Transforming contact centers for the new normal

As businesses shut their doors due to health concerns surrounding the pandemic, brick-and-mortar bank branches also closed and financial services providers across the nation struggled to manage the surge in call-center volumes.

This adversity has created an opportunity for banks to transform their call centers and win their customers’ loyalty with quality service.

The first step to leveraging this seismic shift is recognizing that there is a “new normal” arising from COVID-19. Financial services providers should acknowledge that their processes are still developing and may need modification. Regular reviews of the new processes and metrics are essential to ensure operations continue to evolve.

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As we move into a post-pandemic world, it is expected that a large part of the workforce will continue to work from home. This will involve sensitive changes to strategy and infrastructure to incorporate work-at-home agents.

Enabling agents to be fully productive is essential in scaling the distributed contact center. Empowering agents to be effective from home requires quick procurement of portable devices such as laptops, tablets, or smartphones supported by a secure network with a VPN. Banks and credit unions should also invest in business collaboration tools like email, video conferencing, messaging, and team collaboration tools so agents can stay connected with the team and clients.

Moving to the cloud

Due to the shift in operations, many financial institutions have switched from on-premise solutions to cloud computing contact centers. Cloud-based systems enable banks to scale quickly to manage the increasing call volumes better.

Cloud-based systems also allow financial services organizations to keep fixed costs. This will enable banks to quickly alter their resource requirements and prices based on changes in demand. It is essential to think about expenses, as most companies are bracing themselves for varying degrees of financial stress and unpredictability in the coming months.

Monitoring, coaching and retraining agents is another consideration. Traditionally, many financial institutions have utilized Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to understand their contact centers’ overall performance. However, KPIs are no longer giving a clear picture of the contact center’s health, and new ways to measure agent productivity are required. Contact centers can utilize workforce optimization capabilities, such as analytics and quality assurance, to gauge agent performance. These tools allow supervisors to monitor the agent’s productivity remotely and offer visibility into how much time is spent in managing the desktop agent.

The abrupt change in business processes caused by the pandemic needs to be meaningfully addressed. Employees should be offered virtual training and change management programs to educate them on the use of new technologies, processes, policies and collaboration toolsets. Agents should be coached often using the collaboration tools to ensure productivity levels remain consistent similar to the pre-pandemic world.

AI to enhance efficiencies

Today, banks spend up to $10 per contact on the call center. With rising volumes of calls, the cost to handle these calls continues to rise. Hiring, training and retaining call center staff have been traditional operational challenges, with banks facing attrition rates of up to 30 percent. And in the current uncertain environment, many banks are wary about investing in additional staff and stress their balance sheets further.

Instead, to enhance operational efficiencies at the call center and cater to the ever-increasing volume of calls from customers, several banks have been leveraging artificial intelligence-based solutions. This approach can include a “virtual assistant” being set up in front of a bank’s existing call center to automate the responses to a large number of their incoming calls. Such automation can give bank staff more time to address more complex questions from customers, thereby enhancing their overall experience.

Technology that is advanced enough to understand questions at near 100 percent accuracy enables banks to engage better with their customers and provide personalized experiences 24/7. It may also help financial services providers cross-sell products to customers in ways that promote greater financial wellness.

With the experiences, challenges and learnings from the pandemic, better preparations are being made to ensure business continuity. Banks are incorporating technologies to transform call center operations, enabling them to scale efficiently, provide enhanced customer experiences and be future-ready.

Srinivas Njay is the founder and CEO of interface.ai.