How to harness the power of face-to-face meetings

We all know that face-to-face meetings are more powerful than digital interactions. But how much more? Research by academics at Cornell and Western University in 2017 measured responses to identical requests to complete a survey made over email and face-to-face. The response? Requests made face-to-face were 34 times more likely to succeed.

The findings match other research which prove how critical it is to meet customers in person. When it comes to the really important things, such as advice on pensions, mortgages and retirement, there is no substitute.

But there is a problem. Many financial organisations struggle to arrange meetings, particularly as more business moves online. In theory, it ought to be easy to offer bookings via an online form on a website or smartphone. But the reality is very different.

One well-known British building society analysed what was going wrong.

It discovered a long list of issues. The size of the building society made it hard to process the volume of requests for a meeting. Staff manually sifted through hundreds of appointment submissions to match each and every one with an available staff member.

And there was the question of conversion rates. A lack of information on the online form meant leads weren’t qualified. Staff had no way of knowing which meeting requests would be the most productive.

The building society knew how important face-to-face meetings were to customers. So it embarked on a radical rethink.

It installed a new booking system, provided by JRNI, a specialist in the field. The online form gathered rich information from each application. Members answered questions to ensure they’d be paired with the right adviser. Appointments were scheduled by the JRNI system and added to staff member’s Outlook calendar automatically.

The result? Admin time cut by half. The staff time saved was spent on delivering improved customer service.

“There are times when only a face-to-face meeting will do,” says John Federman, chief executive of JRNI. “The uplift from a well-organised meeting can be three to tenfold. It is critical banks and building societies make the booking process as smooth as possible.”

JRNI’s technology radically improves the chances of a productive meeting. It starts with the online form. Customers answer questions to enrich their basic request. The financial institution can find out vital information, such as whether the customer needs high-net-worth advice. Do they have any specific requests or needs? A well-structured online process can help generate sales momentum.

Secondly, existing information is woven into the mix. “Financial institutions have a wealth of information on their customers,” says Mr Federman. “They can use this to their advantage. But it’s not easy. The information may be in multiple databases, customer relationship management systems or marketing platforms. It can be a struggle to incorporate this information at scale, which is why so many organisations miss out.”

Then comes the challenge of finding the right staff for each appointment. For a large organisation, this can be a bureaucratic nightmare. Who is the right person for each request? Are they free? JRNI automates a large part of this. Oriental Bank, a major institution in the United States, cut waiting times by 50 per cent for customers by partnering with JRNI, while processing 13,000 appointment requests a month.

Security and implementation are key issues. Most booking solutions are ineligible because they don’t meet the rigorous needs of the finance sector. By contrast, JRNI is cloud based with application programming interface access and meets a multitude of industry standards, including ISO 27001. It works with the largest financial institutions across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, including Bank of New Zealand, Border Bank, US Bank and the Co-operative Bank.

“There’s no point training staff to offer expert advice if they sit in branches with no appointments,” says Mr Federman. “With the right technology, you can increase the number of face-to-face meetings. It’s also possible to qualify leads, so every interaction has the maximum chance of a great outcome. It’s clearly an area financial institutions have struggled with, which is why so many partner with JRNI. We are delighted to help them improve their customer experience in such a critical area.”

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