With the continuing decline of branch visits, a robust appointment setting process for both customers and sales associates is now an integral component of retail sales.
As bank customers are increasingly shopping online for financial products — surfing for better interest rates and deals — as well as doing more and more of their transactions via online and mobile banking, banks are faced with a dual quandary. Can banks find new ways to draw customers and prospects into sales conversations at the branch. How can banks limit the drop-off when customers try to open via a digital channel but fail to complete?
Enter multi-channel appointment setting. This simple digital tool, if implemented comprehensively and integrated into new branch sales tactics, can substantially improve new-to-bank and existing customer sales. And it can raise account opening rates as more people choose to begin applications in digital channels as opposed to the branch.
Fewer In-Person At Bats; Lower Online Batting Average
What we mean by “multi-channel” appointment setting is an integrated combination of both inbound and outbound appointment management through multiple customer contact points, which can help generate more quality face-to-face sales conversations. The inbound component involves multiple calls-to-action and a digital appointment setting tool that allows digital shoppers to schedule a branch visit for a sales consultation. The outbound component includes proactive outreach to existing customers (or to prospects with contact data), to suggest sales conversations based on their likely needs. While neither of these approaches is revolutionary, uniting them with a common multi-channel appointment platform where both customers and bank associates can create, modify and monitor their appointments is the next step where banks should be heading.
Why is this a critical move now? With the declining check usage, increasing adoption of ATM/mobile image deposits, and mobile banking proliferation, teller transactions have been on a multi-year downward trend with no sign of abating. According to data compiled by Novantas SalesScape™ benchmarking, teller transactions continue to decline at about 4% per year. This trend is clearly eroding the opportunity to leverage teller referrals for generating sales opportunities. Additionally, with the fallout from recent and well-publicized overreach in branch selling tactics, banks may be even more hesitant to push products at the teller line. (Don’t expect to hear tellers ask “would you like to apply for a credit card?” as often or aggressively as they did in the past..
Declining branch visits are changing the shopping behaviors of consumers. According to the 2016 Novantas U.S. Shopper Study, overwhelmingly consumers prefer to research financial products using digital channels in whole or in part (See Figure 1). This shopping behavior has created a major disconnect in the “purchase funnel” (i.e., in the Awareness–>Consideration–>Purchase process). Specifically, awareness and consideration are being formed via online research and shopping. Yet purchase and fulfillment are still largely occurring in the branch — whether due to purchaser preference or fulfillment process limitations. The migration to shopping digitally has many implications for banks — which is why banks need to step up their use of digital tools that can help clients through the purchase funnel — including online chat, click-to-call 800-number support, and digital appointment setting. As most product sales still happen in a branch, helping clients book a pre-scheduled visit to the branch may be the best way to limit abandonment in the buying process.
Offering multi-channel appointment setting gives existing customers and prospects an alternative route to closing the deal on a new loan or deposit product, should the online process frustrate or stymie them. Completion statistics for online applications are telling, revealing major drop-off rates. For new checking accounts, the average booking rate for customers who start an application online is between 10 and 40 percent, depending upon the bank and where you start counting. If measured after the applicant has completed entering personal information, around three in ten applications result in a funded account; if measured earlier in the process, completion rates are far lower. With the option of an in-person alternative to complete their application, banks give online shoppers an in-person parachute — a chance to pull the ripcord and still land at one of their branches to complete the purchase of a new product.
Making It Work
Reviewing publicly available materials, we see several examples of North American banks that have deployed digital appointment setting to help smooth the seam between preferred digital shopping and the cross-over to in-branch purchase.
An early adopter was Bank of America, which began offering “Bank by Appointment” to its digital banking customers as early as 2013. Bank by Appointment now enables mobile and online banking customers to schedule same-day appointments at branches with specialists in retirement, investment, home loans and small business, as well as everyday banking. Mobile users can automatically add in-branch appointments to their smartphone-based calendar. BofA customers booked 317,000 digital appointments in the fourth quarter of 2016 — 65% more than the same quarter in 2015. This equates to roughly one appointment per branch per day. In an industry that averages only a couple of daily product sales per branch, one more digital appointment may be the difference between declining sales and sustained growth.
Canadian banks are moving in the same direction. Bank of Montreal offers a similar integrated application through its mobile and online banking platform, which allows customers to book a real-time branch appointment. TD Canada Trust and CIBC also use these capabilities to bridge the gap between online shopping to in-branch advice.
