Microsoft Bookings: An honest review

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Microsoft Bookings Overview

Microsoft Bookings is part of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem (formerly Office 365/Microsoft Office) is Microsoft’s appointment booking and scheduling tool.

The application was created with the vision of helping users better manage their time, and to integrate scheduling with other Microsoft resources such as Outlook and Teams.

An important point to note is that it is only available with Business Standard or higher plans. Many people may not know this because it is not clearly mentioned on Microsoft’s website. When you get to the Microsoft Bookings page, you are redirected to the Microsoft 365 Business plans page.

On the plans page too, you could be forgiven for missing this detail. It is mentioned inconspicuously halfway down the page, once you scroll to the differences in plan features and click on the subsection entitled ‘Tools to build and manage your business’. This lack of clarity is common to Microsoft 365 features as I will mention later in the conclusion.

Microsoft Bookings home page

My experience with the app

I initially subscribed to Business Basic (Microsoft’s most basic business plan) only to find out that Microsoft Bookings was not included. I decided to upgrade for an additional $10 specially to get access to Bookings.

My initial impression was that Microsoft Bookings is very similar to other scheduling services available on the market. There is no downloadable software, and the system is entirely web based – but it is a great feature to be included along with Teams. The extra $10 was comparable with other standalone products of a similar nature.

My main goal for getting the app was to use it to book discovery calls with potential partners and clients, and to interview interns and book follow ups with them.

The first thing that struck me as odd was that the meetings were designed with a dollar ($) value assigned to each type of meeting option. I was able to select free meetings but that was not the default selection. Clearly, the ideal candidate for this service would be a professional or service provider that charges an hourly rate for their time i.e. a lawyer or accountant.

On the topic of customisation – the booking form is very basic and allows only limited options to match it your brand or website. You can add a logo, choose a time zone, include a data usage consent (or terms of service), and select one of the featured colour themes. If you are feeling adventurous, you can even pick two colours and make your own ‘theme’.

I kept one of the colours white, because the square block behind my logo looked out of place.

The Bookings form has limited customisation options.

Once set up, I was looking forward to a comfortable booking experience. This was not to be the case because Microsoft Bookings had a few surprises in store for me.

A disappointing first use

Here are some of the complications I faced when using the platform for the first time (to interview potential candidates):

1. As I shared my invites, I was horrified to discover multiple people booking for the same time spot! It was the complete opposite of what a ‘scheduling’ platform should do.

After a bit of digging, I discovered that I had to select the number of seats for each time slot when creating a booking type. If not, each time slot was assigned 4 seats by default

Worse still, this could not be fixed. Once created, it could only be changed back to 2 or more seats. In other words, I had to let 2 people book the same time slot!

In my case, to avoid further embarrassment, I recreated a whole new booking page (making sure to select 1 seat per session) and asked my invites to rebook their appointments.

2. The person booking the appointment had to select my name from a drop-down menu, even though I was the only member on my Teams account. I learned that I could have selected myself as the default person, but that option was not pre-selected for me.

3. Finally, if your guest had a Microsoft, Live or Hotmail account, they were prompted to sign-in to their accounts to complete the booking or close their browser and restart the process.

Even after a booking was complete, the negative experiences continued. I’ll save that for another review, specifically on the Microsoft Teams experience.

In Conclusion

The lack of clarity or focus on user experience is a recurring theme in all of Microsoft 365 products and learning how to use them requires a steep learning being able to use Microsoft 365 is a steep learning process. I did not list the many features that Bookings offers, because it is very similar to features available on other platforms such as Calendly.

As I pointed out in a previous review of Microsoft 365, the offerings are designed for the technically savvy individual. It requires a steep learning process and lots of patience, as Microsoft technicians have to go through a huge list of glitches to fix.

The product is also built for professionals who charge their client by the hour, or larger teams that need to communicate internally. They did not think to use the start-up entrepreneur as an example in their user personas.

For my taste, it offers a very bland experience. For example, many reviews point out that people use the chat features and emojis a lot more often on Slack than on Teams (a fact I proved through my own personal experience.) The Slack experience is also more organic.

As for the positive, I liked the fact that Bookings was a part of a larger ecosystem and worked (or was supposed to work) seamlessly. But this probably also Microsoft’s biggest weakness.

The internet offers many specialized products that integrate well with each other. For example, I could recreate the same functionality using Zoom, Slack and Calendly that a Microsoft 365 plan offers, for a comparable price. These companies offer one core product, and these products are created with reliability and the end user experience in mind. If they fail to deliver, their entire business suffers. Microsoft, on the other hand, has many applications and products, and one bad product does not warrant the company to change its practice.

