7 Strategies To Support Self-Service

Technology tips to lower call center volumes and deepen interactions with members.

Wonder where customer service is headed? Just step inside a McDonald’s and order a Big Mac and fries. In a growing number of restaurants, customers are tapping their orders into self-service kiosks inside the store or picking up their food curbside after placing orders on a mobile app.

This summer, McDonald’s announced it is installing 1,000 self-service kiosks per quarter and plans to modernize all 14,000 locations by 2020. Cashiers are transitioning to customer experience roles.

A similar sea change is occurring in countless retail establishments across the country.

In the financial services sector, the march toward self-service began more than two decades ago with interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Although first generation IVRs were much-maligned by callers, they’re now indispensable for filtering simple tasks from heavy call center workloads. For example, Wright-Patt Credit Union ($4.3B, Beavercreek, OH) averages 93,000 calls to its call center every month across member service, cards, online banking, lending, and more. Its IVR system handles up to 250,000 calls a month.


With Bank of America rolling out its virtual financial assistant, Erica, early this summer, the race toward the next evolution in self-service is well under way. According to Gartner’s top seven trends for enterprise call centers and customer service in 2018, consumers seem to be evolving faster than the customer care provided by brands. AI (artificial intelligence) and cognitive technologies notably, chatbot technologies are dominating the conversation.

But rather than leap into the latest technology, many credit unions are modernizing existing systems by introducing new mobile and text-based services, multifactor authentication, aggregated accounts and budgeting, video conferencing, and more. The result? Lower call center volumes and deeper interactions with members.

People want their financial institution to be big in terms of its capability, but they want it to be small in terms of service, says James Urban, assistant vice president of the member experience center at Community First Credit Union of Florida ($1.6B, Jacksonville, FL). There’s a future in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, chat bots, and machine learning. But, it always comes back to the question, does it make sense?’ For me, the answer is yes’ because it means more convenience for members.

A panel of member services executives and call center directors convened earlier this year at a Callahan Executive Roundtable to discuss finding the right balance between self-service and call center interactions. These are some of their tips for meeting the demands.

No. 1: Start with a solid technology foundation.


Arlington Community FCU
Data as of 06.30.18

HQ: Arlington, VA
ASSETS: $318.7M
MEMBERS: 21,691
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 23.4%
ROA: 0.36%

Many credit unions have recently completed or are undergoing core system replacement projects that have been years in the making. For most, this is an essential foundation to more easily and reliably roll out future online services.

To enhance its online banking, Arlington Community Federal Credit Union ($318.7M, Arlington, VA) had to first replace two older systems in December 2016. But rather than switching over at once, the credit union rolled out online services over the next year, gradually replacing key functions such as mobile deposit, transfers, and loan payments.

We wanted to make sure it was the highest standard, says Chris Sundlof, vice president of member experience at Arlington Community FCU.

Chris Sundlof, VP of Member Experience, Arlington Community FCU

Recent features to its new Alkami platform include self-service ACH payments to and from other financial institutions and account aggregation. After a release, the credit union analyzes user feedback and enhances features in a fast, iterative process.

We’ve seen massive adoption over the past year and a half, and we’re seeing call volumes decrease, Sundlof says.

The credit union’s average monthly call volume has dropped from 7,163 calls in 2017 to 6,227 so far in 2018. Taking into consideration the credit union’s 4.5% membership growth, the volume of calls fell from 34% to 29%.

It used to be that you had online banking and mobile apps, and maybe every six months or so you had a significant update, Sundlof says. Now, we’re pushing out updates and enhancements constantly. We had to learn how to be nimble and how to build sustainable processes.


Wright-Patt Credit Union
Data as of 06.30.18

HQ: Beavercreek, OH
MEMBERS: 366,692
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.3%
ROA: 1.26%

Wright-Patt CU has also been investing heavily in self-service options, upgrading its whole online experience with quick balance and touch and face identification. In February 2018, the credit union rolled out the ability to make loan payments from other financial institutions through WPCU mobile and online banking.

