Going for Quality, Not Quantity

smiling young woman using headset in call center
Contributing Writer

12 minutes

New analytics and digital approaches put the focus on satisfied members, not just speedy responses in the call center.

The shift to digital banking is transforming the way credit unions interact with members from branch to call center. 

In the past, members who had problems brought them to the branch where they were solved face-to-face. Then came the call center, which handled those problems on the phone. That became the contact center, which combined phone and online interactions. Now in some credit unions, this center for member communications is becoming the engagement center where agents solve problems in a variety of ways from chat to text, and truly build relationships in the process.  

This transformation from call center to engagement center is part of an effort to provide personalized customer service—long every credit union’s bragging point—in a digital world. Gartner describes an engagement center as a system that “includes software applications used to provide customer service and support by engaging intelligently—both proactively and reactively—with customers by answering questions, solving problems and giving advice.”  

These cutting-edge systems use artificial intelligence to do speech analytics that can monitor all calls and identify member sentiment, good or bad, and spot areas where agents stumble that may indicate a need for more training or a change in procedure. 

The irony is that the gold standard of online customer experience as provided by Amazon involves no personal customer interaction. That website is built to be intuitive and includes easy ways to resolve any problem, and it is impossible and unnecessary to even find a phone number to call for help.  

“I think that that’s a great aspiration to get to a point where everybody can do anything on their own,” says Steve Hasmanis, VP/contact center growth strategy and optimization at CUES Supplier member Vericast, San Antonio, Texas. But if a member is banking with a credit union and loses her debit card or sees $1,000 missing from her account, that tends to be something for which she’ll want an immediate interaction. “You want to explain the urgency, and that tends to be a person-to-person interaction that is served best by the phone. I think you’re always going see some level of need for that.”

Vericast provides call center service for several hundred credit unions across the U.S., offering everything from occasional support when a credit union’s own center gets swamped to after-hours service to complete outsourcing. The company’s goal is to ensure that credit union members who call with a problem feel as though they are talking to someone from their credit union.

Hasmanis says personal interaction from the call center allows a credit union to build an emotional bond with members by showing it is a partner that cares. “That’s an opportunity to keep that member for life.”

Steve Kaish
SVP/Product Marketing
If you have a problem and you’re 75% of the way through what you’re trying to do inside the app or in the portal and you get stuck, you shouldn’t have to pick up the phone and start all over again.

Measuring Success

What metrics does Hasmanis recommend credit unions use to evaluate their centers? He notes that first-call resolution is a common measure that tracks whether a caller was able to get someone to solve their problem effectively and without too much effort. That led a few years ago to measuring customer effort and looking for ways to reduce the friction that can upset members.

What sort of friction? One example could be starting their journey with a question on chat, then finding after several minutes that they need to phone for help, then having to start over and identify themselves again and explain their problem to someone else. 

“That’s too much effort, considering that they probably didn’t want to pick up the phone in the first place,” Hasmanis says. “We only want to call our friends and family. We just want to have other things work properly. So, measuring first-call resolution is one of the most powerful things.”

Vericast also looks at quality scores. It records all calls and uses speech analytics to identify which ones to check further. 

Rini Fredette, SVP/contact center services and solutions at CUESolutions provider PSCU, St. Petersburg, Florida, says, “Quality is the first metric when focusing on providing a great member experience.” PSCU uses this metric to evaluate agents on the service they are delivering in the call centers it fields for its 900 credit union clients. 

PSCU launched speech analytics about 18 months ago. This technology allows the CUSO to automatically score multiple aspects of all calls and frees its quality analysts to focus on other areas that artificial intelligence can’t evaluate and provides a more holistic evaluation of an agent’s performance. PSCU considers call sentiment, which speech analytics can measure, and non-talk time, since long gaps can indicate that an agent is struggling to find the answer to a query and may need some additional development. “Non-talk time can also be awkward or uncomfortable and affect the member experience,” says Fredette. 

According to Fredette, speech analytics help PSCU look closely at calls and identify opportunities, such as when an agent who may handle calls for several credit unions that use a variety of banking systems is having a problem. 

“Until we started using speech analytics, it was difficult to know that an agent was struggling with a specific process on an application,” she says. “Now, we can get down to that level of detail and give agents very direct coaching in those specific areas, which will provide a better member experience going forward.”

Artificial Intelligence and Automation

Andrew Casson, VP/public sector-Americas for CUESolutions provider Content Guru Inc., says artificial intelligence and automation, such as what’s used in Content Guru’s storm platform, have become real game-changers in the call center. They can be used to triage contacts by several channels and provide many responses, which frees agents to handle the tougher issues and provide personal service. 

“It used to be the help desk was the main contact center,” Casson says. “Now it’s about engagement with the client. It’s marketing, it’s sales, it’s cross-sell and upsell. It’s your best opportunity when you have them to say: ‘What else can we help you with? If you’re happy with our service and we’re delighting you, what else can we be doing for you?’

From a management perspective, the focus is shifting from metrics such as average handling time to quality-focused interactions, including post-contact customer surveys done by SMS or email or follow-up call, he adds. “Are we doing great? Did we delight you?”

If the response suggests problems, Contact Guru’s platform makes it easy for supervisors to check the quality of the interaction and determine whether any issues require training—or identify friction that can be eliminated by changing the contact center’s processes.

Agents Work From Home

Many PSCU agents currently work from home, but leveraging analytics allows the credit union service organization to create supervisor dashboards that “dig into the minute detail of what’s happening with a specific agent so leaders can develop a coaching plan that makes sense for that individual,” Fredette adds.

“We have an agent performance scorecard that they get every single day so they can see how they are performing, how they’re trending for the month, and then they can benchmark themselves against their peers,” she says. 

