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A Blueprint For Call Center Performance Excellence

Empowering employees to provide top-shelf member service requires careful selection, training, follow up and attention to their wellness.

One of the challenges group service providers in the credit union industry regularly face is delivering consistently superior service across a diverse range of clients. Credit unions’ systems and member servicing needs can vary from one to the other. Service solutions must be flexible and adaptive but practical and scalable as well; especially when the GSP is a cooperative organization whose investments in technology and practices must carry benefit to all the credit union owners of the cooperative.

A partnership with a CUSO that provides 24/7/365 call center support can greatly help credit unions meet their members’ requirements for high quality, personalized, and anytime service. Credit unions expect their call center partner to perform as a seamless extension of their own member service model and meet their standards for service level quality.

The formula for building and maintaining a high performance call center continues to evolve and includes much more than integrating new technology. The most efficient call centers strike a healthy balance of five components that collectively contribute to the call center’s success and to the satisfaction of the credit unions and their members employee empowerment, scalability, innovative approaches to fast issue resolution, creating a multi-skilled workforce, and a commitment to health and wellness.

Employee Empowerment

It is not unusual for contact centers that serve hundreds of unique clients and support an ever-changing array of payments products to tackle dozens of projects in a year. PSCU’s approach assigns each project to a different team comprising members who span all levels of call center management, from agents to vice presidents. While the senior leaders in each group steer the direction of the team, the supervisors and agents assume responsibility for completing project deliverables, using online tools to gain support for ideas, and polling the team or others for input and suggestions.

Successful call centers augment these changes with initiatives to increase face time between front-line staff and their supervisors through a combination of both physical and tactical changes. Contact centers are now an open floor plan designed to promote more collaboration. In addition to physical changes, coaching pilots are used to increase the amount of time and frequency with which supervisors meet with their agents to coach and build stronger relationships. Part of this strategy includes refining agent and supervisor scheduling processes to ensure supervisors have the opportunity to perform coaching even on the busiest days. In PSCU’s case, the approach has paid dividends in the form of higher quality scores and lower attrition.


Call centers live and breathe by their service levels. Service level metrics, such as speed of answer and occupancy rates, offer insights into efficiency and overall performance. Successful call centers grow and increase scalability while also ensuring and maintaining service levels. Opportunities for call routing optimization can dramatically reduce the number of specially trained agents required to answer calls by strategically adding prompts at the front end to select the reason for their call.

Similarly, scale can be created by consolidating the number of unique agent groups. This approach allows for coaching, training, PTO and maintaining occupancy rates. It also helps define responsibility for calls to ensure coverage and increase service level achievement. Service levels in PSCU call centers rose from 76% in 2014 to 83% in 2015, while occupancy remained flat. Because credit union call centers, such as PSCU’s, operate in a dynamic environment with many requests for product support, this model allows the call center to add new skills and products without risking coverage or drastically increasing the amount of staff required.

Innovative Approaches

In the CUSO call center service model, member service calls are frequently processed by using a flexible scripting system. This application allows the CUSO’s agents to use the same greetings, closings, terminology and processes as its credit unions to ensure consistency in how each credit union’s calls are processed.

Member credit unions can easily update scripting in real time to ensure agents have immediate access to key information needed to answer inquiries including events that may be happening in real time, such as branch closures due to weather, updates to products, and system outages. The scripting application enables agents to escalate concerns internally or externally to the appropriate credit union in real time. A team of dedicated resources ensures member inquiries are resolved or escalated to the credit unions based on the credit union’s specific requirements.

Call centers also use other platforms to service credit union members’ calls related to their credit union credit and debit card accounts because data for these accounts often reside on third-party systems in addition to the credit union’s core system. PSCU uses a custom, in-house developed application that presents account data to representatives and includes a knowledge base for managing dozens of call types. The combination of the custom scripting and front-end member service gives agents a powerful toolset to deliver the ultimate member service experience.

In addition, CUSO call centers supplement the high-touch personalized and agent-based service experience with technology-centric solutions such as Interactive Voice Response platforms and self-service applications that give members additional service options. The newest cloud-based IVR platforms support speech-initiated commands as well as additional call resolution capabilities that provide faster service at lower cost for technology acquisition and maintenance. Self-service online and mobile applications empower credit union members to easily check balances, transaction history, make payments, and monitor their accounts anytime and anywhere.

When the quality of the member experience is the prime objective of the credit union call center, many call centers are adding a new role focused on continually monitoring and improving the member experience. This role is typically now responsible for conducting call calibration meetings internally and with credit unions to brainstorm new approaches to member care and issue resolution. Relatively simple process improvements, such as simplifying forms for monitoring and documenting the quality of call resolution, enable more evaluations to be completed, which helps ensure higher issue resolution rates.

Multi-Skilled Workforce

Some of a credit union organization’s most valuable employees began their careers as a front-line call center agent dedicated to the art of service. The call center is an ideal place to learn the company’s business purpose and mission. That’s why it is important to discover and retain top talent.

PSCU, for example, uses multiple sources for recruiting, including websites, radio advertisements, and onsite job fairs, which allow potential candidates to be interviewed immediately.

New employee training for call center representatives is essential for laying a strong foundation for service excellence. During the first 90 days of employment, new agents have one-on-one face time with mentors and supervisors and attend monthly sessions designed to add the product and soft skill knowledge that helps them progress and gain confidence in their new role. Ongoing opportunities for computer-based training enable agents to continually add more product knowledge and broaden their skill set. Further, all agents are required to complete virtual compliance training aimed at helping them identify fraud and potential account risks.

Commitment To Health And Wellness

Employee health and wellness is no longer an overlooked or extraneous factor in a company’s operational efficiency. PSCU incorporates a robust and enterprise-wide wellness program called THRIVE. THRIVE’s mission is to promote total well-being for employees and their families with programs focused on four pillars that support total wellness: mind, body financial, and community. The company offers massage therapy by a licensed practitioner as well as an Employee Assistance Program that offers counseling in numerous areas that may be causing distractions for employees.

For each employee’s physical development and well-being, the CUSO provides weight management, exercise programs (with rewards), and onsite fitness boot camp, tobacco cessation programs and a fully equipped wellness center available 24/7/365. To encourage and promote financial fitness, employees can participate in the company’s generous 401(k) savings program and have no-cost access to expert financial planning resources.

Keeping with the credit union core values that include service to community, the credit union cooperative supports charity work by employees by providing paid days off from work to serve as volunteers in fundraising efforts and participate as mentors in local schools.

by Gary Scalise, PSCU SVP for Contact Center Customer Service

PSCU provides 24/7/365 contact center support for more than 18 million members with credit, debit, bill pay, Internet and mobile banking accounts from more than 800 PSCU Member-Owner credit unions. These credit unions represent a total of nearly 50 million members, meaning PSCU can potentially assist half of the nation’s 100 million credit union members with answers to questions and requests for service on their credit union accounts.

This article is sponsored by a recognized solutions provider in the credit union industry. Callahan & Associates does not endorse vendors or the solutions they offer, and the views and opinions offered here might not reflect those of Callahan. If you are interested in contributing an article on CreditUnions.com, please contact the Callahan team at ads@creditunions.com or 1-800-446-7453.
April 25, 2016

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