Chief Investment Officer
Commercial Loan Automation
BirdsEye Viewcall center management
So many of us consider call centers an accommodation; an efficiency move to meet customers’ needs faster and with fewer resources. In reality, though, call centers can become an effective relationship building tool.
This article addresses best practices in call center management, and also offers some thoughts about the evolving roles they can play in customer relationship development
1. LISTEN. Some banks require their executives to spend a day at the call center annually, listening to calls and interacting with the phone bankers. This is a best practice. There is no better place to gain a comprehensive understanding of the customers’ issues, needs and preferences than the call center. That’s the first point of contact for many customers, especially those with problems.
2. VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER. Most of us use customer surveys to better understand how our customers feel about us, how effective are our customer handling and product line, and, overall, what is our customer satisfaction. In many cases, these surveys do not offer real insights into the customers’ preferences and emotional engagement. The calls into the call centers, albeit adversely selected, are an excellent source of true customer data which often remains untapped. Go beyond simple categorization of the customer complaints and dig deeper into what makes them happy and what hurts in their bank interactions. There is much to learn from these calls.
3. EMPOWERMENT. Many banks give their branch staff leeway in CD pricing, NSF waivers and other typical customer issues. They have limits and boundaries on their discretion, but they do have discretion. Call center bankers typically do not enjoy this privilege, but they should. They have intense and often negative customer interaction daily, so guidelines for discretion will both uplift their morale and manage their decision-making.
4. BETTER MANAGE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE CALL CENTER AND THE BANK. There is inherent conflict between these two channels; branch staff believes the call center waives way too much while they are held to tougher standards with customers glaring at them when they refuse to accommodate the customer’s request. They think that, after they refuse the customer’s request they call the phone bank and get their way. Phone bankers believe exactly the same about their branch brethren.
In addition, phone bankers are rewarded for sales in most banks, and their sales are excluded from the branch incentive plans. The resulting competition among the two channels is inevitable and unhelpful.
Channel conflict must be resolved in order to improve the customer experience; avoiding zero-sum situations where whatever one wins the other loses is the best way to go.
5. CALL ROUTING. Be very deliberate about the menu of your call routing. If the menu is too long the customer will disengage. If the opt out option isn’t available throughout the call the same will happen. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes – what will they like to see in an automated routing menu, and in what order?
One possible guideline is to organize the menu based upon the frequency on calls on the topic (e.g. change password vs. an ACH), again, in response to actual customer behavior and needs.
6. ROOT CAUSES OF COMPLAINTS. The call center is in a unique position to dig deeper when customers complain to fully understand the root cause of the problem. Institutionalizing this approach through phone banker training can yield unique insights into the issues underlying the complaints (symptoms) we observe through complaint frequency.
7. SELF SERVICE. Self-service does NOT equal poor service for many customers. Other industries (like the airlines) taught us the value of self-service and its convenience. Many, including millennials, have a strong preference for self-service. Improving the VRU to offer this as an option, as mentioned above, can create a winning combination of “best of both worlds” to customers.
8. AUTHENTICATION. I can never wrap my head around current authentication practices. We typically ask questions that the customer can’t respond to (such as, what was your last transaction) and are the very reason for the call. I’m a huge fan of biometrics, and I believe that it is a viable option for all banks of any size, given that Eastern Bank implemented this successfully almost three years ago. Voice recognition is the best option we have; it delights customers and saves time for our phone bankers.
If biometrics is not an option for you, how about questions to which only the customer knows the answer and which require no memorization? Questions like: what is your favorite ice cream flavor; type of music; name of high-school; favorite dog breed? All these are questions that are non-intrusive, safe and customer-specific, even if you have a menu of responses to choose from.
9. ESCALATION TEAMS AND SPECIALTY TEAMS. Complex issues require more skilled bankers. Organizing your phone bank to include escalation team comprised of more knowledgeable bankers improves the customer experience and helps avoid unnecessary mistakes. These are more expensive employees, but they know more and can help customers better. Further, such positions offer career paths for your phone bankers, which could reduce your turnover and build a better workforce. The goal here is twofold:
a. Make this a more desirable job, a destination, where a banker can spend their entire career if they wish.
b. Facilitate one-stop handling for customers by using resources that are appropriate to handle the customer need.
10. HIRE FOR PERSONALITY. I often say, “You can’t have a personality transplant.” The personality of the phone banker shines through the phone, and is especially important in a remote environment. The risk is that excellent personalities can be strangled through technology, policies and procedures – a quandary in itself…
11. TRAIN ON LIVE CALLS. Recorded calls are helpful, but can’t convey the pressure one experiences when the customer is still on the line. Live calls are “the real thing” and help a rookie get a sense of the moment.
Phone banks stand the risk of becoming transaction mortuaries, just like branches… I believe they could become, instead, hubs of relationship managers who service books of customers for the ultimate in customer satisfaction (for certain segments.) Even the need to see your banker can be accommodated through FaceTime, Skype and Interactive Teller Machines. The concept of “book of business” can facilitate familiarity and connectivity, and the medium – the phone – becomes less relevant, almost welcome, in most situations.
In sum, your call center is not a branch and doesn’t have to be a branch. It can be a relationship-building channel and a vehicle for your better bankers to serve customers for many years regardless to branch closures and relocation. It MAY be the wave of the future!