Members are migrating quickly to this convenient way to make a payment on their WPCU loan, says Steve Zimmer, director of the cooperative’s member help center. Members processed more than 5,000 loan payments through this channel in July 2018.

Steve Zimmer, Director of the Member Help Center, Wright-Patt Credit Union

No. 2: Make authentication easy.

Login issues like forgotten passwords or missing information are the No. 1 reason members abandon self-service systems.

TDECU ($3.2B, Lake Jackson, TX) recently signed a contract with ACI to upgrade its payment portal, which enables members to make online payments toward an auto loan or mortgage from third-party accounts. According to the website’s FAQ, customer care can no longer reset passwords over the phone.

The change in providers ensures a more user-friendly, self-service experience for our members, including online and IVR password resets, says Jason Carter, director of member care at TDECU. The goal is to reduce call volumes and open up our call center queue to address full-service member needs.


Data as of 06.30.18

HQ: Lake Jackson, TX
MEMBERS: 289,799
ROA: 1.35%

And because nobody likes to sign in to an IVR system and then struggle to get a call center representative on the phone, Wright-Patt upgraded its mobile banking and IVR system to support speech recognition and smart menu options.

It allows for a seamless transition from the IVR to the contact center, Zimmer says.

No. 3: Take full advantage of ALL channels.

Jason Carter, Director of Member Care, TDECU

Gartner noted that contact center leaders are increasing their investments in digital channels, with the top spending projects being web chat, mobile apps, and social media. However, an often-overlooked channel is almost as old as the cell phone itself SMS text messaging.

Sure, text alerts have been around for years, but how many financial institutions take full advantage of this channel? Micah Solomon, a customer service consultant and Forbes contributor, notes that people spend five times longer messaging and texting than on voice calls. One coveted member pool, millennials, text an average of 67 times a day. It’s time to look into augmenting your voice-based customer support, Solomon advises.

Community First Credit Union of Florida, which fields approximately 300,000 calls to its call center annually, is piloting a texting tool from Quiq that lets new members and loan applicants opt in to receive text communications from call center agents.


Community First Credit Union of Florida
Data as of 06.30.18

HQ: Jacksonville, FL
MEMBERS: 129,674
ROA: 1.26%

It starts with a text alert, but we can see their responses in the system and our agents can have a conversation with them, Urban says. We’re opening memberships and we’re helping people complete requirements for their loans through text messaging.

So far, he said, Community First has seen a 94% combined adoption rate. Agents are responding to texts from their desktops, so they can have multiple conversations going at once. Urban sees great opportunities for expanding texting into other member services but is currently working through privacy and authentication questions.

James Urban, AVP of the Member Experience Center, Community First Credit Union of Florida

As more financial institutions replace tellers with interactive teller machines, the concept of live video chat isn’t much of a stretch these days. TDECU recently upgraded its video conferencing system with Vidyo, a web-based service that supports high-definition video.

Next, the credit union plans to give members the ability to log on to its website and talk face-to-face with team members. Although this is not aimed at reducing call center interactions, TDECU sees it as a way to enhance the self-service experience.

Members will have the opportunity to video conference directly from a TDECU-owned ATM, allowing for the convenience of self-service transactions while receiving a full-service help desk experience, says TDECU’s Carter.

Carter adds that TDECU is reviewing proposals to add chatbots to its website and mobile banking platform to give members instantaneous answers to frequently asked questions. If a member asks to transfer to a real person, the online support team member will receive the full chat transcript.

No. 4: Give members the big picture.

Want members to take advantage of self-service options? Give them a one-stop shop. A variety of accounting software vendors and online services offer account aggregation and budgeting services, and many credit unions are featuring these tools on their websites.

Wright-Patt Credit Union recently introduced an improvedMoney Management platform, which gives members better auto-categorizing of transactions, a debt payoff calculator, an interactive budget widget, and improved tracking of potential tax deductions online or via the credit union’s mobile app.

