Online Appointment Setting Will Become the ‘New Normal’ in Banking

The pandemic moved a little-used digital app into the mainstream when branch lobbies restricted walk-in traffic. As it turns out, banking by appointment has several quantifiable benefits in addition to helping promote safety.

Times of crisis tend to stimulate innovation. We saw that 12 years ago with the financial crisis and again in 2020 with COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic on banking has been massive and ongoing, and will continue to be analyzed. Much of the focus has been on broad themes such as “digital transformation” and “changed consumer behavior” — both critically important.

Less often mentioned is one of the earliest changes made in response to the pandemic: “banking by appointment.” Online appointment setting (OAS) became a hot topic almost overnight beginning in March 2020 when many financial institutions shut down general lobby access and started operating through drive-ups and in-lobby appointments.

Some gradual reopening has occurred since then, though in certain markets closures are happening again. The larger question is: Will consumers (and bankers) continue to require banking by appointment as an option when we eventually return to “normal”?

Four Impacts from Effective Use of Appointments

In November we analyzed data from 28 representative financial institutions across the U.S., and set out to answer this question. We have identified four major trends:

1. Appointment scheduling produces new account growth. First-party data from financial institutions using an OAS solution indicates over 90% of their appointments resulted in new balances gained, and new accounts being opened within a standard response window. The takeaway is that the appointments function provides strong engagement.

2. An OAS solution improves access. The data points to the importance of 24x7x365 appointment scheduling, with more than 35% of customer appointments being booked between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Customers know what they want to do and don’t want to waste their valuable time waiting in a line at their bank or credit union. By being able to pre-book an appointment, customers can better plan their day — and the branch staff can more carefully meter the flow of traffic in their location.

3. Appointment scheduling can improve Net Promoter Scores. Historically, a large percentage of contact center calls do not result in resolution of the customer issue. When that happens, the ability to quickly book an appointment with a person who can resolve the issue is powerful — an expert in mortgage or business banking, for example. Our data suggests a range of positive impacts to NPS when deploying this capability. One bank saw an 18% increase in NPS after implementing their own OAS solution.

4. “Build or Buy”? Customers don’t care. Eight of the ten largest banks had an OAS solution before the pandemic began, and financial institutions as small as a single branch have added online appointment capabilities using software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. In the case of the largest banks, several of them are running solutions built in-house, while others are using software from a technology partner. The source of the code is not relevant, we found: customers simply crave access.

How to Make Appointment Scheduling More Effective

There are three actions financial institution marketing and retail team can enact to enable better engagement with account holders when and how they want:

Simple is smarter. Rather than trying to build out an IT-intensive, fully integrated OAS approach that will cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars — and take months if not a year to implement — start with a simpler approach. In some cases an institution’s in-house technology team has the bandwidth to create basic OAS functionality on their own platform. If not, there are some simple, affordable OAS solutions in the market which provide 90% of the functionality and can be operational in a few days. Start simple, and grow from there.

Call to confirm. More than 40% of appointments requested started as a customer service request (i.e., “I need to replace my debit card,” “I have a question about the analysis on my business account,” etc.) and were able to be serviced remotely. For those that require an in-person appointment, making a call to confirm the appointment (in addition automated confirmations generated by the software) cuts no-shows to low single digits.

Awareness is key. Promotion in large measure will determine the success of an OAS solution. Financial Institutions who generated awareness by creating multiple homepage links, including their appointment capability in their promotional product carousel, and regularly providing a link to their OAS via social media saw a 250% increase in customer utilization compared with banks and credit unions who only added a link to one place on their homepage.

COVID-19 has accelerated the acceptance of many digital solutions which customers may have otherwise tried and adopted in a more gradual and measured manner — solutions like Instacart and DoorDash. Online appointment scheduling falls into the same category. While COVID-19 didn’t create the need for remote-friendly solutions such as these, new customer behaviors and expectations to bank how and where they want are here to stay, long after the pandemic is in our collective rear-view mirror.

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