One Credit Union’s Ingenious Solution: An Outbound Call Center

By following up with a personalized phone call, Hanscom Federal Credit Union builds a more profitable relationship with members who join through remote channels.

 
Yun Ma

By Yun Ma

 

Picture this scenario: A potential customer takes the plunge and opens a new checking account online with a financial institution. Within a week or so, a welcome kit arrives in the mail, which he opens, and he reads about all the fantastic services and loan options that the institution offers. What happens next? Well, usually, nothing. No one calls to follow up, no outreach is coordinated. The new member sticks with what he’s got.

This is the scenario that Scott Post, senior vice president of strategy and delivery at Hanscom Federal Credit Union ($1B, Hanscom Air Force Base, MA), has observed from his research on Hanscom’s competitors. Post oversees the credit union’s remote channels, including online banking, eCommerce, and call centers.

“I tend to be a little bit obsessive-compulsive about the competition,” he says. “I’ve been known to open up accounts with competitors just to see how their systems work.”

From his fieldwork, Post noticed that Hanscom’s competitors, especially the big national organizations, did a poor job of engaging new customers.

“When a customer opens an account online, you get a welcome kit, and that’s it,” he says. “You don’t hear from anybody, and you’re not really engaged.” Members who join online present a particular challenge: By bypassing the traditional face-to-face encounters at a branch, it’s difficult for new members to learn about the institution’s range of products or view them as anything more than an abstraction.

Post wanted to make sure Hanscom didn’t miss this opportunity to excel in customer service. At Hanscom’s call center, representatives only took inbound calls and primarily handle member-initiated inquiries and transactions.  To address this deficiency, Post launched the Member Relations Center in February 2007. The center exclusively focuses on making outbound calls to new members, enabling representatives to introduce Hanscom’s range of products and, more importantly, establish a dialogue.

“There’s a lot of inertia in financial services,” Post says. “What we wanted to do was act upon the point when the customer-credit union relationship is most amenable to being changed.” It’s especially crucial that new member engagement is established within the first six months. “By the end of the six months, whatever relationship the member has with the credit union is the extent of the relationship he’s going to have for the rest of his term,” he says. If a new member starts with a basic checking account and that’s all he uses for six months, it is unlikely that he ever will upgrade to other products.

One of the ways that employees at the Member Relations Center begin a dialogue with new members is to provide a free credit score review. “With the member’s permission, we’ll pull the credit score, go over it with the person, and show what the score consists of.” The center’s reps also look at the member’s current loan rates based on the credit report and, if they can be improved, offer refinancing options with Hanscom.

“So what has happened is we’ve turned a savings and checking account acquisition into a loan acquisition. By presenting information that helps educate the member, we have that opportunity to grow our loan portfolio,” Post says.

There’s a fine line between forcing a hard sell and offering improved services. “We always do education,” Post says. “The credit score review is education. Showing people how to use our services, it’s education. Other places are like ‘Sign up, sign up, sign up.’ Well, show me the benefits of doing so.” 

Post believes that outbound call reps require a different skill set from those fielding inbound calls. “They’re really consultants,” Post says of the center’s employees. They’re especially adept at listening, and finding better financial options for members when appropriate. “It’s the ability of taking the intelligence we get and using it to take care of the member,” which never takes the form of pressure, he says. “It’s always done as a service.”

Although the Member Relations Center first began with two employees six years ago, it now boasts 10 full-time staff members, three of whom are loan officers who help ramp up Hanscom’s loan production. Five are member advisors who predominantly make outbound calls. Member advisors are trained in-house through a mentoring program. They make 20 calls a day for a total of 100 daily calls from the center. To better accommodate members’ workday schedules, the advisors also work on evenings and weekends.  Everyone is paid on salary, but as with other member-facing Hanscom employees, they participate in an incentive program.

Today, two-thirds of Hanscom’s members are targeted through the outbound call center’s program, which has become so successful that its representatives now educate new members who join not just online but through any one of Hanscom’s 15 branches. Additionally, the reps also work with new members who have joined through indirect auto lending, and they follow up with leads from the center’s business development. Today, the center is responsible for generating 45% of the total value of Hanscom’s loan portfolio. Checking account penetration is 77% through the center compared with 60% to 65% for the credit union as a whole.

“The Member Relations Center set the stage for us to assimilate a lot of new members really quickly,” Post says. “It came in really handy in 2011 with Bank Transfer Day. We saw significant spikes in membership, and we were able to accommodate that. In 2012, it was the adding-on of indirect auto lending. Every year, there will be some new challenge.”

Outbound calls can make a huge difference but only if they’re done right. “A lot of outbound calling is dialing for dollars,” Post says. “What we do is put a human presence behind our services. It’s amazing how many people respond to that.”

 

 

 

Feb. 25, 2013


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