May 06, 2004

Northern Trust: A Voice You Can Trust

Installing the latest and greatest technologies available is not the only way to keep up with rising customer expectations. For Northern Trust Company's Investor Services Division, when it came time to improve customer satisfaction scores, it was all in its agents' voices.

The company's Chicago-area call center serves more than 500,000 investors and corporate clients with corporate money market accounts, beneficiary retained asset accounts and medical savings. Agents handle about 55,000 calls per month from their clients' customers.

Northern Trust has two methods for measuring the service it provides. The first is conducted internally through a quality monitoring program. Call monitoring software from Verint (Melville, N.Y.) records all of the center's phone calls. Managers then monitor several calls per rep per month. Using an internally developed evaluation scorecard, they grade reps on how they handle each call. In the second method, Northern Trust contracts with a third-party company to contact investors and clients directly to find out what they thought of their experience with the call center.

One of the interesting findings that came up in both service evaluations was that customers often felt agents were not expressing themselves clearly. Although agents might have answered customers' questions, the experience was still not up to par.

To resolve these issues, Northern Trust developed three new training programs for its agents. One class covered quality skills servicing to improve agents' administration skills. A second class taught accurate data transfer to increase one-call resolution rates. And the third class was offered through a partnership with VoiceScape (Chicago), a voice and presentation skills training company. Over a period of two weeks agents worked on skills such as clear pronunciation, flexible speaking pace and courteous language.

When Northern Trust conducted the external survey once again about a year after every agent went through the three-class training curriculum, scores rose dramatically. "The improvements were a result of all three classes, but we found that the vocal training was something that really struck a chord with agents," says Darlene Allen-Nichols, Northern Trust's second vice president, worldwide operations and technology. "They really appreciated learning to speak more clearly."

But all this hasn't slowed down the company's investment in call center technologies. According to Allen-Nichols, over the past two years, the company has invested more than $1 million in new technologies, including Avaya's CentreVu software to route calls, and workforce management software from Blue Pumpkin to automate the scheduling of the company's 40 to 50 representatives.

Allen-Nichols says the greatest challenge has been in identifying accurate benchmarks and service-level measurements. "Because we don't compare equally to other call centers, it's difficult for us to measure our stats in comparison with industry standards," she says.

This article previously appeared in CallCenter magazine, a CMP Media publication.