Colleges and universities are typically known for their forward-thinking focus and advancements in academic fields. However, some institutions do not implement these important traits when it comes to managing and scheduling such activities as academic advising and student testing, as well as booking room space. In fact, some may still rely on the more traditional tools to help schedule their appointments: A paper appointment book and pen. Others may utilize an electronic calendar or similar software, which, at first glance, seems to provide an efficient solution to their scheduling needs, but, in reality, does not offer the functionality to truly automate and improve appointment-scheduling procedures.
These institutions of higher learning that rely on these inadequate means of scheduling and managing appointments are not alone, as many businesses and organizations, both large and small, utilize them as well. However, are growing number of tossing aside their appointment books and electronic calendars for a more efficient and effective method: online appointment-scheduling software.
ONLINE APPOINTMENT-SCHEDULING SOFTWARE: THE BASICS
The design of many online appointment-scheduling systems is what makes them so appealing to both user and student alike. Generally known as Software as a Service (SaaS), these programs share many of the same characteristics as other Web programs most of us are familiar with and use on a daily basis, such as e-mail, online banking and social-media sites. They’re accessible in the same manner, which is typically through a secured Web site or portal. And like those sites, most require a username and password to securely access the scheduler and account.
They’re also different than electronic calendars such as Google Calendar and the one included with Microsoft Outlook. Although they may seem to have many of the same features, they lack the functionality many administrators require for their scheduling needs. In short, they’re personal calendars, not online schedulers. Because they’re Web-based, online appointment schedulers are accessible from any Internet connection. This can be a tremendous benefit for administrators who work out of the office or for staff working in different offices or locations.
WHAT COLLEGES, UNIVERSITIES USE IT FOR
Because of its versatility, online appointment software is applicable for a wide range of scheduling needs. Some of the more popular tasks institutions use the applications for include:
• Room scheduling. Scheduling software helps faculty and staff master this sometimes difficult procedure. A proven scheduler will automatically manage and track room space, times, students and other information.
• Academic advising. Many institutions rely on appointment software to schedule and manage student times and information. If the advising office permits online self-scheduling, students can access the scheduler and book their sessions online at their own convenience.
• Student testing. Online booking systems make it easy to set and efficiently manage student testing facilities and times. As mentioned above, online self-scheduling makes it convenient to schedule their testing times 24 hours a day.
WHAT APPOINTMENT SOFTWARE OFFERS
Features vary among providers, but most offer standard functionality such as:
• “Point-and-click” technology. Many scheduling systems offer both college faculty and students the ease of viewing a calendar online and clicking on the available day and time they wish to schedule or manage.
• Online student self-scheduling. If selected, institutions and departments can allow students to view the online scheduler and securely schedule their appointments, sessions or room space. All that’s required is an Internet connection.
• Automated e-mail and text message reminders. Everyone appreciates reminders. And they can reduce the number of “no shows” by over 50 percent. Phone call reminders and e-mail messages, however, can cut into staff time. Some systems will automatically send e-mail and text message reminders prior to a scheduled appointment. Faculty and administrators can also receive reminders on scheduled appointments, cancellations and changes.
• Accurate record-keeping and reporting. Because schedulers act as a centralized location for scheduling details and student information, it allows for efficient record-keeping and compiling reports. The system may even provide pre-set reports to help faculty pull its desired information more easily and quickly.
• E-marketing capabilities. Having your student and faculty contact information in one easy-to-access location makes it simple to pull e-mail lists for sending information on upcoming programs, classes, events, reminders and other news. It’s a great way to keep in touch with those who use the scheduling system.
While all online reservation and booking systems may appear the same on the surface, they can vary in functionality, capabilities and service. Among considerations administrators should look for when choosing an online scheduler are:
• Security. As your appointment software will house information contact information on your students and faculty, security is of the utmost importance. Many software providers implement the latest technology to ensure their client information remains safe. However, it’s always a good idea to research the specific type of security measures are in place before implementing the software at your institution or department.
• Customer support. Have you ever purchased a product, only to find out later that the company offered little or no customer service? This is an important consideration, especially if the scheduling system chosen will be the primary means of scheduling and managing students and faculty. Check to see if the provider offers e-mail and/or phone support.
• Dependability. Proven online appointment-scheduling software can give administrators the peace of mind that their system is accurately and effectively booking and managing rooms, students and faculty members. Check to see if other colleges, universities, technical schools and other educational institutions use the software and how they view it. Also, if offered, sign up for a free trial of the product, which will give you a feel of how it works and its specific functionality.
• Cost and service plans. Just like the systems themselves, prices and service plans can vary. Many scheduling systems are cost-effective and affordable. Additionally, some offer month-to-month payment options, rather than long-term contracts.
Organizations large and small are realizing the positive impact online appointment software can have on their operations. Colleges and universities are no exception, and they’re tapping into technology that allows them to spend less time manually managing their appointments and more time on their students and programs.