Onward And Outward With Call Center Strategies

With the right approach, credit unions can have a willing, engaged audience for their outbound campaigns.


From their beginning, call centers have traditionally been associated with ringing phones, taking messages, and passing them on.  But today’s call centers have evolved to become substantial contributors to an organization’s value proposition. More importantly, they are a key differentiator for credit unions as model cooperatives. For a growing number of credit unions, call centers are as much a part of their DNA as low rates and personalized member service. Serving the member on their own terms helps create the trust and loyalty traditional competitors can only dream about. 

What Outbound Calls Mean To A Cooperative

The foundation of the credit union industry is the cooperative platform, and call centers, if designed properly, can provide cooperative differentiation for every member interaction. Moving beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary requires planning and establishing a proactive approach for incorporating the call center into the fabric of the credit union. It’s no longer a one dimension service ─ accepting incoming calls, answering member questions about account balances, and resetting passwords ─ it’s about establishing a value proposition for the member through accountability and having their best interest in mind. In many ways, a call center provides its greatest value through the execution of targeted, topical outbound calls. 

Whether it’s simply saying “thank you” for their business or letting members know they qualify for something special, call centers are proving that individuals are receptive to hearing from their credit unions. For some institutions, the concept of outbound calling still has a negative stigma, and for others it is an affordability issue such as perceived staff limitations, being shut out by the cost to buy from a vendor.

But for many thriving credit unions, proactive outbound member communication has become a core competency and the key to long-term sustainability. The emergence of cooperative call centers may have guaranteed that everyone can attend the party, but they still have to put the date on the calendar. 

The Elements Of Success

Outbound calls, like inbound calls, have characteristics that affect the disposition of the call. Telephone skills, product knowledge, and professionalism are a factor in both types of calls. It takes a different skill set to be successful at outbound calling than with inbound. 

One difference is the training required for inbound versus outbound calls, including the need for scripted conversations for outbound callers. Information about the member is helpful for inbound calls, but it’s critical for outbound call center employees who depend heavily on details about the member. Position these calls to engage the member and make them feel like they are part of the credit union. 

Get to know members from their inaugural point of contact, even if that is through online channels. Through a few phone calls, outbound calling staff can learn these members preferences, ask if they have specific financial needs, and listen for clues of an anticipated life event such as college, a baby, or retirement. Diary those communications for future follow-ups. Form a pattern of trust from the first experience, and the credit union is in the position to create a real bond of loyalty with the member.

Use The Right Tools

Buy or build? The answer depends on the institution. This decision should include consideration of the process (how) and people (who), but the tools leading to a successful call program are similar. Now is the time to assess what the institution has available and plan to obtain any items, features, or individuals that are lacking. Top priorities include:

  • Operational training, including product knowledge, soft skills, analytics, communication/writing/  speaking, and sales strategies.
  • A data system that can be queried and analyzed to obtain member financial information.
  • Query tools and data mining software.
  • A modern phone system.
  • Online chat capabilities.
  • A smart messaging.
  • Text/push technology.
  • A tracking and follow-up system for all communications.
  • Automated messaging to send emails.

Events, Products, Services

The concept of cross-sales is as ancient as marketing itself, but the approach must be fresh and vibrant to get results. This is true even for outbound call agents. Through training and demonstration, make each agent aware of how to determine the products and services they should offer during a call. Knowing what to sell is as important as how to sell it. When the relationship is grounded in trust and members understand the reason for the call, they will be willing to listen and answer questions. 

Make your product announcements targeted and topical. Popular reasons to reach out include:

  • College loans
  • CDs
  • Retirement planning
  • Auto loans
  • Refinance
  • Member feedback (be sure to ask specific questions from a script)
  • Annual meeting announcements
  • New board member or committee solicitation
  • Financial literacy classes
  • Membership drives (The gym down the street asks for referrals.  Why not you?)
  • The arrival of new services such as mobile text, bill payment, or personal financial management software

Make The Call

Outbound call campaigns are generally focused on one segment of the credit union membership or consumer products, making it possible to gather data about members, determine the target market, write a script, and prepare agents with the training they need to be successful. 

There is another major reason why having the absolute trust of members is so important. Credit unions have exclusive access to data such as credit reports, credit scores, income, member age, and even life events either on the horizon or recently occurred. When placing that outbound call, it’s tempting to think a member will be reluctant to speak with the agent because of their access to personal information and the Big Brother connotation that comes with it. To prevent this, transform the mindset of agents to help them understand they are not cold calling.  They are contacting members who have consciously decided to join the credit union. When an outbound call is made, the intent is to serve members and offer them a product or service for which they qualify and from which they will benefit. 

Rewards And Recognition

Money might not be the reward of choice in all circumstances, but credit unions should infuse a call center with a method and budget to reward its champions. Rewards can include verbal praise, a compliment in front of others, thank you notes, gratitude expressed in an email, a few hours off with pay, or a gift card.

Call centers, whether operated in-house or in partnership with a professional call center, are an integral part of credit union success and long-term member loyalty.

Xtend, Inc. is a credit union service organization (CUSO) formed in 2002 with the sole purpose of increasing the competitive advantage of its owning credit unions through strategic products, services, and partnerships.