Online Scheduling Software Versus Microsoft Outlook – The Difference is in the Functionality

When it comes to e-mail and office communication, few applications are as familiar as Microsoft Outlook. From small businesses and independent contractors to large corporations, Outlook is a trusted component relied upon for numerous daily transactions. And since it often comes standard with many computers as part of the Microsoft Operating System, many individuals also use it for personal tasks.

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For many users, Outlook is synonymous with e-mail. However, the program offers additional features, such as Outlook Calendar, which can help organize schedules, events, meetings and other activities, both personal and professional. It’s an effective tool for in-office and business-to-business communication, as it offers users the ability to create, manage and invite individuals to meetings and events. It can also synchronize with mobile devices and other technologies, so that the user can easily access it when away from his or her personal or laptop computer. marioloncarek.com

Because of its functionality, some small businesses and organizations rely upon Outlook Calendar for their appointment- and reservation-scheduling needs. In certain instances, it’s all that’s needed. But in most circumstances, it doesn’t provide the full-range of features required to automate and streamline scheduling for their customers, patients and students. For these important tasks, the solution is Web-based scheduling software.

HOW OUTLOOK CALENDAR DIFFERS FROM ONLINE APPOINTMENT SCHEDULING SOFTWARE

One of the most obvious differences between Web-based appointment scheduling software and Outlook Calendar is their design. Although used for many different purposes, Outlook functions best in an inter-office or business-to-business environment where the majority of the communication and tasks conducted are between staff, contractors, consultants and other individuals affiliated with the operations. It does give the calendar administrator the ability to share, send and even publish the calendar online. In instances of calendar-sharing, permission to access a calendar is necessary.

Because it is a calendar, some owners, operators and staff utilize it for scheduling services and to book reservations. There are several methods they may implement: as an internal scheduler, whereby they continue to take appointments and reservations over the phone and then manually enter them into Outlook Calendar; e-mail the calendar to a customer, patient or student to view availability and choose his or her appointment times; and allow clientele to access their calendar and book their appointments, which requires a Microsoft Exchange interface (and also may present significant security concerns).

Although more efficient than a paper appointment book and pen, its core function as an internal calendar can create problems for businesses and organizations looking to automate and improve their appointment-scheduling procedures. This is especially true if the owner, administrator or staff wishes to offer customer self-scheduling using the Outlook Calendar.

Factors contributing to this include:

• Connectivity, Accessibility and Security. To interface with customers, both parties must have an Outlook Exchange connection. This differs from online appointment-scheduling software, which customers, patients and students access from a Web site. The Outlook Exchange connection presents numerous challenges, including security issues by allowing access and limiting the number of clientele that can use the system, especially those that do not utilize Outlook. Additionally, access to an Outlook Calendar will give customers a view of not only business or organization services, but also personal items, if the operation does not create a separate, “services-only” calendar.

• Scheduling “Rules”. Like other electronic calendars and similar applications not designed for customer, patient and student scheduling, business and organization operators can run into difficulty when trying to block off times, set open and closed days, and limit the number of appointments per time slot, day or time. Businesses and organizations must have the ability to control and tailor each day of its appointment calendar.

• Appearance. Outlook Calendar offers few options to users for customizing its appearance. And customers, clients, patients and students will immediately know that what they’re viewing is an electronic office calendar (if the business or organization e-mail the calendar or allows access to it). This can convey a less-than-professional image of the operation.

WHAT ONLINE APPOINTMENT-SCHEDULING SOFTWARE OFFERS THAT OUTLOOK DOESN’T

Most online appointment-scheduling programs are what are known as Software as a Service (SaaS), a Web-based application that provides functionality unavailable in Outlook Calendar. Used by businesses and organizations large and small, scheduling service providers typically charge a small fee to use the software. And they’re accessible in the same manner as online banking and e-mail. Users can set up and manage their account and scheduler by simply logging in with a username and password.

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