Updated Thursday, October 30, 2014 as of 12:02 PM ET

Wells Fargo Declares War on the Queue

Wells Fargo is aiming to boost in-branch sales by making booking appointments easier for consumers as they are researching bank products or interacting with the bank through its digital channels.

The bank recently started using scheduling technology that lets customers, or prospective customers, reserve one-on-one time with bankers using the bank’s website or its mobile app.  While wait times at banks aren’t what they once were, the service ensures that on-the-go customers will be helped the minute they walk in the door with the expert they need.

It also allows bankers to plan ahead. If loan officers or account managers know who is coming in when, they can prepare the necessary documents and potentially expedite transactions.

Wells Fargo’s enhancement underscores the fact that, while branch traffic is declining, most sales of loan, deposit or investment products are still made at the branch. It’s also further evidence of how banks are using technology to draw customers who are researching their products and services through digital channels into their branches.

UMB Bank in Kansas City, Mo., for example, lets customers book in-store appointments to learn about mobile and online banking features with its so-called Digital Geniuses. Its hope is that those one-on-one sessions will generate sales opportunities.

BMO Bank in Canada has let people schedule appointments with in-branch bankers since 2012. For BMO, offering the appointment tool while someone is researching a product online is meant to help the bank improve its chances of converting a lead into a sale. Its U.S. banking unit — BMO Harris — has since made available the feature on its website.

In other cases, bankers are using technology to figure out ways to surprise consumers. Umpqua Financial Holdings in Portland, Ore., recognized for the novel ways it uses its branches to host community events such as yoga classes, says branch associates use down time in a variety of ways that include online research on customers and social media monitoring — all with an eye toward finding ways to improve service (Umpqua sends flowers to customers, for example).

As branch traffic slows, branch bankers need to be more proactive at connecting with sales prospects, analysts say.

“They would sit and wait: That used to work,” said Bob Meara, senior analyst with Celent’s banking group, describing the general strategy of the past. “Increasingly, it won’t be the case,” he said.

A report from Novantas Research shows that customer-facing transactions at the branch have dropped 4.5% per year — on average — since 2008. (Novantas’ data comes from polling community and large regional banks.)

At the same time, banks close most sales in the branch. “The branch will have a role in the foreseeable future,” said Dale Johnson, a managing director for Novantas’ sales productivity team.

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