Managing appointments and meetings can be difficult, especially for small businesses where frontline workers don’t have access to the full Office suite. You could spend time building a custom booking service, or you could just use Microsoft’s Bookings tool, which is built on top of the Microsoft 365 platform. Designed for both internal and external users, Bookings is a flexible scheduling tool that integrates with both Teams and Exchange Online.
Available as part of most Enterprise Office 365 and Microsoft 365 subscriptions, using Bookings is a matter of provisioning users through the Microsoft 365 admin console, which gives them access to the Bookings web app from the Office.com launcher granted. There’s also a mobile app that provides at-a-glance access to booking calendars, which can also be used to add new appointments manually.
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Bookings for everyone
Bookings can best be viewed as part of Microsoft’s unbundling of key Microsoft 365 services from Exchange and SharePoint, transforming them into separate web and mobile applications and embedding them within Teams. It’s an important strategic shift: the full platform might give us more features, but we don’t need them all. A frontline employee doesn’t need the full set of Outlook and Exchange scheduling calendar tools, just a way to quickly book a client appointment.
With organizations able to deploy a mix of Microsoft 365 license types, it’s good to see Bookings being part of F-Series plans aimed at supporting frontline workers with the option of shared accounts for everyone Offer employees in a single location. A shift change should not change the calendar used to book shifts and meetings.
External users can access a booking page via a desktop or mobile browser, which links to either a general business calendar or one for individuals or specific teams. The booking page is flexible enough to be delivered through many channels: a link sent via email or SMS, or on a company’s Facebook page. It can even be embedded in any HTML site, such as B. Your home page.
This flexibility makes it easy for users to work with. A bookings-based service was used in parts of the UK to manage appointments for COVID vaccinations, using Microsoft Graph connections and Power Automate flows to link its calendar to NHS systems. When people were eligible for vaccine doses, they were texted a link to a booking page showing available dates.
Getting started with bookings
Getting started with Bookings as a user is quick and easy enough. In the Office portal on office.com, select All Apps to view the Bookings app and click the Download Now button. If your admin has enabled it, you will be asked for the name of a booking calendar. If one already exists, you can use the search option to connect. If you need to create one, enter your business name and type. This will set up your booking account so you can link your existing Outlook calendar and see other employees’ free/busy availability.
Integration with calendars means other events can block appointments. This avoids double bookings, ensures staff are not overwhelmed and important meetings are not cancelled. You can also set business hours to limit bookings and give employees their own custom times to accommodate team members with family and other commitments.
Employees are not required to have a Microsoft 365 account. All that is required is a valid email address so they can receive messages detailing bookings and schedule changes. In practice, however, it is worth using Bookings with Microsoft 365. The main benefit, of course, is automatic calendar updates, as well as access to the Teams app. You can designate specific employees as administrators and give them rights to add and remove users and edit scheduled bookings.
Other roles have less control. For example, viewers can see their (and coworkers’) schedules, but can’t make changes. Most staff will be viewers, although some may be guests if they are only attending certain scheduled events and don’t need access to the calendar. It is also possible to make some users super users who can manage the calendar but cannot be scheduled via bookings. This requires the use of some PowerShell; Most of the other management tools are done through the Bookings web UI.
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Once you have created a calendar for your organization and added employees, you can start defining your company’s services. These are used to categorize bookings and support all outward facing self-service bookings. Services are given a name, a description of whether they are online or not, a default duration, any buffer time between appointments, and the price (if it is a service). Other features allow customers to reschedule and cancel their own bookings, as well as add follow-up appointments. At the same time, you can set booking policies — like controlling how far in advance customers can book, and defining your business hours and cancellation policies.
Working with clients in Bookings
So if you’re setting up bookings for a hair salon, for example, you can create services for all of your different appointment types, from simple cuts to complex styling. These can be priced and given a duration so clients know what they will be paying, and you can predict revenue and ensure you have enough staff on hand to cover the services booked (or even allow clients to schedule sessions to book with certain employees). ). You can receive revenue alerts so you can prioritize specific services and ensure your business is covering its costs. Reports are available in four-month blocks as TSV files (tab-separated variables) that can be used in Excel or other accounting tools such as Sage.
The system automatically sends reminders and confirmations to users with .ics calendar files and a well-designed confirmation message. You can customize these messages, and US customers can also send SMS messages. If you’re using the Teams app, there’s additional tracking data on notifications so you’ll be prepared for when Microsoft starts charging for SMS services in March 2022.
The Teams integration allows you to quickly build virtual meetings around the combination of the two applications. Microsoft calls these meetings “virtual visits,” where employees receive meeting invitations on their Teams calendar. You don’t need to have the Teams booking app installed; It’s more for admins who need to manage calendars and staff without using the web app. By selecting a suitable transaction type, you can benefit from automatic adjustments and pre-assigned appointment types.
The Teams booking app is ideal for employees who use phones and other tools to schedule meetings. You can create appointments, select employees and add notes if necessary. This information can help prepare agents for the resulting Teams call by giving them the details they need to be ready for the call.
With work patterns still disrupted by the pandemic and unlikely to return to ‘normal’, tools like Teams and Bookings offer an important opportunity to simplify the management of both virtual and physical appointments from the same tool. They’re easy to use, and they turn what used to be often manual processes in Outlook or custom apps running against Exchange into focused tools that are part of your Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscriptions. What used to be a tool for experts is now ready for the rest of us, and that’s a good thing for both frontline workers and customers.