As one of the most highly trafficked operations at credit unions, call centers are critical to member service. They are where members go to get pressing questions answered with the convenience of a phone call or email. In many cases, the call center is the only place where members interact with credit union employees, who have to make a good impression from a distance.
One credit union that recognizes the importance of positive call center experiences is Numerica Credit Union ($1.3B, Spokane, WA), which started tracking net promoter scores for its call center three years ago. The scores indicate a satisfied customer’s willingness to recommend the institution to family and friends.
“We absolutely believe a member’s willingness to refer us is key to our future growth,” says Jennifer Lehn, Numerica’s chief operating officer. “We’ve done studies that show a lot of our new members come from referrals.”
The credit union has seen first-hand the link between efficient call centers and net promoter scores, prompting Numerica to improve call center operations based on the kind of service that boosts the scores.
The Right Person At The Right Time
To be effective, any call center needs to accomplish at least two things: Direct an incoming call to the appropriate agent quickly and have enough staff to handle the volume of calls. Both are tied to strong promoter scores, Lehn says.
With its phone system, Numerica can route incoming calls, personalizing the call center experience. After the caller selects a reason for the call, it is placed in a queue and directed to an agent with special expertise, such as lending or member service, who can best answer the call. The system even reconnects members to the last agent they spoke to, enabling call center employees to build more personal relationships with callers.
It’s one thing to connect callers to the right agent and another for that agent to be available to take the call. Numerica tracks that information and sets the standard for agents to be available for calls 75% of the time. According to Numerica’s data from March, agents were available 76% of the time.
To reduce the time callers spend on hold, Numerica also tracks the number of calls answered within 30 seconds. The goal is 80%, and Lehn says the center’s agents typically answer between 78% and 82% of calls within 30 seconds, though major events such as the Heartbleed bug lengthen response times.
Because long hold times reduce the net promoter score, Numerica also offers a call back function so that members aren’t kept waiting on the phone. Instead, callers have the option to request a call back without losing their place in the queue.
“Even though, in general, our hold times are short, members appear to really appreciate that option,” Lehn says.
Cheerful, Capable Staff
Having enough staff to man the phones starts with knowing the call center’s busiest times. At Numerica, those times are Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Because call center service depends on the quality of the staff, Numerica hires agents who can quickly dispense answers and resolve problems while remaining cheerful. We hire people whose smiles you can hear over the phone, Lehn says.
The credit union underscores the importance of call center employees in other ways, too. For example, Numerica has an average of 20 employees per branch compared with 35 employees in its call center. The pay for call center agents is better than for branch tellers and so is the work setting.
In many ways, agents have a thankless job coping with member problems all day. Because of those demands, Numerica offers agents the option to use a variety of workstations, from the typical office chair to standing desks or even soft furniture.
“Physically we’ve tried to make that area as flexible and comfortable as possible,” Lehn says. “Every place we can, we send the message that those staff members are special.”
Because the call center handles so many transactions, it also produces a large volume of net promoter score surveys, and so far, Numerica’s efforts have paid off. As of first quarter 2014, the call center’s net promoter score was a solid 78.23%, placing it in the range of the credit union’s total score for a customer’s overall satisfaction. Since the credit union began tracking the scores three years ago, its total score has varied between 77% and 84%. That jives with Numerica’s other research indicating that 75% of new members joined the credit union because of a friend or family member’s recommendation.
And the credit union is certainly growing. Numerica’s 7.47% 12-month member growth rate and 10.36% member penetration are both well above average for state and asset-based peers, according to Search & Analyze data. The same is true for Numerica’s average member relationship ($21,177) and that figure’s year-over-year change (1.38%).
Although not all of the credit union’s growth can be attributed to the call center, Numerica plans to continue investing resources there. As branch traffic increasingly shifts online or to the call center, the credit union wants to be prepared so that it doesn’t suffer a lower score because of overwhelmed agents.
“As transactions decrease in the branches, rather than laying off staff, we would move them from the branches to the call centers and just continue to strengthen that unit,” Lehn says.