3 Ways To Make A Good Call Center Great

Where can your reps provide better service both to members on the phone and to departments down the hall?


The contact center isn’t just the heart or voice of an institution. It’s the spine that gives the entire institution support and structure.

While online banking, mobile banking and other electronic delivery channels have developed to help alleviate the burden on employees, the call center has only seen its roles and responsibilities increase as it supports old processes and manages the transition to new technologies, advised speakers at the 2011 CUANM Call Center Conference.

The more diverse resources, support and strategy invested in the call center, the faster the organization can safely and effectively move forward.

Ditch (or Switch) the IVR and Reconsider Handle Times
 Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems vary in their effectiveness, but they’re consistent in their impact on the member experience. Implementation of IVRs is one of the top detractors from your Net Promoter Score, which is a benchmark for the member experience, says Michelle Bloedorn of the Member Loyalty Group CUSO.

If you must use IVR, make sure callers are not more than two or three button-pushes away from a live representative, and put resources in place so calls go directly to reps if they are available.

 Once callers are with a rep, resist the urge to use standard call center metrics like maximum handle time as a sole indicator of call performance. BECU ($9.5B, Seattle, WA) averages a six-minute handle time for calls to ensure the focus is on problem resolution, says Shane Morris, member loyalty manager at the credit union. Other institutions have no maximum handle time and some even have a minimum handle time to ensure opportunities from cross-sell and call resolution are fully broached at each contact.

 You are a unique institution, so track everything, but develop key performance indicators (KPI) based on the priorities that matter most to the organization, says Darryl Flores, a contact center consultant for financial services company SWBC.

 Go Outbound
Call centers aren’t just touch points for resolution, they’re effectively your biggest branch, says Patrick Hughes, vice president of member relations at PSCU. And outbound call operations are particularly scalable, even small credit unions can start out with one to two dedicated reps and secure a relatively high ROI.

And don’t think you’ll be lacking in leads. Contact lists can be generated at no to low costs by segmenting core information to find competitor targeting data and near real time leads can be acquired from third party financial sites that provide visitor information (but make sure not to contact consumers while they’re still on the site). Credit unions are even moving into the space of behavioral engagement pioneered by companies like Google, tracking behavior in online banking to determine member needs and then following up with direct contact.

Aim for a max of three to five contact attempts per members until the lead is exhausted and focus call efforts between 3PM to 7PM Monday-Thursdays and on Saturdays, Hughes says. Have scheduling processes in place to make sure scheduled call backs actually happen, and have the infrastructure in place to make sure phone numbers left by reps lead to a real person, not a voicemail.

Lastly, when you finally get members on the line, use a short version of the application process to show you respect member’s time. Capture their basic information to get the app rolling, then give them options for follow up on minor details as needed.

 Do A “Road Show”
 Call centers are noisy, hectic and rarely pretty. It’s a harsh reality that they often get less on-deck visits and attention from executives than they should.

“One credit union I visited had a 40% abandon rate,” Flores says. “But the loan department was meeting goals and the CFO was happy. They weren’t seeing the dollar impact that adding more agents could bring.”

To help connect the dots between the call center, the balance sheet, and the rest of the institution, create in-house presentations that educate about the role of the call center and how it supports and is supported by other departments, he says. And when you’re presenting to other departments, speak their language.

CFOs might think of the negative cost connotations of adding more reps or investing in additional technology, Flores says. But if the center’s so overloaded that supervisors are taking calls to help out, you’ve enlisted the help of some very expensive reps, and you’ve detracting from the supervisor’s ability to do their job.

Back all claims up with supporting metrics, and you can give executives the tools they needs to make more informed decision about the operation while securing the results the contact center needs.




Oct. 31, 2011


  • Very interesting thoughts on the call center Aaron-especially around IVR's being a detractor from net promoter scores. The 2011 World Retail Banking Report showed that the leading reasons customers left banks in 2011 was 1. Quality of Service and 2. Ease of Use. Now I know we are talking Credit Unions here, but the lesson remains valuable-the key differentiator that CU's and Banks have to leverage is great service and services that make banking easy for members / customers. A great member experience starts with a CU's front line, easy to use tools, services and products for members...it's a key component to the loan and member growth CU's are striving for.
    Stephen Kobzik
  • Nice article Aaron. Optimizing all resources and especially call center resources should be a priority for all credit unions. I like your thoughts about outbound calls.
    Chad Davis
  • Well covered bases, Aaron! Call center agents are all of this and more. I can honestly say that I am the ultimate failure on the phone. I admire those who make it their goal to talk to people who genuinely need help and others who just want to whine and complain. Broad knowledge of products and processes that span old and new, connected and disconnected systems is required. Plus the capacity to fully engage all cylinders while patiently communicating with folks whether they are in the mood for communicating or not. If you are a call center agent reading this - please consider this a HIGH-5 - make that a Pinnacle-10!
  • Great points made here. I am always surprised to hear that credit unions implement a maximum handle time. Once we have a member on the phone I want to make sure that we commit to first call resolution and up-sell/cross-sell. If I have agents worrying about the length of the call, I will have agents that get really good at processing people.

    I also agree that there is a need to demystify what takes place in a contact center. Service Levels, staffing, randomization of call load, all can be pretty nebulous to outsiders. By explaining the multiple factors that truly reflect the performance of a contact center you can get better support from the organization as a whole.