Call centers are ever more prominent in European retail banks’ distribution strategy. And as banks move towards more complicated, personalized products, the demands on call centers and agents are continuously growing. New CRM technologies could help meet the challenges this creates: Datamonitor’s Christine Skouenborg investigates how…
Call centers and their agents look set to attain an even more prominent role in European retail banks’ distribution and CRM strategies, as banks aim to cut costs and maintain high levels of customer service.
Unsurprisingly, as the cost pressures on retail banks get stronger, they will look to optimize their call centers further and make corresponding cuts to the bank branch. For IT vendors, this signals further growth prospects for call center technology in the retail banking sector.
However, success for banks and IT firms alike will hinge on the availability of IT solutions that offer marked service improvements and cost savings.
Turning away from the branch
In Europe, retail banking has been one of the most important industries to use call centers; they have assumed a central position in distribution strategies. Today’s call center does not just perform the customer service of giving a simple balance enquiry: its agents are also well equipped to offer more personal financial advice.
A recent Datamonitor survey found that in European retail banking, call centers are second only to branches in terms of generating business. As a result, retail banking agent positions in Europe account for nearly half of financial services call center agent positions, or 8% of total agent positions.
Cost pressures are driving retail banks to find cheaper alternatives to expensive traditional channels such as branches. Call centers allow banks to reduce costs whilst maintaining high levels of customer service.
As retail banks juggle the downward cost pressures imposed by market conditions, simple enquiries will increasingly be handled by the cheap impersonal channels, like the Internet, while call center agents add greater value by helping customers with more complex enquiries and services. So banks will push a substantial number of enquiries into call centers and make the corresponding cuts in the branches.
I hear you – and I’m a machine
Speech recognition allows call centers to handle more complex customer enquiries and requests without involving an agent at all. The caller speaks directly to the computer, rather than using the touch-tones on a phone. This frees call center agents to handle the more valuable and complex customer services.
Speech recognition can deal with the routine parts of a call, taking the caller’s details, directing them to the most appropriate person and even giving out simple information such as bank balances. For customer enquiries that require authentication, voice technologies can allow for over-the-phone authentication using voice-prints.
Another technology that’s highly relevant for retail banking call centers is skills-based routing – it allows a given incoming call to be directed to an agent whose skills correspond closest to the request or enquiry.
Similarly, value-based routing is also gaining prominence in retail banks – it allows them to route callers according to their value. A premium customer, for example, may receive a faster service or be bumped to the front of the queue.
The twin benefits ensuing from the improving of routing technologies is potentially that it allows to save costs by shaving off call minutes, while simultaneously providing a better and more personalized service to the customers.
Getting the staff – and keeping them working
As the role of call center agents expands, call center managers will increasingly need to ensure that agents are properly allocated and trained. Workforce optimization solutions are designed to monitor, analyze and improve agent performance in the face of ever-increasing enquiry and request complexity.
Already, a growing number of call centers are implementing agent efficiency applications, such as quality monitoring, eLearning, workforce management and agent analytics.
Meanwhile – and importantly – Internet protocol architecture can improve the efficiency of the bank branch network by enabling bank branch staff to handle calls coming into the call center. This enables the call center to take advantage of times when call traffic is high but branch activity is low.
This may be particularly valuable for banks in national markets where it has been difficult to role back the branch network, meaning significant excess branch capacity. It also makes it easier for retail banks to find the highly skilled labor they need to deal with high-value customers and complex products.
Putting it all together…
The overall success of CRM implementation, however, hinges on banks’ ability to deal effectively with the organizational and business obstacles to CRM. In the call center context, the primary requirement is that agents are trained to use the system properly.
Retail banks have diversified their product offering, moving away from traditional products toward more complicated, personalized ones – so the demands on call centers and agents are continuously growing.
On top of that, the types of enquiries moved out of the branch will tend to be more complex than those traditionally dealt with by call centers, imposing still greater demands on call centers in terms of service levels and agent qualifications.
This is why technology is key. The complex demands facing call centers will make certain technologies – such as speech recognition, routing and workforce optimization – critical to the optimal functioning of retail banking call centers.
If you found this article interesting, you may be interested in Datamonitor’s new executive report, Call and Contact Centers in Retail Banking (BFTC0763), which highlights key reasons for banks to invest in call center technology – and key opportunities for technology vendors – in the US and European retail banking space.