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Banks finally are realizing the contact center's potential as a relationship-building resource and profit center.

In their ongoing quest to increase revenue and retain customers, banks have redoubled their efforts to find and implement cutting-edge technologies and strategies to identify sales opportunities and improve service -- sometimes with mixed results. Most financial institutions, however, do not realize (or choose not to recognize) that they have a potential gold mine sitting right under their noses -- the call center. >>

But don't call them call centers anymore. Servicing today's consumers goes well beyond picking up the phone and answering questions -- more than ever, call centers are about relationship building. And with queries coming into the bank from numerous channels -- including the Web, e-mail and mobile phones -- the call center has become the logical repository for these communiqués. It's no wonder, then, that financial services firms are beginning to refer to these sites as contact centers.

It is at the contact center level, experts agree, that the next step in the evolution of banking will take place. "Contact centers have become the primary point of contact for consumers," states Rod Wiggins, operations manager, call center application support with Cleveland-based KeyBank ($92.3 billion in assets).

As a result, "There's a more honest effort today by financial institutions to [leverage their contact centers]," says Doug Helwig, SVP of call center sales and service at KeyBank. "Call centers were once considered the stepchild in the organization. No more. Executive management is taking an interest in them and sees what powerful tools they are."

Matt McConnell, chairman of Atlanta-based e-learning and training company Knowlagent, agrees. He says he has noticed a change in companies' attitudes toward contact centers over the past year. "I've seen a big shift in the way companies, especially financial institutions, use contact centers," he remarks. McConnell adds that this change is due in part to "virtual market saturation" in the industry. "These companies are limited in their ability to acquire new customers," he explains. "Banks can't keep building branches. They can no longer depend on meeting Wall Street expectations through new customer or company acquisitions. The only way to do this is to figure out a way to sell more to their existing customers."

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