How does a booking system work?

Making product purchases via a shopping cart over the internet is now a part of daily life.

Booking systems are the engines behind purchasing tickets, reservations of services for appointments, booking activities and tours.

What is an online booking system?

An online booking system is a software solution used for booking management. Before such systems were available, in order to track bookings and manage availability, businesses had to work with a series of spreadsheets and enter the information manually.

An online booking system uses smart technology that eliminates the risks associated with manual input and human error. It simplifies the booking process for you and your customers by automatically updating processes such as payment, scheduling, managing availability and notification reminders.

It allows customers to book and pay online 24/7.

Its automation capability also provides benefits for your business, such as managing resource availability, generating reports and more.

How does an online booking system work?

Online booking systems are commonly sold as cloud-based software-as-a-service. The system can be linked to your existing website as well as your social media pages. There are two distinct areas of a booking system: the back-end and the customer-facing front-end.

The back-end is commonly displayed as a dashboard management tool which allows you to set-up, manage, and review your bookings and availability. The benefits here are that all the information about your business can be viewed from the same location rather than having to cross-reference between multiple spreadsheets.

Every business has its own unique set of policies and so the initial set-up of a new online booking system account requires configuration and setup to meet your business requirements.

Once all areas of the system are activated – including your services and resources, payment settings, notifications the automation kicks in and everything else is straightforward.

The customer-facing front-end of the booking system should ideally be simple so a customer can easily book and pay.

First-time customers will need to fill in a form where you capture their details, but after that subsequent bookings will be even quicker.

Online booking systems are designed to safely handle online payment processing and are protected by encryption and log-in and password protection.

Once a booking is made, the system automatically updates itself in real-time, and your customers can receive email or SMS notifications of any changes or simply be reminded of the upcoming bookings.

The benefits of an online booking system

Before we take a further look at individual features and how to choose an online booking system, here is the advantages an online booking system has over other forms of booking management.

  • Increased sales – At the risk of stating the obvious, online booking systems offer the ability to book and make payments 24/7.
  • Reduces telephone-based sales – By reducing the amount of manpower necessary to secure a booking, internet-based booking management systems can reduce your staffing costs.
  • Streamlined and standardised payments – As soon as customers book online, the funds are transferred directly into your account.
  • Improved process management– Automates business operations by eliminating the need for manual data entry, managing bookings, creating reports, and processing payments.
  • Streamlined reporting-Dashboard and reporting tools allow users to obtain insights into booking and create custom reports to influence future strategies.

Typical features of an online booking system

Online booking systems are commonly sold as comprehensive software packages. As highlighted above, these services include customer-facing features as well as back-office automation.

There are clear differences between a basic booking software system and something more complex and bespoke. A look at the following features will help you understand what kind of booking systems that are available.

Basic online booking software requirements:

  • Cloud-based
  • Payment options
  • Real-time booking
  • User-friendly interface
  • Customer support

Complex online booking software requirements:

How to choose an online booking system

Software review and comparison website Capterra has a useful list of booking software providers that allows you to filter your searches depending on the key features of the software that you require. According to Capterra, most products in the market are priced on a per-month-basis (although other models may apply) and range from as little as $5.00 up to $125.00+.

When doing your research, one of your key considerations will be: how simple and easy is the booking process? The most successful ecommerce booking software providers make the payment process extremely straightforward and easy, thus reducing the number of customers who get frustrated and give up.

Some cloud-based online booking systems may offer you a widget that is easy to add to your website. Although these are very easy to integrate, do bear in mind that they do not give you much control over the booking process. Customers are usually directed onto an external payment platform to complete their booking which means they have left your website.

Another thing to consider is that if your business is aimed at a specific audience (e.g. Driving lesson, Golf Clinics), it is wise to select a software solution that’s designed for your niche, or can be customised to fulfill your business needs.

You will also want to choose a software provider with a solid reputation for high quality customer support. Occasional glitches or technical failings are a fact of life. What kind of response and support does is provided? Also if you are installing a new system, do it during your low season.