After a few initial uses, I have gotten used to Bookings and will continue using it for a while longer because Microsoft is announcing a key new feature soon. More on that in a future review!

Have you used Microsoft Bookings or a similar application? What was your impression? Please leave your reviews in the comments section.

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Microsoft 365: A 6-month experience review

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I made the switch to Microsoft’s ecosystem almost 5 months ago (Microsoft Office 365: Business Basics for 1 month and Business Standard for the next 4 months) after experimenting with Google, Zoho and a combination of stand-alone applications. I should note that although I haven’t used all Microsoft 365 features extensively, I feel I have enough knowledge and experience to share my initial impression (and emotions, which range from frustration to adoration) and make some general comparisons.

Microsoft 365 (including Teams and Bookings) is one of the most economical all-inclusive business software on the market today: If you happen to need a team communication and management platform that does everything; Teams is the best in the category. I have very little experience with Slack, but it is extremely user friendly and boasts many unique features not found elsewhere. For some indiscernible reason, Slack channels are also full of friendly chat and emoji reactions, something that doesn’t translate to Teams. I would choose Slack as the top alternative to Teams on its own, but not if it is part of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

I upgraded from the Business Basics at CAD $6.40 to Business Standard at $16 specifically to get the added benefits of Microsoft Bookings. For an additional $9.60 – it was cheaper than the industry benchmark for calendar management: Calendly’s Pro plan at $12/month but more expensive than other alternatives including Calendly’s Premium plan at $8/month. Needless to say, I had high hopes.

In addition, a Microsoft 365 subscription gives you access to the whole ‘traditional’ Office line up of software including Word, Excel, Access, Outlook as well as new ones such as Forms, Lists and One Note. (One Note in itself is a very powerful note-taking and collaboration tool that deserves its own review someday.) Microsoft’s cloud service; OneDrive also receives a lot of praise but I have yet to try it extensively even though I work on several different devices.

Microsoft has multiple layers of account types and logins, and way too many plans and apps: It has taken me all of 2021 this far to understand that Microsoft, Microsoft 365, Office, Office Admin, Teams and the individual apps have separate logins with overlapping access, settings and features. Also, Office 365 is now Microsoft 365, which is not the same as Microsoft. Microsft 365 has several personal, business and educational plan types (around 12 that I know of).

Microsoft 365 is better suited to large teams: The installation and set up is too intimidating for an individual looking to get started. Many of the Microsoft 365 options and settings are built with larger organisations in mind with settings available only for an ‘admin’ account. In fact, there are many levels of admins you can choose from including super admin. On my first call with support, we unchecked all the level of admins I had assigned myself (conflicting admin controls were causing glitches in the system) and created a separate admin login account.

With a few additional options, some tweaking and a little more flexibility, Microsoft can corner the freelancer and independent professional market as well. If you are part of a large organisation and are fortunate enough to have a specialist administrator set up and manage the system for you, then perhaps your experience may differ completely.

Microsoft Office cannot handle multiple user accounts: I created a user account with my personal Gmail account to test the freemium version of the product. Next, I used my business email to create the same. However, when I was ready to upgrade to the paid version, it only gave me the option to upgrade to Office 365 Personal or Family. I had to create an entirely new account with my business email, but that is when the login nightmares began. I would routinely see error messages suggesting an account did not exist, or an undecipherable coded message which could only be resolved by restarting the computer. The same happened when I used the online version of Teams.

Microsoft applications are not intuitive or user friendly: Many of us have grown up using classic Microsoft Office apps such as Word and Excel, and its basic use is common knowledge. Therefore I assumed setting up an Office Business account would be effortless. But boy, was I wrong! Even beyond setting up the initial MX email records, the process was created for technical users by other technical users. I had to reach out to their customer service centre often, and more times than not, the members themselves were clueless.

N.B. This is not to say customer support is lacking! I will go on to say it is by far one of the best. But more on that later.

Some of the problems I faced that required me to reach out to support included:

  1. Outlook: Microsoft 365 admin lets you pick your web hosting service provider however the options are limited. I recently switched to Hostinger, which was not a selectable option when setting up MX email records.
  2. Bookings: Automatically signed me up for a default 5 ‘seats’ per time slot, and I couldn’t switch it back to 1 seat or person per time slot. If multiple people can book in the same time slot, it defeats the purpose of a booking app.
  3. Forms: I was able to create and send out a questionnaire but it did not work for the participants because I added the option to upload a file. It only worked on my personal freemium account, but I wasn’t able to transfer the form or the results back to my business account.
  4. Teams: Does not allow for multiple logins. Instead gives an error message. Also automatically assigns an account as personal or business and does not allow the switch from one to another. You need to create a new account and close the old account, which takes several months to complete.

