”How automatic appointment scheduling can benefit municipal employment services? Time spent organizing appointments could be used for other purposes”

Municipal employment services customers often face complexities in the job search process that seem outdated in today’s technological environment. How to find the right expert for their needs from employment services and how to book an appointment at the right time?

At the same time, employment service professionals are constantly considering ways to streamline the process and their own work to make handling job search-related matters as easy as possible for people.

From Vihda’s perspective, one factor that can streamline the service is modernizing the appointment booking process. In September 2022, we conducted a customer survey for Finnish municipal employment services to inquire about the challenges that employment service employees face in appointment booking and their hopes for improving the process.

This blog post explores the most common challenges that emerged and considers how to solve them to improve the quality of employment services.

What challenges do employment service professionals face?

According to the customer survey, many municipal employment service units do not have an electronic appointment booking system, and appointments are made through traditional phone calls. Manual appointment booking tasks take up a lot of time in the professional’s day, and from the employees’ own mouths, that time could be used much more efficiently.

”I think smooth services are those where the customer can book their own appointment. If the volume is high and there is a lot of contact without an appointment, an automatic system would undoubtedly be a significant benefit.”

When managing appointments by phone, professionals have found it problematic that customers sometimes do not answer the phone. Some municipalities have tried to reduce these unnecessary calls with a text message service that informs the customer in advance of the time they will be called. However, this does not always work, and employees often find themselves hanging on the phone without an answer.

According to the survey, another challenge in employment services is that customers are late for appointments or do not show up at all despite the agreed time. Unused appointment times can be frustrating because another job seeker could have received the service they needed during that time.

”The biggest challenge is when someone does not want to answer the phone. Ways to address this are being explored, such as text messages: ’You will receive a call regarding employment at 12 noon. Please answer.'”

Sick leave also affects the efficiency of appointment booking. When an employee is ill, their colleagues may need to manage their sick colleague’s calendar and cancel appointments one by one. When their own tasks are combined with their colleague’s work, the workload naturally increases, and work efficiency can also decrease.

The most common challenges in municipal employment service appointment booking include:

  • The amount of manual labor that burdens professionals
  • Customers not answering phone calls
  • Lateness or absences from scheduled appointments
  • Managing colleagues’ calendars and appointments during sick leave.

How could an electronic appointment booking system address the challenges that professionals face?

The appointment booking process in employment services could be made easier and reduce phone waiting times with an automatic appointment booking system that can be used by both employment service professionals and customers.

”Professionals would benefit if at least some customers would use these digital services.”

An appointment can be booked in the electronic system for face-to-face, phone, or video meetings, which can be done on behalf of the customer if necessary. This way, the customer’s appointment information can be automatically sent, and they will receive reminder messages before the scheduled call. Regular reminders can improve phone answering rates.

Reminder messages also help when previously scheduled appointments are forgotten. In addition to a reminder, customers receive arrival instructions well in advance, which reduces the likelihood of lateness or absences.

An electronic system also significantly reduces the workload during sick leave. With the appointment booking system, a colleague of a sick professional can easily cancel their appointments in one go, or they can manage some of the appointments on behalf of their colleague according to their resources.

Electronic appointment booking system

  • streamlines customers’ appointment booking and reduces the workload of professionals
  • regularly reminds customers of their scheduled appointments to prevent unanswered calls or unused appointment slots from consuming resources
  • facilitates the overall management of different employees and booked appointments, especially in acute illness cases.

Other benefits of the electronic and commonly shared system

Employment services in municipalities can also be enhanced by collecting customers’ preliminary information and mapping their personal situations before the meeting.

When the first exploratory phone meeting with the customer has been held, for example, regarding the employment situation, the customer can be directed to book an appointment themselves, or the professional can book an appointment on behalf of the customer for the next meeting. During the appointment booking process, customer preliminary information can also be requested, which the professional can use to prepare for the reception in advance.

”You need to know the customer’s situation and clarify it in advance. If the customer were to book an appointment directly without conversation, the first meeting would be a waste of time. Thus, opening up the matter is part of the appointment booking process.”

In addition, the electronic system enables group appointment bookings in situations where the municipality needs to invite a larger and specifically selected group of people, such as for employment discussions. Appointments can be easily created for hundreds of people at once, and information and instructions can be automatically forwarded.

In addition to solving the mentioned challenges, customer research also revealed technological requirements that are all achievable. These include, for example,

  • smooth implementation and ease of use of the systems
  • versatile interfaces that enable integration into municipal information systems
  • integration with commonly used Microsoft systems such as Outlook Calendar and Teams communication application
  • the possibility of continuous service development
  • comprehensive onboarding and user support.

In addition, the electronic system also offers other service-promoting opportunities, such as

  • self-registration system for employment services receptions, which enables appointment booking customers to register themselves as arrived for the meeting
  • a queue management system for serving customers without appointment bookings on the same device
  • Azure AD integration, for example, into the professional’s user interface
  • Kivra digital post integration in the near future.