Strategic Call Center Solution
By Eddie Ho, CIO, Los Alamos National Bank
Customer service is paramount. In the banking industry, there are few ways to differentiate from the competition. Providing the best customer service, every time, is a strategic decision. And the call center is the keystone to a positive customer service experience. The call center is still the primary and final touchpoint.
Our customers call more frequently and talk for longer, but are often very simple tasks. They want to know their balance, up their debit card limit, or have a general question about the bank. We must cater and tailor our call center to these demands, and keep poor customer experiences to a minimum. It was time to take a good hard look at our call center solution. What we found was a system that was at least a decade out-of-date. The software was already well past end-of-life. The servers were running on OS’s many versions behind the current. And most importantly, the functionality of the system was woefully inadequate.
Falling behind, even for a few years, can seem like an eternity in technological terms. Our call center was at least a decade behind and probably closer to two. Angry customers were complaining, rightfully, that calls were not being answered, that they were waiting forever, or being transferred multiple times. We didn’t have a call tree. The system didn’t have the ability to hold a call in queue. Rather, it would just ring and ring. We had no comfort message, no opportunity to pass on information to our customers as they waited. And most appalling of all, we found an endless routing cycle, where a customer’s call could simple be handed off from hunt group to hunt group, ad infinitum, and never be picked up or presented to a voicemail system. It’s time for an over-haul!
A bulky, in-house system used to be the preferred solution. However, host-based solutions are more desirable due to the advancements in cloud-based architecture. We had to consider technology complexity and the operational skill sets required to maintain the solutions. I, as the CIO, want the simplest solution, as this is the easiest to maintain going forward with minimum support, while the business wants the most robust call center platform. The next step was requesting RFPs for in-house, host-based, and an entirely outsourced call center.
The outsourced call center was eliminated due to the support sensitivity, socio-economic status, and high concentration of our passionate customers. Since our business requirements are about 30 agents, there was a major cost advantage when using the host-based solution. The pricing advantage was up to 60 agents, allowing a doubling of capacity, within budget. Couple that with lower maintenance costs, ease of administration, and risk delegation and the choice became obvious.
The outsourced call center was eliminated due to the support sensitivity, socio-economic status, and high concentration of our passionate customers
The host-based solution has seen major advancement. This solution can free up IT staff for more critical tasks. Due to the improved solution environment, the business users have taken much of the ownership of the platform for the administration tasks. The new features that would greatly enhance customer experience and agent productivity includes-
• Call-tree Implementation–together with queuing and skills-based routing, our customers’ calls get are targeted. No extra transferring required. Thus minimizing customer frustration.
• Queues–by designing our call center around queues, transfers are minimized and customers’ calls are directly presented to the agent.
• Comfort Messaging while customer is on hold–this is a new opportunity for the institution to communicate business updates, advertise, or simply let the customer know we care
• Real-time Statistics and Monitoring–a call center dashboard is displayed with queue- and agent-level statistics to quickly re-balancing workload to improve customer service.
• Reliable Reporting-to produce monthly dashboard is produced which allows supervisor to fine-tune call-time, wait-time, calls per agents, and scheduling.
The timeline for this project was seven months from initial contact with vendors to full implementation in the call center. Two months were spent researching and negotiating with vendors before a final decision was made with a contract signed. Another month of prep and design occurred before any installation took place. Internal communication was key during this initial phase. The business areas had requirements, the vendor had many options, and IT needed to translate, coordinate, and, unfortunately, initiate many of the pieces that would lead to the final objective. Below is a summary of the conversion activities –
• During the planning phase, current utilization and capacity data was provided for implementation assessment. Different departments were consulted as to their business needs and requirements, and separate solutions were developed for each business area.
• The training phase took six weeks and multiple steps. Managers and agents have different requirements, such as managers’ separate monitoring and reporting pieces. We used a mix of practice calls, user guides, and vendor-produced videos to gain system proficiency while practicing in the test environment.
• Implementation was split into two phases: system test and production deployment. For the new system under test conditions, the old in-house system still routed external customer calls, but training calls were generated by testers to validate the various functions of the new environment. Production deployment was a complete turnover of external calls and some internal calls to be routed by the new system. The new call-tree was also activated for the first time for customers. This was a major culture change to our customer base due to the introduction of the tree structure. Many customers hung up in surprise of the new automated message.
We had a major banking technology change upcoming and expected the call center would be inundated with customer calls. This project had to be completed on schedule to allow a three month burn-in period prior to the major change. We were expecting double our call volume, but in actuality we experienced a deluge of many times our normal call volume. The call volume exceeded the system configurations set by the call volume predictions. This lead to many stranded customer calls. Due to the long wait-time, customers were hanging up and retrying repeatedly which only added to the call volume issues and increasing their frustration. Even with all the preparation, the company had to mobilize and contain the call volume situation during the first few days.
The system has been in production for over a year now; the operating cost has been cut by half, the capacity can handle many times the call volume and we have the full endorsement from end-users. The host-based call center solution works as planned and has improved the efficiency of the call center operations. This technology upgrade has transformed the call center to better serve our customers.