Judging by the comments on the many forums and the vast array of resources available, I would say I am not the only one with these concerns. Some of the bugs listed or fixes and missing features suggested seem very common sense. But the upvote system means that issues are resolved efficiently and democratically. A vast number of Microsoft’s technical experts prowl the forums to assure that issues are being looked at and all legitimate concerns are addressed. This and other such feedback features are a reassuring sign, and lets users know that even though the company may not have built the perfect ecosystem yet, it is working towards improving them.

Microsoft Tech Community screenshot

Microsoft has built one of the best customer support teams on the web: I have been able to call for help whenever needed, and the longest it has taken for them to get back to me is an hour. Even the support reps themselves have back up technical support, which is necessary given the lack of user-friendly functions and features. And although they don’t have all the answers, they provide an email address for follow-ups and also allow you to rate the support you receive. In response to one such service issue they could not fix, Microsoft offered to reimburse me several months worth of fees.

Have you used Microsoft 365 or currently subscribed to the service? Are you self employed or part of a larger organisation? What has your experience been?

Continue Reading Microsoft 365: A 6-month experience review

DUCA business banking: an unbiased review

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Almost a month ago, I applied for a DUCA business banking account: a no-fee ‘Start Me Up’ business bank account. The onboarding process was easy and unbelievably efficient.

Fast forward to today, I find myself on the phone again, calling BMO to book an appointment.

So, what went wrong – or right?

My frustration with traditional banks

I first heard of DUCA because of the frustration of dealing with my local BMO branch, and specifically their problematic online booking system. I showed up for an appointment at BMO one day, a week after booking it online on their site, only to be told the request did not go through. The earliest I could speak to someone was a week later. I found it disappointing, to say the least, considering the efficiency of conducting business online these days and the general attention to online user experience.

My frustration led me to research other options. I thought I hit the jackpot with DUCA: not only is a no-fee option a rarity these days, but I try and support Credit Unions on principle against the Canadian big bank oligarchy wherever possible.

DUCA business banking
Source: DUCA.com/business

The DUCA experience

The onboarding on the DUCA website was straightforward and effortless. It took me around 20 minutes to complete all the forms and upload all required documents. There was no mention of an in-person meeting, but I received an email the next day from a banking officer at the closest branch, asking me to come in to complete the setup.

I was impressed by the speed of the process and an email from a human at 9:20 AM the following day. I was slightly annoyed at having to go in-person to Yonge and Eglinton, which happened to be one of the only two branches in Toronto, but it didn’t seem too unreasonable.

Once I made it to the branch, the process was painless. It took another 20-30 minutes of signing documents and providing IDs. Since I had uploaded all the documentation in advance, it was easy.

I did, though, have to bring in a physical $1 (or in my case: nickels, and dimes) to pay my membership dues. I cannot remember the last time I’ve carried or used coins, or at least not since the beginning of the pandemic.

That was not the last of the surprises. The final unsettling revelation came in the form of the banking officer asking me if I wanted a physical card or a printout. I found out – a little too late by then – that their debit card was neither supported by Visa or Mastercard, nor could it be used to make purchases online. I could apply for a credit card, but I was told to provide 2 years of financial history, which – as a startup (clue: bank account type) – I did not have.

Here is my summary of the pros and cons of setting this account:

PROSCONS
1. No monthly fees1. Bank card does not support online payment.
2. Unlimited ATM deposits and withdrawals2. In-branch visit required.
3. Unlimited Interac transfers3. Very few local branches
4. Seamless onboarding process4. A very basic banking app

At month-end, I noticed a fee of $0.75 for the $1 deposit I made. I sent an email to my banking officer and received an apology. It was due to an entry error made by the teller, I was told, and corrected immediately.

So, I am back to calling BMO again to set up a business account. Their cashback credit card also looks great, as it gives you cashback for spending on things like gas, internet, and cellphone. They also have a no-fee option for now.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the experience with DUCA but found the product missing a key feature that did not have to be excluded. I was willing to pay a one-time fee for a Visa or Mastercard business card, or the ability to make purchases online. However, since this is a no-fee option, I will hold on to the account and use it as a ‘payroll’ business account and set up the secondary (BMO) account for payments.

If your business is a cash-intensive business, make sure you live close enough to one of the branches to make those regular deposits and withdrawals. In my opinion, this is an account for new or small businesses that provide a product or service and collect and make payments through Interac transfers only.

Have you set up a business account with DUCA or a local credit union? What was your experience? Please share in the comments section below.

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