The Changing World of Call Centers

“One-And-Done” is the new expectation.

Re-thinking everything. In today’s multichannel, no omni-channel world, the call center is in the midst of a transformation.  The transformation is comprehensive and involves rethinking performance metrics, staffing issues, and work space. In the area of performance metrics, financial institutions (FIs) are recalibrating to better align in a omni-channel world.  No longer can institutions look at just average talk time, abandonment rates, and after-call processing.  The call center agent is now responding to customers through several channels – telephone, social media, instant messaging, and live Web chats…to name a few.

Agents are now the FI’s ambassador, information officer, and mediator.  A key performance metric that has evolved in call centers is “one and done” as described by Jennifer Fox, SVP Customer Care & Operation Manager for Associated Bank in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  This philosophy empowers the agent to resolve a customer’s issue in one call.  This philosophy lends itself well to the new instant-gratification generation of customers who are reaching out to the FI as part of their busy schedule.

Higher expectations. As this example illustrates, the traditional metrics for the call center must be revisited. Customer expectations in our omni-channel world have changed.  Further, the call center employee must be “smarter” than ever.  Their knowledge base and training must allow them to meet the customer’s expectations of a “one and done” experience.

The emergence of ITMs. Organizationally, call centers are being transformed by the introduction of Interactive Teller Machines (ITMs) as a service distribution channel.  ITMs bring the dynamics of retail transactions, once isolated to retail branches, into the call center.  The ITM requires both visual and audio communication with the customer, amplifying the emphasis on personal service.  This dynamic requires financial institutions to rethink the hiring, training, and staffing models for the call center.

They’re not just agents. They’re your new brand ambassadors. Today’s agent needs to be comfortable conducting video sessions, and maintaining eye contact with the customer.   For FIs with geographically diverse networks, agents must be able to relate to the various needs of their customers. This includes the diversity of products that may be associated with various regions and demographies.  In most cases, agents need to be empowered to resolve the customer’s issues in keeping with “one and done”. Beyond the staffing issues, the physical environment also needs to be addressed.  Agents for the ITMs need to be isolated within the call center space to eliminate background noise, including visual background activity.

Design should be people-first. Because ITMs often operate during non-traditional hours, the space needs to include access to the restrooms, break rooms, and points of ingress/egress without violating other security zones in the facility (like the branch).  The non-traditional hours also require safety considerations regarding ingress/egress into the facility.   These are important steps when designing a new facility to house a call center and doubly important when retrofitting a call center in an existing space.

An investment that can pay off. Great results can be achieved by providing ITM agents with the resources and space required to meet customer needs and serve their clients while keeping with the “one and done” attitude.  One Southeast FI embraced the omni-channel approach and weaved it’s online banking, ITMs, and call center into a cohesive strategy. Over a three-year period, its revised approach generated 1,400 new accounts and $140 million in new deposits.

Three Legged Milking Stool

The stool of success. So in pulling all this together, the three-legged stool of the Call Center in an omni-channel world includes:

  1. Smarter Support: Agents must have at their fingertips a knowledge base that provides them the ability to deal with the majority of customer requests.  This knowledge base consists of product information, empowerment guidelines to resolve customer issues, and a decision tree for dispute resolution beyond their authority.  All of this geared to the “one and done” philosophy.
  2. Personalized Service: This concept connects the knowledge base with the agent’s ability to customize services or products to fit the customer’s request. Agents must be able to interact with the customer to determine his/her true needs elevating the agent’s role beyond that of an order-taker.
  3. Faster Connect and Up Time: This addresses the infrastructure of the call center.  The goal is to ensure the center is able to operate even if there are power outages or systems issues.   Continuous system monitoring insures the center can absorb a sudden spike in activity.  The worst thing for a customer is the inability to reach the contact center in a timely manner.

A call center’s ability to attain these three legs will enhance its effectiveness, and better equip agents to serve customers through its channels, leveraging the “one and done” concept, which has become the customer’s expectation!

The call center isn’t just another channel in your strategy. It can be a true differentiator. For good or bad!

This is the 2nd post in a multi-week series addressing the main office  and it’s transformation. We started our quest with How Loan Growth Ripples Through the Main Office.


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