What is a booking agent?
In simplest terms, a booking agent, also referred to as reservation software, enables users to secure reservations. But it does so much more than that.
Yes, it books reservations, but it also triggers a cascade of other events. These events can include automatically updating calendars, processing online payments, automatically sending out email confirmations, updating inventory availability, and booking channels management.
The benefits of a booking agent are many. They include simplifying the booking procedure, updating information in real time, providing 24/7 service, eliminating human errors, increased productivity, and the ability to offer bookings from a mobile device.
Features of an ideal booking agent
Whether you’re developing a booking agent in-house or acquiring one some other way, here are five features you’ll want in your baseline design:
- User-friendly: This applies to both sides of the software. For users, it should be intuitive, and for administrators, they should have access to a dashboard with real-time data views and easy reporting.
- Integration: It should integrate with both your other software (e.g., website) and other parties’ software (e.g., social media, payment processor).
- Calendar: The calendar of reservations should be sharable and customizable. You may also want to provide a list view of bookings, as an alternative.
- Auto-update: The software must be able to reflect changes in your inventory immediately after booking, otherwise all kinds of problems can occur.
- Device compatibility: You’ll want your booking agent to play nice on as many different platforms as possible.
The two types of booking agents
It might seem that all booking agents are basically the same, but they aren’t. There are actually two different types, and you have to know which type you’re developing before you begin. The two types are general inventory and specific inventory.
- General inventory exists when multiple users compete for multiple, similar units. An example of this is a hotel room. Two users can each book a king-size hotel room for the same night, if two are available, at the exact same instant. Of course, your booking software must ensure that they don’t both get the same room.
- Specific inventory exists when multiple users compete for a single, unique item. An example of this is a dental appointment. If two users try to book an appointment with the same dentist at the same time, one of them cannot get the booking. You have to figure out what to do in that case. For the person who doesn’t get the appointment, do you offer them an alternative or just reject them?
What are the challenges of building a booking agent?
Two major challenges must be addressed when building a booking agent. The first is the race condition. What happens when two users try to book the same inventory at the same time? How do you handle it?
You need a rule, and the simplest one is first come, first served. But whatever rule you choose to implement in the software, you must decide on it ahead of time.
The other challenge is the order of events. Recall that a booking triggers a bunch of other events. The order of those events is important, especially if you intend to hold the reservation for a period of time while one or more of those events takes place. It’s usually best to process the payments last so that you can avoid giving refunds, which can incur an unnecessary expense.
The opportunity that’s hidden in booking agents
If all your booking agent does is reserve appointments, you may be missing out on other business opportunities. When a user is booking an appointment, they are purchasing something. What else can you entice them with at that moment, to get them to buy more?
The hidden opportunity in a booking agent is upselling. As an example, the restaurant reservation app OpenTable encourages users to buy an experience at the same time they book their reservation, while PeekPro allows you to pay more for a specific area of the restaurant.
Naturally, any custom upsell functionality you add to your booking agent adds complexity to the implementation. So, that must be taken into consideration.
Options for when you need a booking agent
Should you be looking for an already existing booking agent to incorporate into your app, or should you build a bespoke one from scratch? This is not always an easy question to answer, and a lot depends on what else you want your agent to do besides secure reservations.
There are at least seven free open source reservation software solutions you can choose from. They all come with varying capacities and are all limited to some degree in their ability to handle customization and upsells. Your final decision will probably be driven more by business than by technology.
If you need a booking agent and decide that a bespoke design would give you a leg up on your competition, reach out to us and let’s start a conversation.