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Call Centers as the New Front Lines: Steps for Improving the Remote Member Experience

As the new front lines, credit union call centers are charged with calming the nerves of members, understanding concerns, and providing support and solutions as quickly as possible, all with a superior quality of service.

In this moment of deep uncertainty and constant fluidity, credit union call centers are serving as a lifeline to members who are afraid, worried, and confused. As jobless claims top 22 million, over 60% of Americans say their household income has been impacted. Social distancing measures have affected our ability to go to work and they have also limited members’ ability to visit credit union branches. Branches used to be the lynchpin for the superior member experience provided by credit unions. According to Fiserv, half of members visited a branch at least monthly before the crisis. Today, credit union branches are shuttered or only open for drive through and scheduled appointments.

The current crisis has elevated trends toward a digital-first strategy. Yet, many consumers still want personal interaction: Accenture reports that 57% of consumers prefer call support as their first choice to get answers and that 58% more customers prefer to solve urgent issues by calling. Members may have been willing to wait for answers during the early days of the pandemic but call center leaders need to reduce occupancy rates and wait times for both operational and member experience considerations.

Call center executives at GreenState Credit Union, Michigan State Federal Credit Union, Community First Federal Credit Union (FL), and Golden 1 Credit Union have reported huge increases in call volumes, wait times, and occupancy rates. Primary request types are for loan modifications and inquiries related to economic relief programs. In response, credit unions are reallocating resources to the call center and working with technology providers to implement solutions that answer member needs more rapidly and relieve agent pressure. Meanwhile, the transition to remote work has added to the challenge as credit unions have had to scramble to facilitate systems access for remote staff.

Future of the Call Center

In January, Filene facilitated a “Future of the Call Center” Summit. Hosted by PSCU and Suncoast Credit Union, leaders of 13 of the largest credit union call centers throughout the United States gathered with subject-matter experts from several call center technology providers (PSCU, LogMeIn, Jacada, ConvergeOne, and Nuance). Leveraging work from Filene’s report Member Experience and Service Excellence, Part One, we identified common call center pain points from both the member and agent perspective. We reviewed how credit unions score in each area and spent time developing a business model for improving service delivery in three critical areas: self-service; personalization; and automation. The lessons drawn from our pre-crisis environment remain relevant, particularly when combined with renewed focus on empowering call center agents and leveraging partners.

Improving Service Delivery

Self-service is more important than ever, and credit unions should invest in virtual agent capabilities. With customer contacts at all-time highs, credit unions need to develop self-service pathways to reduce call center loads—but the trick is for them to be effective. This issue becomes particularly important – for both members and agents – when frustrated members begin “channel thrashing” and take up extra resources shifting from one channel to another in an effort to solve their problem.

Personalization. With the new demand for digital-first service delivery, credit unions need to understand what a remote channel member prefers, how they use that channel, and the products and services that they need to access from that channel. In the words of Chuck Fagan at PSCU, “data can tell you how” to personalize the online experience. Despite the massive amounts of member information at their disposal, most credit unions have made little use of that data to personalize remote product and service delivery. Investing here will help generate member “warm fuzzies” about their remote interactions and helps credit unions create an online member experience that can rival branch service.

Automation ties together personalization and self-service. Wouldn’t it be nice if your credit union could deliver the most relevant information to members seamlessly, online, and at the right time? One use case for automation is authentication. Due to experiences with other remote service providers, members increasingly expect a single sign-in and to be remembered throughout a service experience, even when they are shunted across channels. Credit unions can leverage automation to protect members, lower frustration (for both members and staff), and reduce hold times.

Renewed Focus

Empowering call center agents. More than ever, now is the time to equip your call center reps with the tools and up-to-date information they need to resolve problems on the first call. Ensure reps are up to date on business changes that might impact members. Agents need access to a reliable knowledge base that is easy for them to use so they can provide solutions to members as quickly as if they visited a branch in person. At the same time, recognize the additional pressures of remote work and care for your people.

Leverage partners. Remember that you are not alone. Providers are innovating on novel solutions. Jacada has helped several large financial service providers implement visual IVR programs for loan modifications like skip payments. Nuance Communications offers an automated voice queue that allows members to authenticate and leave a message with their service request. Bold360 from LogMeIn has released a rapid response FAQ widget. In as little as one day, credit unions can publish a web icon that gives consumers instant access to an FAQ related to the pandemic. Members can search from within the widget, and credit unions can update the FAQ as conditions change or based on member feedback.

Uncertainty has never been more palpable. The COVID public health crisis has caused a ripple effect in the economy and broader social fabric of our world. In our lifetimes, there may never be a more important moment for credit unions to fulfill their mission. As the new front lines, credit union call centers are charged with calming the nerves of members, understanding concerns, and providing support and solutions as quickly as possible, all with a superior quality of service. Now is the time when our empathy superpower, paired with the technology available to enable and amplify our services, will truly shine.

Read Filene's member experience research series (Part 1 and Part 2) to help your credit union define the experience it wants to deliver to members during these uncertain times.
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