Increased call complexity alters contact center practices

Contact center calls are growing longer because of the increasing complexity of customer questions and concerns, causing many banks to alter their processes for handling incoming calls and “after-calls” (documentation and customer follow-up). Some banks are recalibrating staff performance metrics to better align them with market changes and bank goals. 

The catalyst is digital banking, which has resulted in customers calling up the contact center for technical help and questions related to the bank’s digital banking platform, including access, functionality and using the bank’s app on their mobile devices. Contact center staff also need to explain to clients any changes to products and services, as well as inform them on updates to new technology and regulatory policies. Recently, bank contact centers have been busy answering questions about EMV, such as why their bank switched to EMV-chip cards and whether the new cards could still be used at retailers that have not yet installed the appropriate terminals because the chip cards also contain magnetic stripes for those situations.

In this environment, the traditional metric for call center staff – the speed with which they handle a call (“call handle time”) – is less relevant, calling for some new approaches, as can be seen at Green Bay, Wisc.-based Associated Bank. This institution has been able to increase the efficiency of contact center calls by developing desktop automations that streamline the after-call process, including simplifying ways to document calls and performing processes to fulfill the customer’s needs immediately, as opposed to sending requests for fulfillment to a back-office area, according to Jennifer Fox, senior vice president, customer care/contact center operations manager.

Concierge Service

The focus on automation and the overall customer experience has helped mitigate the increase in length of calls and allowed Associated to keep its call handle times only slightly longer, even with more complex inquiries, Fox says. “Customers are looking for concierge service and they have higher expectations around service. When they do speak with an agent, they are expecting them to answer all of their needs, to make it easy for them.

“It’s no longer just a quick phone call to ask about their account balance. It’s, ‘I want you to know who I am, make it quick and easy for me because I’m very busy and show me that you care about my relationship.’”

That “concierge service” approach is reflected in the performance metrics that Associated uses to evaluate the bank’s contact center staff, Fox says. For example, first contact/call resolution, or “One and Done,” is the key measurement of success within the bank’s quality monitoring and surveying programs. Bank staff are trained and given the tools and resources to “empower” them to meet the goal of handling customer issues expeditiously, without continually forwarding calls to other employees.

Moreover, Associated measures not only whether employees have answered customers’ questions accurately and professionally, but also whether they are handling the customer’s future needs. “Customers have high expectations and expect us to anticipate their needs,” Fox says.

The bank is also taking care to hire technically savvy people who can handle customers’ technical questions about alternative channels, such as online banking and how to use different mobile devices for mobile banking. “Technically-savvy agents are able to handle the increased pace of learning as we deploy new technology and add expectations for them to multitask on customer calls, emails and chats,” Fox says.

Indeed, with the introduction of mobile banking, Associated has seen a change in the technical nature of calls. Customers who have an issue accessing their accounts or are receiving error messages now need contact center staff to troubleshoot the type, make, model and operating system of their phones. “As you can imagine, there are so many complexities in the type of phones and carriers, Fox says. “Since customers are attempting to access our app or website, they also expect that we can resolve their smartphone issues as well.” 

Calls around fraud and card security compromises are also becoming more prevalent and complex, according to Fox. Associated’s employees need to understand the regulations and customer rights along with the variety of the payment methods, including Automated Clearing House (ACH), debit card and checks. Moreover, staff need to possess good problem-solving skills when they help customers figure out whether electronic purchases were legitimate, as customers may have authorized a purchase, but it came through with a different merchant name or a different method than expected.

Contact center employees also have to weave through the complexities of different deposits systems, including those made via ACH Direct Deposit, cell phones and ATM machines, she says. “As technology is changing to simplify and increase automation for customers, resolving issues for the service world has become more complex,” Fox says. “It takes a different technical, problem-solving skillset to analyze the issue and give the customer the best solution in this next generation of servicing customers.”

Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto has not yet seen a shift to more complex calls to its contact center, but functional leader Harriet Thornhill says she believes “this will evolve over time” and as such, the bank is preparing its staff accordingly. “We believe that you have to be digital to do digital,” says Thornhill, vice president, RBC Advice Centre, Direct Investing Contact Centre, in Mississauga, Ontario.

To that end, Royal Bank is focusing on the underpinning technology, using-test-and-learn/rapid development while building capabilities and enablers for its client-facing employees – “the human in the digital box” – who need to be able to help clients solve problems and provide advice that helps the clients achieve their goals.

RBC is leveraging “voice of client” data, insights and analytical tools to identity products, processes and people opportunities, Thornhill says. This includes isolating high-volume interactions and frequent callers, with a goal of optimizing self-serve capabilities and eliminating unnecessary interactions, such as travel notifications.

“It’s not always about driving efficiencies; it’s about building capacity,” Thornhill says.

‎Contact center staff performance is measured differently depending on the priorities or focus of the role, she adds. Some roles primarily involve responsive service, compared to assisted sales, such as investments or lending. Advisors are coached based on a number of “sub” key performance indicators, such as effective use of holds, transfers, opportunity spotting and first-call resolution, all of which impact average handle time.

“Sales, first-call resolution and client satisfaction are the three pillars,” Thornhill says.

The evolution in call center practices experienced by Associated and Royal Bank demonstrates how the growth of digital banking has generated unexpected ripples throughout the industry. It’s no longer just about the mobile banking channel. When analyzing the impact of digital or mobile banking on their business, bankers need to consider the ramifications holistically, across the entire institution, rather than just looking at separate channels.

They also need to consider whether the metrics by which they’ve assessed and rewarded employee behavior in the past are still valid. Digital banking has produced major shifts in customer behavior and bankers need to adjust their own business practices to accommodate those changes. Associated Bank and Royal Bank are clearly making the needed adjustments; can the same be said of you?

Mr. Hippensteel is chief content officer for BAI. He can be reached at [email protected].