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Close call: ensuring that your phones get answered: are your frontline people struggling to juggle incoming telephone calls with the needs of lobby customers? Consider the advantages of a call center ...

Is your bank one of the few that hasn't established a call center yet? Then you probably weren't aware that today only 11 percent of an average bank's customers ever walk into the lobby and less than 30 percent use the drive-up window.

Now that you know the facts, you might consider the benefits of a call center.

You surely realize that your personal bankers regularly have to choose between answering their phones and taking care of the customers standing in front of them. In addition, your loan officers too often let their phones ring when they're on a deadline. In either situation, the customer loses.

More banking customers today are choosing to do business online, by phone or through ATM machine. With a call center, your employees can serve customers in the best manner possible. By having your call center staff more highly trained in the questions that can be answered over the phone, your customers will no longer be passed from one banker to another to get a specific question answered.

Call centers also are cost-effective to operate. You'll need fewer people in the lobby to manage one-to-one issues with customers and fewer people in operations because you can consolidate all those calls and send them to one place. You'll be able to run with a leaner staff or, better yet, you'll be able to grow without adding staff.

What are the signs that your bank could benefit from a call center?

The volume of calls that are picked up in the lobby versus the number of walk-in customers. When your employees have to choose whether to help the person in the lobby or answer the phone, nobody wins. You're guaranteed to upset at least one of your customers and possibly lose that person's business if it happens repeatedly.

The workload in your back office. If the operational areas for loan administration can't handle the load, it's time in seriously consider a call center.

There are a number of reasons why some banks have not yet made the change to a call center structure. And the fear of change may be number one.

Current employees play an important role in your bank and its future. Their opinions matter, and some may resist the idea of a call center because they don't want to give up the face-to-face interaction with their favorite customers or feel as if they are passing their responsibilities on to someone else. Truth be told, the customers who are more inclined to bank by phone aren't walking into your bank's lobby to do business anyway.

Technology is another hurdle holding back a lot of banks. Many bankers either don't understand the call-center technology or feel they can't afford it.

A third hurdle is the issue of cost effectiveness. For a larger bank with many branches in one city, a call center will quickly pay for itself. On the other hand, smaller banks spread out over a large geographic area may see some savings, but the centers may not be quite as cost effective as their larger counterparts.

What's involved with initiating a call center?

The following points need to be given consideration before establishing a call center.

Centralization: Having calls come into one centralized number is key. It should be transparent to most customers that they are dialing into a call center. The only challenge will be for those customers who are used to talking to Louise, whom they've known their entire life.

Automated Call Distribution (ACD) System: Most bank consulting firms will recommend installing an ACD system. From this program, you can get reports on the volume of calls coming in, where they are coming from and the callers' demographics. In a more sophisticated setup of an ACD system, you can direct callers to specific call center agents based on the agent's level of knowledge of a particular subject.

Staffing: The people assigned to your call center can mean the difference between success and failure. The biggest mistake bankers make is putting entry-level people in their call centers. Instead, think of your call center as a separate banking branch. Hopefully you wouldn't allow the new kid on the block or the summer intern to run your newly opened bank. Instead, you'll want staff members who are knowledgeable about all of your bank's products, procedures and data processing systems. This will allow customers to get the right answers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Call center space: You'll want to consider the environment where you plan on establishing the call center. Make certain:

* The area is not open to traffic.

* The appropriate technology is available to the staff.

* It's a pleasant working environment.

Can the same call center staff handle Internet banking service issues too? Of course. The customers using the Internet instead of the call center have chosen a different method of communicating with you, but they are asking the same questions. The call center staff can respond to all external requests that come through the Internet service, voice response system and--when the customer wants to speak to an operator--the telephone. The same highly qualified team can do both, which is like having two new banking branches with considerably fewer stall members.

What should I do first to set up my bank's call center?

Now that you've assessed the situation and determined that a call center is a good choice, yon may want to bring in an expert to help you get started. Some banking consultants will visit your bank to do an on-site assessment. During that time, the consulting team will assess your objectives for implementing a call center or Internet banking system, and review your bank's needs. Then you'll be given a complete proposal and--once accepted--the installation will begin.

Once your call center is up and running, your lobby staff will be able to concentrate on selling more products and you'll retain--and perhaps even gain--new customers because of the conveniences your bank offers. When you see the improved efficiencies of your operation, the increased level of customer service and higher profit margins, you'll know you made a wise choice.

John M. Floyd is CEO of John M, Floyd & Associates, a Houston-based bank profitability consulting firm. He can be reached toll free at (800) 809-2307. The company's website is www.overdraftprivilege.com.
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Title Annotation:Fundamentals
Author:Floyd, John M.
Publication:ABA Bank Marketing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:1049
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