Using Appointments + to Setup and Streamline Client Consultations

Using Appointments + to Setup and Streamline Client Consultations

If you’re a freelancer or run a business that provides consultations, it’s important to make yourself readily available to potential clients.

Emailing back and forth to arrange times for meetings is inefficient, time consuming and, frankly, outdated.

Fortunately, streamlining consultations is a straightforward process to set up with WordPress. Using our Appointments + plugin and your favorite video chat plugin, you can easily set up and conduct consultations with clients, all from your own website.

I have successfully set this up for my own business and as a result I have decreased my workload while increasing sales. In this tutorial I”ll show you how you can do the same.

An Appointments + booking calendar with a date selected and available times have appeared.
Enable your clients to automatically schedule consultations (and even pay for them!) right from your WordPress site. It can save both you and your clients a lot of time.

Getting Started

Before we begin, make a backup of your entire site. We’ll be installing plugins so it’s best to have a backup in case of compatibility issues with existing plugins.

If you’re not sure of the best best way to backup your site, there are many options out there like our Snapshot plugin, VaultPress or BackupBuddy.

Once that’s done, install and activate Appointments + along with a video chat plugin that works for you. If you’re not sure what to use, our post Best WordPress Video Chat Plugins – Based on Your Needs may help you make a decision.

You could also opt for a service such as Skype or Google Hangouts instead of a plugin. While they may not be the most professional tools out there, but they can be used as backup options in case your clients prefer these methods.

Create Custom Pages

There are a few key options that you need to pay close attention to in order to achieve the best results. First, create the following new pages:

  • Book Your Consultation – Or name the page whatever suits your site. As the name suggest, this page will be where potential clients can book a time to talk to you.
  • Booking Confirmation – This page will let clients know their consultation was booked successfully and provide any further details.
  • Cancellations – If your clients need to cancel, this will be the page they access to make it happen.

Once that’s all done, visit “Shortcodes” under the “Appointments” tab in your dashboard to view the many options available to you. You’ll need them to display everything from booking capabilities to payment options.

Your specific needs will dictate which shortcodes are best to use. If you’re a business with many staff members, you can choose [app_service_providers] to display a selectable dropdown list of  everyone who is available for your clients to book. If you’re a freelancer or life coach like me, you won’t need this one.

Here’s the successful structure and shortcodes I use for the “Bookings” page to give you an idea of what to add to your page. I also added instructions so my clients could more easily navigate the process:

I’ve included the [app_login] shortcode for clients who have an account. This shortcode will give you the option of offering a discount once clients are logged in. I also added [app_paypal] to accept payments through – you guessed it – PayPal.

My clients will be able to select one of my three types of consultations with [app_services], a calendar with the available time slots will be displayed with [app_monthly_schedule] and a button will appear so my clients can switch to view my calendar in advance, one month at a time with [app_pagination month="1" date="0"].

You can also add information about your consultations by customizing the [app_services] shortcode to include a description of the service or even a staff member. You can also choose which order your consultations are listed and if you’d like to display a thumbnail of a featured image.

Adding a world clock to this page will help potential clients from around the world book a consultation with you since they’ll easily be able to determine what your timezone is compared to their own. I chose to use the clock widget from WorldTimeBuddy.

You can easily change the color scheme to suit your site’s style. Here’s an example of what it looks like in action.

An example of the WorldTimeBuddy clock widget displaying the time in PST and the visitor's time in EST.
In the bottom right-hand corner there is also an option for the visitor to switch between the default 12 hour clock or military time.

Your confirmation page could display important details about where the consultation will be held and other relevant information. You can also choose to have a copy of this emailed to your clients upon a successful booking in the settings.

You can even display your client’s currently booked consultations with the shortcode [app_my_appointments].

You can also allow automatic cancellations, but you will need to add a parameter to this shortcode. It will look something like this: [app_my_appointments allow_cancel="1"].

Whether or not you choose to allow your customers to cancel consultations on their own is up to you and you can toggle the options for it on the settings page.

Finally, your cancellation page could simply have a bit of text confirming the consultation has been deleted and refunded. You could also add a button to book another session in case the cancellation was a mistake.

Now that your pages are set up they’ll look great except for the “Bookings” page since we haven’t yet adjusted any of the settings.

Enter Your Desired Settings

Once you access the “Settings” page through the “Appointments” tab that appears in the dashboard, tips will be displayed to help you set up the Appointments + plugin and choose the best settings based on your needs.

Go ahead and do this, but I’ll run through the specific settings you’ll need to really make bookings as automatic as possible.

