Meeting with an expert or specialist is not a new concept, be it a personal shopper, a wealth manager, or a retirement consultant.
It’s one of the many reasons why appointment scheduling - and the software that facilitates it at enterprise scale - is becoming more and more prominent in today’s consumer landscape.
Changing consumer habits have vastly altered the playing field that retailers, banks, and other service-based businesses must operate within. Many of the trends that are moving these industries can be attributed to their reaction to forces unleashed by the ascent of digital-first or digital-only businesses, namely using data to drive personalization and convenience. Couple that with the proliferation of an array of device types, and a whole new category of needs and customer engagement challenges exist.
Yet, there are many things that digital-first or digital-only businesses cannot do that the once-maligned brick and mortar retailers can, and that includes doing well in the areas where online and mobile technology supposedly had the last word. These retailers and banks have made great strides in the realm of ecommerce, and still have the advantage of physical locations, thanks in no small part to the high level of service that only a human (and not an algorithm) can provide.
That’s where appointment scheduling is coming in.
In this article, we will look at some of the major trends that are leading retailers, banks, and other businesses to embrace appointment scheduling software to drive tangible business results while improving their customers’ experiences.
1. Leveraging data to improve the customer experience and operational efficiency
Almost every major trend in both retail and banking today - from changing consumer preferences, to the commoditization of many services and products, to technological innovations - comes back to the question of how companies can use data more effectively to attract and retain customers while showing bottom-line results.
The movement to make data serve the customer experience more fully is well underway. According to recent survey data that Arm Treasure Data provided Marketing Dive, 29% of retailers are gearing their customer data strategies toward the needs of their customer experience teams. Some other findings of the survey include:
- 26% of retailers plan to create a single view of customer across all of their touchpoints
- 26% of retailers want to use analytics solutions to unlock the potential of their data
- 19% will bring on new tools and platforms that help them improve data collection and analysis.
The survey found that retailers are particularly focused on sentiment data and collecting device ID information from users.
Research from technology provider Pitney Bowes revealed some key uses of customer data that can help retailers improve operational efficiency and grow revenue; for example:
- Single views of customer data, with an increased focus on cleansing the data.
- Analytics that identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities to increase basket size and average transaction value.
- Location-based data to help identify the optimal mix of physical and online presence in a given geographical area.
What is happening in retail is having a noticeable spillover effect in the banking sector as well.
As Accenture wrote, disruption in the banking industry is not coming from legacy banks, but challenger banks, fintech startups and payment platforms, and major tech companies are all making inroads into what was traditionally the territory of national and local banks.
But banks shouldn’t despair. They should be taking steps to make customer data work for them to improve the experience by using that data to facilitate stronger customer relationships, rather than simply trying to mimic the services these new challengers bring.
“Traditional banking functions are being contested and becoming commoditized. As a consequence, value is shifting from functional capabilities to relationships,” IBM wrote. “While emerging competitors may be able to replicate banking functions better and at lower cost, they will find it much more difficult to build and manage the breadth and depth of customer relationships traditional banks have carefully built over decades.”
One example is how Capital One’s Second Look program is using customer data to foster trust and deeper relationships. Tearsheet reported that this program monitors customers’ financial activities, sends them targeted messages that help them manage their finances, find new products, learn from useful content, and quickly respond to potential fraud. Other banks, such as Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan are following suit with similar initiatives.
When it comes to using data to fuel every part of the customer experience and internal operations, retailers and banks should consider the following:
- Are your data sources connected across functional areas?
- Is your data clean and useful?
- How can you use customer data for more than just marketing?
- How can you ensure this data gets to the hands of your frontline staff?
- What metrics will you use to measure success in these initiatives?
2. Making your customer feel like a person, not a number
Personalization has been a major pursuit for retailers, banks, and other service-based businesses, yet most are not nearly as mature in their personalization practices as they could be.
According to research from Boston Consulting Group, “companies that implement personalization initiatives and become best in class in delivering personalized experiences can quadruple the revenue lift they receive from their personalization initiatives.”
Businesses have more customer data than they’ve ever had, but putting it to good use in the pursuit of personalized experiences is still a work in progress for most. It’s easy to talk about personalization in the abstract, but there are some concrete decisions and questions that businesses need to answer.
- To which touchpoints in the customer journey should personalization be applied? Hint: It’s not everywhere! That would be prohibitively expensive. What are the most critical points where personalization would provide the highest value to both customers and the business?
- How can we use first-party and third-party data across disparate touchpoints to inform personalization experiences?
- How can personalized experiences make the shopping experience more convenient and useful?
BCG’s research turned up some interesting data that speaks to that last point from a retail perspective, which is ultimately what will make personalization valuable:
“...customers increasingly prefer a shopping experience that’s easy and fast and that helps them make purchase decisions … For example, when the shopping experience was highly personalized, customers indicated that they were 110% more likely to add additional items to their baskets and 40% more likely to spend more than they had planned.”
