Scott Cornell_resized
Scott Cornell Jun 20, 2016

Information access for customer service

While digital banking is one of the fastest growing channels for financial services, banking employees are still far and away the preferred interaction point. Especially when it comes to more complex financial needs – loans, investments or debt management – the primary channel banking consumers still use for researching and purchasing products is people. For example, a 2015 Forrester report found that when applying for personal loans, 61% of customers prefer human touchpoints, as do a whopping 71% when applying for mortgages. Call centers are feeling the heat.

Another factor that’s overtaxing customer service employees is, surprisingly, the high usage rate of online and mobile banking. A common misconception is that digital channels reduce call volume, but in reality, technology increases bank contact center volume by generating massive amounts of calls around technology-based issues. In an October 2015 survey by our firm, banks reported that a minimum of 25% of total call volume stems from online banking, mobile apps, EMV, bill pay and other technology-based offerings.

The high number of technology-related questions that are funneled through call centers, combined with product calls, means that nearly all of the frontline staff’s energy is being consumed by answering basic questions, leaving little time for actually engaging customers. This results in the one of the most insidious productivity killers in today’s banks: managers and back-office subject matter experts spending many hours of their day supporting front-line staff while customer support personnel are swamped by routine maintenance questions. Our survey found that an astounding 63% of key staff spend more than a third of their day answering questions from other employees.  

It is here that the struggles of the staff and organizational efficiency converge. How can a bank build a sales culture when representatives and leadership have such little time and energy to do so? What impact does this have on the customer experience?

Information Access
The root of the problem is accessing information – both for staff and for customers. For too many employees, good information is hard to come by. Financial institution intranets or SharePoint portals are not engineered in a way to deliver the actual answers that frontline employees need. This results in staff sifting through pages and pages of policy documents that are often irrelevant or outdated. Additionally, the majority of financial institutions do not have a reliable, centralized information center and process, which means that frontline employees are constantly wasting valuable time and energy searching for simple answers to standard questions, or, more often than not, just simply asking others.

This challenge is evident across customer-facing digital channels as well. When customers face problems with online banking or their mobile apps, they often cannot find the solutions quickly. This results in more than a quarter of all call center calls being related to basic questions, such as, “How do I reset my online banking password?” This is frustrating for both customers and staff.

The first step to eliminating these time wasting issues is to provide both frontline employees and customers with the answers to their questions in a simple, easy-to-use format. First, centralize all of the information about a topic in one place on the intranet or the online banking ‘help center.’ Next, break up long procedure and policy documents into bite-sized pieces. This format is what search engines need in order to be effective and it’s what frontline employees need when a customer is calling or in-branch.

Phoenix-based Arizona Federal Credit Union reported that after overhauling its document and internal help center, 98% of front line employees can find the answers to their questions on their intranet before asking other employees.

Next, build contextual intelligence into the answers for related content. Having a frontline that can handle customer questions fast and efficiently is only the beginning; by linking related questions and answers, information can be presented on a contextual basis that allows employees to both answer customer questions and refer customers to applicable cross-selling opportunities. This approach works both for internal staff needs and self-help functions within digital channels.

For example, North Carolina-based Bank of Oak Ridge experienced a 64% drop in technology-related calls to its call center by having easily accessible answers to questions on its web site. The most commonly asked question? “How do I reset my online banking password.”

Does building bite-size content and making contextual links take time and effort? Certainly. However, compared to how much time is being wasted by frontline staff and key go-to employees, it’s worth the effort. Also, your customers will appreciate the improved level of service and receiving accurate answers.

Mr. Cornell is founder and CEO of Portsmouth, N.H.-based SilverCloud, Inc. He can be reached at scott@silvercloud.inc. 

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