A Call Center That Is Anything But Centralized

Stanford FCU’s virtual call center reduces absenteeism, expands hours, and retains talent.

Stanford Federal Credit Union ($1.6B, Palo Alto, CA) maintains a primarily remote contact center. Six of its seven agents, along with the contact center manager, work from home. This strategy, which the credit union has employeed for nearly a decade, works well for the closed -charter credit union that claims to be the first financial institution to offer online banking. According to Search Analyze data on CreditUnions.com, it had an average member relationship of $45,932 as of September 30, 2013. That’s more than four times its asset and state-based peers. The credit union’s efficiency ratio of 63.50% was also significantly lower than all of its peer groups and the national average of 80.56%.

Less Stress For Employees=A Consistent Experience for Members

With its location in the traffic-laden San Francisco Bay Area, having at-home agents has a lot of benefits for both the credit union and its contact center employees.

The remote environment helps us provide a more consistent member experience by keeping absenteeism at an absolute minimum, says Nadene Bustamante, contact center manager for Stanford FCU. If you have a cold or other minor illness, you might not want to get up and drive into an office. But if you can work from home, you are much more likely to do that.

This often prevents the contact center from being short-staffed or experiencing other scheduling related issues that traditional office environments encounter. The home-based work environment has also helped the credit union expand its core contact center hours. Recently, the contact center hours changed from a traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., which is more convenient for members. Bustamante notes there is 24/7 access through an after-hours solution, but the home work environment made the extension of core hours easier.

In the Bay Area, especially, there is a lot of stress and expense from commuting, Bustamante says. Being able to work from home is a real positive.

Robust Training, Tools, Communication

When CreditUnions.com profiled Stanford’s virtual contact center in 2010, the credit union shared details about its robust training plan for all agents, regardless of their intent to work in-office or remotely. The credit union’s goal was to make contact center agents independent, knowledgeable, and resourceful. At-home agents were trained thoroughly and given access to the right tools.

The credit union has continued its focus on providing what the contact center staff needs to be successful, and Bustamante notes the technological and communications improvements Stanford FCU has implemented throughout her six-year tenure.

There has been a renewed focus on internal communications to ensure that the contact center is always up-to-date and prepared to answer members’ questions, Bustamante says. We all use the same instant messaging system, regardless of where we are located.

Because of the remote nature of Stanford FCU’s contact center, it is critical to have the proper tools available to agents, and now the agents have more direct access than when the contact center first became remote.

Today, we connect to the credit union just as if we were in the main office, Bustamante says.

Business Continuity Bonus

Having agents away from the credit union headquarters has also helped with business continuity. For example, a small plane crashed into power lines within the city of Palo Alto in February 2010. The entire city, including the credit union headquarters and branches, was without power for 10 hours during the work day. The remote contact center, along with Stanford’s off-site servers, continued to serve members during that time with little disruption.

Building Maintaining Relationships From Afar

Building and maintaining personal relationships virtually is something the credit union continually works on. The at-home agents visit the credit union headquarters a minimum of three times a year for company-wide meetings. They use this face time to build camaraderie not only with other Stanford FCU employees but also among the contact center.

In addition to the in-person meetings we have on-site several times a year, I hold monthly group meetings with my team and a weekly 15-minute touch base call with each of them, Bustamante says.

The credit union has also been able to retain talent because of the virtual option available in its contact center.

We had a branch manager who moved to San Diego and thought she had to quit, Bustamante says. Because of the contact center, we were able to keep a good employee regardless of her physical location.

Considering At-Home Agents For Your Credit Union?

Consider these three vital questions if you are thinking about transitioning to in-home agents:

  1. What paper do they touch?
  2. What does your infrastructure look like?
  3. Are your agents capable of working independently?

If the contact center touches or handles physical paper, the credit union might need to refine those processes before moving agents away from a central location. Likewise, the credit union must make sure its technological infrastructure is capable of supporting remote employees. Lastly, well-trained staff that is capable of working independently can make the difference between maintaining a traditional in-office environment or transitioning to a remote call center.

Want more? Read Contact Center Agents Work At Home, Minimize Attrition Rate(2010) and Three Strategies to Stop Call Center Attrition (2006)

December 16, 2013

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