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Why contact centers matter in a digital age

In this age of self-service channels and tech-savvy customers, do community banks still need to be investing in contact centers and trying to keep up with the money-center banks’ 24/7 accessibility?

The simple answer is, yes. Call centers play a pivotal role in today’s evolving banking landscape. However, there are four areas in which banks need to adapt their call centers to suit changing customer needs: expansion of digital and self-service channels; communication during merger and acquisition (M&A) activity; growth of security and identity theft concerns; and growing reliance on banks for financial education. The contact center can help bank customer service efforts in all four of these areas.

Driving digital. For some bank executives, the tremendous uptick in account holders’ reliance on self-service digital channels is an indication that call centers are no longer needed. This is a faulty conclusion that could lead to unfortunate deficiencies in customer service. In fact, the addition of digital channels drives customers to use the contact center even more as they seek help on navigating tools such as mobile banking and person-to-person (P2P) payments. Some banks have even found that customers are more open to adopting self-service channels if they know technical support is just a phone call away. Contact center service can also help improve overall profitability by driving adoption of self-service channels and creating meaningful sales opportunities.

However, this does present a challenge in call center staffing and training, as customers expect call center representatives to be able to answer any and all of their questions, regardless of what access device they utilize. The staff must be trained to handle issues over all operating systems and devices, the number of which seems to grow by the day. Spokane, Wash.-based Washington Trust Bank, for example, makes a variety of smartphones and tablets available in the call center so that employees can have hands-on experience with the most popular devices and can better troubleshoot across platforms.

Uptick in M&A activity. Mergers and acquisitions can cause major disruptions in account holders’ access to their financial information, from not recognizing the new online banking interface to needing to update log-in credentials and adjusting to new policies. These changes typically generate an influx of calls to the contact center.

In this case, the call center can provide answers for customers asking specific questions about the impact of the merger. Being able to speak to a “live” representative at the call center provides far better service for the customer than reading a generic FAQ section on the bank’s website.

Security concerns. With data breaches frequently in the headlines, there is increasing pressure on banks to protect customers’ data. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 12.7 million Americans were hit with identity fraud in 2014. These data breaches and other security issues are driving more calls to contact centers as customers seek information about how their accounts may be impacted by fraud.

Unfortunately, this is just what fraudsters are hoping for. Banks should expect to see an uptick in call center fraud attempts during breaches and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks as fraudsters attempt to take advantage of the disruptions to bank service. In fact, a recent study from Pindrop Security revealed a 30% rise in phone fraud among financial institutions since 2013. Contact centers must employ stringent multi-layer authentication efforts to ensure that they are speaking to the true customer rather than a fraudster.

Banks as educators. With new services such as Apple Pay entering the market, banks are receiving a growing number of calls from customers requesting information. Washington Trust Bank, for example, reports an increase in customers turning to their call center staff in search of a financial, or even technology-focused, education session. Staff is also tasked with calls related to identifying and removing computer malware and viruses; troubleshooting smartphone issues; providing insight on identity protection; and information on recently publicized data breaches.

The expansion of topics employees must address has changed the way banks go about hiring and training call center staff. For instance, there is a greater emphasis on hiring candidates who embrace technology. However, with expanded requirements, it takes additional time to find the right agent and get them fully trained due to the complexity of technology and the number of products and issues that they must be comfortable handling. 

Keeping up in a 24/7 world. Between easily accessible Wi-Fi, smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, we live in a constantly connected world. While most large banks offer around-the-clock service, having a call center staffed at all times can be taxing on smaller community institutions. Banks, however, simply cannot overlook the importance of call center availability.

To address these trends and keep up with customer demand, community banks must rely on technology. By outsourcing some or all of the contact center operations, customized services such as after-hours and special event support can become a reality for any size institution. It is important to be able to take a hybrid approach, where banks can rely on their own staff when possible, but a vendor is there to provide support in times of specific need, such as mergers and acquisitions or large technology conversions that will impact customers.

As banks staff their own contact centers and work with vendors on outsourcing options, one goal should be kept in mind: maintaining a “one-stop” level of service, where the first agent a customer speaks to is able to answer their entire inquiry. This first line of defense focus acts as a time-saver and helps improve the customer experience, ensuring that customers continue to see the call center as a valuable resource in today’s self-service driven banking landscape.

Ms. Murphy is a solutions specialist manager and Mr. Suosso a solutions specialist at Monett, Mo.-based Jack Henry & Associates, Inc. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected] respectively.