For millions of Americans, the holiday season is the perfect time to travel.
In fact, USA Today reports that an estimated 100.5 million U.S. consumers traveled more than 50 miles from their homes last year between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, according to the Automobile Club of America.
And AAA predicts that this year’s holiday travel season will top national records, with an estimated 48.7 million Americans traveling during the 2016 Thanksgiving weekend alone.
While holiday travel can be filled with excitement and festivities, it also brings with it unique risks and inconveniences for consumers, especially where their money is concerned.
“During the holidays, many credit union members find themselves in faraway places at a time when they need their institution’s products and services the most,” said Carol Cline-Parton, Vice President, CO-OP Member Center, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CO-OP Financial Services. “This dynamic can place added demands on a credit union, and especially on their call center.”
To serve members well wherever their holiday travels take them, Cline-Parton advises credit unions to follow these best practices:
- Extend Call Center Hours, Especially on Black Friday.
According to Cline-Parton, Black Friday is likely the busiest day of the year for a credit union call center – as it is for the CO-OP Member Center.
“We experience a much higher volume of calls on Black Friday not only due to the purchasing patterns of members, but also because many credit unions remain closed to extend the holiday for employees,” said Cline-Parton. “Credit unions need to cover Black Friday well, whether the added support comes from staffing up internally or tapping the resources of an external call center such as ours.”
She added that extended call center support is particularly important on Black Friday because it is a time when many members exceed their daily spending limits. “When that is the case, these members will want to talk with someone right away to resolve the issue,” she said.
While Black Friday is typically the busiest shopping day of the year, Cline-Parton notes that members will continue to travel – and spend – across geographies and time zones throughout the holiday season.
“Consider that a traveling member might be dealing with an unforeseen event, such as a lost or stolen card,” she said. “In these instances, it is vitally important to be able to reestablish that card for the member right away – and for dispute processing to be expedited as well, so any missing funds are back in the member’s account as quickly as possible.”
- Participate in Shared Branching.
“Members don’t always anticipate their banking needs before they leave town,” said Cline-Parton. “And when they are on the road they will want to quickly locate the closest ATM or shared branch for the same routine transactions they conduct at home.”
She reminds credit unions that CO-OP Shared Branch (5,400 locations) and CO-OP ATM (30,000 machines) span the U.S, making it convenient for members to withdraw cash, complete deposits, transfer funds, check their balances and make loan payments when they are traveling.
- Leverage Mobile Channels.
For members who are away from home, and especially during the holidays, Cline-Parton emphasizes the importance of mobile access to cards and accounts.
“The Sprig by CO-OP mobile banking app gives members visibility into multiple accounts without having to login to each account separately,” she said. “This can be tremendously helpful to them in their efforts to monitor and manage holiday expenses without the conveniences of home.”
She advises credit unions to take their mobile strategy one step further by providing self-service authentication via mobile and online channels as well.
“If a member has forgotten an account password, he or she can be locked out of the account after multiple login attempts,” she said. “This can be particularly problematic for members when they travel. Credit unions absolutely need a system in place that automatically texts and emails password reset links to members so they can regain critical account access in a very timely manner.”
She adds that mobile can play a valuable role in detecting and mitigating card fraud as well. “When fraud is suspected, there is always a sense of urgency about the situation,” said Cline-Parton. “Credit unions should use every channel available to them to connect with impacted members, and automated calls and texts sometimes get through faster than emails.”
She continued, “Remind members to notify you of their travel plans in advance as well. This is so important to ensure both their account security and access to card products while away. And always remember that members have choices, and that your credit union is competing in this industry with many other financial institutions, large and small. Investing in the service resources you need during the pivotal holiday season will help strengthen member relationships throughout the new year and beyond.”