Adding virtual capabilities to the traditional branch network can better cater to customer expectations and save money to boot.
Between the acceleration of digital transformation during COVID-19 and ever-changing consumer behavior, banks
and credit unions have been put to the test to keep up. But while there’s been significant change in banking channels, what hasn’t changed is the need for banking services: Customers still need to deposit checks, open new accounts, get new cards, refinance their homes and more.
Through new digital channels and technology, customers and members have been empowered to access these services on their own terms—when, where and how it’s convenient for them. Now, they’re looking for hybrid banking experiences that combine digital empowerment and human expertise to satisfy their needs.
What will the end-to-end customer journey look like? In today’s world, it will be different for each customer, so there is a lot to consider in meeting these new hybrid needs. While physical branches are being re-imagined, a virtual branch—where customers can get the same dedicated, personalized service they would receive in person—is a great way to customize their unique journeys.
With virtual offerings giving both customers and employees the ability to connect from the convenience of their homes or wherever they choose, the benefits of virtual branches are undeniable.
What key steps should banks take to create virtual branches?
Focus on appointment scheduling: First and foremost, to maximize operational efficiency at a virtual branch, financial services providers need to have an appointment scheduling solution in place. Although many customers want appointments for brickand-mortar branches, they actually need them for virtual branches because there’s no way to simply walk in and talk to someone. A virtual branch will operate most smoothly with an appointment scheduling solution that allows customers to choose a time that is most convenient for them.
For banks that haven’t considered investing in appointment scheduling technology yet, now is the time. Among the many impacts of the pandemic, it has served to affirm the quality of an institution’s digital infrastructure or expose its shortcomings. The banks and credit unions that invested strategically in technology were better positioned for the COVID-19 disruption, but it’s still not too late for laggards to catch up or even surpass their competitors by accelerating their modernization efforts.
A virtual branch and video capabilities can allow banks to exceed customer expectations by operating outside of normal business hours. After-hours availability can significantly increase customer loyalty and give customers a reason to choose your bank or credit union versus another financial institution.
The best approach is to create a virtual branch where employees and customers are located in the same time zone for easy connection. This makes it seamless for customers and employees to manage their calendars and shift appointments as needed. It might even make sense to create virtual branches by specific locations to give an extra level of personalization and connection.
Reallocate employees for operational efficiency: To provide a seamless experience across all channels, banks and credit unions should focus on increasing employee efficiency to best serve their customers. By creating a virtual branch, or multiple virtual branches, institutions can easily reallocate employees in a way that enables better and easier connections between customers and employees.
With certain financial restrictions and mandates, banks can schedule employee work hours in a way that ensures they are meeting customer needs. For example, during a virtual mortgage appointment, it might be necessary to have two employees on the call during the signing of paperwork.
To serve more customers outside traditional business hours, institutions can work with their employees to determine ideal working hours and provide customers a greater range of hours. If someone wants to do their banking at 6 a.m. or 10 p.m., for example, they can. This virtual setup can also benefit employees, who can take on more appointments, build stronger relationships with their customers, and enjoy a work schedule that best suits their lifestyles.
Rethink physical branches for cost savings: Implementing a virtual branch can give customers the human interaction and level of service they have come to expect from physical branch locations. This can also create the potential for reducing the number of brick-and-mortar branches, which can yield immediate cost savings on rent and upkeep.
While digital experiences entail costs for technology, IT and security, there is a tremendous opportunity for banks to improve business outcomes. Using a virtual branch strategy, they can analyze which locations are most successful and which are seeing the most traffic, and they use those branches to educate customers on the digital and virtual appointments that are available.
Put members and customers first: When financial institutions instill a customer-led culture, the customer experience is unparalleled. Customers and members need to be the top priority for banks and credit unions when creating a virtual branch strategy. Humanizing engagements, providing toplevel service and establishing that indispensable
trust factor start with the relationships that employees build with customers. From a virtual appointment standpoint, it means providing a frictionless yet engaging experience.
One of the nation’s largest banks leveraged virtual branch appointments to cut its appointment times in half. This means that customers are getting the same level of service via a virtual appointment in half the time—not only empowering them to bank where it’s most convenient but also making everything more efficient.
Hybrid banking will outlast the pandemic and is likely to become a permanent fixture in the years to come.
And technology that bolsters consumer engagement and trust will continue to play an essential role in helping banks to sustain and supplement the customer experience now and well into the future.
BY KELLY WEAVER