Adopting an online booking system isn’t like quickly signing up for a software tool that you can try out for a bit and cancel anytime, all without disrupting your business.
It’s a long-term investment — something that will intrinsically weave into your everyday operations, transform how you take and manage bookings, and scale with your business as it grows. In other words, it’s a decision you shouldn’t take lightly.
With so many different types of booking systems out there, you might be feeling overwhelmed by choice. Where do you start? How do you know what to look for? What even makes the best online booking software?
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a one size fits all solution. However, it is possible to find something that’s far more sophisticated than a spreadsheet booking system while ticking most of your boxes.
But first, you need to figure out what those are. What does your business require in an online booking system? What are your non-negotiables? What can you live without for the time being as you wait on a feature request that might never come to fruition?
To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of top things to consider in your search:
- How much does the booking system cost?
- Is it built for my type of business?
- Will I get easy access to support?
- Can I configure everything on my own?
- Is it user-friendly for both guests and staff?
- What are the extra features included?
- Does it play nicely with my favourite tools?
- Is it fully-customizable or flexible enough?
- Will it be around for the long-term?
- Does it come with a free trial?
How much does the booking system cost?
When it comes down to it, you need a solution that fits your budget. And of course, every booking system follows a different SaaS (software as a service) pricing model. Some offer annual or monthly plans, whereas others are essentially “free.”
Let’s quickly break down the pros and cons of each option:
Tiered pricing plans
This is a flat rate you pay to use the platform. Most booking systems come with tiered pricing plans based on your volume of bookings, which allows you to upgrade as you grow to unlock more advanced features, user accounts, and priority support.
- it’s predictable, making it easy to plan your budget
- you can fast-track your growth once you gain momentum
- you have to pay out of pocket before your first few bookings come in
- the plan that fits your budget and booking volume might lack some of the features you need
Whenever a guest makes a booking, you pay a percentage of the proceeds to the booking software provider. Rates can range from 1% to 25%.
- you’re only charged when reservations come in
- commissions add up quickly, and you might end up paying much more than you would with a flat-rate plan
- booking software providers can change the commission rate anytime, and a 1% difference can be massive in revenue loss
Similar to a commission model, this plan depends on the number of reservations you receive. But instead of charging you, a booking fee is offloaded to the guest at checkout.
- you don’t have to pay anything; it’s free booking software
- you can invest your savings back into your business
- there are no additional fees for specific add-ons
- you don’t have to worry about getting budget approval
- there’s a higher chance of booking abandonment because of a surprise fee
- you have to work this into your pricing strategy — along with taxes and other fees you charge — to stay competitive
Good news! Checkfront lets you choose between a monthly subscription or booking fee. Find out more about our Flex plan here.
Is it built for my type of business?
It’s important to remember that there’s a company behind the technology. Like your business, they also have a target customer in mind, which means they tailor everything for a specific industry — from the product functionality to the overall ecosystem.
For instance, there are booking systems designed exclusively for hotels, gyms, salons, health & wellness, adventure parks, tours and activities. So, you have to figure out whether your business is a match from the get-go.
Otherwise, you’ll likely struggle to make it work. And even if the support team helps you configure workarounds, you might end up frustrated down the road because every new feature won’t exactly be what you want or need.
Will I get easy access to support?
You’re adopting a completely new system for your business. Even if you’re tech-savvy, or better yet, a coding superstar, something can go wrong in the middle of your peak season or at 3 am, and you’re going to need a partner that’ll be there to help you work through it.
How do you know whether a company’s technical support is good or not?
For starters, you can see if they’re available 24/7 — however, timeliness doesn’t always speak for quality. What matters more is the response itself. You want someone who’ll give you a detailed answer, walk you through the steps, like using a tailored video, while offering a forward-thinking solution that’ll be best for you in the long run.
A great way to get a sense of what the support team will be like is to check out what current customers say in their Capterra reviews. But you should also be able to spot a booking software company that has your best interests at heart from day one.
Can I configure everything on my own?
Depending on your business, you should be able to set up an online booking system all by yourself in a day or two. And if you need a little guidance, there are usually helpful support articles or onboarding tips that you can refer to as you make your way through the steps.
