Online Booking : The challenges

I recently posted about the client/visitor/user perspective of adding an online booking system (OBS) into the client journey. In every test and trial we have run the efficacy is unquestionable; producing more, better quality enquires that ultimately convert at a much higher rate than standard “form-filled” type enquiries.

So why doesn’t every company use online booking?

Well, before I go into the challenges it’s worth highlighting that some organisations just cannot fit into automated appointment management or need quite high levels of human interaction to make that possible but assuming you don’t belong to this odd 1% lets have a look at some of the reasons organisations don’t use online booking.

Back-end legacy systems

For online booking (OBS) to work the web-front end has to talk regularly and reliably to your existing back-end systems. Many of these systems are simply not designed to do this. There are ways to step around the problem and put “middle-ware” systems in place but it’s not a strategic solution and could become a brake on the success of the project.

Planning and simplification is the key.

Not to say that all legacy back-end systems are bad, in fact many work really well if you modify your plan to take into the account the challenges. The art is to carefully specify what you need and want from an OBS system and aim for the 80:20 rule rather than discounting a system that can’t quite do everything last little thing you need. Bell and whistles can always be added later on and, when the OBS does show it’s success there is greater momentum and buy-in to fix legacy problems.

Not invented here

Sadly, this still pervades sales, marketing and call centres after all the 1990’s fears about “the Internet putting sales and marketing out of a job”. It doesn’t, quite the contrary. Implemented properly it will liberate sales & marketing to focus on interesting a valuable stuff. This can extend to executive management as they don’t properly understand the role that online booking systems play; insisting “on the personal touch” or “we’re a people company” or “our clients like to talk to real people”. These statements are all true. OBS systems are not trying to remove this personalisation, far from it; the systems should release people to have more meaningful conversations on a more personal level and remove the clunky “where and when and what” conversations completely.

No senior buy-in

Implementing an OBS initiative may involve some changes to company culture, operating practice and infrastructure. You must have buy-in from the top otherwise the initiative will almost always fail. The exec must understand what is trying to be achieved and this must be clearly communicated to everyone it touches.

Bloody hell, never thought of it

It is surprising how many organisations had actually never thought of using automated booking systems. Sometimes it’s as simple as the lack of understanding of how something that sounds so complicated could be applied. It could also be a case that the organisation is so drowning in it’s operational challenges that it never gets a chance to look up and innovate; these are the organisations that frequently benefit the most, as a good OBS implementation can not only turnaround struggling marketing campaigns, it can drive down the cost of sales, improve customer satisfaction and release corporate brains to start thinking again. Many clients we speak to fit into this category.

It ain’t broke

Just because you don’t use OBS now is not a reason to not use them in the future. Everyone in the industry is predicting an increased use of micro-applications and cross-platform systems. It’s coming and it’s coming fast; if you don’t catch the first wave of adoption then you may be out of business in a couple of years.

Barnes and Noble is the largest retail bookstore company in the US. It was pretty much last on the ladder for online sales and then e-books; each time citing “old wisdom” as to why these new upstart companies and technologies will not last. In January this year they had a massive lay-off plan and Amazon is touted as the best buyer of the struggling chain. First-in (usually) wins; last-in (always) loses.

Confusing product or service offering

Is the range of services and products so confusing that internal staff need a 1 week induction course to get there heads around it? OBS probably isn’t for you because you’re not going to be able to successfully let the man (or woman) on the street pick what he needs, where and when if it’s too complicated. It’s important to distinguish between confusing solutions and problems; you can easily simplify the OBS system by letting the visitors highlight their pain (i.e. what’s up?) and then let some algorithm do the hard work in terms of coming up with a solution. The other way to deal with this is to simplify your product offerings within the OBS, use Pareto’s rule and only deal with the products and services that really matter, or that make you most money or that are easiest to deal with online.

Fails the return on investment test

Implementing any automated system can be costly and the development cycle may be months or even years. If a business is only likely to do, say, £20k turnover using online booking then it’s going to take a fair old while to get your investment back. The real cost to implement online booking will start at around £5k and, depending on the complexity of systems involved could cost £50k+. Safe rule of thumb? If you expect less than £250k turnover pa from your online booking initiative then you can probably spend the money better elsewhere.

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