Whether a credit union’s call center team is set up for inbound calling, outbound calling, or a mix of both, opportunities to enhance service quality and boost sales activity are always within reach. The only question is whether the institution is willing to break the mold to get there.
The majority of cooperatives offer a traditional service- and transaction-based phone channel. However, many are also complementing this model with new strategies such as dedicated outbound calling, integrated sales functions for inbound calls, and call functions migrated to outside the contact center.
Patelco Credit Union (Pleasanton, CA, $3.99B), Hanscom Federal Credit Union (Hanscom AFB, MA, $1.04B), and BCU (Vernon Hills, IL, $1.52B), are three such innovators and their new visions for the call center have helped them post impressive ratios for share growth, loan growth, and return on assets in 2013.
Seriously, How Can I Help You?
When Ryan Misasi came to Patelco Credit Union in 2011, the call center served the traditional transactional functions such as balance inquiries and transfers. While assessing an overall sales and service strategy for the credit union, the executive vice president and chief retail officer saw potential in the number of interactions the call center has with members, and an opportunity to put more Patelco products and services in front of these individuals.
In the call center, we’re getting the opportunity to talk to 40,000 members on a monthly basis.
The call center was averaging approximately 40,000 calls a month, meaning it touched more members than any one branch in Patelco’s 40-branch network.
“Of our 40 branches, we don’t have any branch that would have 40,000 visitors in a month,” Misasi says. “But in the call center, we’re getting the opportunity to talk to 40,000 members on a monthly basis.”
In 2011, Patelco changed the culture of its inbound call center to treat every service call as a sales opportunity. Once the call center staff member meets the initial purpose of the call, they ask permission to introduce products that might interest the member.
“It is key we ask permission from the member,” Misasi says. “We don’t try to sell on every one of our 40,000 calls, we ask permission first.”
Patelco trained the existing call center staff to offer products and services as they finish service calls with members. A typical wrap-up might sound like this:
As I’m looking at your account, I noticed I might have a way to expand your relationship with Patelco. May I ask you a few more questions?
There might be a way I can earn you more money today. May I ask you a few more questions?
When it introduced the new role for call center agents, the credit union decided new performance metrics were also in order. In the past, the credit union used customary call center measurements, such as call length and abandon rate, to measure efficiency and gauge the success of the call. Now, it considers aspects such as loan originations and account openings.
Within one year of implementing this system, the call center went from generating no auto loan or credit card activity to originating $18 million in auto loans and issuing 811 credit cards.
In 2012, the call center originated $30 million in auto loans and issued slightly fewer than 1,400 credit cards. That year, leadership also created three mortgage specialist positions to assist the call center, and these individuals contributed $33 million in funded mortgages throughout 2012.
According to Misasi, the call center is currently on pace to outperform all of these sales metrics in 2013.
“All the sales that occur are based on improving the member’s financial situation,” Misasi says. “It’s specific to the financial information of the individual we’re talking to and we approach it with the mindset that our benefits have to save time, save money, or earn money.” As the length of calls increase, Patelco will need to hire additional staff to assure inbound and traditional services are not sacrificed at the expense of consultative calls.
In Patelco’s case, approximately 50,000 members — or around 20% of total membership — live outside the credit union’s branch footprint. For these members, the phone and website are their primary retail delivery channels, meaning a more engaged approach to inbound calls is necessary to provide them with opportunities that are similar to the ones branch members receive.
Building Relationships Through Outbound
At the end of 2006, Hanscom Federal Credit Union had $550 million in assets. Today, the credit union has $1.04 billion.
With the exception of a merger with a $5 million credit union, all of the institution’s growth has been organic. So how did the credit union nearly double its size in less than 10 years?
One contributing factor is the online account opening and outbound calling strategy it launched in February 2007. Hanscom launched these two initiatives together, using the outbound calling strategy as a supplement to the online channel. Without these calls, leadership felt the remote introduction to the credit union was not sufficient for explaining its many products and services.
“When you open accounts online, you get a package in the mail and that’s it,” says Scott Post, senior vice president of strategy and delivery at Hanscom. “We weren’t making outbound calls. I saw a missed opportunity there because you have these people who you’re not interacting with face to face. You need a way to have a dialogue with them to build a relationship. That’s easy to do in the branch, but not as easy to do online.”
This is especially important considering 50% of Hanscom’s new members join the credit union remotely. The credit union tailors these phone calls so that call center staff are only offering products that will benefit a particular member’s financial situation.
For example, outbound staff will often call new and existing members to conduct a credit score review. Over the phone, a member advisor goes through the member’s credit score line by line and explains what makes up the score, what the member is doing well, and in what areas the member can improve. During this process, the member advisor can identify loans and credit cards with other institutions as well as ask questions and offer advice on how Hanscom can better serve the member’s needs.
“We provide information and we show how our products and services benefit the member,” Post says.
Outbound calling provides an opportunity to build a relationship that would be difficult to nurture in an inbound call setting, where interactions are transaction-oriented and speed is the name of the game.
“What we’re doing here is appointment banking,” Post says. “We’re starting a dialogue, so when someone joins the credit union, rather than just having the transaction happen, we call them and talk them through the next steps like scheduling a credit score review and setting up direct deposit.”
The BCU Way
BCU has a call center, but it allocates its best outbound leads to branch staff to generate business and introduce members to products and services that will help support their financial goals. When first implemented, the credit union struggled to identify the number of leads each branch could handle, with some branch staff having too many leads and not enough time to contact them. To remedy this, BCU created the capacity model at the end of 2011.
The capacity model requires branch managers to enter into a shared system the amount of time branch employees have available to make calls on a daily basis. The model reduces the load on branch employees and allows for better predictions of when calls will actually be made.
We’re giving them leads based on the capacity they have in the branch.
“Now we’re not just throwing out 8,000 leads, we’re giving them leads based on the capacity they have in the branch,” says Jeff Reinhard, a regional branch director at BCU. “Since doing that, we’ve had more success with being able to manage our time more efficiently.”
Leads are put together by the outbound calling crew, a management team tasked with generating call lists from marketing campaigns and divvying-up quality leads to front-line branch employees.
“We qualify leads based on the propensity a member will want a certain product at a particular time,” Reinhard says. “So if we look and see they haven’t had a car loan in the past three years, we’ll probably call them sooner than someone who just got a car loan.”
The new system boasts a 30% acceptance rate when the employee is able to get the member on the phone. According to BCU, its typical marketing campaigns get an acceptance rate of approximately 1.5%.
“We’re not pushing products,” Reinhard says. “We want our employees to listen for clues as to what products and services might best serve a member and then our branch staff are educating them on those products and services.”