Money Management is one of the self-service features that enhances our member experience, says Kate North, e-services manager at Wright-Patt. It allows members to see where they’re spending, create visual budgets, set financials goals, and figure out how to more efficiently pay off debt.

Self-service needs to be safe, easy to use, and in a channel that the member want. If we do that right, members will use self-service. If we don’t, they won’t and that’s on us.

Darrick Weeks, COO, at Wright-Patt Credit Union

No. 5: Educate! Educate! Educate!

Launching a shiny new tool is one thing, but getting the word out about a set of new online functions is a completely different challenge, with members already inundated with email, texts, and social media posts.

Americans on average spend 23.6 hours a week online, up from 9.4 hours in 2000, according to USC Annenberg’s 2017 Digital Future Report, so these days it takes a multichannel approach to reach members: websites, apps, email newsletter, billboards, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and more.

But in many cases, it takes personal interactions in the branch or through the call center to educate members about self-service capabilities. And that work can never start too early, according to Urban at Community First Credit Union of Florida.

We educate members from the beginning, Urban says. We help them log in to online banking, put their app on their phone, and make sure they can access their accounts on Day 1.

Every call to the contact center is also a teachable moment. TDECU has seen good results by incorporating self-service tips into the quality assurance steps for each call. For example, after call center reps promoted self-service check deposit options, deposits through that channel increased from 6% in 2017 to 12% today.

It takes time to change member behavior, TDECU’s Carter says. But as awareness improves, we are seeing an increase in the use of our self-service tools.

Arlington Community FCU’s Sundlof says it comes down to training personnel to evaluate needs, look for opportunities, and present solutions that show the benefits of a self-service.

It’s a skill and an art form that you have to train for, he says. You need a robust sales and service coaching program where you’re constantly measuring results and holding your staff to a higher standard. When our staffers follow the program, we see higher conversion rates.

Get Real For Real Results

Looking for credit union-vetted strategies like this one? Callahan Executive Roundtables offer off-the-record conversations with credit union leaders looking to find and share ideas. Attendees drive these unscripted discussions and leave the room with actionable takeaways they can implement at their own institution.

No. 6: Use carrots, not sticks.

Customer care teams know that for some members, old habits never change. Some will perform most or all of their transactions in the same branch. Others will regularly call the call center for balance and transaction history information.

Self-service is great, Urban says. People like it to be available, but they don’t like being pushed into it.

That’s why, when trying to change behaviors, it’s better to use a carrot than a stick. TDECU believes the right incentives can convince recalcitrant members to move to self-service.

TDECU recently launched Forward Checking, which comes with several incentives for members to go digital-only a 0.40% APY on balances (compared to 0.12% for classic checking), a free quarterly credit score, and free identity theft recovery services. There’s no minimum balance to qualify, but members must enroll in mobile deposit or make at least six debit card transactions a month.

While in its infancy, we are seeing 30% adoption rates of Forward Checking among new members, Carter says.

The idea is to reduce our call volume, make our calls less transactional and more relationship-based.

Chris Sundlof, VP of Member Experience, Arlington Community FCU

No. 7: Make every call count.

There’s a sound business reason for self-service: It lowers transaction costs and frees up call center and branch personnel. Instead of looking up balances, agents have more time to focus on members’ financial goals.

The idea was to reduce our low-value transactional call volume so we had more capacity to focus on relationships and complex problem solving, says Sundlof. To do that, we needed to provide our members with a system that was sophisticated yet simple. We knew the future for us was our digital channel.

As the digital economy advances, so will member expectations about what makes an enjoyable self-service experience. The pressure is on for call center leaders, technologists, marketers, and trainers to pick the right tools and roll them out seamlessly to members.

Self-service needs to be safe, easy to use, and in a channel that the member wants, says Darrick Weeks, chief operating officer at Wright-Patt Credit Union. If we do that right, members will use self-service. If we don’t, they won’t and that’s on us, not them.


July 8, 2019

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