The benefits of online bookings for community centres
Your guide to why taking bookings online can save you and your customers time and increase the number and diversity of community bookings
- What is an online booking system?
- Problems solved by moving to online bookings
- More benefits of online booking systems!
- How we help community spaces take bookings online
Why should Community spaces take bookings online?
Community centre teams basking in the warm glow of the freedom that their online bookings tool has brought them.
We've helped hundreds of spaces move to online bookings and payments, and through this we have seen the power, freedom and increased prosperity that community centres can achieve when they start taking bookings online. By making this change, community spaces are taking a step towards...
- Power: Increasing the accessibility & reach of their space to their local community
- Prosperity: Making it easier for new & existing customers to find and book your space
- Freedom: Making huge reductions in repetitive admin time and costs - meaning you and your team can be free to do what you do best - engaging and activating their community.
What do we mean by an online booking system?
Online Space Descriptions & photos
|This is a web page where any customer (without a login) can find all the info they need to make a decision about whether the space is right for their needs. It should ideally contain a good detailed description, high quality photos, easy to understand pricing and other charges, cancellation policy, rules about using the space and FAQs. This information should be very easy for any community centre team member to update with new information or updated photos - rather than wait for a volunteer or third party to update a complicated website that no-one remembers the password for.|
|Live Availability||This is where customers can quickly check whether the space they want to book is available at the time and date they need. This is critical to help achieve the benefit of reducing repetitive questions. Most time spent managing bookings manually is spent in the ‘back & forth’ of the ‘when is it free’ dance. 💃|
The space price needs to be online and clear and simple to understand so that a customer can judge if it fits their budget and they are not going to be surprised by additional fees. The online system should allow community spaces to have flexibility around different fee tiers and discounts, so that all payments can happen online - otherwise you may end up creating a time consuming offline exceptions process.
If you're thinking about your pricing strategy, check out our ultimate fees & charges guide.
|Capture Customer Information||This is where the online booking software enables the customer to enter the information you need to decide whether to accept the booking. This saves you having to spend time entering the data and means you are less likely to need to follow up and ask more questions.|
|Booking||The online booking system needs to take an actual booking - not just an enquiry! The key difference is that a booking automatically blocks the availability of the space (if accepted) - so that you don’t have to remember to do this or enter more data. A booking system that just takes enquiries, doesn’t do this key time saving step and probably shouldn’t be called a booking system 🙂|
|Payment||This is when a customer can make payment upfront or post pay for their bookings. Whichever is more in line with your payment policy, the important part of taking payment online is that it’s automated. This means the system should take care of GST receipts and invoices, make it easy for both you and the customer to download these at a later date. It should also deposit the funds collected in your bank account.|
|Cancellations||This is where a customer can log in and opt to cancel (as long as it’s within your policy). The booking system should automatically refund the customer, and update the receipt, so that you don’t have to initiate or handle this transaction. The system should free up the slot and inform you and the customer that a cancellation has happened.|
|Messaging||This where the system allows an easy way for communications about a booking or enquiry to be managed in a central inbox - so that it’s easy to find what was said and other team members can see this if they need to. 💬|
|Account Information||A customer can manage their information like address, payment info and phone number, so that they maintain this data and you don't have to manage it.|
From Manual to Automated (with control)
When processes are manual - like managing availability in a book or invoicing customers individually, then they are not scaleable. The more bookings you take, the more time it will take to manage them, and therefore the less time facility managers or facility booking staff have to work on other things. Automated processes are scaleable. If you increase bookings, the time needed to manage them doesn’t increase significantly as the vast majority of the workload is done by technology.
From Hidden to Transparent
Which space will Donna choose?
Donna needs to book a meeting space for 20 people for a community presentation she is doing for the Parks & Recreation volunteers. She needs a projector and want's to keep costs down by bringing her own morning tea. The volunteers are coming from all over, so parking is important.
Space #1: St Bertha's Community Centre
This website leads to more questions than answers...
Space #2: St Luke's Community Centre
All the information is clear and upfront. Donna has enough info to make a decision and make her booking request & payment.
From Data Entry to Self Service
- Filling out an enquiry form
- Calling to check or having an email chain of 20 messages about availability
- Being asked the same information again that was on the original form, so it can be entered in a different system
- Having to go over in person to sign a paper contract or make a deposit payment on POS or in cash
- Filling out a paper survey
Paper forms make everyone sad. Especially trees.
All for a $20 booking!! The steps in the process don’t really stack up to the revenue earned. Customers are used to much quicker feedback cycles. If they want a cab, they tap in their destination and one is confirmed in seconds. If they want a room in a BNB they request and it’s accepted. The same is entirely possible for booking spaces at community centres. With a little reflection, processes can be simplified to work for the 99% of people that just need to make a straightforward room booking. By taking bookings online you can simplify the process to these flows for casual & regular bookings.
Online booking systems can help simplify and streamline booking processes at community centres
Embrace online - like this lady having a party in her web browser.