However, suppose you want to launch faster with an optimized account or tweak the system to the unique complexities of your business. In that case, it’s a good idea to check if the software company provides options for custom configuration or personalized coaching sessions.
Is it user-friendly for both guests and staff?
What would be the point of an online booking system if it makes things more difficult for your staff and guests? That’s not a software solution; that’s a software problem!
While it seems like a no brainer — that the booking flow will be better than what you have in place already — you should know exactly what your guests are going to see on your website and make sure that everything works as advertised in the back-end. People don’t have a lot of patience to struggle with a clunky interface.
What are the extra features included?
Unfortunately, it can be a tiresome (and nearly impossible) process to find a solution that comes with absolutely everything your business needs. As far as I know, there’s not a unicorn booking system on the market just yet.
However, it’s still okay to be fussy to an extent, considering the software will completely alter how you run things. That’s why it’s best to map out your must-haves beforehand so that you don’t waste time getting everything set up, only to realize an essential component is missing.
And every booking system will have different features available, even on a per plan basis. They’re going to have distinct strengths and weaknesses to compare. So, you’ve got to pick and choose what you need the most right now because new features can take time to build and release.
Essential features of an online booking system
- Taking and managing reservations, of course
- Online payment processing, in-house or third-party integrations
- Inventory or resource management
- Automated email and text notifications
- Digital gift certificates and voucher code capability
- Distribution channel management
- Built-in online waiver software and guest forms
- A booking-friendly website builder
- Multi-language and currency conversion
- Mobile apps with QR code check-in
- A booking widget for easy website integration
- Reporting and analytics
Does it play nicely with my favourite tools?
If a booking system is the first software solution you’ve thought of adopting for your business, then you have the convenience of working with a blank slate. What I mean by that is, you don’t necessarily have to worry about whether reservation software has specific integrations because you can build off the ecosystem it currently has in place.
However, if you already have a curated toolkit of business management apps — like Xero, Trello, Mailchimp, and Active Campaign — you’ll want to make sure the booking system comes with those integrations. Otherwise, your entire system might get thrown out of whack as you’ve got no other choice but to transfer information between everything manually.
The same applies to distribution. Your booking system should accommodate the online and offline channels you depend on to reach full capacity from season to season. It needs to be a centralized place that automatically manages your bookings across the board so that you don’t overbook or miss a sale because of outdated availability.
Is it fully-customizable or flexible enough?
Some booking software solutions are going to be more versatile than others. In your free trial or demo, you’ll learn about which features allow for customization, like the Booking Page design, or whether there’s wiggle room in the functionality to meet the complex needs of your business.
But there’s always going to be limitations with what you can do. That is unless you’re a large operation that can afford an Enterprise plan with complete customization control. Or, if you have access to a developer, you can always see if the booking system has API access to expand and build upon.
Will it be around for the long-term?
Money isn’t everything when it comes to innovation, but it sure does help. Take it from us; res-tech companies can go a long way by bootstrapping with a scrappy and resourceful team. However, many are still in the start-up phase, especially in the tours and activities space, and a venture-backed booking system will have more runway to work with and the funds to invest in their team and product.
Speaking of the long-term, you should also make sure the company has a good reputation and its core values align with your own. Why? Because a booking system will be indispensable once you have it, so you’re going to want a partner you can trust. Not a booking software company that’ll make drastic changes that only benefit them.
Does it come with a free trial?
There’s nothing wrong with scheduling a demo if that’s the only option available. A sales representative will show you the booking software in action and you’ll get some 1:1 time to ask questions that’ll help you figure out whether the solution is the right fit.
But sometimes, it’s nice to hop in there yourself without the added pressure. Unlike a demonstration, a trial gives you the freedom to play around with the platform at your own pace and experience the real value first-hand. Plus, a representative will always be on standby if you need to talk it through with an expert.
That said, it’s best to try out a few different types of booking systems before committing to a plan. Booking software is a massive deal for your business. So, take your time and don’t lock yourself into anything until you’ve found a clear winner.
P.S. Checkfront meets all of the above AND comes with a free trial.
Previous Chapter: What is the Booking Process
Home: The Complete Guide to a Website Booking System