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Advisor Insights

Online Meeting Scheduling Software: A Win for Clients and Advisors

These tools can make booking client meetings more efficient.

Meeting with clients is an essential component of maintaining a strong relationship and level of service in any financial advisory business. For many advisors, client meetings may be the primary way they spend their time and add value. Yet for as much time as we spend in meetings with clients (in-person or virtually), the scheduling of each meeting typically consumes precious time that is wasted on games of phone tag or never-ending email chains, all just to find a mutually convenient time to actually meet in the first place!

Thankfully, a number of tools exist to help make this process less time consuming for you, your staff, and your clients. With online meeting scheduling software, you provide a link to your calendar (or multiple calendars) so clients can view your updated availability in real-time from their computer or mobile device, and book or request a meeting directly. Many of the scheduling tools allow you to collect information in advance of the meeting, such as important contact information, and customize what information is collected and/or provided based on the meeting type (such as a prospect introduction or an existing client review). Once booked and confirmed, the time is reserved on your calendar, and clients can receive confirmation emails, reminders, and/or calendar invites with location or online meeting information.

As with most useful technology tools, there are a number of options to choose from, each with different features, capabilities, and pricing. The right solution for your business depends on how you intend to manage your calendar, as well as a balance between the simplicity of the user experience and your desired level of platform customization. While each have their strengths and weaknesses, most advisors looking to add an online meeting scheduling tool to their practice would be well served to limit their search to either Calendly or ScheduleOnce, though it may be worth considering other solutions for specific circumstances.

Calendly
Of the available online scheduling tools on the market, Calendly may strike the best balance between minimalist design and intuitive functionality. Scheduling meetings and adjusting settings on the back end feels intuitive, with a clean user interface that looks like it was designed for modern businesses that know how to leverage technology. Advisors have the ability to create multiple meeting types with customized locations, data collection questions, and unique URLs so  links can direct prospects or clients to a specific meeting type and/or date range. Buffer times and meeting limits can also be specified, so that you always have enough time between meetings or to travel to a certain location and don't get overwhelmed with an entire day of meetings either. Those booking meetings also have the ability to easily see what calendar time zone they are viewing and change it if necessary.

Calendly integrates directly with the popular email/calendar suites from Google, Microsoft, and Apple, as well as other services such as PayPal/Stripe for payment collection, Salesforce CRM, GoToMeeting for automatically adding online meeting details to calendar invites, and others. With its Zapier integration, it can be connected to even more of the tools you are already using. Your calendar scheduling page can also be easily integrated with or embedded into your website, creating a more consistent brand experience for those looking to meet with you.

While Calendly gets most things right, arguably its most divisive aspect is the fact that meetings are confirmed automatically. Though there are a number of requests from current users in the support forums to add the ability to review and approve meeting requests before confirming, Calendly firmly believes that adding this feature would undermine their goal of truly eliminating the back-and-forth of meeting scheduling. At first I was skeptical of this argument but have noticed that the policy does force you to carefully manage and be more intentional with your calendar by blocking off time for specific tasks, rather than ignoring it until someone requests a meeting or a task is due. This was a surprising benefit, though the ability to disable automatic confirmations so bookings could be reviewed for certain meeting types would still be welcome.

Basic service (free) includes one meeting type; premium ($8/month) includes unlimited meeting types, several integrations and customizations, and removes Calendly branding; pro ($12/month) enables SMS notifications and integrations such as Salesforce, PayPal, and others.

ScheduleOnce
ScheduleOnce is a feature-rich meeting scheduling tool for those that value more customization and the ability to review meeting requests before they are confirmed to your calendar. Like Calendly, ScheduleOnce allows advisors to create multiple meeting types and integrates with your calendar to allow prospects and clients to book time with you directly. However, where Calendly allows advisors to customize meeting buffers, meeting limits, data collection, and other aspects of the booking process, ScheduleOnce goes about two steps further in every modifiable aspect, providing team booking functionality, location selection when booking meetings, direct resource scheduling (for specific rooms), custom forms integration, advanced branding, and much more. While this is a level of customization that many advisors want from a scheduling solution, some may find it unnecessary and/or overwhelming. Further, ScheduleOnce may require more work upfront to get the look and feel to match your brand, as its out-of-the-box design isn't as visually appealing as that of Calendly.

Perhaps the defining difference between ScheduleOnce and Calendly is the former's ability to let advisors review and approve bookings before they are confirmed. While Calendly takes a strong ideological stance on this issue, reviewing and approving bookings is the default with ScheduleOnce, and automatic confirmations are only available with their premium plan. Many advisors consider the ability to review a meeting request before confirming it a must-have feature, so if you find yourself in this camp, ScheduleOnce is likely your preferred solution when compared to Calendly.

ScheduleOnce integrates with several tools such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, and WebEx for online meetings and webinars, Salesforce CRM, PayPal, and Zapier for additional user-directed integrations. Notably, and like Calendly, some of the available integrations are only accessible via their higher-priced premium and enterprise plans. Given that multiple event types are only available with the premium plan, this level is likely to be the starting point for most advisors.

Basic service ($9/month) doesn't offer much beyond the basics; premium ($19/month) adds multiple event types, integrations, and branding options; enterprise ($39/month) includes even more customization as well as Salesforce and WebEx integrations.

The Right Solution for You
Choosing the right scheduling tool for your practice primarily comes down to the level of complexity you're looking for and whether you need the ability to approve bookings. For those who want a simple, well-designed interface at a relatively low price, Calendly is a fantastic choice. Advisors who are comfortable with the higher price tag and are looking for a more customized solution and the ability to review bookings are likely to be better served by ScheduleOnce. 

However, while one of these two tools is likely to be the best option for most advisors, some may want to expand their search to include two others. Acuity Scheduling, which strikes a balance between Calendly and ScheduleOnce in terms of complexity, offers significant functionality and even more integrations, but some of its best features are suited for businesses that sell appointment packages or subscriptions and want to automate the enrollment process. YouCanBook.Me is also a great option for those who want to customize every possible aspect of their booking experience, and at a competitive price point. YouCanBook.Me may soon be a better and more affordable option than ScheduleOnce, but so long as its Outlook/Office 365 calendar integration is in beta, it remains a viable option only for Google Calendar users.

Ben Brown is a certified financial planner and an IRS-enrolled agent. He is the founder of Entelechy, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm based in Bethesda, Maryland, serving clients in the Washington, D.C., area and nationally.

The author is a freelance contributor to Morningstar.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.