MYTH #1: Taking bookings online means we lose control
MYTH #2 An online bookings tool will replace me or my staff
MYTH #3 Going online will mean we lose the human connection with our community
We know how important it is to make sure that your space is accessible to people of all age groups - but especially to older groups as you may see a large volume of bookings from this generation. There is no denying that this demographic is not always as computer savvy as their millennial counterparts (although my granddad got a facebook portal before I did!) At SpacetoCo we have successfully transitioned 100% of community users for centres where the biggest demographic is seniors. Here's what we recommend to ensure online bookings can work.
A snapshot of our development team in action.
1. The interface needs to work on all devices and scale up when browsers are zoomed into.
2. There needs to be an easy to use support desk e.g. chat or phone number.
3. There should be a way staff can enter bookings on behalf of these users if they really need to.
What problems does moving to online bookings solve?
By transitioning your booking process to be online, you may be solving some problems that you've stopped noticing or hadn't realised were causing you additional effort and cost. Here's a few problems that can be solved for community spaces who start taking bookings online. Solving these issues can also help unlock getting more bookings.
You're probably missing out on enquiries
Our data shows that the more booking requests come out of hours rather than in working hours. If the main way people contact you is via phone, you may be missing these enquiries. Taking bookings online means all the requests are in one place when you start your day for you to work through and accept or decline.
You may be invisible to people looking online
Unless people search specifically for venue hire in your space (e.g. venue hire at St Bertha’s in Papatoetoe) then they will likely go to your site. That’s great - but those are customers that already know you exist. However, what about those people that search for ‘Venue hire in Papatoetoe.’ Or Venue hire in South Auckland.’ There’s an old proverb ’the best place to hide a body is on page 2 of google search listings’ and it’s as true today as it has ever been. By using an online booking tool that is also a marketplace, you’re much more likely to be found in search results by the people that DON’T know you exist - and could end up being regular users of your space.
You may sometimes accidentally double book the spaces
If booking enquiries can be taken by a couple of team members, there is a risk that someone forgets to update the calendar or the book and then someone else takes another booking and no-one realises the mistake until at 10.55am Jill shows up to set up for Tarot reading and Prashad arrives for the business association AGM. It’s such an easy glitch to happen. The booking comes in over the phone, Fred meant to write it down in the book, but then the carpet cleaning guys arrived, and it slipped his mind. If all booking enquiries get streamed through an online booking system, and it warns you about double bookings, there is a neat check that means there is zero chance of a double booking occurring. Who knows though - that Tarot/AGM combo may have been a riot…
Bookings communications from many different sources can lead to things being missed.
You may have dead times where the centre could be busier
Most centres have really popular times and really slow times. The funny thing that across different community spaces, the dead times and busy times are pretty different. This shows there is the demand for using the space at all times! The antidote to these dead times is making your availability really easy to see online. This means it’s very visible to anyone who’s looking that you have time free. Without this information, people assume it won’t be free or don’t want to call - or can’t get through to you. This is just additional hurdles for them to book. The space may have been free all along - they just couldn’t see this information.
You may be worried about the risk of handling cash on the premises. And that stupid POS machine never works…
If you take payments in person, you may be worried about the risk of having cash around. It’s not a great thing to think about - but as long as you have cash, then there is the chance that it can disappear. If cash is going direct to your bank account, it can’t disappear and the accounting and handling of that money is much simpler. You may also just hate the POS machine. It never connects, it throws random error messages. You can enjoy seeing that POS terminal hibernate forever in the drawer of odd cables that never get used when you start taking payments online.
POS machines can find meaning in retirement as door stoppers and paperweights.
You sometimes have invoices that never get paid
Other benefits of moving to an online booking system
Most of the benefits we've covered are for community spaces, but there are also big benefits to customers and your community as a whole.
For your customers
- Real time, any time access to information and availability
- Gives them the information they need to make a decision
- Reduces admin for them or their community group
- Helps them get their task of booking the space sorted
- Easy and repeatable process to book
- Sense of security through having paid upfront
For your neighbourhood
If you increase bookings at your community space, this can create a nice virtuous cycle of economic development opportunities for your neighbourhood and surrounding local businesses. For example: Penny decides to host a weekly support group for families supporting a child with ADHD. A few of the mum's stop by the local cafe on the way to grab a coffee and cake. Sarah, hasn't been to this area before and notices an afterschool music centre nearby that would be perfect for her son to meet other kids and practice the guitar. Nick realises he's got to grab a present for his son's friends birthday party later that day. He stops at the independent bookstore next to the centre and picks up a gift....
Increasing bookings at your community space can unlock economic opportunities for other businesses and organisations in your neighbourhood
How we help community spaces take bookings online
We hope this has given you lots of information and ideas to convince you that it's worth making the shift to enabling online bookings for your community facilities.
SpacetoCo is an innovative online marketplace and bookings tool for community spaces. Our three mission statements are:
Through making it easier for people to find and book space, more people will do, create and share, leading to stronger, more diverse society.
Through making better use of spaces we already have in our suburbs and towns we can increase utilisation of community, public and private assets.
Through increasing footfall to local community spaces, we can create demand for neighbourhood businesses. When local economies thrive, communities come to life
We work with 100's of spaces across New Zealand and Australia to help them
- Increase bookings
- Diversify bookings
- Improve the visibility of the space
- Make it easier for customers to find and book them
- Reduce the admin and time spent managing bookings and payments
- Get accurate and easy to access bookings data to report impact and see new opportunities