Posey's Tips & Tricks

What Is Office 365's Bookings?

The new Office 365 feature looks to simplify the process of making appointments.

In recent months, Microsoft has been hard at work coming up with new ways to make Office 365 even more useful. One of the latest announcements to come out of Redmond is that Office 365 will soon include a new app called Bookings.

Before I explain what Bookings is and what it does, I need to point out that unfortunately, Bookings will be available to a very limited number of Office 365 customers. That's because for whatever reason, Microsoft is only making Bookings available to Office 365 Business Premium customers. Personally, I think that Bookings could also be useful to Office 365 subscribers who work in educational or enterprise environments, but I digress.

So what is Bookings? Bookings will be a Web application that allows customers to book appointments for service. The assumption is that it will be much more efficient for customers to be able to make an appointment through a dedicated, online portal than to send e-mails back and forth in an attempt to find a time that works for everyone involved.

When I first heard about Bookings, my initial thought was that Microsoft has been providing its customers with similar capabilities for many years through the Outlook calendar. So what's so special about Bookings? For one thing, Bookings establishes a dedicated calendar that is used specifically for appointments. As such, employees don't have to worry about exposing their personal calendars to customers. Although those are certainly nice considerations however, they miss the overall point of why an organization might want to use Bookings rather than the Outlook calendar.

The key to understanding how Bookings could be useful is to avoid thinking of Bookings as merely being an alternative to the Outlook calendar. Instead, think of Bookings as being a full-blown Web application. The reason why this is such an important distinction is because Web applications generally provide interactivity, whereas the Outlook calendar tends to be maintained by someone within the organization.

Microsoft has not yet released a tremendous amount of information about Bookings, but the screen captures make it appear as though the Bookings app can be branded to your organization. In essence, it becomes somewhat like a storefront. Because the app is Web-based, an organization could presumably incorporate the Bookings app into its Web site.

In case you are wondering, customers do not need an Office 365 subscription in order to use Bookings. All they need is your organization's Bookings URL. Upon visiting this URL, the customer can see the timeslots that are available for appointments. Incidentally, the Booking site has been specifically designed to work well with mobile devices.

One of the nice things about Bookings is that it provides access to multiple schedules. Suppose, for instance, that a hair salon decided to use Bookings to manage its appointments. The salon could configure Bookings to display a schedule for each individual stylist. A customer wanting to make a hair appointment could easily locate their preferred stylist, determine availability and make an appointment.

When a customer makes an appointment, that appointment is obviously added to the Bookings app. However, Microsoft has designed Bookings so that appointments can also be added to staff member's personal calendars. The Office 365 calendar is obviously the calendar of choice, but Bookings also supports Outlook.com and Google calendars.

Bookings also provides an option to add the appointment to the customer's calendar. In addition, Bookings is able to send the customer a confirmation e-mail, and can also be configured to provide the customer with an automatic e-mail reminder just prior to the scheduled appointment. Of course customers also have the ability to cancel or reschedule a booking, but Microsoft allows organizations to establish a cut off time so as to avoid last-minute cancellations.

Another really useful thing that Bookings does is that it automatically compiles a customer list. Any time that a customer creates an appointment, Bookings automatically creates a contact for them inside of the Bookings customer list. This feature also works if a staff member creates an appointment on behalf of a customer.

Although I have yet to actually be able to take the Bookings app for a test drive, the information that is available online leads me to believe that Bookings is going to become very popular. Admittedly, Microsoft has not created anything completely unique. There are third-party applications that provide appointment management capabilities. Even so, Microsoft is including Bookings in eligible Office 365 subscriptions at no extra cost. As such, organizations that need an appointment management app can use Bookings without the cost of licensing and supporting a dedicated application.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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