Improving Service Level at Your Call Center

In most financial institutions a service level of 80% of calls answered in 20 seconds or less is standard. Credit unions can improve service level performance and reduce member wait time in many ways.


Do you work at a credit union with members who enjoy waiting in a line at a branch or in a phone queue?    If you have bagels and good coffee in the branch, you may be able to get away with long waiting times.  The call center is most likely a different story.  Long waits on hold in a call center often result in unhappy members.

Improving service level is a common goal for any call center.  In most financial institutions a service level of 80% of calls answered in 20 seconds or less is standard. The service level decision will ultimately impact almost every area of the call center.  For example, when service level goes up occupancy rate per agent (the time employees spend talking on the phone and on after call work) goes down. There are many ways to improve service level performance and reduce member wait time.  Some key strategies for improving service level are:


Adding agents to the call center will improve service level.  While investing resources into a call center is important, there are other strategies around staffing that can impact service levels. For example, one of the most common issues around call centers is client call backs due to incomplete information in the first call, according to Call Center Management on Fast Forward by Brad Cleveland and Julie Mayben. Focused training programs to help agents serve members during the first call may actually reduce call volume going forward and positively impact service levels. Also, staff involvement in the service goals can help. While service level is a management level goal, a call center staff that understands what goes into service level is much more likely to look for ways to make the call center successful. Call center front line employees, collaborating with management, will make a call center successful.

Call Routing

The phone map at the call center should be part of the service level discussion.   What decisions have been made on skill based routing?    How are the work timers set?  When do calls overflow to different agent groups? Some other key decisions around call routing are:

- Main Member Greeting at the Call Center – Some credit unions are committed to making sure a member reaches a call center agent rather than a recorded voice.  Others have developed relatively complex routing plans that can take members through many levels.  A rule of thumb for the member greeting is three levels of options with three choices per level.  A simple member greeting can help a member get to the right agent quicker and positively impact service level. USAA has an easy to follow greeting for its clients.

- Handling high frequency, low complexity calls –  Few members may say they enjoy working with an automated phone teller.  For many call centers, an extremely high volume of calls fall into the high frequency, low complexity category.  Keeping members happy is most important.  However, are there some ways to allow members to opt into automated options while in the phone path rather than going to an agent?


Selecting a good organization to outsource calls can be another option for improving service levels.  SEFCU, a $1.4 billion credit union in Albany, NY with 154,000 members, uses outsourcing strategically to manage its busy call center.

Chris Ward, SEFCU’s Contact Center Director, advises the following when making a decision about outsourcing calls:

  • Clearly define your outsourcing goals and objectives
  • Shared branching options, along with custom options, should be considered
  • Understand the types of calls that you are comfortable with outsourcing
  • Educate your staff on what to say when transparency breaks down
  • Consider resources for handling follow-ups and escalated issues

To learn more about SEFCU’s performance and other successful strategies credit unions are employing to optimize the effectiveness of their call centers, sign up for the webinar Maximizing Your Call Center's Productivity and Impact on November 29, 2007.





Nov. 26, 2007


  • I''m always looking for ways to improve our call center. Thank you.
    Judie Miller
  • I am a new Call Center Manager. Webinar was very informative.
    Jonette Humphreys