The smaller the bank, the greater its focus on people. Community banks depend on their contact centers to help set them apart from big banks. Thus, a community bank will readily outsource its data processing operations, but not its contact center.
"Data processing is commoditized," said Brad Adrian, senior research analyst at GartnerGroup. "But when it comes to interacting with customers, community banks want to maintain that hometown feel. They want to make sure the people taking the calls are 'our' people."
Four years ago, South Holland Trust, a $540 million institution in South Holland, Ill., didn't have a contact center, although it did have a customer service area equipped with an IVR. Then it licensed CSCS, a contact management system from Fiserv, its data processing provider. The product enables relationship and contact management, workflow, task sharing, management reporting and cross selling .
"We were looking to be able to track our calls, enhance our level of service and accept loan applications and new accounts," said Mike Faulkner, vice president and call center manager at South Holland Trust. "To have customer information at the agents' fingertips."
The contact center went live a year later with ten agents. "We actually took loans the first day we opened," said Faulkner. "Last year, we originated over $20 million in loans, sold 1,200 check cards, and signed up 1,100 Internet banking customers."
Hardware upgrades keep the center operating at peak efficiency. "We bought new servers, new PCs," said Faulkner. "Call recording devices. A Fujitsu ACD. Once a call is routed to an agent, they obtain the customer's Social Security number and retrieve their information."
Along with developing its contact center, South Holland Trust has designed self-service capabilities into its Web site. Customers can retrieve check images online, reconcile their statements, and apply for loans. "We save our customers a ton of time with loan applications," said Faulkner. "All they have to do is walk into a branch, sign the documents and pick up the check."
Through attrition and efficiencies, the number of agents has declined from ten to seven. The job description has been rewritten to include the ability to sell. "A couple of agents have worked in branches and possess phenomenal selling skills," said Faulkner, a former branch manager. "We're doing an outbound campaign to sell check cards, and can take inbound calls as well."
In planning a contact center, banks should err on the side of caution, he said. "Try to get as much as you can up front. Once you get started, it may be hard to implement. And hire the right people."