Additional research from BCG also spoke to the need for personalization in banking as well. With more and more consumers indicating that they would be open to banking with a tech company like Google, Amazon, or Facebook, it’s clear that banks need to do more to create personalized experiences beyond sales and marketing.
“Although much of the discussion about personalization in banking focuses on marketing and next-best offers,” BCG wrote, “its true potential lies in transforming all of an organization’s customer interactions by using data and analytics to anticipate individual needs, target segments of one, and build deep relationships that stand the test of time. To be sure, personalization in banking is not primarily about selling. It’s about providing service, information, and advice, often on a daily basis or even several times a day.”
Getting to that point, however, means that the customer has to have a consistent experience across all channels. At every step, the customer should be seeing recommendations based on their history that make sense for their financial situation, style, or lifestyle.
Of course, businesses themselves benefit from making greater efforts to personalize their customers’ experiences. Understanding patterns of behavior from specific segments of customers allows for targeting based on both psychographics and demographics. For example, customers in a specific market who are identified as high value based on spending can be targeted with promotions just for them, stoking even greater loyalty and customer lifetime value.
3. Having virtual conversations
Ecommerce made convenience a cardinal virtue for all service-based businesses, and traditional brick and mortar organizations have had to scramble to find ways to incorporate digital touchpoints into their customer experiences. Yet, physical locations are persistent survivors. It turns out, they have a very important place in the customer experience.
Virtual conversation technology, such as video conferencing, has been a deceptively simple way to bring convenience to customer interactions without sacrificing the things that make going to a physical location great. Customers can book appointments at a time that works for them, and then they can simply video chat with an expert on whatever they want to accomplish. No waiting in line or making a trip to a store or bank branch.
When it comes to banking, digital channels are great at facilitating routine transactions, but a large segment of consumers still want to speak face-to-face to a human for anything complex related to their finances.
Video conferencing is a great way to bridge the gap between the convenience of banking online and the comfort of knowing a real person is there to answer questions and ensure any issues get solved.
One example is Extraco Bank in Temple, TX who uses video conferencing to serve its retail customers. Per a report from American Banker, video has contributed to a 30% reduction in full-time-equivalent work.
“Video conferencing in bank branches should be serving the small business customer and customers with complex needs like mortgage origination,” American Banker reported.
That’s the other side of virtual conversations - businesses benefit too when they integrate video to improve operational efficiency while creating better experiences for customers.
4. Guiding users based on their activity
While there are still those consumers who are concerned about their privacy and how their data is being used, the norms around using data to personalize the experiences of individual consumers are changing. According to a recent Forrester Research study, 22% of US consumers would prefer that retailers use their information to personalize shopping experiences.
One way in which businesses can use appointment scheduling software to provide this sort of experience is by promoting appointments based on actions taken through a digital channel. For example, if a visitor on a retailer’s or bank’s website has viewed multiple products/services several times, but has failed to make a purchase decision, an alert that offers an in-person appointment is both timely and helpful.
This sort of personalization can facilitate a better customer experience because it’s not intrusive. You’re simply making the next logical step a customer can take very obvious and attractive based on what they have demonstrated interest in. You could also be making them aware of a service, such as appointments, that they didn’t know existed. This can also include providing periodic reminders to customers who have booked an appointment, thereby preventing abandonment.
Businesses benefit too by solidifying a funnel that turns solution- and brand-aware consumers into engaged customers. People who are browsing your website now have a path to meet in-person with a staff member for their needs. Customers who have viewed several items over a period of time but have not made a purchase can get extra touch to help them break through decision paralysis.
5. Showing the person behind the brand
Familiarity brings mutual benefits to both brand and consumer. According to a 2019 study from Edelman, 81% of consumers say that brand trust has a positive impact on their decision to buy from a company. RightNow found that almost 90% of consumers will shop with your competitors after receiving poor customer service.
One of the best ways to grow and maintain trust is to allow knowledgeable and helpful staff members work with a consistent customer base. Allowing customers to choose who they want to work with based on in-depth staff profiles is a powerful means of initiating a long-term relationship built on trust and positive interactions. It’s ultimately about giving customers a higher level of control over their experience and access to specialists who are well-suited to serve their exact needs.
There’s a branding benefit here as well - organizations that can showcase a diverse staff with the skills to work with a wide variety of customer needs can position themselves as experts without coming off as daunting and one-size-fits-all. A single services page with bland copy that asks users to fill out a form on a webpage can’t do that.
