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The Winning Touch

Finding the proper balance between people and technology is key to contact center success.

Finding the proper balance between people and technology is key to contact center success

Among the handful of precepts guiding Hibernia National Bank as it battles bigger-name rivals is this: Don't be outspent on technology. Increasingly, the bank's technology strategy has come to focus on the contact center.

Hibernia's contact center has produced $300 million, or 25 percent, of the bank's consumer loan volume this year. Its agents make 10,000 outbound calls a day, plus handle 1,000 inbound calls and 150 loan applications from the bank's Web site. Even more impressive, 30 percent of outbound calls are connected, and 60 percent of those are "right party" contacts, meaning they result either in a sale or a "not interested."

"If you bank with us, you're going to get three calls a year," said Stacy Smith, VP at New Orleans-based Hibernia, adding that the do-not-call registries maintained by Louisiana have had no negative impact. "Our systems protect us against calling people who don't want to be called. The registries just eliminate the people who are going to say no anyway."

Among its larger competitors in Louisiana and eastern Texas, only Wells Fargo shows a similar dedication to the contact center, said Smith.

Lack of a sales culture is the chief culprit. "Sales and banking is an oxymoron. You don't sell in banking," Smith said.

This conception is undergoing a change, however, thanks in large part to new technologies and practices that allow staid call desks to be converted into efficient contact centers, capable of handling incoming queries from a number of channels. With a little bit of money and people investment, banks across North America have discovered that contact centers not only aid in customer retention, but also boost cross selling, thereby increasing overall profitability.

Touching Customers
Hibernia is one such bank that discovered money spent on a contact center goes a long way. Indeed, since 1995, when it opened Direct Bank, a telephone sales center located in Baton Rouge, Hibernia has spared no expense. "We invested in an autodialer and a customized Microsoft Access database that we use to track sales," said Smith. We've installed a Nortel Option 61 PBX and upgraded our incentive tracking system."

The centerpiece is Touchpoint, a CRM system from WebTone Technologies, Atlanta. Used in conjunction with an autodialer, Touchpoint acts as a central storage point for customer contact information. "Touchpoint houses every contact made with a Hibernia customer," Smith said. "That information is manipulated by our direct marketing department, then loaded into an autodialer, which does outbound calling."

Developed by Broadway & Seymour (a software company that was acquired by SAIC, which later sold Touchpoint to WebTone Technologies), Touchpoint required extensive modifications to suit Hibernia's contact center needs. "Touchpoint is pure Broadway & Seymour," said Smith. "Works half the time, took us five years to implement. I'd had some experience with Broadway & Seymour and knew it was going to be a long journey."

The effort is apparently paying off. In addition to enabling Hibernia to track all customer interactions, Touchpoint provides consistent and efficient handling of customer requests submitted via e-mail, fax, chat and telephone, plus powerful sales tools for cross-selling products and services.

On the inbound side, the Direct Bank unit works with Hibernia's customer service centers in New Orleans and Shreveport to identify sales opportunities. "We get about 250 calls a day from our customer service centers," said Smith. Hibernia intends to add a computer-telephony integration (CTI) system from Genesys, which uses automatic number identification (ANI) to generate screen pops for agents. "We're going to move to a Genesys platform for CTI and be more proactive with inbound calls."

An automated e-mail response system from Kana, installed earlier this year, has rewarded Hibernia with hefty productivity gains. "Last year, we did $20 million in loans through the Internet, or less than one percent of total volume," said Smith. "This year, we'll do close to $50 million."

The Kana system lets Hibernia provide a superior level of customer service without additional manpower, he said. "The ability to not let deals fall through the cracks. The ability to process loans more efficiently." Not that it's perfect. "Kana leaves a lot to be desired as far as tracking sales. But it's been an awesome improvement."

Profit Machines
Increased profitability posted by improved contact centers has not gone unnoticed in the industry. In a survey earlier this year by the American Bankers Association, more than 60 percent of respondents considered their call center a hub for customer contact. In fact, growing call centers into contact centers is the goal of half the respondents, 92 percent of whom have a Web presence.

The percentage of call centers supporting online services rose significantly over the past year, according to the ABA, with 54 percent of call centers handling online queries, compared to 26 percent the previous year.

"The trends are pretty well reported," said Wendy Wynn, senior vice president of electronic channels at Royal Bank of Canada. "We're seeing an increase in online banking usage and a decrease in telephone call volume. That's the primary trend."

Faced with a rising tide of e-mail (merely by enlarging the Contact Us button on its Web site, RBC doubled its e-mail volume), RBC installed Banter Reply, an automated response system from Banter, San Francisco. Among RBC's list of requirements were increasing productivity, creating a single, multichannel knowledge base, reducing e-mail handling costs, deflecting phone volume to online channels, and supporting both English- and French-speaking customers.

In the year since it installed Banter, RBC has seen productivity jump 180 percent despite a 45 percent rise in e-mail volume. "We've seen tremendous productivity gains from Banter," said Wynn.

Over 250 agents at 14 different locations are using Banter. "We started using Banta within the contact centers, but it's meant to be an enterprise e-mail management solution," said Susan Coyle, manager of call center development at RBC.

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