And while these tools of convenience and efficiency are ever-evolving to enhance the member experience, they can also serve as a source of confusion as members learn and relearn new systems, apps and interfaces.
All of which makes credit union service resources more critical than ever – and places call center agents at the heart of the member experience they provide.
“Credit union members are increasingly turning to online and mobile channels, a dynamic that benefits everyone involved,” said Carol Cline-Parton, vice president, CO-OP Member Center, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CO-OP Financial Services. “However, there are occasions when a member’s self-service experience goes awry, and that is why call center support is so vitally important.”
Mobile Madness and Other Member Pain Points
According to Cline-Parton, increasingly CO-OP Member Center inquiries are focused around mobile issues.
“Members are constantly upgrading to new smartphones, so we field a lot of questions related to their mobile banking apps,” she said. “We are also seeing an uptick in inquires related to Apple, Samsung and Android Pay, suggesting that digital wallet technology is gaining traction with consumers.”
Other common issues addressed by Cline-Parton’s team involve authentication. “Computers are very precise, and when members start guessing at their passwords, they can easily get locked out of the system,” she says. “These situations can be very frustrating to the member and call for immediate assistance.”
And, she adds, members frequently seek their assistance when credit union systems are down – or when key platforms, such as online and mobile banking applications, are upgraded.
“We support the CO-OP ATM network as well,” she said. “This is especially important for members who travel because not all credit union ATMs provide the same level of functionality. So, for example, if a member would like to make a deposit, we can locate the nearest ATM equipped for that application.”
Making the Most of Every Inquiry
While the call center’s primary role is to handle member service issues, Cline-Parton advises credit unions to view this resource as more than just a safety-net for members.
“With so many transactions passing through self-service channels, credit unions have fewer and fewer opportunities to communicate personally with members,” she said. “This means that every member interaction needs to be as engaging as possible, so we do our best to leave members with a lasting positive impression of their credit union.”
This can be a tall order for call center agents, she adds, because they are so frequently serving members in distress.
“Turning a negative situation around requires strong listening skills,” said Cline-Parton. “Members want to be heard, so we coach our agents to show empathy while finding a solution to the issue at hand.”
She also notes the importance of “one-call” resolution. “We empower agents so they can help at many levels, but we also teach them to recognize when an inquiry needs to be escalated,” said Cline-Parton.
The Importance of Training
To ensure success, CO-OP Member Center agents undergo extensive training. “Our agents receive instruction in the classroom and on the floor, and are involved in both phase learning and experience learning,” said Cline-Parton. “For example, we model expected behavior for them and then have them practice it through role playing exercises. We also have agents report on call outcomes and bring questions to the trainer so they can advance their skills.”
Cline-Parton adds that CO-OP utilizes web-based learning as well, with self-paced modules that teach agents how to handle the wide variety of scenarios they may encounter.
“CO-OP agents are also highly trained on each of our products,” she said.
While member service is every agent’s responsibility, Cline-Parton notes that so is credit union branding and marketing – always with the right tone.
“When it comes to cross-selling products, we defer to the credit union to provide guidance,” she said. “There are two approaches. Some ask us to mention a product when a member is on the line, and others want agents to stay focused on ‘problem resolution’ – and to only mention another product if the member brings it up first.”
She continued, “Ultimately, operating a successful call center requires a clearly defined strategy up front. Credit unions need to determine how – and how much – they are willing to support members by asking the right questions. For example, do you wish to provide 24/7 assistance, and does this mean contracting with an external resource such as the CO-OP Member Center? How long is too long for a member to be on hold? Are your self-service applications truly self-sufficient? What happens when a member is locked out of a mobile banking app?
“The service expectations of consumers are very high today – and the quality of your call center support can make or break a member relationship,” said Cline-Parton.