By Eldar Erlich, Associate Product Manager, Qtrac by Lavi Industries
Digital technology has transformed how financial institutions serve their customers, who can now handle most of their banking without ever setting foot in an actual branch.
Although some people still prefer depositing a check or withdrawing cash with the help of a live teller, many customers who visit a brick-and-mortar financial institution today are coming for specific consultation needs—to speak with a loan officer, set up an IRA with a wealth advisor, rent a safety deposit box, and so on. The last thing these customers want is to wait a long time once they walk in the front doors.
Banks and credit unions are increasingly turning to virtual queuing systems and appointment scheduling solutions to create a better experience for their customers. The two technologies can complement each other to not only serve customers better but also boost efficiency and productivity for the financial institution.
The Perils of a Crowded Lobby
More people in the lobby means more customers needing service—which should be a good thing. However, long waits work against financial institutions in several ways, including:
- Customers become cranky and are less focused and less friendly at the time of service. That slows interactions down, making the people still in line wait even longer.
- Employees are pulled away from other duties to manage the crowd.
- Employees also feel more stress when they see that big crowd of impatient customers.
- Walk-ins seeking non-teller services may think the wait isn’t worth it and leave—and possibly visit another bank to open an account or apply for a loan. Just the sight of a long line can scare customers and potential customers off.
- Even with the COVID-19 pandemic subsiding a little, some people still feel uncomfortable in a crowded, indoor space.
A small queue on a slow day can create waits that are just as annoying as a long line. If three people are in the queue and each needs 15 minutes of service, the third person will wait a half-hour to be helped in an otherwise-empty lobby. Financial institutions must consider not only how customers receive service but also how they wait for that service.
How Virtual Queuing Helps
Virtual queue management systems streamline the waiting process for customers by eliminating or adjusting the most frustrating parts of the wait. The concept is simple: People check into the virtual queue by scanning a QR code or entering their information onto a kiosk touchscreen. Then, they receive alerts to their smartphones, via text messages, on their estimated wait times, where to go when their turn comes up, and when their turn is imminent.
The best virtual queuing solutions aren’t glorified take-a-number platforms. For example, the system can ask what kind of service a customer needs to better gauge wait times or direct someone to the teller line (if the transaction can be handled there). And the customer can communicate right back through their phone, providing more information and asking or answering additional questions as needed.
The benefits of virtual queuing include:
- People waiting on their own terms: If a customer knows they’ll be waiting at least a half-hour before they can be served, they can go for a stroll, get a cup of coffee, or do anything else other than stand or sit around waiting. The virtual system will send alerts so they won’t miss their turn.
- Operational efficiency: With virtual queuing, employees can focus on the customer in front of them and not the ones lurking behind. Furthermore, the system can ask what kind of service customers need and manage them accordingly, eliminating the need for an employee to handle that and reducing the possibility of someone going through the teller line only to find they needed help from another part of the branch.
- Customer priority: If the system identifies, in real time, that someone has been waiting too long for a simple request (e.g., accessing an already-rented lockbox), employees can be alerted and that customer can be moved up in the queue. Special needs, such as help for a disabled customer or an employee who can speak Spanish, can also be identified.
- Better use of floor space: Letting customers move about—and even leave the building—helps make the branch feel less cramped. Subsequently, people may feel more comfortable if they choose to stay and wait.
- Decreased perceived wait times: Even if a wait isn’t any shorter than normal, virtual queuing reduces the time customers think they’re waiting. When you allow people to leave the branch and return and give them “tasks” (i.e., answering simple questions through the system about the service they need), the waiting experience doesn’t feel as boring.
How Appointment Scheduling Helps
Digital appointment scheduling solutions also allow financial institutions to streamline the way customers receive service for things that might not require a teller. These platforms are popular in other industries and offer a way to help banks and credit unions manage staffing, customer volume, and operational strategy.
With this technology, customers can book their own appointments online or through their smartphones. Even if customers call a branch to make an appointment, employees can enter them into the system, which will send text and/or email confirmations and reminders. Customers can then change their appointments, send additional information ahead of their visit, and book future appointments from their devices.
Clearly, this digital scheduling benefits customers, who can set and manage appointments at their convenience and don’t have to worry about visiting a branch and encountering a long wait. But financial institutions can derive great value from appointment scheduling as well. For example, a bank can set the number of appointments it will allow based on available personnel, time of day, day of the week, services being offered, or anything else that optimizes operations. As a result, the bank better serves customers, who then are more likely to trust the bank with their continued business.
How Virtual Queuing and Appointment Scheduling Complement Each Other
Financial institutions thrive when they can plan and prepare for customers who book appointments. But branches also benefit from and must meet the needs of walk-ins. Virtual queuing and appointment scheduling platforms, complement each other, provide a comprehensive strategy to increase efficiency—and provide a better experience for all customers.
Consider these use cases:
Inviting Walk-Ins to Use Appointment Scheduling
Although virtual queuing often reduces wait times for walk-ins, sometimes customers will still face a long wait. A system that is set to recognize when waits are long or someone has been in the queue for a certain number of minutes can send a notification to the person’s phone suggesting they set an appointment for another time, another day, or even another branch. The customer now is in charge of their wait and can choose a course of action that best meets their needs.
Some virtual queuing and appointment scheduling platforms enable financial institutions to send digital offers and promotions directly to customers’ phones while they wait or after they book an appointment. These ads can be general promotions, but they may also be tailored to the system the customer is using.
For example, a walk-in customer opening a savings account can be encouraged to check out the bank’s low mortgage rates and schedule an appointment with a loan officer. Or someone who books a time with a wealth advisor could be sent an ad informing them of the branch’s new Saturday hours. Once in the system, customers remain in the system and can be sent promotions—matched to their profiles, demographics, and behaviors—long after their visit to the branch.
Digital queue management generates significant data not only on how long wait times are, but also about customer decisions and behavior before, during, and after their visit to a branch. These metrics provide key intelligence into operational planning, particularly around:
- How many people are walking in and using the virtual queue system
- How many people are using the appointment scheduling system
- The services customers in each system are requiring
- When customers are more likely to use each system
- How long people will wait before abandoning their place in line or appointment
When data from each system is compared side by side, trends become obvious. Financial institutions can use those trends to inform staffing strategy, determine the training that would most benefit their employees, decide which services to actively market, and more.
Customer satisfaction data often is hard to come by because many customers can’t be bothered to fill out a card in the branch or go online later to share their opinions. Digital queue management platforms make surveys instantly available to people, providing valuable insight into the customer experience that financial institutions might not otherwise gather.
Again, the data from virtual queuing users and appointment scheduling users can be compared to show what customers like or dislike about each system and their overall experience. Do walk-ins think more highly of the employee serving them than someone who scheduled a consultation? Does someone who made an appointment expect more from their interactions with staff? The customer sentiment is there—queuing technology helps banks and credit unions find and use it.
Ultimately, virtual queuing and appointment scheduling technology allows financial institutions to prioritize the right customer at the right time. In an era when people have many banking options available to them, that attention to the customer experience can make all the difference.
Associate Product Manager Eldar Erlich is in charge of the development and implementation of Qtrac’s virtual queuing product. Prior to this position, he was a QA manager at Lavi Industries, the company that founded Qtrac. Eldar also has a background in media and communications.