About 6 months ago Microsoft announced they were working on an appointment scheduling system for Office 365 called Microsoft Bookings.
Microsoft have now released Microsoft Bookings to Office 365 Business Premium customers in Canada and the US. Hopefully this feature will officially come to Europe soon, although there is a way to enable it if you are outside the US, I will be posing this in a later blog post.
We have been waiting for this feature for some time as it can save us and our customers time and makes for a smoother customer engagement process.
In this blog post I will explain what Microsoft Bookings is, how it works, and how it can benefit your business.
What is Microsoft Bookings?
Microsoft Bookings is an Office 365 features that allows external people to book appointments with people in your business without have to go through the normal to and fro of finding out what dates and times people are available.
Microsoft Bookings allows your customers to view and book appointments straight into your employee's calendars or to request a meeting with any available person. The appointment is automatically entered into the requested person's calendar or the next available person if you are not advertising particular employees on your booking site.
How does Microsoft Bookings work?
Once you have done the initial set up of Microsoft Bookings, which takes about 30 seconds your company will have a Microsoft Bookings site hosted on the Office 365 infrastructure.
You can either embed the page or create a button on your website linking to your Microsoft Bookings site. Microsoft have even provided an easy way to create a button on your companies Facebook page.
You set your business hours and a list of staff who you want customers to book meetings with and then customers can come onto your Microsoft Bookings page and start adding meetings straight into your employees calendars.
You can choose to hide your list of staff and meetings will then be placed into any available employees calendar. A limitation that I have seen of this is it seems to always put the meeting into the calendar of the first employee in the list (unless that person is not available of course) rather than rotating through the list.
The person making the booking receives an email with the option of adding the booking to their calendar and also the options to Reschedule or Cancel the meeting which is a very handy.
You can customise how your Microsoft Bookings page will look including adding company logos, choosing a colour theme etc. We had problems with adding our company logo so perhaps some more development of this feature required.
You can create different services that customers can book in your calendar. Each service might represent your business offerings E.G Book a 1 hour with a personal fitness instructor or book a 30 minute physiotherapy session. Each service can be assigned to a different person or list of people who are using Office 365.
Someone accessing the bookings page will be able to chose these services and book them. Services can be assigned a price if you choose.
For each service you can choose to keep the default scheduling policy or override it and set things such as meeting time increments and lead time (how soon or far in the distance someone can book a meeting in your calendar).
Buffer is a useful feature that automatically adds time before and / or after meetings to allow time for travel or other preparation. You can adjust the buffer time for each service, so for an online meeting for example you might not need any buffer.
As you'd expect there is a mobile app for Microsoft Bookings that you can download from the major app stores. From the mobile app you can view your bookings calendar, share your bookings page (if you want to email the link to someone, view customers, or block out time in your calendar.
You will also get mobile notifications when someone makes a booking in your calendar.
How Microsoft Bookings can benefit your business
Microsoft Bookings gives your customers and potential customers direct access to your calendar, not only is this convenient for you and for them, it saves time and most importantly removes another barrier in the business customer relationship.
It also means customers can book meeting with you when you are out of the office, on holiday, or even in bed. But you need to make sure you manage your calendar well and block out any periods you are not available for meetings.
As with all Office 365 features the two most powerful things are it's in the cloud (obviously) and it's integrated. This means nothing to install to get it up and running and no additional accounts to create or delete when people join or leave your business.
How Microsoft Bookings could improve
Roll out to other Office 365 subscriptions. I guess they are only releasing to Office 365 Business plans in order to limit the potential number of users using this feature until they feel it is mature enough to release to Enterprise.
Skype for Business Integration: Microsoft could integrate Microsoft Bookings with Skype for Business so that customers could request a Skype for Business Meeting.
CAPTCHA integration: I expect it will only be so long before spam bots discover Microsoft Booking pages and start using them to send spam.
Deeper Outlook integration: Maybe automatically add an Office 365 resource to a particular service, E.G book a particular room or any free room in your office when someone books a particular service; set the importance of the meeting, default reminder etc.
Additional attendees: Ability for customers to add additional email addresses of people they would like to attend from their organisation. Obviously they can just forward the meeting invite on to their colleagues but it would be nicer if they could just add them at the time of booking.
Better customisation of the Booking page: Would be nice if this was fully customisable with the ability to change layout and choose your own colours rather than picking from pre-defined colour themes.
Configuring Microsoft Bookings
I will be publishing another blog post in the coming weeks to show you how to set up Microsoft Bookings even if you are not on Business Premium or in the US or Canada.
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