For example, many retailers are using personal shopping or styling appointments as a way to give customers a personalized experience that is not just transactional. Personal shoppers and stylists act not only as salespeople, but as experts and confidants to people who want to have an experience beyond simply going into a store or onto a website and being left to their own devices. This is how retailers are finding ways to gain an advantage over Amazon, which for all its market power, cannot offer this kind of personal touch yet.
The retail banking industry has bought into the idea of letting their individual customer-facing staff members be the faces of the brand. Investment management and loan servicing are two areas of banking that require consistent touch with customers, as well as a high degree of trust. These activities can be stressful and confusing for some customers, so the ability to select who they want to work with over the long haul is crucial.
6. Integrating with products consumers already use
For most service-based businesses, the customer journey today is winding and complex, covering both owned and unowned channels. For example, even if a retailer has an intuitive conversion-focused website, well-run social channels, and a powerful digital experience, there are still many unowned touchpoints that are nonetheless vital parts of the customer’s buying process.
Successful businesses in the retail and banking industries are coming to terms with the fact that they need to find ways to fit into the ways consumers research, compare, and buy what they want. For example, Google is increasingly turning into an all-in-one tool that allows users to search for something they want, say, a dinner reservation, and then make the reservation right there in the search results.
Voice search is also growing dramatically and having a notable impact in retail. Consumers are growing more and more comfortable using voice-activated assistants on their mobile devices or smart homes to find information and take specific actions quickly and easily. In fact, Google’s own research showed that 72% of people who own a voice-activated speaker use it daily.
Retailers need to understand how these devices and channels fit into their existing and potential customers’ lives and how they can adapt the experience on their owned channels to better align with third-party ones. This could involve better optimizing web pages for search, keeping updated profiles in Google My Business to ensure presence on local search results pages, monitoring social channels for trends, questions, and complaints, and more. The in-store experience is not immune here either - consumers are growing accustomed to having tech-enabled shopping experiences at brick and mortar locations.
Seamless interplay of channels, platforms, and touchpoints is hardly a major differentiator, but an expectation for savvy shoppers now.
“Higher consumer expectations are no longer limited to just the digital shopping experience,” Forrester Research found. “Consumers expect physical stores to deliver the same product assortment, rapid delivery, and product information that they get online. But they expect online and offline touchpoints to work together seamlessly.”
This is why the furor over webrooming and showrooming has started to subside. Retailers are quickly coming to their senses and realizing that consumers want to do both. Having a consistent experience across every channel and being able to find the information needed to take the desired next step is rapidly becoming a meets-minimum threshold for retail, banking, and other service-based businesses.
7. Using appointments as part of an immersive customer experience
The drive toward greater personalization through the effective harnessing of customer data is also changing how retailers think about their success metrics for each individual touchpoint as well as the interplay between the whole.
But the customer experience can only be considered immersive and coherent if consumers find it to be so. For all of the talk of using customer data effectively, none if it matters if it doesn’t create an environment where friction is removed from the typically frustrating parts of the shopping experience.
One way in which appointment scheduling software is helping retail and banking organizations make the transition between digital and physical spaces more seamless is by using customer location data to find the store or branch with the shortest queues or soonest availability to speak to a staff member. If a customer has four stores in her geographical area and wants to book an appointment, the system should take lead time into account when assigning her appointment to the most convenient time slot at the nearest possible location.
It’s not just about getting customers to physical locations. What happens when they are there is just as important.
For businesses that understand brick and mortar are key parts of the customer experience, there’s more to measure than simply topline revenue. For example, “time in store/branch” is an increasingly important metric as businesses see their brick and mortar locations as experiential destinations and not only transactional ones.
There are a lot of ways to do this. Appointments, such as the personal styling appointments Nordstrom offers, can give consumers a personal experience they can’t get online. Working with an expert who can help them achieve the style they want, rather than just help them pick out specific items of clothing, is a key selling point that will keep Nordstrom’s best customers as loyal fans, while turning casual shoppers into devoted ones.
In putting together our third annual Modern Consumer Research Report, we found that consumers are interested in in-store events, such as product launches, educational events, and workshops. One example of this in action is Sur La Table, a major kitchenware retailer that regularly hosts cooking classes in its 80+ stores. According to the National Retail Federation, these classes attract over 600,000 students each year and are the retailer’s biggest acquisition channel.
Organizations benefit from this sort of interconnected experience as well. By connecting digital and physical channels and tying data to specific interactions customers have, businesses can better understand their funnels across channels, allowing them to find bottlenecks, conversion points, location and staff member performance, capacity utilization, and other vital information that can help improve the business as a whole, from marketing to IT and operations.
Adapting to the changing landscape of retail and banking requires not just new software, but a shift in strategic thinking about how to deploy the right types of channels and tools that facilitate the experiences modern consumers crave. Appointment scheduling software is a critical piece of the puzzle that must be solved on the way to a more seamless customer experience.
March 16, 2021
5 minute read