COVID-19 has forced credit unions across the United States to rethink branch operations.
Online scheduling systems are one way to better track foot traffic in the age of the coronavirus. They also offer ample member service benefits that will last much longer than the virus.
When COVID-19 spread across the United States in the spring of 2020, retail institutions, including credit unions, had to pivot standard operating procedures to provide member service while adhering to social distancing and other safety guidelines.
Appointment scheduling is one response to COVID-19 that has gained in popularity. In normal times, it allows members to tap credit union assistance on their own schedule. In the corona times, such systems allow credit unions to control the number of people in any given branch at any given time — no small benefit in an era of contact tracing and social distancing.
Here, leaders from Discovery Federal Credit Union, DuPage Credit Union, and Northwest Community Credit Union talk about the day-to-day operation of their systems. To learn about the past, present, and future benefits of appointment scheduling and more, click to read their Q&As.
A Strategy To Combat COVID-19 In 5 Weeks Or Less
When COVID-19 forced the closure of branch lobbies across the country, Discovery Federal Credit Union ($161.1M, Wyomissing, PA) was already exploring online appointment scheduling and lobby management capabilities in the hopes such a system would provide a deeper understanding of why members visit a branch as well shed light on wait times, appointment length, and more.
“We’re in the midst of transitioning to a member experience culture with a digital-first mindset,” says Tara McQuillen, Discovery’s chief experience officer. “We believed the lobby management system would be a good start to better understanding the branch experience.”
The credit union fast-tracked the project after the coronavirus hit and launched its system in late July. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, Discovery FCU uses the system to limit the number of people in its lobbies and make future appointments if a lobby reaches maximum capacity.
The system — Discovery selected Coconut as its vendor — allows members and potential members to schedule lending and member service appointments online or over the phone as well as in person via a self-serve kiosk located inside the branch. They can opt to meet in-person or talk by telephone; they can also choose a specific employee or meet with anyone available. After choosing a date and time, they enter a few personal details — such as name, phone, and e-mail — and book the appointment.
“We have been up and running with the program for three months and everything is running smoothly,” McQuillen says. “Empowering employees to make appointments for members — whether they are talking to them at the teller line or on the phone — is definitely a positive benefit. It allows the employee to help the member then and there without transferring them to someone else or making them wait until they can get an answer.”
Read more from McQuillen about why the credit union adopted appointment scheduling, the nuts and bolts of how the system works, and unintended benefits in the age of the coronavirus.
Service When, And Where, It Suits The Member
DuPage Credit Union ($450.0M, Naperville, IL) launched its appointment scheduling capabilities in June 2019, nearly a year before executives were forced to think critically about contact tracing and branch traffic patterns.
At the time, the credit union was looking for a way to form a deeper connection with visitors to its website and offer an around-the-clock solution for scheduling appointments. Since the pandemic hit, the credit union has used the system to try out new ways to serve members — for example, running paperwork out to cars for members to sign when they prefer that over e-signatures or offering phone appointments.
“Everyone’s rection to the pandemic is different,” says James Chyllo, director of operations and compliance at DuPage Credit Union.“Allowing appointments over the phone gives us the option to meet needs in a new way.”
Service options that offer a personal touch at a safe distance are gaining in popularity among members and those who serve them. Read about credit union success stories in “Video Banking Comes Of Age In The Time Of COVID-19."
With just a name, email, phone number, and reason for booking an appointment, members and potential members canmake appointments via a mobile device, tablet, or PC. The system — DuPage uses TimeTrade — allows members to add notes in case they want to provide additional information or request a specific employee. And once the appointment is set, DuPage sends a confirmation text or email as well as reminders that the appointment is coming. For meetings that take place in the branch, members check in at the teller line and the system alerts the appropriate team member as to the arrival of their next appointment.
DuPage launched the system before the coronavirus, but it has tweaked its appointment strategy throughout the pandemic.
“The pandemic has allowed us to be more nimble and creative and get feedback from members on what they prefer and what options they want,” Chyllo says.
Read more from Chyllo about the nuts and bolts of how the system works, how the credit union has adjusted its appointment scheduling to accommodate new needs, and the system’s unintended benefits in the age of the coronavirus.
12,000 Appointments. 5 Months. 1 In-House Tool.
Whether in the branch, over the phone, or via email, members of Northwest Community Credit Union ($1.4B, Eugene, OR) have been able to schedule appointments for years. But when the coronavirus forced the credit union to move to an appointment-only lobby operation in March of 2020, the Beaver State cooperative made it a priority to roll out an online scheduling tool that was more useful for members and the credit union.
In just two months, Northwest Meets was live. Not only does the tool provide ease of access for members to schedule their own appointments at a time convenient for them, but it also helps the credit union better manage staffing needs and branch traffic.
“Our in-house developers worked on a solution that would fit our members’ needs,” says Johnathan Boggs, regional manager at Northwest Community Credit Union.“From the credit union’s perspective, this is a great tool for providing the best member service possible. It ensures we have a specialist available to help the member with their needs.”
Like many other systems, Northwest Community’s online scheduling tool allows members to book an appointment in a few easy steps — choose a branch; choose a date and time; and provide a name, contact information, and the reason for the appointment. And because the system tracks appointments, cancelations, and branch traffic, it helps the credit union stay aligned with COVID recommendations.
“NWCU Meets has exceeded our expectations,” Boggs says. “The great thing about this tool being developed by our employees is that we can customize and keep adjusting to member needs. Members give us feedback, and our developers jump right on it to make our tool better.”
Read more from Boggs about the nuts and bolts of how the system works and the lessons Northwest Community learned while developing this in-house tool.
Of course, credit unions also are implementing a score of other strategies to combat the coronavirus.
Needing members to transition to digital channels in the face of a lobby-limiting pandemic, Arlington Community Federal Credit Union ($379.5, Arlington, VA) and Infinity Federal Credit Union ($338.3M, Portland, ME) embraced the drive-thru as the hot spot for preserving service standards while educating members about digital options. Read about these strategies in “Drive-Thrus And Digital Delivery: 2 Stories Of Adaption And Adoption.”
Teachers Federal Credit Union ($8.2B, Hauppauge, NY) distributed branded facemasks to members and employees when it fully reopened branches after limiting access to drive-thru and video teller transactions. Read about those best practices in “Teachers Shares Stories From A COVID-19 Hotspot.”
Ad in early September, TwinStar Credit Union ($1.8B, Olympia, WA) introduced a hub-and-spoke strategy in which it offers full, walk-in service banking at one designed branch per region; all other locations are limited to appointment-only or drive-thru service. Read more about that in “6 Months Going On 6 Years: The New Normal At TwinStar.”
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