Could ET Phone Home If He Encountered Your Phone System?

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We all know how important that first impression can be. Whether it's the first view your member sees when they walk into a branch or the logo of your credit union, it's all part of your brand and must present the right image immediately. When was the last time you took a look at how your technology that answers your telephones fits that image and affects that first impression?

Almost all CUs use some type of automated equipment to answer the main number to Member Services. In use for years, why do we still hear so many complaints about telephone automation from members? It's not that there is anything wrong with the technology but, as with many types of automation, the issue is frequently with how it is designed and used.

Do we need one?

To answer this question, you need to understand who is calling and why. The true objective of the technology is to get the caller to the right place quickly to obtain the information that they are looking for. You will go a long way toward improving the experience the members have with your CU if you:

* Consider who is calling. Most credit unions have different types of callers. Typically they are members, vendors, suppliers, board members, business contacts and family members. Each caller has different needs.

* Consider why they are calling. Patterns can be developed for each type of caller to break down the reasons for their calls. Anecdotally, this information can be gathered from staff that answers the phones. It is beneficial to have a week-long tally kept by everyone by call type, day of the week and even time of day to get a good sense of your incoming call patterns.

Once you have your patterns, you can group the call types and their associated call volumes. Consider the information that the callers are looking for. Often, the information "lives" in several places, both systems and people. The people may only be available on certain days and hours while the systems are available 24x7. Some calls are strictly "transactional" (check an account balance, verify funds, etc.), while others are "interactional" (disputes on credit cards, loan application issues, etc.)

Consider callers' comfort levels with the technology. Many people still like to "hear" from a real person that their loan has been approved.

Do Use An Automated System:

* To provide choices of where the caller can obtain information such as on the web, within the on-line banking system, etc.

* To give transactional data to callers comfortable with the technology.

* With high volume call types, use automated systems to route callers to individuals or groups who can handle those requests during working hours. Make sure that alternatives are offered for calls that come in during non-working hours, even if its only a request for the caller to call back during normal working hours. That may be preferable to leaving voicemail.

* Use technology to answer frequent, transactional inquiries (branch locations, directions, hours of operation, etc,).

Don't Use Automated Systems:

* Just because everyone else is or because it came with the telephone system, to ask callers to make selections that will not get them to where they want to be, or to cut costs at the expense of member goodwill. Automated, self-service systems may be cost-effective for the CU but not at the cost of a member's loyalty who is forced to use it.

* As a "holding area" because there are not enough staff available to answer their request. Most callers will accept a short hold time, but allowing large numbers of callers to queue up for long periods is frustrating.

Designing the Systems

If you decide you need an automated system to provide transactional data as well as routing calls, there are guidelines to designing what choices you offer, in what order and with which words or phrases:

* Go back to your calling pattern groups and select the top four or, at a maximum, five reasons that your callers call. These should be your high-level first offerings in your automated system.

* If it will help callers to get to the right place faster, consider sub-groups after the initial choice is made, but again, limited to four or five choices.

* Always offer the ability to hear the choices again.

* Always offer the ability to dial an extension directly if they know it.

* If you offer a choice to obtain transactional data, make sure the caller knows how to reach a "real person" if they have further questions.

* Outline the script, for each choice. Look carefully at the words you are planning on using. Avoid terms and phrases that are unique to credit unions because they can cause confusion. A car dealer will know what CUDL is, a member probably won't.

* The voice you use for recording the system should be clear and consistent. Try to select someone within the organization who will be available to make changes as needed or hire a professional "voice."

Test, test, test-everything. Have friends and family members outside of the CU try out the scripts and recommend changes.

Automated systems are a good way to get callers to the information they need efficiently and cost-effectively. If they are designed and deployed with the caller in mind, they will have a much better chance of acceptance and enhancing the image of the credit union.

Denise Maitlow is a Senior Advisor with The Comb Group and can be reached at 415-772-0903 or dmatlow"

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