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Opportunity Calling

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

From Cost Center to Revenue Center

Though this may not be news to the industry, some banks just now are revamping their contact centers, transforming them from cost centers to revenue centers. By their nature, contact centers lend themselves to cross-selling -- with the appropriate technology in place, agents have instantaneous access to the total financial history of callers right on their desktops. Since they use this data to help answer customer queries, why not take things a step further and use the information to build on that relationship?

Banks have taken steps in this direction over the past decade or so, but it was not until further improvements in technology and new regulations came on the scene that the selling potential of contact centers truly came to light, according to Cindy Howton, a managing director with New York-based consultancy BearingPoint. The data transparency provisions found in Sarbanes-Oxley, for example, require companies, including banks, to keep better tabs on the information in their systems in terms of accuracy and security. Though compliance can be an onerous task, there is an upside that banks can exploit.

"The single customer view is the holy grail of CRM," Howton says. "Now, you have to pull all this data together because you have no choice. You can leverage [these regulations] from a CRM perspective. [Because of this], doors now open on the contact center side so you can do effective cross-selling today."

"The brighter lights who run these call centers are thinking this way," says Tony Hayward, CEO of AIM Technologies, a San Francisco-based provider of performance management tools. "It's a massive sales channel. If you have the opportunity to cross-sell and have the information and the ability to talk to customers about new products, there has to be an advantage."

However, this strategic shift will not occur overnight, Hayward adds. "It is not like a tornado sweeping across financial institutions," he says. "Just light bulbs coming on with some individuals within financial institutions who say it has to be this way."

Eric Bourassa, vice president and capacity planning manager with Wyomissing, Pa.-based Sovereign Bank ($63 billion in assets) and stationed in its East Providence, R.I., office, also sees a slow uptake in selling at the contact center. Though it is dawning on banks that this is the right thing to do, it will take time because the transformation requires a shift in mentality throughout the bank. "The industry is slowly going in that direction," he states. "We're starting to realize there's more volume going to the call center and they're cheaper to run than branch networks. Now, [the contact center] is seen as a revenue center."

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