Under “Accessibility Settings,” setting “auto confirm” to “yes” will give you the option to allow clients to book free consultations if you provide that option.

This is particularly helpful if you’re a web designer. You will be able to meet with your clients for an information session where they tell you about their requirements.

This is also the section where you can set the option for your clients to cancel their own booked consultations.

The accessibility settings are shown and the option to allow customers to cancel their own appointments is set to "yes" and a cancellation page has been selected.
Allowing your clients to cancel their own appointments is very handy as it helps to eliminate “no shows.”

If you set the option to allow clients to cancel their own appointments to “yes,” you’ll also need to select your cancellation page in the next option as I have already done in the above example.

If you would like clients to login to book a consultation, this option is also listed at the end of this section.

When you get to the “Display Settings,” at the bottom, you’ll notice an option called “Additional fields” with the ability to add new ones.

The "Add new field" setting under the"Additional fields" option.
This option may look unnecessary, but it’s the key to streamlining your consultations.

This is where things get interesting. We’re going to set up custom options so your clients can choose where they would like to meet.

In the “field label,” type in the location in a descriptive way such as “Meet me on Skype.” Select “Checkbox” under “Field type” and leave the checkbox for “Required?” unchecked. Now click the “Add” button. Now you can add a text field in the same way so clients can enter their Skype handle if they choose this option.

Use this process for each option you’d like to provide including using a video chat plugin right on your site or even the option to meet at your office, if you have one.

Once you’re done, click the “Save Settings” button at the bottom of the page and you’ll end up with several options listed in this section.

Custom additional fields are set including the fields "Meet me on Google Hangout," "Google Profile link," "Meet me at your office" and "Meet me here on this site."
You can choose the way your clients meet with you, but this is an example of what your additional fields would look like if you have many meeting options.

Here’s what these options will look like once a client has selected a time slot on your bookings page:

The custom additional fields are shown when booking a consultation on the front end.
You can add as many options as you like and they don’t need to be limited to locations, either. I have even included a custom additional field to allow my clients to describe what they’d like to cover in their appointment.

In the “Payments Settings” you’ll see the option to select a confirmation page from a dropdown list. This is where you would select the one you created.

In the “Notification Settings” area we can elect to send confirmation emails to your clients once consultations are booked. This is where you can customize the email they receive to include all the information they need, including where exactly to meet.

You can add HTML to the confirmation email message to keep things professional. Here’s an example of what you could write for your confirmation emails:

You can also send a similar message in a reminder email in this same section on the settings page. You can also set the time the reminders are set out such as 24 hours before the consultation.

And that’s it! Save your settings and head over to your bookings page. You can give it a test run and see if there’s anything you’d like to change, including making any CSS tweaks to your theme.

Adding a Shopping Cart

If letting your clients book multiple consultations at one time is a feature you need, it’s simple to add by also installing our MarketPress eCommerce plugin, which fully integrates with Appointments +.

It will allow you to turn a consultation into a product that can be purchased in any quantity with a shopping cart.

Once it’s installed, activated and set up, head over to the Appointments + settings. Under “Payment Settings,” you’ll see a section dedicated to MarketPress. All you need to do is select the checkbox “Integrate with MarketPress” and adjust the other settings as you desire.

The MarketPress options within the Appointments + plugin settings. The checkbox for "Integrate with MarketPress" is selected.
You can choose to create an online shop-style page with all your consultations listed by checking the “Create an Appointment Product Page” or you can create your own page, style it how you desire and add the shortcodes you need.

To add a consultation, go to Products > Create New in the admin dashboard and add the Appointments + shortcodes you need to the editor. Select all the other options you’d like such as categories, tags and a title and hit “Publish.”

Unfortunately, allowing clients to purchase consultation packages in not yet possible with MarketPress, but this idea has been submitted as a feature request for a future release. In the meantime, you could offer a coupon instead.

Once you’ve followed these steps, your first consultation will be up and running and your clients will be able to book as many of them as they like and pay for them all at once, unless you have a free appointment option.

Conclusion

With these setup tips, your clients will be able to book consultations with you and your business on their own and it will be fully automated, saving you and your clients a lot of time.

If you would like to add the option to email customers after a consultation at a time of your choosing, check out this featured request thread where the code you need to make it happen is given by an amazing WPMU DEV user name Judah: Appointments +: Send an email to a client after an appointment to follow up.

If you’re looking for more ways to better communicate with your clients, you might also find this post particularly helpful: 16 Plugins to Help You Communicate With Your Users.

Did these setup tips work for you? Share your experience in the comments below.