Equally important to having appointment setting is the effective integration of the capability into digital channels. In our work with clients, we have observed that many digital appointment setting deployments are not being fully leveraged. There are at least five areas where banks should deploy prompts for appointment setting in both online and mobile experience:
- Within digital account opening (DAO), to support customers
who want to “bail out” of the digital process;
- Within product pages as a simple call-to-action to bridge online shopping over to in-branch buying;
- Within the secure digital banking environment (online/mobile banking) for customers who need either sales or service support, with automated pre-fill of customer contact information;
- On the Branch Locator pages, right along-side the branch phone number; and
- On the Contact Us page.
One of the major benefits of multi-channel appointment setting is that it allows banks to collect contact information for new-to-bank prospects, which can then be used to help pull the customer through the sales funnel. If the prospect does not show up for the appointment, the branch associate can reach out to reschedule. Additionally, the bank can potentially leverage digital channels to re-market to the prospect.
Moving from One-Way to Two-Way
Giving customers multiple opportunities to request and schedule a branch or phone appointment is a large step forward. Linking that to proactive customer outreach to generate branch appointments is another large step. Two-way appointment setting allows both sales associates and customers to book appointments in the branch, giving way to a better opportunity for a two-way dialogue between the branch personnel and the customer or prospect.
A public example of this multi-channel approach is Citizens Financial and its “Citizens Checkup” program. As described to investors, the outreach is an invitation for customers to come in for an annual financial review with a trusted advisor. At one point in 2016, Citizens had contacted over 327,000 of its customers, resulting in 82,000 appointments booked. Proactive appointment setting takes advantage of the excess capacity of branch sales associates and generates additional sales and referral opportunities. The Checkup initiative dovetails with ongoing efforts by Citizens to retool and reduce the size of many of its 1,200 branches, as they move from transaction centers into advisory centers.
Similarly, PNC Financial has been using this tool to help customers bridge between the digital and physical worlds, and along the way improve its organic growth. About half of PNC’s customers are primarily digital and over 40% of transactions are non-teller. PNC is using technology investments to reduce the size of its new branches — down to around two-thirds the traditional square footage — while maintaining these physical outlets as a place to close transactions and engage customers. Proactive appointment setting is a big piece of this strategy, as PNC was able to make 350,000 appointments in half a year, with 25-30% leading to new products sales.
While calling for appointments may represent a new sales skill for retail branch associates, it is superior to asking associates to sell over the phone. Clearly, “selling an appointment” is easier than selling a product, and having a face-to-face appointment in the branch gets the associate onto their home turf, where they are most comfortable having a sales conversation.
Additionally, selling an appointment has fewer regulatory concerns than phone-based product sales. From a sales process perspective, pre-scheduled appointments also provide branch associates the ability to prepare for a quality sales conversation. In short, proactive appointment setting provides an opportunity to increase branch sales productivity and effectiveness. Also, linking inbound meeting requests with outbound meeting offers to consumers perusing a bank website can tie together the virtual and the physical worlds for a bank’s existing customers who are shopping on the bank website. While it may feel like “Big Brother” to some — getting contacted by the bank after reviewing its website — several banks are already marketing digitally to existing customers based on their online shopping. Proactive outreach for an in-branch appointment is the logical next step to helping meet customer needs.
Key Components and Added Benefits
While a number of North American banks have embraced successful appointment-setting programs, putting all the right pieces together holistically will yield the best results. A comprehensive and integrated multi-channel appointment-setting strategy should include the following components (see Figure 2):
- Digitally enabled customer appointment setting throughout online and mobile channels, available in both the public as well as secure (online/mobile banking) environments;
- Consistent use of appointment-focused “calls to action” in all digital and direct marketing;
- The ability for both customers and bank associates to schedule (and re-schedule) appointments on a common platform, regardless of originating source;
- Integration of digital marketing, contact management, and appointment management platforms;
- Proactive outreach via a calling plan to existing customers to schedule in-branch appointments; and
- Defined sales practices for setting and conducting pre-scheduled appointments, including customer-oriented services or assistance.
For banks that track drop-off from various points of the online application process, the value of integrated multi-channel appointment setting will be demonstrable. If only a fraction of online drop-offs instead take up an in-person appointment, pull-through rates (depending on the difficulty of the application process) could as much as double.
With the change in customer preferences toward digital channels, the use of multi-channel appointment setting is one capability that banks can simply and easily implement. It can help customers in migrating across the digital divide, and ensure for the bank more face-to-face quality sales conversations.
Director of MDS, New York