An operational excellence review of Huntington Bancshares early last year confirmed what David Eyestone already knew: Its collections department could do better.
Fortunately, Eyestone, vice president of collections at Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington, already had a solution in mind. He turned to CenterForce Technologies, which installed its Optimizer best-time-to-call software into the autodialers at the bank's Columbus and Cleveland call centers.
CenterForce Optimizer is a contact maximization application that increases productivity in contacting customers and prospects in outbound or blended contact centers. It tracks the times when each account can and cannot be successfully contacted by phone so organizations can more effectively reach their campaign objectives. The product's best-time-to-call technology is a vital element to the overall CRM initiative.
CenterForce Optimizer's Objective Manager feature adds additional flexibility for contact center managers to define "successful" calls and campaign objectives, and a more powerful algorithm that can accurately target the best times to make successful calls.
The software allowed Huntington's collections department to increase its contact with overdue payment patrons by more than 20%. "Our ability to get the right customers on the phone increased," said Eyestone.
Indeed, contacting the right party will become an increasingly important task for all banks. By 2003, call centers will process 25% of transactions, and transaction volume will grow at a 20% annual rate, according to TowerGroup. Spending on call centers by banks is projected to exceed $34 billion worldwide by 2003.
It's not as though Huntington's delinquency rates were out of line with industry standards: the bank ranks in the low-end of the top quartile in collections, said Eyestone. Still, the call centers-which are staffed with about 45 agents each-get a daily influx of about 10,000 delinquent accounts, including home equity loans, installment payments, automotive loans and lease payments, and checking account overdrafts. "We have delinquent accounts into the millions of dollars," Eyestone said.
By shifting call patterns, Huntington could increase the chance of its collection agents reaching the right person, figured Eyestone. The operational excellence review provided the opportunity to pitch for the funding he needed.
After speaking to the collection departments of different organizations, Eyestone narrowed his choice down to a few vendors, finally settling on Bethesda, Md.-based CenterForce, which has more than 60 installations. "We heard good things about CenterForce and its service and we liked the price," Eyestone said. "It was a pretty modest investment."
Another plus was that Optimizer would interface easily with the bank's automated dialer. The product works with a number of predictive dialers from firms like Davox, eshare, Genesys and Lucent, among others.
Optimizer tracks the history of calls made to clients and-using algorithms and behavior modeling-determines the best time to call so that the agent reaches the right person, known as a right party contact (RPC), according to Bob Kelly, president and CEO of CenterForce.
The software will move the accounts around so that if the dialer doesn't get an answer in the morning, the number will be tried in the afternoon or evening. Once a contact is made, the agent notes whether it was a successful contact and if a promise to pay was obtained. The software notes the time the call was placed. If in the future that account falls delinquent, the system knows the best time to call.
Following testing by CenterForce, Huntington installed Optimizer late last year. Agents were trained onsite. There were no major challenges, said Eyestone. "It went pretty smooth. CenterForce was attentive to our needs."
The system, Eyestone said, is "seamless for the collectors." Since its installation, the number of calls placed per hour has decreased as agents spend their time speaking directly to overdue account holders instead of their roommates or family.
The software has provided the added bonus of improved agent morale, said Eyestone. ."Our agents love it because they spend more time talking to decision makers and see their promises to pay increasing. We pay bonuses monthly on the accounts they collect, so they see CenterForce Optimizer as a tool to help put more money in their pockets."
Pricing, which is based on a license per station and a yearly maintenance cost, begins at $2,000 per agent seat for a minimum 10-seat configuration.
INSTITUTION: Huntington Bancshares
ASSETS: $29 billion
BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Improve call center efficiency
SOLUTION: CenterForce's Optimizer
KEY QUOTE: "Our ability to get the right customers on the phone increased." - David Eyestone, vice president of collections