By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
For as long as telemessaging companies have been processing calls for doctors and other professionals, there have likely been requests to handle appointments. Although the clients were serious about these requests and the call centers anxious to assist, the result was, at best, less than desirable and at worse, a complete failure.
Problems with double booking, tracking cancellations, and coordinating openings were rampant, often overshadowing the benefits. The root cause of this was the lack of a centralized and common scheduling resource. Even after the advent of computers allowed schedules to be accessible electronically, connecting to a remote database was slow, cumbersome, and unreliable. Fortunately, the Internet has solved this last dilemma.
When powerful appointment scheduling software is married to the ubiquitousness of the Internet, the result is an up-to-date schedule, available to both office and call center. This allows employees and agents to fill, cancel, or change an appointment at any time, without the concerns of double booking or appointment overlap. A manager at a call center using SqueezeMeIn software said, “We scheduled over 3,800 appointments last month without one loss or double-booking.” Also, with the Internet, accounts can be easily dispersed throughout a multi-location operation, while large, high-volume projects can be shared by multiple call centers.
These programs, said Connie Johnson, product manager for Amtelco’s eCreator, can “accommodate any client’s appointment-taking needs, including giving access to remote agents or your clients, so they may make appointments using the same system in real time.” Allan Fromm, owner of Anser in Greenbay Wisconsin, who uses Amtelco’s eCreator for appointment scheduling, added, “We can easily schedule appointments…in our office or around the world, using the Internet.”
In this article, five vendors who provide Web-based appointment scheduling packages are highlighted. They are Almond Hill Enterprises, Alston Tascom, Amtelco, Creative Entropy, and TimeTrade, all of which host the software. This means that the call center does not need to purchase, install, maintain, or upgrade software, but rather accesses it via the Internet. Customers only pay for what they use, when they use it. Additionally, two of these companies, Amtelco and TimeTrade, provide the option for a call center to purchase the software for in-house installation. This allows customers to use the hosted version as they get started and then have the option to purchase the software at a later time, once they have built up their client base.
For all of this power and flexibility, these programs are highly intuitive and easy to learn. “Most agents catch on the first or second time they set an appointment; it’s really self-explanatory,” said Shane Green of Creative Entropy. “Our software was originally written for use by tanning salons, where many employees are part-time high school kids and training is non-existent. We have tried to maintain that level of simplicity.” Users of other software packages concur. “It’s so easy to learn,” said Renee Montoya, director of customer servicefor LaBell Exchange and user of TurboSchedule, “even a 5-year-old can use it.” The set-up and configuration is also not difficult. “No more tedious programming…it is easy to use, efficient, and affordable,” said Paul A. Alvaradofrom Professional Answering Services.
The power and value of these applications is not lost on the end user either. A chiropractor who uses Time Trade’s product attests to the value of Web-based scheduling software, saying, “We’ve seen a steady 30 percent increase in patient visits.” A massage therapist adds, “I no longer worry about losing business when I’m unavailable to take calls.”
Other companies also provide appointment-setting software. When considering other options, care should be taken as not all programs are as robust or full-featured. All five of the applications covered below share several important features that may not be present in other programs. These features are:
- Multiple schedules (such as separate doctor and nurse on-call schedules)
- Multiple resources (that is, people or classes)
- Multiple event or appointment types
- Various appointment lengths
- Ability to perform database lookups (to pre-populate fields)
- Provision of drop down menus (to enforce database consistency)
See our current listing of vendors that provide appointment setting software.
[From Connection Magazine – Jan/Feb 2003]