If a customer wants a haircut, chances are that individual can go online and schedule an appointment at a local salon. But if the same person wanted to schedule online a convenient time to sit down with a banker to discuss a loan, that customer likely can’t do the same. A bank’s website should be a strong prospecting tool for banks, but despite the drive to digital, many banks don’t offer a way to go online to schedule an appointment. Shouldn’t banks offer an easy way to direct the customer from the web to the branch?
Few banks offer digital appointment booking, according to the research firm Celent. According to a Celent survey conducted in October 2014, just 36 percent of North American financial institutions above $50 billion in assets offer online appointment booking to their customers. For institutions below $50 billion, online booking is even rarer, at less than 5 percent.
Bank of America was an early adopter of online appointment booking, starting with its mortgage lenders in 2008. The bank has since expanded to allow customers to book appointments within its mobile app as well, and customers can arrange appointments for a score of products, including checking and savings accounts, credit cards, investments, financial planning, small business banking and various loans. Prospective customers just choose a product area, select an in-person or phone meeting, and type in their zip code to find a nearby branch. From there, the client can select a date and time. “We do 21,000 appointment requests a week now through either smartphone or the website,” Bank of America’s head of digital banking, Michelle Moore, told the Associated Press in February 2016.
Users of digital appointment scheduling in the U.S. include Wells Fargo & Co., Regions Financial Corp. and PNC Financial Services, and small community banks such as Santa Barbara, California-based Montecito Bank & Trust, with in $1.2 billion in assets, and $577 million asset Paducah Bank & Trust Co., based in Paducah, Kentucky.
“You’ve got to figure out how to be smarter in engaging customers, and digital appointment booking is one way to do it,” says Celent Senior Analyst Bob Meara. “Make it easy to click to call, or have an online chat with somebody or to make an appointment in a branch.” Celent reports that Bank of America’s digital appointment features were developed in-house, but vendor solutions are available that can easily tie into a bank’s current infrastructure.
“We’re in this on-demand economy,” says Gary Ambrosino, president and CEO of TimeTrade, based in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Clients that use TimeTrade’s online appointment scheduling technology include retail banks, healthcare companies, universities and retailers.
Prompting a potential customer to make an appointment online makes that person more likely to follow through with bringing their business to the bank. A customer may be looking for a loan late at night, and want more information. “It makes sense to have a link” for scheduling a time to come in to see a banker, says Meredith Deen, president of Alpharetta, Georgia-based FMSI, a branch performance technology provider serving the banking industry.
Bank marketing teams also gain valuable data—even if that customer skips the appointment. “They just handed you their name, their phone number, [and] their email,” along with information on the products and services that the customer is interested in, says Glenn Shoosmith, CEO of BookingBug, an online booking platform based in London, with offices in the United States. “That’s the marketer’s dream set of information, and you’re getting that for free.”
Scheduling appointments online means that bankers can meet at a time that’s convenient for the customer. By doing so, branches can better schedule their day, reducing traffic at peak times and instead creating a steady flow, so ideally even walk-in customers will have a better experience. Banks can also make better, more profitable use of specialized employees that float between branches, who can now potentially see more customers within a day, says Deen. And bankers can better prepare for their day, by knowing exactly why the customer is coming in, and the product that customer is interested in.
Adoption among Montecito Bank & Trust’s customers has been slow, according to Megan Orloff, director of marketing. However, she expects that to change when the bank improves its website. To ensure the success of such appointment platforms, bank marketing teams could advertise their availability to customers, and ensure that it’s easy to find and use on the bank’s website or app. The financial institutions that offer digital appointment booking now remain in rare company—which means newcomers easily will stand out in a competitive marketplace.