Use Call Centers to Increase Member Satisfaction

In a world where technology has raised expectations to deliver on its promise of better and faster service, it is imperative that credit unions develop strategies that meets member needs.


It's a complex, need-it-now world. But at the same time that technology has raised expectations, its failure to deliver on its promise of better and faster service has raised the collective hackle of consumers.

Entrepreneur Paul English of, for example, became so frustrated with interactive voice response systems he compiled a “cheat sheet” that tells the quickest way to get to a human at major companies. The response to that? Overwhelming. “The 'get human' fury unleashed by over one million consumers has become too great to be handled by the sole blogger who started this campaign in 2005,” he notes at “The database of secret phone numbers and codes has now moved to the new website .”

Equally frustrating to an extensive list of automated options is the recording announcing, “Our office is closed for the day” particularly when the “always open” sign is virtually posted on the Web.

It's within this environment that credit unions seeking to attract and retain members must operate. Simply put, members want convenience, with prompt and accurate service. They want to do business on their terms, not the credit union's or that of any other financial institution. Usually, they want it now.

Call centers have become a key element in meeting these new demands. Having 24-hour call center service means never closing. So if your member needs information or a transaction on Sunday morning at a boat show, Monday evening at a car dealer, or Saturday afternoon at a home improvement store, your credit union is open. A member resource center allows a credit union to offer personal service at a lower cost, including growing without the need to add physical space, staff or lobby hours. For community-based credit unions, a 24/7 center may be a competitive necessity.

Getting members the right answers as quickly and efficiently as possible requires personnel who are knowledgeable about the credit union's products, services, and promotions. Staffing can make the difference between success and failure for a call center: H aving the right number of representatives at the right time is critical.

To implement a 24/7 call center a credit union has three options: 1) Operate it in-house, 2) Outsource it completely, or 3) A blend: operate it in-house, but outsource overflow and after-hours calls, as well as in business continuity situations.

To determine which option is right for your credit union, you'll need to consider the following:

What can you afford?

In-house call centers need robust staffing because even when de mand is light, the call centers must be staffed for heavy demand. In a 24/7 world, personnel costs can take a heavy toll on an expense budget. You also need to figure in back-up. If, for example, you can only afford a small call center with 12 employees, if one is on vacation, one has a doctor's appointment, one calls in sick, and another has to leave for a school emergency, that’s one-third of your call center. Cutting corners on staffing is risky because member satisfaction may plummet if there are long waits, and overloaded agents are frustrated agents. Supplementing an in-house call center with outsourced overflow and after-hours mitigates these issues.

Because credit unions only pay for calls processed, an external 24-hour call center can save the credit union from the extra expense of staffing a call center that's underutilized, including the cost of compensation and benefits, training, facilities and technology support. Outsourcing can also cut labor costs because providers often operate out of areas with a lower cost of living. Providers also can achieve economies of scale not possible in-house, and are able to hire people who are a good fit for agent positions. Call center employees must be skilled in answering inquiries promptly, whether from telephone calls, text messages, web chats, or faxed loan applications. In addition, outsourced call centers can perform specific functions, such as handling calls in languages other than English, a service that would be more difficult for an in-house center.

Do you have the technology in place?

Web sites are the preferred channel for a growing number of members, and much of their site usage is after hours. Keep in mind that if members don't get the information they need from the Web site, and can't contact the credit union, they may turn to another site that offers 24-hour support. Meeting member needs 24/7 may require complementing telephone service with email and Web chat -- live Internet interactions between members and call center agents. To coordinate both channels, an interaction switch is used to route calls to the right agent, replacing the phone switch as the core technology. Some members prefer a Web chat to a telephone conversation.

Technology also plays a role in contact center management: Reporting capabilities provide the information necessary to ensure the center is running effectively and efficiently.

What functions do you want covered?

A call center can provide members with answers to their account questions, but that's just a start. Call center providers are adding new capabilities all the time including l oan applications, stop payment processing, dispute processing, rewards fulfillment, new member enrollment and follow-up, plus outbound calls for collections, vehicle loan recapture and sales and marketing. The term, “call center,” really doesn't tell the whole story. Most are interaction centers where agents not only can answer the phone, but also click to see chat, e-mail or a fax on their computer screens.

If you outsource, will you provide access to member data so the call is seamless to members?

With custom call center services, such as that provided by Digital Dialogue to FSCC’s shared branch network, calls are answered in the credit union’s name because each credit union has its own toll-free number.

It' s up to your credit union to decide which inquiries you're comfortable having a call center handle.

But if call center agents have virtually the same information the credit union has, they can greet members by name, follow scripts, provide information, and perform transactions such as share transfers or loan originations. The more activity you restrict, the more referrals back to the credit union you'll have. This can leave members frustrated and angry, defeating one of the key purposes of having a call center in the first place.

What will you do in case of emergency?

In-house call centers not only must staff for “business as usual,” they must have a contingency plan in place for disaster recovery. Using a call center for after hours and overflow means you can also use it as a business continuity measure in a disaster. If you have totally outsourced your call center, you'll want to find out what they do in case of an emergency!

In today’s 24/7, 365-day world, an effective call center strategy has become a critical component of a credit union’s member service strategy. To provide the level of service that their members demand, each credit union needs to develop their own approach that meets member needs while conforming to the credit union’s organizational and financial realities.