Appointment Banking Is Not Just about COVID-19

By Deb Stewart

“Appointment banking” has been a hot topic in banking news since March. The world changed and most banks shut down general lobby access and started operating through drive-ups, curbside and in-lobby appointments. Some gradual reopening is happening, which inspires the question: Will customers (and bankers) want to continue appointment banking as we come to “normal”?

Deloitte’s 2019 Banking Industry Outlook report highlighted the importance of branches in attracting and retaining customers. Appointment banking factored into their conclusion with 31 percent of consumers polled indicating that they were likely to increase branch usage if the feature was offered.

Bill Clark, CEO of TimeTrade, an appointment scheduling application in banking and other industries, says 72 percent of contact center calls do not result in resolution of the customer issue. “The ability to book at appointment with the person who can resolve their issue is powerful,” he says. “Whether that’s an expert in mortgage or business banking or a universal branch associate, you can address the customer’s need in real time. We see strong indications that appointment banking impacts Net Promoter Score. For instance, DelOne saw an 18 percent increase in NPS after appointment implementation.”

Katherine Regnier, CEO of Coconut Software, another appointment solution provider, points to customer online behavior as an indicator of the importance of appointment scheduling, noting that “41 percent of our customer appointments are booked between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.”

“Customers know what they want to do and don’t want to waste lunch hour waiting in a line at a bank,” she adds. By being able to pre-book an appointment, customers can better plan their days. Regnier adds that Coconut has this “proven through an average ‘no-show’ rate of 3 percent for our customers, compared to the industry average of 20 percent. And we’ve found that 40 percent of customers book their next appointment at the conclusion of the first. That is incredibly strong engagement.”

Fifth Third Bank has offered in-branch appointments for more than two years with an average of 154,000 per month pre-pandemic. In March 2020, the bank worked with TimeTrade to expand its offerings to include phone appointments. Fifth Third reports it has seen a 517 percent increase in customer originated appointments since that time and a 105 percent increase in overall appointments.

“During the first month of COVID we did a phone outreach campaign to 2 million customers,” says Shawn Niehaus, SVP and director, retail financial centers and One Bank at Fifth Third. “The message was simple: We’re here and how are you doing? We talked about our actions around safety and security and the availability of phone and in-branch appointments. By mid-March we had done 62,000 phone appointments.”

Regions Bank had about 30,000 appointments in 2019 (a 30 percent increase from the prior year). According to TimeTrade internal analysis, Regions saw a 72 percent increase in appointment volume from February to April of this year, including a 350 percent increase in account openings.

Efficient meetings, optimized resources

“We know customers who set appointments with their banker are typically more satisfied than those who don’t,” Niehaus says. “The customer is prepared for the conversation and the banker is prepared. Our bankers can do the prework to look at customers notes and what the customers want. My goal is to make things as efficient as possible. Everything is fully integrated, resulting in a in more consistent, efficient experience.”

The value of the appointment does not end with the first meeting. Fifth Third has a protocol of scheduled follow-up appointments for both new and existing customers. This helps ensure that the bank is meeting the customer’s needs and encourages them to talk about the next steps in their financial lives.

The resource optimization benefits of appointment scheduling start with matching the customer to a banker with the right skill set.

“If the customer is coming in for a mortgage, you are sure that the person they meet with has that skill and authority,” he adds.

“If a customer makes an online or call center request to meet with a banker in branch A at 10:00 on Saturday to discuss a mortgage, and a banker is not available at that time at that location the appointment scheduling system will find and suggest a banker at the nearest location,” says Clark. “The objective is to connect the customer to the right expert optimally.”.

Arvest Bank began an appointment banking pilot in August and went into full rollout in September.

“In addition to great customer feedback collected via post-appointment surveys our associates absolutely love it,” says Michelle Fittro, product senior analyst at Arvest. “The customer receives confirmation and a reminder email before the appointment. Some have opted in for text message reminders. This has resulted in a very low ’no-show’ rate.

“When customers arrive at the branch they can text or call to alert the banker and stay in their car until that banker is available. The process is seamless. Appointments are integrated with Outlook calendars. Bankers know what their day looks like and are prepared in advance. This has resulted in shorter, more productive meetings.”

Appointment banking does more than you think.

The benefits of appointment banking don’t end with ease of booking meetings. The benefits of appointment technology extend to everything from staffing inputs to managing through natural disasters. They include:

  • Queue management. Customers can book an immediate appointment when they enter the branch. Scanning a QR code at the entry (or on the exterior door) allows a customer to request a specific meeting for their visit. They are immediately told who they will be meeting with, how long it will be until that banker is available and offered an alternative appointment time if there is an extended wait. They can remain in their cars and receive a text when the banker is ready to begin.
  • Addressing emergencies. After hurricanes, floors and pandemics closed many branches, customers still required safe deposit access to retrieve insurance policies, car titles and other items. QR codes can be placed on the entry door of each impacted branch. Customers can scan the code and be met to access their box at a predetermined time.
  • Staffing optimization. Reporting available around appointment scheduling shows which branches are accepting a high number of appointments or appointments requiring specific expertise. This may provide insight into branches with capacity issues, where an expert in a certain specialty is needed, or where an adjustment to hours may be needed to address a high volume of redirected appointments.
  • Application to experts. Areas such as wealth management or commercial lending may meet with clients at a specific frequency. Appointment scheduling eliminates the phone tag between banker and client improving that experience.
  • Size doesn’t matter. TimeTrade and Coconut Software have customers with as few as five branches and others in the thousands.

A key element in the omnichannel experience

Niehaus adds that appointment scheduling supports omni-channel by letting customers choose how they want to handle their banking experience. “From full-digital to full-branch, it’s an enhancement,” he says. “Our customers can open many accounts digitally but may still want to talk to someone. They can talk to a banker to confirm the account is the best fit for them, verify features and determine next steps. This technology can add value to virtually any channel.”

“Customer engagement is key for all banks and credit unions, regardless of where they are in their digital transformation journey,” says Regnier. “Customer expectations have changed. Individuals want to bank in the manner and method most convenient to them. Video conference appointments have become more common since COVID and phone appointments and callbacks are now a necessity. There is an ability to fulfill through any of these channels but also to educate and potentially triage the customer to a more appropriate channel such as online or mobile.

“COVID may have accelerated the acceptance of appointment banking but it didn’t create the need for it.”

Deb Stewart is a frequent contributor to ABA Bank Marketing.