Call Center Transformation Best Practices: Key Lessons from Community Banking

By Josh Botnen

Historically, the success of the community banking industry has been in providing personalized service and a deep understanding of local markets to its customers. This is still true today. However, relying on the same legacy call center systems to manage customer inquiries and expecting the same customer satisfaction no longer works. Banks are no longer compared to their direct competitors. Instead, customers increasingly expect the same kind of immediacy, personalization, and convenience they receive from Google, Zappos, Starbucks, and Amazon.

According to the Cornerstone Performance Report for Banks issued in 2018, from 2007 to 2017 banks experienced an 11 percent decline in daily inbound calls per agent. Since more services were available at ATMs and online, such a drop was expected.

Call center personnel, however, clearly weren’t underemployed: talk time increased 46 percent, wait times rose a whopping 81 percent, and abandonment rates went up 36 percent. The Gonzo Banker website surmised that the shift to digital means that with simple tasks handled elsewhere, contact centers field calls focused on more complex issues.

In community banking, where service is paramount, such an increase in talk time has a ripple effect throughout customer contact centers, impacting a host of customer service metrics: efficiency, satisfaction, wait times, and abandonment. The issues that apply to community banking—the increased complexity of issues that users can’t handle online—resonate in various industries. Transforming a contact center to reverse trends takes a concerted, multitiered effort.

Changing an institution’s established customer service practices is never easy. But prioritizing the following areas can help any company, community bank, or other organization to transform their call center systems.

Know Your Customer Journey

Successful contact centers go beyond reactively resolving customer issues. They understand the comprehensive customer journey. By breaking down the complete, end-to-end experience that clients have when they call, they can capture each progressive touch point.

Armed with this information, organizations can begin to isolate the pain points that hurt customer satisfaction on each call. Once there is an understanding of the specific wait time, lack of personalization, or gap in expectations that hurts customer satisfaction, call centers can introduce solutions to resolve these issues.

Empower Your Frontline

Customers typically call instead of going to a physical location when they want a quick resolution to a problem. If a client contact center professional can’t promptly meet those needs, dissatisfaction is immediate, and an organization will have to work hard to win back that lost trust.

Too frequently, many customer service representatives aren’t empowered to quickly solve client issues. Often the primary call center serves as a switchboard. Staff often lack the clearance, tools, and resources to help a customer further along in solving their issue. It is unfair to ask representatives to address customer challenges without properly equipping them to do so.

Competent and confident frontline staff is any organization’s best asset in resolving customer issues. Organizations need to trust their agents to harness all the positives that come from personalized service.

The first step is to give them authority and clarity on the issues they can help clients resolve. One potential solution is to implement a simplified contact center support platform with skills-based call routing and then combine this with an effort to triage support. Next, give clear guidance on what issues contact centers or specialized support teams should handle.

Give Your Team the Skills to Succeed

Entrusting your frontline staff to handle more customer challenges requires giving them the skills to be successful. Positive customer interactions are only possible with engaged employees who understand how to resolve issues. This is especially true with call center improvements.

Successful call center transformations implement training plans well in advance of launch, giving employees time to be comfortable. Don’t develop a great new system only for it to fail because there wasn’t enough time and resources to make call center teams effective.

The key is to get human resources involved early. Updating job descriptions can establish baseline expectations about new processes. This is especially critical for improving agents’ skills to handle growing digital service inquiries.

Deliver Your Customer Support Digitally

As organizations continue to grow their digital offerings, contact center teams are now tasked with resolving new customer challenges. Virtual services and online platforms are powerful tools, but they also have the potential to overwhelm unprepared contact center teams. It’s critical to leverage these same digital platforms to educate and guide customers to solutions.

Consider services such as intelligent FAQs, live chat service, and co-browsing with an agent. These tools not only quickly resolve customer issues, but they also reduce operation costs while driving increased customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Mature organizations are moving toward an integrated model where contact center professionals are responsible for both voice and digital inquiries. While this is ideal, the training and personnel demands on support teams often can’t keep up with the launch of new digital offerings. Recognizing the additional customer support these new systems need, consider bringing on a third-party provider to deliver digital expertise and efficiency in the interim.

Personalize Your Service

There will always be customers who value in-person interactions, and even younger, digital natives often want the ability to connect with someone on the phone to ask questions about complex products. This same personal connection is what drives customers to choose a smaller company over its competitors. They want to avoid the rigid processes and impersonal toll-free numbers that come from large organizations.

If customers call a smaller organization and are bureaucratically bounced across different departments, with long wait times and unmet needs, they will inevitably find a new provider. That’s why it is critical to establish clear procedures and alignment between the primary contact center and the specialized support teams that provide enhanced solutions.

Simple practices, such as introducing procedures for warm handoffs, make transitioning from one agent to another a much more positive experience. The disjointed feeling clients get from cold handoffs leads to lower rates of first call resolution. This makes achieving the warm, personalized service that customers expect much more difficult.

Deliver Your Brand Promise

Traditional contact center solutions do not meet the changing needs and demands of today’s customers. Successfully transforming an organization’s contact center takes resources and effort, but it is critical for staying competitive in any customer-oriented industry.

Follow the above best practices to ensure that your company provides customers with the quick, personalized service they expect. This way an organization can provide better quality customer support and deliver on its brand promise.

Josh Botnen is the director of digital strategy and client experience at First Interstate Bank. He has over twenty years of experience in data, analytics, product management, and client experience spanning numerous industries.

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