Main Street Focus


Appointments Made Easier

A Massachusetts bank offers an online appointment-scheduling option for customers

By Elizabeth Judd

Do you want your customers to easily be able to talk with your branch managers or loan officers? Instead of dropping by a branch hoping to get lucky and catch the right individual at a free moment, customers at Needham Bank in Needham, Mass., can now book appointments online.

Letting customers book their own online appointments is a concept that has steadily gained ground outside the financial services realm with confounded computer users nabbing online appointments at Apple’s Genius Bar and patients arranging to see their ophthalmologists via ZocDocs.

So Eric Morse, senior vice president of marketing and retail sales at Needham Bank, quickly became convinced that online scheduling could have a role at community banks, too.

Morse recognizes the frustration of trading voicemail messages for something as seemingly straightforward as booking an appointment. Trying to catch someone in person can be equally irritating. “Nobody likes to sit around and wait,” he says. “When you go into a retailer, whether it’s a bank or a clothier, it’s just easier to know you have an appointment, and there will be someone there to talk to. It’s a much more pleasant customer experience.”

Proof of the service’s appeal is the increase in the number of appointments Needham Bank is scheduling. Morse estimates that the dozen in-branch managers and loan officers using the new system have experienced a roughly 20 percent jump in appointments booked since the system went live in October.

An “aha” moment

Morse wasn’t seeking an online scheduling solution when he stumbled upon Tewksbury, Mass.-based TimeTrade Systems Inc., a company that provides such online scheduling software. Instead, during a casual conversation with a neighbor—TimeTrade Systems President Gary Ambrosino—he began to grasp how online scheduling could make life at Needham’s five branches easier. “Sometimes the best ideas are right under our noses,” he says.

“Nobody likes to sit around and wait. When you go into a retailer, whether it’s a bank or a clothier, it’s just easier to know you have an appointment, and there will be someone there to talk to. It’s a much more pleasant customer experience.”
—Eric Morse, Needham Bank

Needham Bank already had photos of branch employees on its website, along with detailed contact information. Allowing customers to hit a “Schedule a Call” button and make appointments at their convenience was an extension of the $1.4 billion-asset community bank’s commitment to exceptional service, Morse explains.

Online scheduling is simple to implement because it works with bankers’ Outlook calendars, which are standardized and mesh seamlessly with most other calendar programs. A branch manager or residential lender simply blocks off any time committed to other purposes and then allows customers to claim unscheduled slots.

At Needham Bank, located 12 miles west of Boston, a sizeable portion of its roughly 10,000 customers are young and very busy—a hyper-busy psychographic that’s ideal for online scheduling, Morse maintains. That said, he believes that almost all community banks could attract new relationships while strengthening existing ones with such an offering. What’s more, some of the nation’s largest banks, such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America, have introduced similar capabilities.

James Gordon, Needham Bank’s senior vice president, technology and operations, applauds the service for turning the tables on the time-honored banker-and-customer relationship. “Simply giving customers the data around when I’m available puts customers in control,” he says. “It’s psychologically important for customers to be put in the power seat, to know we’ll meet when they want to meet and we’re there when they need us.”

Easy to implement

Implementing an online scheduling program like TimeTrade, which Needham Bank licenses on an annual basis, is surprisingly easy. Banks must simply get comfortable sharing information with TimeTrade, explains Gordon, noting that the information shared is all “very benign and basic.” He says that adding the feature to the bank’s website was quick and required virtually no training.

Even though the online scheduling feature is new, Morse has witnessed its growing popularity. He expects usage to rise over time as Needham Bank actively promotes the service. “Once we get past the early adoption period, we’ll start to think of ways to market it more aggressively because it’s an interesting point of differentiation. There are 7,600 community banks in this country, and we’re one of the few that offers it.”

Best of all, Morse says, is the outstanding feedback that this service has garnered from customers. “People love it,” he concludes. “I’m quite confident that in time a lot of other community banks will be using this too.”

Elizabeth Judd is a writer in Maryland.