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Contact/Call Centers

No longer just about back-office servicing, contact and call centers now provide banks with an opportunity to nurture customer relationships. Supported by integration and productivity tools, call centers have become proactive - rather than strictly reactive - channels.

No longer just about back-office servicing, contact and call centers now provide banks with an opportunity to nurture customer relationships. Supported by integration and productivity tools, call centers have become proactive - rather than strictly reactive - channels.


Douglas R. Helvig, SVP - Call Center Group, Sales & Service Manager, KeyBank (Cleveland)

John Ragsdale, Vice President, Research Director, Forrester Research (Santa Clara, Calif.)

Brendan B. Read, Coauthor, The Complete Guide to Customer Support (CMP Books, 2002)

Ross K. McKay, VP, Product Management, S1 Corp. (Atlanta)


Q. How do contact centers and call centers fit into banks' multi-channel strategies?

Douglas R. Helvig, KeyBank: Call centers are far from being the new generation of delivery channel, but they haven't been exploited to the potential that they could be. KeyBank is investing heavily into the call center as a functional, proactive delivery channel, as well as a reactive channel where clients can call and say, "Hey, I want this." The call center has turned into a relationship center. Banks are getting away from viewing the call center as a necessary evil - that's the old thinking, although I believe that banks realize that call centers aren't the cost-saving economic channel that they originally were viewed as. The call center is a way to generate new business and will continue to be strong in that light.

Brendan B. Read, Coauthor, The Complete Guide to Customer Support: Many organizations see traditional call centers as a crutch for customers who are not, or cannot, be online (e.g., driving). The only times when call centers are necessary are for customer service problems or when customers need hand-holding. The cost-saving argument behind self-service rather than call centers is compelling. Gartner Group reports that live agent call handling costs $5.50 per transaction compared with just 25 cents for online and 45 cents for interactive voice response (IVR). Furthermore, self-service is a better deal than offshore arrangements. Datamonitor reports that the cost of having speech-enabled IVR answer a call is just 25 percent of having an India-based call center agent do so.

Ross K. McKay, S1 Corp.: Call centers should be viewed as a combination of automated systems, such as IVR/speech and predictive dialing unified with telephony, and case management and CRM systems, versus simply the human contact portion. Call centers are in a state of evolution, as they have been in existence for some time - largely for branch off-load, such as routine service transactions. They have generally been siloed or specialized, with unique centers set up for cards, mortgages, loan servicing, basic transaction processing or support centers driven by specialization needs or scale in the case of credit cards. Inbound has been well blended with outbound.

Q. Can call centers be effective sales/distribution channels, or are they limited to service and support?

John Ragsdale, Forrester Research: There are huge opportunities for increasing wallet share from inbound call center interactions. The key is incorporating analytics that offer extensions based on customer history and the specific context of the customer call. Companies that have done that are finding that they are getting around some of the complications with agent training and negative impacts on customer relationships. As one company told us, "When agents hear 'yes' often enough, they consider the offer extensions as just another part of servicing the customer."

Read, Guide to Customer Support: As Internet access becomes commonplace, expect to see the volume of traditional call center interactions shrink. People turn to the call centers if they can't get online or have problems with IVR or self-service transactions, which are faster with no queues. Traditional call center agents do not offer substantively more value to interactions other than the human presence. The calls are heavily scripted; agents are rarely trained or empowered to make decisions beyond their instructions.

McKay, S1 Corp.: Service transactions are not tapped out. Banks can get deeper with loan renewals, payouts, wire payments, foreign exchange, etc. They certainly can get deeper and richer on sales and advice. Tools exist for customer service representatives to have access to client profiles, product information, product comparisons, discretionary pricing and prospects. Call center management has access to rich tools for sales goal setting, sales tracking, agent effectiveness, quality measurement and close rates.

Q. What technologies are banks deploying to make their contact centers more efficient, and what role do channel integration strategies play in this effort?

Ragsdale, Forrester Research: It is a mix of e-service and CRM technologies - e-service to provide excellent service via every channel and CRM to bring all of the interaction details into a single place. One of the challenges for banking is for the branches to share information with corporate, and vice versa, because corporate needs that branch information to include in the higher-level analytics for marketing. But branches don't want to lose any visibility of customer data - CRM solves that problem.

Helvig, Keybank: There are many technologies out there, for functions ranging from call center scheduling, quality, productivity and sales. It's like walking into a candy store. The choice really comes down to where the bank is, what its strategy is going forward and what the bank needs to help achieve its goals. There are so many metrics out there that allow you to measure how long you talk to a customer, driving so many different technologies to help you measure, not only from the productivity side, but the quality side. The challenge for a lot of financial services call centers is that the platform in the call center doesn't integrate with the branch channel. A bank should know that a customer, coming into a branch, has contacted the call center the day before. Clients want to know that they're more than just a number, and banks must nurture this relationship.

Q. What is the future for bank call centers? What role will outsourcing play in call center strategies?

Ragsdale, Forrester Research: The future of contact centers is becoming much more interactive, leveraging multimedia. Using Web collaboration, chat, e-mail and all of the different capabilities with online accounts management and billing, we'll see a merging of those channels and much more consistent service across all of the channels and, ideally, much more automated service with less focus on the telephone.

It makes sense to outsource text, as in e-mail responses or Web chat, but the quality issues involved in phone conversations make those particularly impactful. It's a very sensitive topic. In Europe, the privacy issues around customer data make it even trickier.

Read, Guide to Customer Support: Bank call centers have a future in that functions that now take place in person will also become virtual. Tellers will take customer service calls. Loan officers will handle calls as well as in-person appointments. The routing technology has long been there. The role of traditional call center agents will shrink. They may become virtual receptionists, like the face-to-face ones in branches, triaging and directing calls to the IVR, customer service experts (i.e., tellers) or loan officers. This gives a human voice to banks that will help them retain business. But the interactions are so short (typically less than one minute) that costs will be low.

One emerging outsourcing strategy is to move call centers to agents' homes. An analysis by Jack Heacock and Associates shows that a 100-employee call center that is home-worked can reap more than $10 million across five years in net savings. Outsourcing will continue only for less-critical positions: to handle portions of customer service calls, for overload and for after-hours. As self-service grows for functions such as loan processing, outsourced call centers will diminish. But that may be offset by new functions, such as virtual receptionists, that can easily be outsourced.

McKay, S1 Corp.: There will be overall growth, as sales are done more effectively via this channel and as more complex service transactions can be handled in call centers. Consolidation of specialized call centers will continue.

Don't outsource your customer face - that is your differentiator and the value proposition that you offer. Do outsource back-office fulfillment, processing and servicing. The integration capabilities that exist with technology, open systems and standards provide the access to outsource in a seamless and real-time manner. Leverage investments in technology, platforms and applications across business lines, including retail, small business and commercial.

Peggy Bresnick Kendler has been a writer for 30 years. She has worked as an editor, publicist and school district technology coordinator. During the past decade, Bresnick Kendler has worked for UBM TechWeb on special financialservices technology-centered ... View Full Bio

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