For many small businesses, and some large businesses too, it seems the simplest of tasks—like booking appointments, for example—are the ones that end up taking the most time out of a busy workday. Dealing with the chaos of customer quirks and conflicting schedules can overshadow the "real" work you'd like to be doing. This familiar problem can be partially solved with technology.
Many cloud-based services are available to help businesses cope with the stress of booking customer appointments, establishing customer contact management systems, and managing the workload amongst employees. But now those services have competition from Microsoft, which announced the imminent general release of Microsoft Bookings as part of a standard subscription to Office 365.
Microsoft Bookings will create a web page where customers can go to schedule an appointment based on availability parameters configured by the business. Once a customer completes the form and commits to the appointment, the date, time, and contact information is forwarded to the appropriate employee and the appointment is inserted into a common calendar for all employees to see.
Customers can revisit the website if they need to change or cancel the appointment for any reason and the system will make the proper notifications. Microsoft Bookings will also automatically send confirmation emails and reminder emails based on parameters set by the business.
In addition—something that is very important these days—the website will scale and adjust depending on the device accessing it. In other words, the website will look good on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop—it doesn't matter.
SEE: Microsoft Office 365: The smart person's guide (Updated)
Microsoft Bookings is being rolled out to customers in the First Release program in July 2016, and to all customers in the next few months after that. Check the Get It Now section of the app launcher in the online version of Office 365.
While all the Microsoft Bookings features sound wonderful, they are not any more or any less than the features provided by services already in this market. The difference is that businesses can access this new service from within Office 365 at no additional cost.
Microsoft Bookings is being offered as a standard part of the Office 365 subscription package, which gives Microsoft a distinct advantage over other services, especially if the business in question is already an Office 365 customer.
However, there is one aspect of these services that tends to level the playing field—human nature.
For example, my dentist uses one of those cloud-based booking services and the initial appointment scheduling works great. I get reminder emails and at the beginning of the month I get an email with a file that will put the appointment on my Outlook calendar. But even after confirming my appointment using the system, I still get a call from the receptionist at the dentist's office to confirm the appointment again.
When I told her I had already confirmed it through the website, she said that she never looks at the website. She doesn't trust it and prefers to confirm appointments as she always has.
Booking services that provide better employee education and training may be able to mitigate any advantage Microsoft might get from offering Microsoft Bookings as a service inside Office 365. For many businesses, service trumps software.
Since Satya Nadella has taken over the helm, Microsoft has made it abundantly clear that it wants to be the only software company businesses will ever need. Through the combination of Azure, Windows 10, and Office 365, Microsoft seems to offer everything a business could possibly ever need when it comes to information technology infrastructure. Microsoft Bookings is just another arrow in its quiver of business services.
On some level, Microsoft's pitch is a compelling one—getting all your business software from one company reduces the juggling of accounts and the messy need to maintain compatibility. On the other hand, tying the future of your business to the fate and whims of one company carries an inherent risk of its own. Before jumping in with both feet, it may be wise to contemplate the matter thoroughly.
- Microsoft Office 365: The smart person's guide
- Microsoft takes another step toward making Office apps smarter
- Microsoft readies new appointment-booking service for Office 365 Business Premium users
- Google may be declaring war against Microsoft and Office 365
- Configure Outlook's Calendar view to suit your work routine
- 8 tools to help streamline scheduling meetings
Microsoft is creating a one-stop shop when it comes to business software. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Share your opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.