Northwest Community Credit Union uses a tiered certification program to train call center employees.
The training program also helps call center staff identify a career path within the credit union.
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Northwest Community Credit Union
HQ: Eugene, OR
Data as of 06.30.19
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 3.4%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -2.7%
Formal processes for new employee training ensure consistency across an organization. At credit unions, for example, there’s more than one way to process many transactions, and a host of variables — such as time, trainer, and new talent uptake — mean front-line staffers could easily be doing the same set of activities in very different ways.
In its call center, Northwest Community Credit Union ($1.2B, Eugene, OR) experienced firsthand how inconsistent processes created a poor experience for members as well as unnecessary confusion for employees.
“We were seeing inconsistencies and even some errors,” says April Cooper, the credit union’s director of virtual services.
To address that, the Beaver State credit union created a certification program that makes sure new call center employees receive consistent training. The program also creates employees who are able to demonstrate an aptitude for work in other areas of the organization and has created a more direct path to advancement.
“To thrive in the call center requires knowledge, expertise, and well-roundedness,” Cooper says. “There’s confidence that those who get hired out of the call center are going to be good employees. Hiring managers come to my team to find internal candidates, and we celebrate getting our employees to where they want to be.”
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Clear Career Paths
At Northwest Community, as at many other credit unions, the call center is a training ground for the larger organization.
Before 2015, the credit union offered call center employees a clear career path that progressed from entry-level agent to lender. The path included gains in responsibility as well as pay and drew ambitious employees looking to quickly move up in their career.
In 2015, Northwest Community centralized its lending operations, which disrupted developmental tracts in the call center and made the department less appealing to new hires. When the credit union launched its call center certification program in 2015, however, Cooper realized the program doubled as a new way to develop employees.
“Not every employee has the same drive, but the training program gives everyone something to work toward,” she says. “There’s opportunity there.”
That’s because the program not only makes employees more effective in their call center roles, it also showcases their aptitude to pick up other areas of the organization.
A Leveled Approach
New call center hires enter Northwest Community at a pre-certification level. During their first 90 days, call center employees work with a team of department-specific certifiers , covering a mix of hard and soft skills, from branded communication techniques to basic transactions and service knowledge.
“These are the skills and concepts we want our new hires to have mastered as they begin to take calls on their own,” Cooper says.
In addition to pre-certification training, all employees must complete level one, which introduces more advanced concepts across 12 segments that cover plastic cards, core transactions, loan processing, e-services, and more. Level one mixes self-driven testing via online and intranet quizzes and learning modules as well as one-on-one member service and leadership coaching. It requires approximately eight hours of work that new hires typically complete within their first six months.
“We want our new hires to get through this level quickly and prove they understand basic concepts,” Cooper says.
Although new hires can complete level one within six months, they can’t begin to work on level two until they’ve been at the credit union for one year .
To thrive in the call center requires knowledge, expertise, and well-roundedness. There’s confidence that those who get hired out of the call center are going to be good employees.
“That’s the sweet spot when our employees decide whether or not the call center is for them,” Cooper says. “That’s when they decide if they see a career here.”
If they do see a career at the credit union, they can work toward level two certification, which includes self-paced learning and one-on-one time with the department’s certifiers covering more advanced skills. This level emphasizes service and leadership training more heavily, and employees must give a presentation to the call center staff as well as read and summarize a leadership book for call center managers.
Employees decide how long it takes to complete this level, but doing so offers tangible benefits.
“For employees who like the call center, this gives them the tools and resources to prepare for leadership positions when they come open,” Cooper says.
Putting It All Together
The credit union’s training certification program churns out better trained call center staff and creates employees who are able to demonstrate an aptitude for work in other areas of the organization. In fact, the certification program has proven so beneficial that Northwest Community is working on a third level geared toward leadership training for employees who aspire to management or higher.
Of course, opportunities within the organization ebb and flow, which makes attrition and retention difficult to measure. For now, Cooper is looking forward to instituting that third level by the end of the year. And, she continues to tout the call center as the best place to start a career at a credit union.
“We like to brag that we have a former call center employee in every area of the organization except for one,” the virtual services director says. “And if you look at our leadership team, this is where most of us started. You learn more about the organization and its processes. And, you make more connections than you do in any other area of the credit union.”