By: Frank Kovach, Principal, Advisors Plus Consulting, PSCU
Change has always had an outsized impact on contact centers. Normally, it has been prompted by mergers, system conversions, marketing programs or new sign-on procedures. But now, those factors pale in comparison to what every credit union contact center has experienced in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How much change is affecting credit unions? A recent pandemic impact survey1 focused on credit union contact centers found that 75% of credit unions surveyed had either no processes or only partial processes in place for remote agents. Responding quickly to the pandemic upheaval, 71% of the credit unions moved agents home. Within just a two-month time frame, credit unions have dramatically increased their utilization of remote agents.
With member service starting to stabilize in this new normal, it’s time to look at next steps. As restrictions ease and business returns to something closer to pre-pandemic levels, what is the way forward for your contact center?
Reimagining Your Contact Center
It is not hyperbole to say the old centralized contact center model has been rendered obsolete. The days of all agents working from contact centers are over. Perhaps more than any other department in your credit union, the contact center is forever changed due to COVID-19.
Credit unions and members have had to react and evolve quickly. Under stay-at-home policies, members have adapted to digital payment services they may have never considered before, causing an uptick in new users, along with their questions.
As technology usage increases and members’ expectations shift to this new normalized service from credit unions, so do issues that generate incoming calls for credit unions. Is it time for management to employ solutions such as AI and bots to be able to efficiently respond to the influx of new callers? Implementing the right tools and processes will be key to sustain success.
Internal communications via chat, video, and team collaboration tools – along with efficient connections – will be the main components of successful remote agents. Is it time to upgrade your IVR to a more flexible, cloud-based system? Do agents have what they need to succeed at home long term – like fast, secure internet connections, multiple monitors, comfortable headsets and ergonomic chairs?
Internally, old views and processes around people management will need to evolve. Managers will need to screen for those best suited for remote work. Supervisors will need to learn different communication and motivation skills. Building a team will require a very different approach. Training will need to adapt.
Without constant visual cues garnered from directly seeing each agent, managers will need to alter their management approaches to better communicate and motivate agents working remotely. Supervisory training programs will need to focus more on life coaching versus micro-managing.
Finding an equilibrium between contact center operations pre-pandemic and this new evolving model, while ensuring member service remains high, will take a thorough strategic evaluation and buy-in from management at all levels. Now is the time to lay the foundation for effective, secure connections and policies for all employees, along with processes to review security protocols on a regular basis.
It’s a Whole New Staffing Paradigm
Many, if not all, of your agents have now experienced Work at Home (WAH), and a good percentage of those love it and will want to keep doing it. If your credit union doesn’t provide the option for it, there’s another FI that will. If implemented wisely, by selecting the right agents and putting processes and controls in place to ensure its success, WAH can benefit contact centers in multiple ways. First and foremost are qualitative improvements in agent attrition, something every credit union battles. Multiple studies show large reductions in WAH agent attrition, some as high as 80%. The elimination of a daily commute along with its associated expenses, in conjunction with job flexibility, increases job satisfaction.
Additionally, WAH can significantly increase agent talent and expertise. According to a study performed by contact center analyst firm Frost & Sullivan2 the median age of a WAH employee is 38, versus 23 for on-site agents. Also, 80% of WAH agents have some college-level education, compared to 35% of on-site agents.
These gains can be attributed to the expanded pool of potential agents when on-site work is no longer a requirement. An older employee brings not only more education, but added life experience and empathy, creating a better member interaction.
Finally, WAH opens up a wide array of options for agent scheduling. Without the constraints of on-site work, which has led to over 90% of agents working full time, credit unions can create attractive part-time positions that address inherent scheduling weaknesses. The flexibility to fill call demand gaps through split or interval scheduling, along with more creative pay structures, could provide powerful assists in meeting ever-increasing member service expectations.
Find the Right Path
Finding the right balance in a new operating model will be vital to moving forward. These are only a few of many areas that need to be considered. Your contact center is critical to your credit union membership, and is the lifeline for many members in navigating through the pandemic response. Now is the time for senior management and contact center managers to think strategically and tactically on how they envision keeping their contact center and their employees successful into the future.
12020 Credit Union Coronavirus Resiliency Survey Results – June 2020, Strategic Contact
Frank A. Kovach is a Principal Consultant with the Contact Center and Operations practice at PSCU’s 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.