Call centers are experiencing an uptick in traffic from customers.

How banks are addressing growth in call volume

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The year 2020 may go down as one of the most demanding in recent memory. The challenges posed have taken a lot out of just about everything and everyone, including the banking industry. It's required an all-hands-on-deck effort for financial institutions nationwide who have successfully implemented workarounds to ensure continued access while managing risk for consumers and staff.

In the branch, customer-facing technology like ATMs and ITMs have been working overtime. And as discussed in previous posts, drive-up banking has experienced a tremendous resurgence in popularity. Behind the scenes, there's another long-established channel where financial institutions are experiencing high levels of traffic: call centers.

Call centers see surge
As ATM Marketplace reported back in April, bank call centers encountered a major uptick in calls placed by customers, many of whom were unable to go about their traditional in-person banking activities due to lobby closures and other social distancing measures.

Bob Neuhaus, vice president of financial services intelligence at J.D. Power, observed that this channel was quickly becoming a hotspot for account holders. "Bank call centers have become the main if not the sole human touchpoint for banks," Neuhaus explained in an email obtained by ATM Marketplace. "The challenges for the call centers have been magnified by increased call volume, increased call complexity, high stress of both employees and customers and a huge shift to work at home representatives."

Notably, even prior to the implementation of the widespread implementation of lockdown measures, bank call centers had witnessed an uptick in volume, ATM Marketplace reported.

Fast forward to today, and call centers — in the banking sector and beyond — continue to experience a strong influx of service inquiries, resulting in frayed nerves and short fuses for some impatient customers dialing in, as reported by Wharton Magazine.

Waiting and waiting
In some parts of the country, the unremitting volume of calls has led to an increase in wait times, particularly among direct bank customers. As J.D. Power found in its Direct Banking Satisfaction Study, approximately 40% of customers who dialed up their FI's service hotline waited at least five minutes before speaking to an actual person, rather than an automated messaging system.

"Wait times once considered short are far too long by today's standards."

In an age of instantaneous information access, wait times previously considered fairly brief now frustrate consumers. As a result, FIs have had to launch initiatives to increase accessibility and sharpen employee skills to better manage customer service demands. The issue was a focal point at a recent virtual conference hosted by the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Conference of State Bank Supervisors.

Laurie Stewart, chair and chief executive officer of Sound Financial, based in Seattle, noted that while COVID will ultimately go away, the means by which people are now banking are likely here to stay. As such, FIs need to refine their approach to enhance customer satisfaction, spur growth and enhance retention.

"[The pandemic is] a transformational experience that will impact how we do business for many years to come," Stewart said, according to American Banker.

If your institution has a call center, the following tips may help you make the most of it so associates aren't stretched too thin:

Key in on core integration for ITMs
Interactive teller machines have revolutionized the banking experience for many adopters. That said, all ITMs are not the same. As we discussed in September, dual integration — with the ATM rail in league with the core — allows banks and credit unions to better manage reliance on call centers. Traditional video tellers require call center support for all transactions during business hours, whereas core integrated terminals allow for a 'self-service first' approach and create much-needed relief for off-site personnel. 

Inspire associates to create emotional connections
It's impossible to satisfy each and every customer who calls in, but what you can do is help staff establish more emotional connections with those on the other end of the line. How do you go about that? It involves training and self-reflection. You may want to encourage staff to put themselves in the callers' shoes. What would they want from the representative they were speaking with? Whether it's empathy or anticipating their needs, practice makes perfect.

"If you haven't already integrated your ATM or ITM with the core, now is the time."

Offer customers an alternative
Wait times can be endlessly frustrating for those hanging on the line, even when they can put the phone down and use the speaker to give their ears a breather. But instead of forcing them to stand by, you may consider suggesting they call at another time when the volume is less intense. Some service providers are able to call customers themselves upon providing the number that's the best way to reach them. Having them send an email may be another way for them to receive a more prompt response.

Test out your experience
You may not know for sure how your call center is operating until you experience it first hand. Consider dialing the number to see how you're treated, test the wait time and take note of anything else that could use some fine-tuning. This can inform your strategy when it comes to training, personal development and goal setting.

BranchServ is in the business of helping your facility and its personnel succeed, and we have the technology to relieve the burden on your call center. Contact us today to learn more.