Helping Your Contact Center Succeed in Challenging Times

By: Frank A. Kovach, Principal, Advisors Plus

In dealing with the ongoing spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), credit unions are facing great challenges to operate normally – especially in the contact center. As the largest member-facing department of a credit union, the contact center will feel unique stresses like few other areas.

Credit union call volumes are increasing dramatically as members seek answers in these uncertain times. With limited or no ability for members to visit branches, they will turn to your contact center for human interaction and guidance. Not only are call volumes increasing, but it is also likely that the average talk time will climb as callers ask more questions and look for assurance, thereby prolonging the call.

Here are some useful and practical tips you can implement in your credit union’s contact center environment to help your employees and members handle stresses and challenges during these uncharted times.

Update Your Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Menu

Your IVR is the first thing your members hear when they call in, so it’s critical that it’s working efficiently. Directing calls quickly and accurately will speed member interactions so your agents can help more members. Here are some things to consider:

  • Provide upfront messaging referring members to your self-service automated, online and mobile channels. The voice message should be short, concise and easy to understand.
  • Clearly inform callers that you are experiencing high call volumes and ask them to be patient. For them, knowing they may have to wait is better than not knowing.
  • Utilize callback options if your system provides them.
  • Eliminate extraneous options or ones that point to areas with limited staff, which could become incapable of answering calls. It’s better to forward calls to your main contact center than have a member leaving messages that may not be returned, prompting more calls.
  • Think and plan for upcoming changes, such as implementing new routing that directs members with loan problems to special teams that can help them, as well as updating your status messaging.

Planning for Remote Agents

If your contact center is already set up for remote agents, good for you! If not, there is no better time to dedicate resources to get remote options up and running. From all accounts, limited mobility will be the norm for weeks – if not months. Keep in mind the following to plan for remote agents:

  • Remote doesn’t mean gone. Be sure to keep constant communication with remote staff. Check in daily and keep them informed, as well as ask for their feedback and ways to improve their experience. Agent engagement is critical to keep morale up and turnover down.
  • Notify members through website postings or mailings that agents may be working from home and ask them to be patient with less-than-perfect connections or extraneous background noise, such as kids screaming or dogs barking.
  • Continue to maintain metric and quality goals as if agents were working in the office. Maintaining expectations is vital to keeping engagement and member service at high levels.
  • Utilize other credit union employees, such as branch personnel, who could also assist remotely if branches are temporarily closed.
  • Ensure remote workers are following the same security protocols as if they were in the office. Ideally, they can set up in a separate room to keep confidential information confidential. Contact Center managers should work with their IT/Security department to make sure connections are secure and equipment meets all CU information policies. All remote employees should sign a Remote Worker Agreement outlining their responsibilities to maintain information security and confidentiality.

Accommodating Onsite Staff

If agents are still working centrally, it’s vital that their needs are met. In difficult times, everyone needs to pull together. Large departments, like call centers, need it even more. Here are some key things to remember:

  • Honest and straightforward communication on a regular basis. Have regular updates, either verbally or by email, every day. Managers cannot over-communicate in these situations.
  • For managers, be on the floor all the time. This really isn’t the time for budgets or other administrative tasks. It’s time for all hands on deck and demonstrating to agents that management “gets it.”
  • Recognize, recognize, recognize. Thank every agent every day for the work they are doing. Amp up rewards where you can and buy food and treats liberally. Demonstrate in even small ways how much you value your staff and show your appreciation for all they are doing.
  • Emphasize to your agents that members are stressed, and showing more empathy and patience to members will go a long way for both the caller and agent. Not every call is going to be easy, but expressing understanding to the member can make the call a lot easier.
  • So much will be out of management’s control. It should go without saying that you cannot fault the agent for things they can’t control. Everyone has demands outside of work, and being understanding of that will go far in retaining the agent for future work.

Managing the Call Center

You are managing under circumstances that haven’t been encountered before, and unfortunately, things will probably get worse before they get better. As such, your staff will feel worries and pressures beyond anything they could previously imagine. In this moment, focus on what you can control and put the rest aside:

  • You can recognize and reward your staff each day.
  • You can reach out to your new remote employees.
  • You can be understanding and empathetic.
  • You can (and will) find ways to operate more efficiently and effectively.
  • You and your staff can (and will) rise to the challenge.

Meeting these unprecedented challenges is a difficult adjustment for everyone, but by communicating openly and maintaining gratitude and understanding with your employees, we can all succeed in moving forward.

Frank A. Kovach is Director of Contact Center and Operations Consulting for Advisors Plus. Frank engages with credit unions to identify cost savings and improve operational efficiencies through process change, increased employee engagement and deployment of technology.

Frank’s 30-year career in financial services includes extensive experience in back room operational departments and call centers. Frank focuses on driving improved execution through a solid understanding of key relevant metrics, critical components of employee engagement, logical process flows, and implementing incentive plans to enhance performance and sales.