From contact center to engagement center

Phone-first contact centers that banks have relied on for decades are frustrating and inefficient for all parties involved. Customers are burdened with long wait times, especially during times of high traffic, and banks must deal with high costs and poor operational efficiency.

While modernizing customer service was already on the radar for many, COVID-19 has accelerated banks’ timelines for digital transformation – what used to be three-year plans are now becoming three-quarter roadmaps. The most advanced institutions are removing phone numbers from their websites entirely, replacing them with flexible digital-first communication options. More institutions will follow suit in the coming year or two by updating their contact centers to remain relevant.

With the move away from phone-service models persisting, contact centers are becoming more comprehensive engagement centers to better serve today’s digitally savvy customers. The complexity curve of customer support inquiries has shifted. Previously, the majority of inbound inquiries were simple requests, such as checking a balance or initiating a transfer.  Now, automation and self-service can resolve the more straightforward issues, and as a result, call centers are fielding more complex requests. If a customer picks up the phone and calls their institution today, they expect personalized, tailored service that can help them quickly solve the issue at hand.

When call centers evolve, the type of employees needed changes as well. Many call centers have historically been staffed by lower-skilled workers in unfulfilling roles. According to research conducted by the Quality Assurance and Training Connection (QATC), the average annual turnover rate for agents in U.S. contact centers ranges between 30-45 percent, which is more than double the average for all occupations in the country. Such a high turnover rate is costly for banks, resulting in high recruiting and training costs.

As call centers become more sophisticated, they will also need more highly trained and specialized employees to better fit the new operating model. Creating more challenging and interesting work for employees fuels greater job satisfaction and provides experience that enables more advancement opportunities. 

The method of responding to inquiries will also look different in this transition. Instead of managing inquiries strictly by phone, engagement center representatives will meet customers where they are. This can include chat, video or voice – all from within the digital channel, eliminating the need for customers to waste time reauthenticating over the phone.

Savvy institutions are adopting CoBrowsing to allow representatives to see what’s on the customers’ screens in real time, providing instant context and details around the issue at hand. Agents should never have to ask, “How can I help you?” again. Such methods of communication and collaboration make customer service more seamless, quick and cost-effective. The transition to an engagement center will likely fully materialize over the next 18 to 24 months.

The role of AI coaching for representatives

The evolution to engagement centers requires more advanced technology. The earliest and most common uses of chatbots in banking have been for simple customer-facing questions and experiences. However, AI is also an effective way to assist bank service representatives and provide better training.

Bots can help speed customer service by surfacing relevant information during interactions, alleviating agents from having to retrieve data from backend systems. They can also suggest the best next action and recommended pre-approved verbiage for responding to customer inquiries, reducing both time and effort for agents. The more agents accept or decline the suggestions, the more data exists to optimize and improve bot recommendations. This leads to more targeted assistance in the future.

By programming bots to monitor all customer interactions, banks can better monitor the customer service experience, making sure interactions are efficient and smooth, and that agents are responding when and how they should. Leveraging bots also helps confirm that everything is going as it should from a compliance, security and accuracy standpoint.

In the wake of COVID-19 and its widespread economic repercussions, banks must focus on cost savings and their staff must operate more efficiently. In addition to this, customers’ financial activity and health has never been more critical. Consumers and businesses alike expect timely help and guidance, and they won’t be patient when issues with their account arise. Clunky, slow or inefficient experiences will no longer be tolerated.

Contact centers must transition into engagement centers that incorporate digital customer service to manage new pressures more efficiently and effectively. For leading institutions, this includes leveraging AI coaches to help service representatives enhance their skills and ultimately better serve customers. Banks that prioritize these initiatives and combine personalized service with modern technology will be better positioned to boost customer loyalty and successfully compete in the digital world.

Dan Michaeli is the CEO and co-founder of Glia, a provider of digital customer service.

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