A Five-Point Test to Determine Compatibility in Call Center Partnerships

Credit unions across the country are forging call center partnerships in an effort to provide members with 24/7 care.


Credit unions across the country are forging call center partnerships in an effort to provide members with 24/7 care. Internal call centers staffed only during business hours do miss out on growth opportunities, but instead of eliminating an effective call center, consider ways to complement it with overflow support and evening and weekend service.

To determine if a call center partnership is appropriate, review your credit union's business strategy and core capabilities. Third-party partnership can extend service coverage and help the credit union gain a competitive edge, so be thoughtful in evaluating potential partners. This FIVE-POINT TEST is a useful tool in an evaluation exercise:

  1. Will members receive the same service regardless of who is taking the call?
    Superior customer service should be standard, no matter where the person answering the phone resides. To get a better understanding of the service offered by a third-party call center, visit it.

    "Go out and see it in action," advises Barry Roach of Vice President, Retail Delivery of Meriwest Credit Union ($1.1B, San Jose, CA). Meriwest partnered with PSCU Financial Services in 2006 to expand its call center hours and offer a 24/7 and holiday service option. Roach spent a day in Detroit observing a PSCU call center. "I came away with a good feeling seeing the professionalism of the call agents."

    Sharing scripts and customer service expectations also goes a long way in creating seamless service.

    "Be very clear on what your members' expectations are and what your expectation is," says Roach, who was impressed with PSCU's "rich scripting program" that allowed Meriwest to provide specific words for customer service agents to use when talking about products and services. Something as simple as standardized greetings, problem-solving techniques and follow-ups will disguise minor discrepancies that might exist between internal and eternal locations.
  2. Will the internal and external call centers offer the same products and services?
    For many credit unions, the contact center is the largest "branch," as measured by the frequency and volume of member interaction. More calls translate into more revenue, so decide whether the external call center will provide the same services as the in-house center. Providing a live agent that could resolve some issues and escalate others was a better option for Meriwest, who does not offer a full suite of solutions for its after-hours call center.

    "People don’t necessarily expect immediate resolution for every problem," Roach says. "But they do appreciate immediate acknowledgment and knowing their problem will be resolved."

    If the external center will be full-service — or if it will make outbound calls — be ready to share the necessary financial information with its agents.
  3. Who's on staff and how are they trained?
    In an optimal partnership, members won't be able to identify external call agents from internal ones. To achieve this liquidity in personnel, the same considerations that go into hiring credit union employees must be made when staffing the external center. Ask about the center's hiring process. How are employees identified? Do they typically have member service experience? Does the center check references and credit history or require drug and psychological testing?

    Training is an important step in the development of superior member service, so after call agents are hired, what training does the center provide? Do employees train for an afternoon, a day, a week, or more? Does the amount of required training depend on the amount of member service experience? Is training theoretical in nature or do new hires shadow agents to see real world situations and identify best practices? Does the center offer continuous training and education opportunities for agents who want to increase their call efficiencies?

    Finally, how does the external center measure quality control and evaluate staff? Studies show that first call resolution drives member loyalty. How many calls do not require a follow-up or transfer (is it in the 90th percentile)? How fast are calls answered? Industry standard indicates that 80 percent of calls should be answered in 30 seconds or less. In addition to quantitative measures, how does the center evaluate call quality? Does it employ secret shoppers? When an agent falls short of clearly defined expectations, how does the center address shortcomings and identify paths to improvement? What is the process for reprimands and, if need be, removal?
  4. Is your credit union's data secure?
    In this digital age where information can be transferred and stolen at the click of a button, the safety of information is an ongoing concern. Determining the level of data security, however, can be a relatively easy task. Ask the external call center if it has SAS 70 Type II certification. The Statement of Auditing Standards No. 70 (SAS 70) indicates that the center's control objectives and activities has been through an in-depth audit, and a Type II report will describe the center's controls as well as provide detailed testing of those controls over a six-month period. Don't forget to ask the date of the last audit, and take a look at the center's audit and logging proficiencies. Credit unions also want to make sure any potential call center partner is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant, meaning it processes, stores and transmits credit card information under the requirements set forth by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council.
  5. Is the call center using the most effective technology?
    Finally, decide which tools you think best help call centers adapt to and effectively handle changes in call volume without affecting its level of customer service; then ask potential partners if they have the requisite equipment. Many professional third party contact centers have work force management tools, recording systems with high-grade encrypted technology, scripting tools, real time call analytics and cross-selling applications. Although the relationship between the credit union and external call center will need to be custom-fit, there are certain components that are imperative to the member experience. Call centers must be able to clearly mark escalated calls and alert appropriate team members, and members should have the ability to access agents via web chat or email.

Credit unions pride themselves on providing exceptional customer service. They treat their members like friends and family and so should an outsourced call center. High-quality call interactions help solidify member loyalty and the right fit with a third-party contact center can be an appropriate solution to optimize internal staff and resolve issues during high-volume periods.

"As members have discovered the after-hours service, we've seen an increase in overall calls" Roach says. "That makes it worth our while to continue it."