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Why Contact Centers Are Key To Banks' Multi-Channel Strategies

Jerry Silva, newly named head of the global retail banking practice at IDC Financial Insights, says poor performance in the call center can scuttle banks' efforts to improve customer experience.

Don't overlook the importance of the contact center in your multi-channel delivery strategy. That advice to banks was offered by long-time fintech industry figure Jerry Silva, who recently was named research director and head of the global retail banking practice at IDC Financial Insights. Silva has followed the evolution of retail delivery and the systems that support it over a 25-year career as an analyst, consultant and technology vendor, and he suggests that while topics such as mobile, online banking and the future of the branch rightly are in the spotlight, some of the most interesting opportunities have to do with what happens in the contact center and how that factors into the customer's experience.

[Jerry Silva To Lead Global Retail Banking Practice At IDC Financial Insights]

The human element of the contact center continues to be the biggest challenge, according to Silva. A number of surveys have confirmed that, "Around the world, the staffed piece of the call center is probably the least liked," he says. Accordingly, "Some of the most interesting stuff is happening around workforce optimization -- how do you have right people at right time to answer customers questions?" Another concern is the level of fraud that arises out of call center interactions, which is leading to investment in what Silva describes as "social engineering" solutions. Further, Silva suggests, banks should leverage the expertise of their business experts in areas such as student loans, cards and mortgages to deliver better, more informed service.

"The contact center is in the middle of the [retail] delivery" process, Silva says. "It is vitally important [and] banks should strengthen their positions in contact centers."

[4 Predictions About The Future of the Contact Center]

In terms his focus at IDC Financial Insights, Silva says that initially he'll be focused on "high-level strategic research around transformational technologies such as mobile, cloud, security and big data." Another hot topic for him has to do with the role core systems play in supporting banks' omnichannel (his preferred term) strategies -- or rather, addressing the limitations of those systems. "What transformation is necessary to make the channels behave differently instead of being siloed? He asks. "Ultimately, that goes back to the core."

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Strategist
8/27/2013 | 3:59:03 PM
re: Why Contact Centers Are Key To Banks' Multi-Channel Strategies
Very true -- we see this also in the insurance industry, where most people interacting with the call center are doing so at a very bad time in their lives -- in connection with a claim (accident, loss, illness, death, etc.). How these "moments of truth" are handled is absolutely critical in terms of reputation, retention, etc. Insurers have done a great job of modernizing the operational aspects (just-in-time staffing to respond to regional disasters, for example), as we know mixed results on the more qualitative aspects. Some of this is collision of company policy with human needs, nothing to do with technology.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Author
8/27/2013 | 11:37:19 AM
re: Why Contact Centers Are Key To Banks' Multi-Channel Strategies
Great points.

A case in point: LLBean has a reputation for great customer service. Their website is fantastic, free returns, no questions asked. I shop with them frequently. Recently, I needed to call the call center about an item (i had never called before). I was speaking to a rep after 2 rings. She recognized me from my phone number and greeted me by name (and then asked some security questions). She knew the item i was calling about because she saw what i was looking at on the website. She processed my order in about 3 minutes, and there was no fee for calling a call center (like the airlines do).

In short, the experience was a good one because there was complete integration between the website and the call center, the CRM system, my purchase history and my profile.

You can have or a great website, or a great retail location, or a great broker. But if the information doesn't flow seamlessly between all channels, the call center will suffer because that is the area where the lack of integration will be noticed immediately.
KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Strategist
8/23/2013 | 8:05:38 PM
re: Why Contact Centers Are Key To Banks' Multi-Channel Strategies
I think because of social media mobile there has been more focus on online chat, self-service, etc. but as Silva points out it's the human element that needs investment. He also had some interesting comments about how call center personnel are compensated and the need to change that model [ more directly rewarding people for good service, cross-selling, etc.].
Noland01
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Noland01,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/23/2013 | 7:03:42 PM
re: Why Contact Centers Are Key To Banks' Multi-Channel Strategies
Having renovated and run some of the high profile call centers in the
investment/banking industry, I would agree that a properly structured
and motivated call center can be the anchor point (24/7/365
availability) in a relationship that a firm has with its clients.

The way I've seen it, a strong call center can help "burnish" the
reputation of the firm by helping clients when they are most vulnerable
with an issue or problem, but I would not recommend that they "take
over" any other direct human interface relationships such as with
financial advisors and other "front line-facing" business or client
relationship people unless the client has chosen that path. When "done
right" you get a positive echo to the firm's brand, when "done wrong" you can do a material amount of damage to the client's relationship to the firm and the brand. Worse yet, the part of the call center from which "bad service" emanates from continues "mowing the lawn" improperly until someone shuts it off creating bad experiences at the staff level, and misdirected effort if that party is managing a team or the center.

What I find today, is that many firms use call centers in a defensive view
of service (e.g. I lost my card, want to order checkbooks at all hours,
need a statement copy, ,etc.) which is in my view, the most commoditized
but necessary level, but not the highest value that one can have to extend and
enhance the other service channels that might exist in supporting the
client. Really strong, high end call centers actually can rehabilitate other bad experiences that a client has, even outside the firm's own control, which can actually create even stronger client brand loyalty. This is not luck, it is creating the right design in the center, alignment with the customer (without it costing lost of money) and even happy representatives who see the strong impact that they have on customers. This is a learned, teachable strategy carried out with deliberation and completeness.

The author and other comment providers have the right point - it's the human element that is the hardest to manage and be responsive to clients in the right way - and that is precisely were getting it "right" can have the positive or negative impact. On this one point there is no such thing as a neutral call center - the experience either worked each and every time or it didn't. Even in the statistics, each interaction contributes to reinforcing, or detracts from, the brand. Controlling and creating a seamless, successfully repetitive experience is the skill of the management teams and the programs that are built to insure success.

One other point, call centers don't have to be large, faceless, anonymous contact points. If developed properly, turnover can be lower than industry normal guidelines, service models can be extended, and clients can see this as brand extension in a positive way. Lastly, they don't have to be big to be effective. I have run service teams with some time constraints as low as 6-8 people for a properly sized client base and global centers each in the classic size of hundreds of people each in multiple centers to cover 24 hour operations globally. It's not just size, its attitude and having the right view of
how to serve the client effectively.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Author
8/23/2013 | 5:17:47 PM
re: Why Contact Centers Are Key To Banks' Multi-Channel Strategies
Correct, it is the channel that has the most impact, mostly because it is a channel of last resort. No one ever calls a contact center as the 1st option. Customers usually call it after they have tried every other way to fix a problem.
Yaldez4FSI
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Yaldez4FSI,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/23/2013 | 4:18:04 PM
re: Why Contact Centers Are Key To Banks' Multi-Channel Strategies
All the channels are important, including the "contact center." But, I can not remember the last time I called one, as online banking channel is my primary method of engagement. Oh wait, its because I had to call them 3 times for the same issue, and they kept fixing the symptom (being charged a fee for something I don't use) but not the problem. Very frustrating. Terrible customer experience. Right on, Jerry.
Byurcan
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Byurcan,
User Rank: Author
8/23/2013 | 2:11:51 PM
re: Why Contact Centers Are Key To Banks' Multi-Channel Strategies
The contact center -- the "forgotten channel" -- truly doesn't get enough hype as some of the more buzz-worthy channels, like mobile, but as Silva rightly notes, it is a channel that often can have the greatest impact on the customer experience.
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