friendly. “One of the jewels of our approach is that we try to make this thing so simple,” she said.

Even with keeping the service simple, Engel explained that online scheduling will experience a few growing pains because it does not have the level of commitment other online services have. For instance, when you shop you make a commitment by agreeing to purchase a service or an item. The transaction is completed when the service is finished or the UPS driver rings your doorbell to deliver a package. The same level of commitment is not yet there for online scheduling. “E-commerce is focused on things you can buy. Services have been left out because you can’t complete the transaction online,” Engel said. “Online scheduling lets the service provider get that commitment.”

Schulenberg agrees. “In today’s world, [e-scheduling] is not a large factor, but in time the Internet will become more invasive in an individual’s way of life. It will become a standard mode of operation for individuals to book appointments for a variety of things online,” he said.

Implementation of both products is user-friendly. ServeClick guides a company through a few screens designed to ask what the company needs out of a scheduling service. Jacknabbit.com works in the same manner. Both companies are hosting their services. Some of the providers who tested ServeClick were in the beginning stages of creating their own online appointment programs, said Engel. “It is more beneficial and timesaving to let an ASP take over the scheduling process,” she said.

Take a closer look
Both services can be leveraged to fit a business-to-business relationship as well as a business-to-customer relationship. “We don’t profess to be experts in any niche markets. The people that own their business are the experts. We let them set up the system the way they need it,” said Schulenberg.

Unlike services such as Opentable.com, which only schedule restaurant appointments in select cities, several vertical markets can use jacknabbit.com. Jacknabbit’s “system is generic to allow for easier implementation to different markets,” Schulenberg said. Basically, jacknabbit.com can be used any time a scheduling service is needed.

ServeClick can also be used for business-to-business interaction. “The business configurator is going to vary upon the industry,” said Engel. Engel also stated that ServeClick can be used to collect customer data. “One clear benefit is the collection of customer data for CRM [customer relationship management] analysis,” she said.

When to expect the release
ServeClick has released a beta version to a group of what Engel called "early experience users." So far, response to ServeClick has been favorable. An open version of the beta will be available this summer. Jacknabbit.com has also given out test versions to certain customers. The company will release a full version of its scheduling software at the beginning of June. “We have clients standing in line to sign up,” said Aut. Customers can begin to configure the product after the first of June. “By the end of June, we will be online in real time with our latest version already advancing and collecting revenue,” Aut said.

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