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As warmer weather returns to much of the country, tennis aficionados are getting that itch to pick up a racket and schedule a time at their local tennis facility. How they schedule their tennis times, however, could depend greatly on whether the court operator offers online booking.

Although this may seem like a frivolous consideration for both tennis facilities and players, it can be a very important benefit to both. As more and more individuals rely on the Web to manage and schedule their daily activities, many expect that services such as reserving court times be available online. Additionally, online scheduling software can help automate the scheduling process for the operator, thus freeing up valuable staff time previously dedicated to accepting and managing court reservations.

With online appointment-setting software, tennis facilities can implement a more efficient and effective way of managing their court times and guests, typically for a low cost and without expensive computer hardware.

THE BASICS OF ONLINE TENNIS COURT BOOKING SOFTWARE

The best way to explain how online tennis court scheduling software works is to compare it to services many of us use on a daily basis, such as e-mail and online banking. Like these services, tennis court scheduling programs are what're commonly known as Software as a Service (SaaS), whereby an individual accesses an application online through a Web site or other secured portal. Because the service provider houses court reservation and client information online, the only requirement for the user is an Internet connection. And, as discussed below, it can be a tremendous benefit to both the facility and its clients.

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Reservation software can vary depending on the service provider and how its clients use it. Generally, tennis court operators that rely on the scheduler use it for several purposes:

• Online Self-Booking of Courts and Times. This is a feature many tennis facilities find most beneficial, as it frees up staff time and automates the entire scheduling process. Customers simply access a reservation page through the facility's Web site or a link supplied to them. On many scheduling systems, they simply choose their desired court or service, then check availability on an interactive calendar. If available, they simply click on the day and, when prompted, supply required contact information.

• Automated E-mail and Text Message Reminders.

Reminders are an often-appreciated, but sometimes difficult task to manage. Traditionally, businesses that make reminder phone calls and send e-mail messages to customers and clients turn to support staff to manually tackle this important step. As a result, many businesses have abandoned this practice. However, surveys show that reminders can help decrease the number of "no-shows" by over 50 percent. Online reservation systems that offer this functionality helps tennis operators automate this important task.

• Online Credit Card Processing. Thanks to secured payment options, more and more people are comfortable paying for services online. In fact, many may prefer to pay for their services at the same time they schedule them. By utilizing a point-of-sale module, you can give clients the ability to easily pay for service online, while at the same time automatically process payments.

• E-marketing. Another trait shared by many online booking systems is the way they centralize data. In addition to the ease of accessing business and client information, it also provides a perfect opportunity to collect current and former customer e-mails for marketing purposes. E-marketing is a great way to stay in touch with them and make them aware of current specials, discounts and other information.

THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE BOOKING SYSTEMS

Until recently, many people equated computer software with the prepackaged applications sold at electronics and department stores. Thanks to SaaS services and the cutting-edge technology, businesses can now harness the power of the Internet without having to break the bank. Unlike some software applications that require costly hardware and pricey and time-consuming installations, online tennis court scheduling software is cost-effective and fits most facility budgets. Additionally, many service providers did not require long-term contracts; Instead, users pay for service on a month-to-month basis.

Since the service provider oversees and maintains the software online, there's no need for on-site technical support or contracted technical work.

Another great benefit of online reservation software is accessibility. Because you access the software online, you can manage your court times and clients from any Internet connection. This can be especially valuable for facilities that have multiple, individually-staffed tennis locations, such as some country clubs. Staff members at each site can access the scheduler and manage their own courts and clients, eliminating the need to maintain separate appointment books, files or folders. Management will also appreciate the ease of accessing the information from one centralized location.

Perhaps most important is the functionality an online appointment-scheduling system provides. This includes client self-scheduling, automated e-mail and text messages, and e-marketing capabilities. Although this functionality is possible through more traditional software, the set-up and routine maintenance can be much more costly and time-consuming.

Hundreds of different industries have found the perfect solution to their appointment-setting challenges in the form of online appointment-scheduling software. This includes tennis facilities and operators. Give it a try, and let online booking help you "ace" your court scheduling!

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