Credit union contact centers have had quite the year. As the front line for fielding and responding to member inquiries, contact centers play an outsized role in the member experience. This year, that experience has been upended by COVID-19, forcing contact centers to adapt quickly in order to ensure the safety of their agents and continuity of service for members. Now, as a second wave of COVID-19 descends upon the U.S., credit unions can look to the lessons learned in the early days of the pandemic to better prepare and respond to the challenges ahead.
Like most credit unions across the country, CO-OP has experienced massive spikes in call volume with our CO-OP Contact Center, as high as 75% to 100% over normal levels during the early months of the pandemic. While some of that can be attributed to the initial transition to “physically-distanced” banking, the fact that volumes remain high today indicates this may be a prolonged trend.
“Members have experienced so many changes in their daily lives the past nine months, from having virtual medical appointments to home-schooling their children, or ordering groceries online,” says Tammy Snyder, SVP, CO-OP Contact Center Services. “Some of these behaviors may change as the pandemic dies down, but many others may be permanent.”
In response, credit unions have had to either hire additional agents quickly or pull resources from other areas of the organization to handle the overflow volume. This was particularly challenging in the early months of the pandemic when shelter-in-place orders forced organizations to pivot to support remote working.
“At CO-OP, we had to transition 125 of our Contact Center agents to remote working within two weeks of the crisis. For the rest, we had to quickly stand up a ‘physically-distanced’ work environment across our three CO-OP Contact Center locations.”
While the effort was challenging, Snyder points to three key takeaways that can help credit unions prepare for the uncertainty of COVID-19 going into 2021:
Prioritize Staff Safety
Whereas many contact centers allowed agents to work from home during the early stages of the crisis, a number began transitioning workers back to centralized locations over the summer. To support the return of agents to the office, contact center leaders must provide on-site staff with a clean working environment with adequate social distancing. In addition, best practices such as requiring employees to undergo temperature checks before entering the facility will help protect team members’ health as well as reinforce the organization’s message of a commitment to employee safety.
“Regular communication to employees will go miles toward establishing trust that the credit union’s leadership is considering employee needs in their decision making,” Snyder says. “Sometimes the message being communicated might not be one that everyone wants to hear— such as not all employees can and will work remote indefinitely – but they will appreciate the direct and honest communications.”
Prepare for an Accelerated Pace of Change
If the immense challenges of 2020 have proven anything, it’s the importance of maintaining resiliency, flexibility and adaptability. Credit union contact centers have largely embraced this charge, and in many cases are better positioned now to handle future crises.
“One change I have seen in many organizations (including ours) is the acceleration of speed to delivery,” Snyder says. For instance, to support the increase in high-volume call times in the early weeks of the pandemic, CO-OP prioritized the implementation of a Courtesy Call Back feature, which allowed members to opt for a call back rather than remaining on hold for an agent.
“Accelerated delivery doesn’t apply solely to technology but also to organizational operational policy and procedural improvements as well, adds Snyder. “Gone are the days of scheduling meetings upon meetings to analyze, discuss and plan every aspect of a change or enhancement before execution. For example, our contact center team changed our plans for hiring, training and staffing many times over as the COVID situation involved.”
Snyder says it is also important to ensure key areas of the organization have an early seat at the table for any planned changes.
“The ‘rules’ around all things COVID are changing at a very rapid pace and anything a credit union puts in place today may need to be modified or completely changed tomorrow,” Snyder says. “Contact center leaders cannot do it on their own, and even seasoned leaders need to work closely with partners to make decisions as needed. Having support partners in HR, training, recruiting, technology, and legal that recognized we needed to be able to change, adapt, grow and then do it all over again on a regular basis has helped our success.”
Partnering for Resiliency and Peace of Mind
As the pandemic took hold this spring, additional support staff became an urgent need and credit unions are now considering outsourcing all or portions of their contact centers.
“Many credit unions do not have the physical space to allow for adequate social distancing nor the flexibility to tap into additional agents when needed,” Snyder says. “The member calls don’t stop in those situations and I suspect many credit unions are pulling in people from other areas of their organization to help cover shortages.”
Partnering with a trusted contact center, like CO-OP Contact Center can help fill the gaps as credit unions adjust to a new reality. With over 400 agents and a range of customizable services, including fully trained live universal agents based right here in the U.S. and interactive voice response (IVR) for the growing percentage of members that prefer self-service, such solutions can provide credit unions with much-needed relief.
“We currently support clients ranging from those with only a handful of their own agents up to a few hundred,” Snyder adds. “With the benefit of the continued cross training we have done across all of our teams, we can shift agents to help where needed.”
All organizations are facing heightened uncertainty following the events of this year. Snyder is heartened by the credit union movement’s proven resiliency and willingness to embrace change.
“We would be miles behind where we are today if we were not all willing to accelerate. I hope that post-COVID, none of us loses that drive to adapt and succeed.”
As your credit union adapts to the new normal, meeting your members’ expectations for on-demand, 24/7 assistance is increasingly important. CO-OP Contact Center offers live, personalized help for your members around the clock, after hours or anytime you need additional support. Learn more about CO-OP Contact Center and all our Engage solutions here.