5 Essential Areas to Consider When Implementing an Online Booking System
Whether you are renting room nights, renting vehicles, or offering tours or activities of some kind, your business will benefit greatly from implementing an online booking solution. However the effort required to research the most cost-effective best-fit solution for your business, understanding what the effects will be on your business during and beyond implementation, and preparation for those changes, are areas that are often overlooked or underestimated at best. This article covers five essential areas to consider as part of such an undertaking.
1. Making the case – how these systems can increase business efficiency and effectiveness
Your business will be open 24 hours a day
Customers who make a decision to book a room, car rental, tour or activity don’t want to wait until you are in the office and can respond. They are looking for an immediate response and confirmation. Using an online booking system means that your business is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is an easy way to create customer satisfaction from the start.
You can reduce no-shows
Customers who have booked and paid for their own reservations are more likely to show up, resulting in less no-shows. If a customer does need to cancel, the spot will automatically open back up online, allowing another customer to book it.
Payments are quicker and easier
With an online booking system, you can require customers to prepay for tours, activities, rentals, hotel stays with an easy and safe automatic payment system. On the day of the event neither you nor your customers will have to worry about payment, making the actual “event” itself more enjoyable.
Less time spent on the telephone
Online booking allows you to capture more potential business because reservations and information are always available. Customers having to call the company for reservations often get directed to voicemail or have to wait for their calls to be returned (this takes more time for you and the client and wastes potential business opportunities).
Minimize your overall workload
You will no longer have to manually process and track reservations/bookings. Online booking systems automatically receive the booking based upon availability, receive all of the customer’s necessary information and send out automated emails to confirm the booking and also remind guests about their booking. Many systems allow you to incorporate other bookings received by email, phone or walk-ins. Also, to help really save time these systems allow you to view your availability quickly and easily, allowing you to respond immediately to customers’ inquiries.
Opportunities for up-selling
There is room for adding additional options/perks during the online booking process and checkout. This allows for extra revenue for your business and shows your customers all the great features/extras you have to offer.
Online booking systems collect and provide valuable data
Many online booking systems offer reporting features that enable you to streamline your offerings and processes and also help with resource planning. Data could include your most popular “sellers”, most requested time slots/items/offerings. Information like this allows you to know what it is your customers want most and reveals what may not be so successful in your business.
Integration with other systems
Accounting processes and marketing processes often benefit from such systems also, through integration. For example, bookings received could automatically be integrated int o your accounting system, eliminating double entry of data (with all the possible errors along the way). Another example is integration with marketing tools such as mailing list systems, so that persons who have checked off a box to be contacted with offers etc, can be contacted later via such direct marketing systems.
2. Identifying your pain points and features that are most important to your business
This will involve taking a look at the items listed in the first point ‘Making the case’, and prioritizing these items based on which areas you feel your business is suffering in most. This is important to establish the base set of features that you will need to look for in the system during your research. It may not be necessary to implement everything at once (and may not even be possible depending how your business is set up), but establishing the areas that most need to be addressed, and which will render the best productivity, efficiency and profitability gains would be a top priority.
3. Selecting the optimal solution that would address those features
- This is the typical ‘make or buy’ decision often faced in business. Does your company need custom-built online booking software or can you use ready-made online booking software that is delivered as software as a service (SaaS) normally in the ‘cloud’? This can only be decided after you have thoroughly researched the pros and cons of the different systems out there, to establish whether the feature set is sufficient or if you would need more.
- Custom built often comes with a higher up-front cost however you do get a much higher level of control and with proper planning such a tailor-made system would meet your needs more specifically. Sometimes even just a small shortcoming in an online booking platform that is cloud-based can have a big effect on your company. One of the most important factors, you will have to take into account is that when systems are developed for a broad client/user base, features that you may need in your business may not be on the software developer’s roadmap, and may never be implemented at all unless many clients request those features.
- Once of the advantages of cloud-based / ready-made software is that the implementation time is relatively quick, avoiding months of planning and developing. Another is up-front cost. It’s important to mention “up-front” cost because often while developing custom software is more expensive initially, the long term costs can end up being lower than cloud-based systems. So some projections and calculations here are also useful. Furthermore many systems use a commission-based model, meaning that as your revenue increases, so does your cost. We recently did a comparison for a client based on a bookings projection, and a commission based system ended up costing almost 10 times as much on an annual basis as a commission-free option, which is quite significant.
- Payment options available – this is a big factor, especially in Aruba where online payment options are quite limited. Knowing what online payment possibilities (and at what cost) are available with these cloud-based systems will have an impact on your bottom line and also the general efficiency of the booking process, handling of refunds etc.
- Uptime is also an essential factor. Since many systems are cloud-based, you depend on their uptime for availability. Understanding their service level agreement (SLA) is also important when considering such systems.
- Support when things don’t work as they should, or when you simply need help, is also key. Sometimes cloud-based systems also offer different levels of support, depending on the service tier or level that you have purchased, the more you pay, the quicker the support response and the more support channels are available.
4. Identify how your internal processes will change (e.g. Changes in flexibility, manual to automated) and prepare accordingly
It is important to identify how your processes will change and what preparation you may need, additional training for staff etc. Some changes that can be expected are things like:
- Many of your daily processes will become automated or be reduced significantly, for example you will need to spend less time communicating with customers via phone or email (name, contact info, credit card info would be handled through the system) or spend time calling or emailing customers back to confirm their bookings, handle availability changes and so on.
- Information will be readily available for your staff to view and share among the organization more easily.
- Mobility will increase, reservations/bookings could be managed anywhere, anytime by using a mobile phone or tablet, allowing you and your staff to know the status of your business and manage your schedules more effectively.
5. How will the systems integrate with your website (e.g. Tightly integrated versus external systems)
- Cloud based booking systems often provide booking widgets that can be added to your website. There are pros and cons to this, the most obvious pro being the ease of integration, but on the other hand you have little to no control over the booking flow. Very often in such cases the user is redirected to the booking platform at an external domain (not yours) which means that the user leaves your site to complete the process.
- The alternative is to have tight integration in your website, but this is often not possible with cloud-based systems, so in that case a custom solution would achieve this. In general one does want to have as much control as possible over the booking process, for several reasons, not least of which is analyzing what users are doing during the booking process to be able to improve conversions. Very often it is not possible to do deep analyses like that if the user is completing the booking process on an external site, simply because you would not have enough access to that site, whereas on your own website you would.
As can be concluded from the above, selecting and implementing an online booking solution is not without its challenges. Taking the above areas into consideration and planning accordingly will go a long way towards achieving a suitable match for your business. CaribMedia has extensive experience in this field and offers services for researching and implementing online booking solutions for any business.
Contact Us today to get started with an online booking solution for your business!