By Peter DeHaan
Aside from common tasks such as taking messages, processing orders, and providing customer service, a familiar request of call centers is to schedule appointments and sign up attendees for conferences and events. Until recently, however, attempting to do so has been problematic. Double booking, effectively tracking cancellations, and coordinating openings were rampant, often overshadowing the benefits. This was not only a common dilemma among call center agents, but even more so between the call center and customer, be it an in-house department or an external client. The root cause of these problems 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 appointment scheduling and registration taking software is married to the ubiquitousness of the Internet, the result is an always current database that is available to all interested entities, including the call center agent, the customer, and the end-user. This allows anyone to schedule, cancel, or change an appointment or registration at any time, without the concerns of double booking or over scheduling. With the Internet, scheduling can also be Web-enabled, allowing individuals to self-schedule or self-register at any time, from any place that is Internet ready.
Many scheduling programs are hosted software. This means that the call center does not need to purchase, install, maintain, or upgrade any software, but rather accesses it via the Internet. Fees vary from flat rate to usage sensitive. Alternately, some packages can be purchased by the call center for in-house installation. This allows call centers to use the hosted version as they get started, with the option to purchase the software later, if it becomes cost-effective to do so.
For all their power and flexibility, these programs tend to be intuitive and easy to grasp. The learning curve for agents is quick; they often comprehend the basics after just a couple of calls and master the details within an hour.
Common features of these programs include:
- Multiple schedules for different resources, such as people, places, or technologies
- Multiple event or appointment types
- Various length appointments
- Ability to perform database lookups (to pre-populate certain fields with caller information)
- Drop down menus to enforce database consistency
- Event and conference registration options for mass scheduling
Most scheduling and registration software also includes a means for confirmation, follow-up, and reminder activities. This can be completely automated or technology assisted, generally including multiple contact methods, such as a phone call, email, and fax.
See our current listing of vendors that provide appointment setting software.
[From Connection Magazine – Jul/Aug 2005]