Does Google Have Your Branch Hours and Service Levels Wrong?

With America's reopening being a gradual and local affair, everyone's checking their bank or credit union hours online before they venture out these days. But do internet listings of open days and hours match reality? Or will people arrive at offices that aren't open and leave angry? Chances are consumers won't blame that on the web.

Here’s a true consumer COVID-19 era experience at a suburban branch of a major New York City bank.

A consumer checks the hours of his branch on a Friday and notes that Google says the branch — which is only open for drive-through service — will be open until 6 P.M. He does a few more chores and sets out to join the line at the manned drive-up, figuring there is plenty of time. It is about 3:30 and he’s about car 12 in the line. Within minutes, four or five more cars join the queue behind him.

A few minutes later a branch employee comes out and, wearing a mask, starts talking to drivers on the line. Now it’s the consumer’s turn, and he opens his window and pulls up his mask.

Banker: “What have you got today?”

Consumer: “I have to deposit a check. It was too large for mobile deposit.”

Banker: “Why don’t you use the ATM?”

Consumer: “I don’t want to deposit a five-figure check into an ATM.”

Banker:“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. We close at 4 P.M.”

Consumer: “The web says you close at 6 P.M.”

Banker: “No, that was Google. You should have our app. That says we close at 4 P.M. I can’t guarantee we’ll serve you.”

The consumer crosses his fingers. Ten minutes later, the same banker comes out with an orange cone. He plops it behind the consumer’s minivan. He motions for those behind the van to roll down their windows.

He cups his hands like a megaphone.

Banker: “This guy is the last person we’ll serve. The rest of you can use the ATM or come back another day.”

All but one driver turns out of the line and leaves. The first driver on the wrong side of the orange cone is stubborn and won’t leave the line. As the cars inch up, and the clock keeps ticking, several times branch employees come out and tell him he won’t be waited on.

Our consumer finally gets his turn, gets his receipt, and gets out of Dodge before things get ugly. He has no idea if that other driver was helped or if he staged a “sit in” with his car.

Clearly this bank has some things to learn about customer service and attitude, even in New York. Meanwhile, the consumer is annoyed, but he’s blaming the bank — not Google.

The Web Is How People Plan Their Lives

How often do you first check business hours on Google or Apple Maps before visiting a store?

This is a common practice for many consumers, even more so now as both businesses and their customers are faced with adhering to evolving COVID-19 mandates from federal, state and local officials.

Many bank and credit union branches are operating with restricted hours, limited capacity and varying service levels depending on shelter-in-place orders and workforce availability. But as we move into the next phase of business amid COVID-19 — with restrictions lifted, loosened or even re-instituted at differing levels across multiple states, counties and cities — financial institutions will be faced with the challenge of effectively communicating to their customers, across several geographies, the current (for now) business hours and service offerings for each specific branch.

Banks and credit unions can no longer approach online listings with a set-it and forget-it mentality. Online listings are now customers’ preferred source for up-to-date business information and an institution’s best bet in bringing people back into the branch for business.

Why Accurate Online Listings Matter

Financial institutions need to ensure each branch’s listing information reflects the latest operational updates, as inaccurate listings can result in customer frustration and lost business, as the story at the outset of this article illustrates.

The stakes are higher now. People are just beginning to venture beyond the safety of their homes to navigate a way forward in this uncertain time. In this return to daily routines and commitments, everyone expects businesses to emphasize safety and transparency. If a customer arrives at a branch, expecting a conversation with their banker but instead finds the lobby dark and only an ATM available, the impact to customer relations can be devastating and long lasting. Closures and reduced hours or service are expected through this time, but the key is to ensure that a customer who makes the effort to check a branch’s online listing finds correct information, every time.

How to Make Sure Online Hours Listings Stay Accurate

Third-party data sourced by search engines can automatically populate digital listings, so operating hours might be updated organically even if a business takes no direct action. However, these sources are unreliable and often slow to make changes. And they are typically out of an institution’s control.

So how do institutions update their own listings? The most familiar is to work directly with the leading providers. Both Google and Apple offer online portals for businesses that have completed a verification process. However, the problem becomes more complex when a business has multiple locations. For a large financial institution with dozens or even hundreds of branch and ATM listings, each with its own operating capabilities, the modifications can take many hours to manage. Layer in the current rate of change brought on by the COVID-19 crisis and this method becomes a continual work-in-progress.

What’s more, while it may be simpler to update information on the larger platforms alone, it’s important not to ignore the smaller platforms, as data are exchanged constantly between the players in the local search ecosystem. The listings management landscape has evolved over the years and is comprised of over 100 search platforms, navigation systems, mobile applications and directories.

These platforms all source and maintain their listing data independently, which can lead to inconsistencies in search results if unverified. However, attempting to reach all these platforms can be a challenge. It may take hundreds of hours, as many small platforms do not offer a direct method for businesses to update their information on their sites and apps. For a select few small businesses, this approach may suffice, but for most businesses with a growth mindset and a desire to remain nimble through the current business environment, a more streamlined approach is best.

Listings Management Services Can Help Ensure Accuracy

The most efficient way for financial institutions to ensure consistency and accuracy across all branch and ATM location listings is to work with a strong listings management partner that has extensive experience and relationships across the industry. These companies offer services explicitly for business listings management and can update individual map listings in a fraction of the time it would take a business to do so manually.

This broad publishing approach — often provided as a subscription model — can ensure that even local search platforms receive correct and up-to-date information about branches, as incorrect data in smaller directories can easily find its way into the listing databases of larger search platforms.

In addition to pushing out updates, comprehensive listing management services re-verify business listing details to keep them from becoming stagnant or compromising consumer confidence. It is now more important than ever for financial institutions to maintain a clear, trusted line of communication with their customers and provide accurate information. At a minimum, institutions should manually update their branch listings with the largest search and listing providers.

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