October, 2018
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Setting Up an Online Booking System

CARSON DUNLOP

Why?

There are several benefits to allowing clients to book online:

  • Your website looks more professional. Many homebuyers do extensive internet research and some will select their home inspector on the basis of how their website looks or is set up. 
  • Your web visitors can book their inspection instantly. The experience is satisfying and clients get a booking confirmation right away.
  • If your online booking system is set up well, it is fast and easy to use for both clients and agents. This is particularly important for agents who do not want to spend time on the phone transferring information.
  • The best online booking systems are tied into your inspection scheduling system, so the times available reflect your availability and the booking can be immediately confirmed.
  • Your business is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year. The convenience is significant, especially for real estate professionals who work with you regularly.
  • If you are unavailable to answer the phone and that is the only way clients can reach you, you risk the potential for clients to contact the next home inspection company on their list. In fact, many homebuyers will not pick up the phone and speak to someone, even for something as important as a home inspection.

How?

Prerequisites

The major prerequisite is a company website. A secondary, although not essential, item is inspection software that includes a scheduling component. This is a significant asset, especially if it is set up to accommodate online booking, so that booking can be done in real time, respecting the actual inspection schedule.

Different levels

On some websites, online booking is simply a Contact us form that people fill out and submit. The client or agent must then wait for communication from the home inspection company. A more advanced system includes an interactive online booking tool that references the inspection company’s schedule and communicates availability automatically with the client or agent. Excellent inspection software will allow you to set up your online booking in several different ways.

Time savings

An online booking system saves you administrative time. It saves your clients and agents time as well. Overall, it cuts down on the number of phone calls and emails to answer and return. 

Call to action

Online booking systems typically start with a button. Specifically, there should be a Book My Inspection button visible on all pages of your website. We recommend having the button near the top and bottom of each page; ideally, it will be visible no matter where you are on any page. In general, a best practice for website design is to give people what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. It’s great if clicking a button will open a new page or frame on the website, taking visitors straight to the booking interface.

Let people know

You can point people to your online booking system in brochures, flyers, business cards, presentations, emails, on-hold messages on your phone and any other promotional content you offer.



Don’t forget mobile devices!

Many clients and agents will use phones and other small–screen devices to look at websites and book online. Your online booking system should be mobile-friendly.

The booking experience

We simplify our booking experience. We do not want people to drop off because they are frustrated by providing information on several screens or on a long form. After the initial online booking, the home inspection company should follow up with a call to build a relationship with the client or agent, fill in any gaps and offer any additional services as appropriate.

Some companies opt to have a longer initial booking process so they can provide and gather as much data as possible. Although this can take more time and effort on the part of the client or agent, providing more opportunities for clients to explain their concerns and specific requirements upfront can be reassuring. 

Test, measure and revise From a marketing perspective, you should not have to guess which booking approach is best for your market. You can try using both a short form and a long form to see which works better for you. Track how many people who started to fill out the form completed it. The goal is to have 100% completion, of course. Some software automatically tracks how many people complete their bookings and how many drop off—and where they drop off—in the process.

Remove uncertainty Whether you take the long or the short approach, you do not want to frustrate users. Every time someone stops and wonders what to do next, you risk losing the sale. When people are not sure how to answer a question, they may give up and go away. We recommend that you keep things straightforward. A few short, simple screens are more comfortable for many users than a single, long form.

Items to include

  • Inspection types: Many systems allow you to offer several inspection types and your ancillary services. Visitors should be able to select more than one item.
  • Selected inspector: Multi-inspector firms may be able to provide a list of inspectors so that the client or agent can choose the inspector they want. This is particularly useful for agents who may already be comfortable with a particular inspector. 
  • Date and time: Visitors should be able to select the date and time of their inspection. You can do this without displaying your entire calendar. 
  • Client information: At a minimum, you want to capture the client’s name, phone number and email.
  • Inspection address: This should include at least the street and the municipality. Some systems show a map to help the visitor enter the correct address.
  • Property description: You can choose whether to ask for additional information about the home. 
  • Notes: We suggest providing an area where people can add a note, a specific request or a piece of additional information they think is important.
  • Inspection fee: Most systems will allow you to decide whether to include the inspection fee. Whether you want to provide this information upfront is your decision.
  • Inspection agreement: Some systems give the choice of asking the client to complete the inspection agreement as part of this process. This is another business decision you can make.
  • A summary and reassuring conclusion: The process should end with clarity for the client. They should understand what has been done and what will happen next. We like systems that include a confirmation email to the visitor to show that the process has been successful.

Provide a lifeline

We suggest you provide a phone number on each screen so people can call you if necessary.

The ability to go back and change

Throughout the process, it is reassuring for clients to be able to go back and see what they have done or make a change along the way. This is all part of keeping visitors comfortable.

What if the timeline is too short?

Even if your schedule shows that you have an opening in two hours, booking on short notice may not work for you. Most systems allow you to set a minimum time frame between the current time and the availability you want to display. We typically set up 24 hours. 

A twist: Agent-specific apps!

Some software allows you to set up individual apps for specific agents. It’s the ultimate fast and easy tool because the app recognizes the agent so they don’t have to put in their information. Agents simply choose a date and time to reserve the spot. They receive a confirmation email and the inspection company follows up to get the rest of the details. The agent can add a note if they like, but we find most will keep it short and sweet.

Agent-specific apps are extremely useful for agents who sell a home on a Saturday at midnight and need to know whether they can get an inspection done on Monday before the buyer leaves town. As always, speed and convenience are key elements to great customer service.



Bottom Line? Make Setting Up an Online Booking System a Priority for Your
Business!

An online booking system can enhance your professionalism, improve your efficiency, and provide a positive experience for clients and agents. It is an indispensable tool for building and expanding your business. 

Alan Carson, an ASHI member and Past–President, is the author of the ASHI@HOME program and Horizon Inspection Software. Learn more at carsondunlop.com/horizon.

Carson Dunlop - Consulting engineering firm devoted to home inspection since 1978. ASHI@HOME Training Program, www.carsondunlop.com, Carson@carsondunlop.com.