Online booking – to be or not to be?

online bookingYou can book a restaurant, a gym class, a hair appointment and a holiday online. So why has it taken so long to get online booking systems for Careers Services?

I hear all the time, surely it can’t be that difficult? I bet you do too.

We have just started trialling our online appointment booking system this week, this is our story…

There have always been 3  issues

  1. Unlike restaurants and holidays, careers appointments are only open to a subset of the population, so you need a method of checking that only eligible users can use the service.  Usually a unique ID of some kind.  So you need a data set which is always up to date and a way to access it.
  2.  We have different appointment types with different rules thus making it hard to set  any online booking system.
  3. Our online system would not allow the student to make any notes about what they want to discuss, thus no research or preparation could be done by the Careers Consultants in advance as they do now.

There are also some dilemmas to overcome

  1. Supply and demand. Our appointments are usually oversubscribed, so if staff are not checking with clients that they are at the right stage to have an appointment will it be a waste of time and just add to waiting times?
  2. Will online booking mean more no shows, less committment to the process?

The booking system we use (Interfase from CSO) uses data from student records so we have a secure data set and already had online capabilities. We have been allowing students to sign up for events for years, the online appointment booking system was quite simple it was our procedures that were not!

Like many services we offer guidance appointments and shorter appointments for applications advice and quick interactions.

  • Our guidance services use a caseload system so each careers consultant specialises in different career areas and degree specialisms.  It’s complicated enough for information staff to unpick a students needs and interests and match them to a consultant who has availability the one hour of the week the student is free. We would have to drastically simplify this system and possibly reduce the student experience to allow online booking.
  • Our Quick Query service however offered possibilities, 90% of Quick Query interactions were applications & CVs thus no advance preparation is required.

We decided to …

  • Launch a new service Applications Advice for applications only.
  • Change the booking from on the day to 1 working day in advance.
  • Mop up the other enquiries using a duty adviser – a discretionary service for urgent questions where there are no guidance appointment available in sufficient time.


  • There was initial resistance to change, it sounded like a lesser service as the information staff would no longer be there at point of booking to give the student guidance on their CV before making the appointment.
  • We needed a reasonably quiet time of year to implement the system & train staff.
  • We wanted to trial it when it was likely to be used but when demand was not too high. So we decided on the period after Easter.
  • We also changed our phone system so that students get a message about booking online before they come through.
  • We decided on a soft launch via the Facebook groups, blog and twitter on the day of the launch just in case it all went wrong and we had to delay.

What have we learned so far?

  • Students seem to love it, on day one we had people booking online for that day and before long the next day was already full.
  • Some students who booked in advance did ring to cancel the next day, but at least they rang!
  • Phone bookings for this service have really reduced. It’s freeing up a lot of staff time.
  • Students have an allocation of 4 appointments in a 30 day period, and we advise 1 / day. It has not stopped some from booking 3 in a day.

What next…

We are going to be monitoring:

  • Numbers of no shows to see if it goes up or down.
  • Whether students are suitably prepared and have followed the instructions.
  • Whether this increases usage so that we have to provide more sessions.
  • How many students try to book multiple appointments in a day, and the impact this has on the service they get and the impact on availability.

If you want to look at what systems other services are using or add some details about your own – check out the resources register.

Why not tell us about your experience?


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