Social Distancing Gives Branch Appointment Scheduling New Importance

Scheduling apps now help keep customer service running smoothly as branches partially or completely close. In the process, the apps may demonstrate their ability to improve personalization.

In the space of a few weeks retail banking was turned upside down. The entire country began practicing social distancing to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, followed in close succession by stringent stay-at-home guidelines adopted by multiple states and cities.

Yet even as consumers pivot to working from home while making their own morning latte, the need for financial transactions continues.

To address the unprecedented situation, and to keep their retail business operations running as smoothly as possible, banks and credit unions quickly changed customer strategies. In a matter of days, financial institutions ranging from the giants to the smallest credit unions announced plans to cut walk-in visits. Some closed physical locations completely, many others shifted to drive-thru service only, while others began offering virtual meetings or lobby visits by appointment only — or some combination of all three.

An Immediate Need to Space Out In-Person Visits

Transitioning from a walk-in model to offering meetings only by appointment will help ease consumer uncertainty and keep transaction volumes steady while minimizing health risks.

One of the benefits of appointment scheduling for financial institutions is the ability to manage branch traffic, ensuring that staffing levels and skill sets match customer demand. This is especially critical in the current environment. Banks and credit unions can space out pre-scheduled appointments to limit the number of people on-site, complying with social distancing requirements.

Financial institutions that want to eliminate all in-person transactions in the immediate future can turn to virtual options. Using online scheduling options available via the bank’s website or mobile app, they can direct customers to make appointments for phone meetings or video conferences.

Those institutions that already offer scheduling capabilities in some capacity can quickly move previously scheduled face-to-face appointments to virtual ones. Depending on the vendor they use, banks and credit unions should have the option to send a message out via the consumer’s preferred contact method with a note and a link to the video chat or phone number.

Retail Banking After the Pandemic

While we don’t know when the Unites States will return to a more normal way of life, we do know from watching other countries, namely China, that we will overcome the current pandemic challenges. When that happens, economists and culture experts expect customers will have different expectations about how and when to interact with their banks, as well as with other retail service providers.

The need to engage customers in more meaningful and personalized ways, online and in-branch, has already been top of mind for the last few years, and those efforts are expected to ramp up further post-COVID-19.

The trend to digital will continue, yet Deloitte’s 2019 Banking Industry Outlook report put this in perspective: “The importance of the branch in attracting and retaining customers, contrary to conventional wisdom, should remain…branches will continue to have value, especially with greater digital enablement” [italics added].

In its report, Deloitte noted customers were likely to increase branch use if the following features are offered:

  • Extended service hours through virtual remote services with a representative 36%
  • Digital screen self-service with representative help if needed 34%
  • Ability to schedule a personal appointment for a virtual video meeting with a representative 31%
  • Branch that resembles a cafe where you can plug in, hang out, and work 31%

Longer Term, Appointment Data Drives Personalization

Looking beyond just the current situation, consumers and retail bankers both benefit from insights into who is walking into your branch (or requesting a virtual visit) and when. That data, gathered from scheduling apps, gives financial institutions the ability to drive more personalized and managed experiences, particularly as they shift to a mix of universal bankers and specialists.

Those who walk in the door with a general banking need can immediately seek the advice of a cross-trained banking generalist armed with a tablet. Consumers are served more quickly with a personal touch. And if they require more specialized assistance, universal bankers can direct them to the right employee, or help them schedule an appointment for a future time so they don’t need to wait.

In addition to generalists, specialists remain critical for high-value relationships. Knowledgeable experts are also key to providing accurate information and meeting regulatory requirements for complex banking products like loans and mortgages.

But there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes orchestration that goes on for this mix to work flawlessly while providing a seamless customer experience. Appointment scheduling enables relationship-centric banking that ensures that everyone receives the best service possible by the most appropriate staff member every time.

Regardless of what services are available right now and how appointments can be made, be clear and update your customers regularly for however long the coronavirus pandemic and its effects last. Once the banking community clears this temporary hurdle, these increased customer outreach efforts combined with the switch to virtual and pre-scheduled appointments will help generate greater customer loyalty.

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