PSCU and Vericast both stress the importance of ensuring their agents are satisfied. “If the agent isn’t happy or doesn’t have the tools they need, it makes their jobs more difficult and, in turn, it makes it really hard for the member to have a good experience as well,” Fredette says. 

Some companies, such as Glia, are working to simplify contact center services by combining them into one seamless environment regardless of channel. 

“For example, if you have a problem and you’re 75% of the way through what you’re trying to do inside the app or in the portal and you get stuck, you shouldn’t have to pick up the phone and start all over again,” says Steve Kaish, SVP/product marketing and alliances for Glia. “You should be able to be joined there by a rep for the credit union, and they can say, ‘All right, I see that you’re trying to transfer money and it seems maybe you don’t know what the routing number is.’”

That option is available because Glia, which has more than 250 credit unions with assets ranging from $45 million to more than $30 billion using its service, offers agents the ability to observe what members are doing in the app or on the website, and if the member agrees, they can do co-browsing, which lets the agent directly show the member how to navigate the site and solve their problem. 

Kaish says agents find this ability transforms their day because they don’t need to spend time waiting for members to figure out what spot on the site the agent is trying to direct them to and growing more and more frustrated because they can’t see what they’re looking for. 

Glia literally wrote the book on customer service. Its CEO Dan Michaeli and Rick Delisi, the company’s lead research analyst, co-wrote Digital Customer Service: Transforming Customer Experience for an On-Screen World. The book explains how focusing on digital customer service can meet all of a customer’s needs in a digital environment, even when this involves talking to a live agent. 

“If you want to truly transform your customer service, you need to move it from a 1940s phone system into something that’s more digitally aligned with everything else you’re doing,” says Kaish.

Rini Fredette
SVP/Contact Center Services and Solutions
Quality is the first metric when focusing on providing a great member experience.

Spending Extra Time Teaching

Kaish notes that credit unions aren’t focused on squeezing agents to wrap up calls quickly so they can get on to the next one. 

“If you spend an extra five minutes with this member, teaching them how to use something so that they’re not going to call every month to ask the same question, that’s a good thing as opposed to making sure you get off the phone as soon as possible,” Kaish says. 

One challenge is making sure that AI-driven bots recognize when to give up and transfer the problem to a human. “When we do that handoff, we take the entire conversation that the bot had and give it to the human, so they can pick up where the bot left off.”

CUES member Tyler Kuhn, CSME, chief marketing and digital experience officer at $630 million Dover Federal Credit Union, in Dover, Delaware, says the introduction of Glia’s system has transformed the way its agents work. 

In the past, some were designated to respond to chat queries, while others handled the phones. “Getting on Glia allowed us to offer a more inclusive environment and say, ‘OK, here we have a next-up mentality. Whatever the next engagement is in the queue, regardless of the channel, that’s what you’re getting,” Kuhn says. This has increased efficiency and helped reduce wait times. 

Since switching to Glia, average handle time at Dover FCU has dropped more than 20% and is now below five minutes.

The other factor that Kuhn focuses on is how calls are reported in the wrap-up codes that agents fill out. In the past a call was logged under what was reported as the first reason for the call. But in reality, calls or online responses can turn into other topics.

“From a management perspective, I can see what the calls are really about,” Kuhn says. “I also noticed that what the agents were remembering about the call is what caused them the most pain, and so when I looked at the numbers, they were completely different.”

For example, a call that might have been logged as being about a loan payment was really spent dealing with problems making a transfer to another institution.

“We focus less on how to answer calls quicker, and we focus our minds on how can we get people to not have to call us,” Kuhn says. “What chokepoints and processes do we need to change? The wrap-up codes allow you to see those.”

Privacy a Concern

A challenge with the Glia system is that some members are nervous about privacy and security issues when they realize the agents can see what they are doing on their screens. Kuhn says it has been important to work with the agents so they are comfortable explaining in clear terms what they can see and do and what they can’t.

An important point to make is that the system does not follow members when they leave the credit union’s website to visit other sites. A second important point is that personal data in the system is anonymized and not made available to call center agents. 

For many contact centers, a major friction point is the need to confirm a member’s identity when they call in or shift from a chat or online session to phone. This can take a couple of minutes and often starts the conversation off on the wrong foot. It is definitely different than the experience of walking into a branch when the member is recognized on sight. 

Illuma, a CUSO based in Plano, Texas, has a high-tech solution to this problem. It uses voice recognition software that it originally developed for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and then pivoted to address the need for passive authentication at credit union contact centers. 

The product, called Illuma Shield, enables credit unions to recognize their members by their voice. The first time a member calls the contact center, Illuma Shield creates an initial AudioPrint in the background while the member is talking with the agent. The AudioPrint is used as a baseline to verify members on subsequent calls. All of this happens only if the member consents to using biometric verification. The result is a frictionless enrollment and verification process that mimics the experience members are accustomed to in a branch.

“Agents simply tell members that we have a new voice verification or voice ID solution in place and you can sign up for it right now,” says Milind Borkar, Ph.D., Illuma’s founder/CEO. “It’ll happen over the course of the call as we go through the service request. No additional actions are required to sign up, and we’re seeing a really high opt-in rate.

“Our credit union clients are able to cut down authentication time by 85 to 95%. It takes seconds versus a minute and a half to two minutes of Q&A. That means the members get service quicker.”

$5.1 billion Connexus Credit Union, in Wausau, Wisconsin, says introduction of the Illuma Shield system has cut call times by more than a minute since it was introduced in 2021, resulting in higher member satisfaction and saving thousands of hours of agents’ time. 

The system also offers the nine credit unions currently using it greater protection against fraud calls, Borkar says. So far, no hacker has defeated the system.  cues icon 

Art Chamberlain focuses his writing on the credit union systems in the U.S. and Canada.

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