With banks facing stiff competition for customers, Jersey City, N.J.-based The Provident Bank realized it needed to improve customer service by updating its antiquated contact center technology and installing a system to route customers' incoming calls more efficiently. Provident's ($6.3 billion in total assets) existing on-site automatic call distributor (ACD) hardware, which it declines to name, simply routed calls to the first available agent instead of prioritizing the call based on the value of the customers' accounts to the bank or routing them to the agent most qualified to deal with the issue, explains Marcia Blunt, a vice president with the bank.
Further, the system also could not keep pace with the bank's growth, Blunt adds. "I had reached capacity, so I had to do something," she recalls. "I could not add another [agent] seat."
New Technology on the Horizon
The search for new technology began in fall 2003, Blunt relates. Provident issued an RFP to five vendors detailing the bank's host system -- the Horizon OS/400-based core processing system from Fidelity Information Services (Jacksonville, Fla.)and what it expected to achieve with new technology. Following demonstrations by the vendors of their products, Provident chose Echopass Call Center On-Demand technology from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Echopass. Blunt declines to name the other vendors.
According to Blunt, Echopass offered a more appealing deal in terms of implementation time and pricing. The vendor committed to getting the system up and running within six months, which included the complex task of writing an interface for Provident's system, she continues. Other vendors said it would take up to 12 months, Blunt notes, adding that the Echopass solution cost about 30 percent less than the other products.
So, in spring 2004, the bank signed a deal with Echopass, deciding to go the application service provider (ASP) route. "We had to decide whether to make a capital purchase or do an ASP setup," Blunt says. "We decided not to do a capital purchase, mostly because then we would need to have the expertise in-house." An ASP approach also meant that Provident did not have to buy new hardware to support the solution.
Echopass handled most of the setup details in summer 2004, and the system went live in September of that year. Provident's end of the implementation consisted mostly of reconfiguring its T1 lines so that the bank could connect with Echopass. Echopass worked with the bank to analyze the most common questions customers have, which became the basis for agents' new home screens.
Now, when a call gets routed to an agent, information about that customer automatically appears on the agent's screen. That information is aimed at answering many of the most frequently asked questions, such as a customer's balance. Having that screen automatically appear means agents have to spend less time asking customers for information and performing data entry, Blunt stresses. And they do not need what Blunt calls "wrap time" to get ready for the next call, she adds.
This boost in efficiency has improved service and reduced costs, Blunt asserts. Now, "Fewer agents are needed to handle the volume of calls, freeing agents to pursue outbound calling," she says. "Through attrition, we have reduced our [contact center] staff by approximately 10 percent." Provident also has reduced call duration by 40 percent and cut customer wait times in half, now answering 80 percent of all inbound calls within 20 seconds, Blunt notes.
Provident plans to expand its relationship with Echopass to increase its e-banking system's automation. Currently, a Provident Bank customer can e-mail questions to the bank and receive a response in 24 hours. Using Echopass technology, customers could either chat online with contact center agents in real time or have their e-mails automatically routed to specialists trained in responding to particular problems. --Judy Ward