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Jennifer O'Herron, CallCenter
Jennifer O'Herron, CallCenter
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Answering the Call

Financial institutions continue to adapt cutting-edge call center technology to the needs of their very fussy customers. Here's a look inside some of the changing call centers they run.

No matter what the state of the economy, banks and other financial services businesses handle enormous call volumes at all hours of the day. They come into contact with a broader cross-section of the general public than almost any other industry. For this reason, call centers are an integral component of financial services firms' CRM strategies.

Nowadays the focus is as much on innovative management techniques as it is on technology. Banking call centers have evolved from call-crunching powerhouses into more interactive tools that companies can use to solve problems, build brand value and establish more nuanced relationships with customers.

Here are a few examples of how they're making it work.

CUNA Mutual: The Personal Touch

Customers calling about very personal and very important financial matters expect to speak with a representative who's professional and knowledgeable. CUNA Mutual Group, based in Madison, Wis., aims to provide both.

CUNA Mutual serves credit unions and their members worldwide through 30 call centers located in the U.S. and Canada. The company's largest center, located in Waverly, Iowa, assists credit union members with life insurance policies, annuities and brokerage accounts. Approximately 80 representatives handle calls from members. Last year alone, the center received about 820,000 phone calls.

An IVR system from Edify (Santa Clara, Calif.) helps callers narrow down their issues so calls route to the agents who are most qualified to handle each call. The IVR system works in conjunction with Avaya's (Basking Ridge, N.J.) G3R version 8 phone switch and Avaya's skills-based routing software. To keep track of customer histories and transactions, CUNA Mutual has developed an online diary system that centralizes all of this information.

Another important aspect of CUNA Mutual's call center strategy is its quality assurance program. It's essential for CUNA Mutual to capture all of its phone calls to avoid any potential liability that can arise with customer disputes. To do this, the company uses Nice Systems' (Rutherford, N.J.) NiceLog software to record 100 percent of the center's calls.

Going beyond recording for legal reasons, CUNA Mutual uses Nice's NiceUniverse software to monitor performance by selectively recording agents' phone calls along with their accompanying screen activities. The software randomly selects four calls per day to record. Each team leader within the center then chooses five of these calls to evaluate per month. The team leaders use evaluation forms to score and coach agents.

"We try to spend more time focusing on what agents did right rather than what they did wrong," says Diana Beschorner, manager of the Waverly support center. "Agents are constantly bombarded by negatives, so we try to avoid that as much as possible."

One of the features that Beschorner finds most valuable is the ability to view evaluation stats across the entire center. "Nice is a really good tool for identifying issues within the call center globally," she says. "For example, I can pick a particular item that was used in the evaluation and see how agents' scores averaged throughout the center. So, if the average score on an item was 85 percent, I know that's something we need to address in training."

CUNA Mutual also recently created a new position - a quality assurance reviewer. This individual ensures that all of the center's team leaders and managers are using consistent measurements when reviewing agents' calls.

"We put a high priority in not just answering customers' questions but in building relationships with customers," says Beschorner. "We ask our reps to think beyond the questions they're asked and to identify other needs that we can meet for the customer."

CUNA Mutual has an extensive training program for new hires, which gets them up to speed and handling customer contacts on their own within eight weeks.

The financial services provider still has not made the full leap into serving customers online, and Beschorner admits this is something the institution is still working on. "More and more of our customers want to have access to us through our Web site and there are few things they can do online, but it's an area we're proceeding into cautiously because of the level of confidentiality we need to uphold," she says. "We have to make sure that when we do it, we do it right."

The company has leveraged the Internet, however, for assisting agents in their handling of customers' calls. CUNA Mutual has developed an online knowledge base that it refers to as "Dr. Help." Much of the company's information that was formerly on paper - requiring agents to maintain cheat sheets and search through different manuals and documents - is now right at their fingertips.

"We use the knowledge base not only to give reps easier access to knowledge when they're on the phone with customers but also during training - we can keep everyone updated on any policy or procedure change," she says.

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