Shared Call Center Helps CUs Answer Phone 24/7

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The advent of the Internet allowing people to do and see thing anywhere at any time has created a 24/7 world-but credit unions and other financial institutions largely have tried to maintain "banker hours" to their peril.

That's why a growing number of businesses are opening 24/7 call centers, according to one expert.

"We live in an instant access world," said Howard Hoemann, vice president of Digital Dialogue, a company that supplies round-the-clock phone center services to credit unions. "As consumers, we've gotten used to instant access, instant gratification and instant information. Sometimes there are Starbucks locations on both sides of the street so we don't even have to turn."

Hoemann, a credit union movement veteran who served two terms as president of the Connecticut CU League, spoke at the recent Financial Service Centers Cooperative (FSCC) annual conference here. He said people today not only expect instant access to assistance, they don't have time to talk with someone who does not have the answer.

And moving member service to the CU's website doesn't solve the problem, he explained, because many people are calling because they have an issue with their online experience.

"Many credit union members are doing business on the credit union website, but help has to be available from a call center if the member has a problem. They can get locked out of their account, or the site might not be functioning. Or, some people aren't capable of finding the information they want online."

A good call center and a website operate in tandem, he added.

Some CUs have attempted to make automated information available via voice response systems. But Hoemann said these breed more frustration than satisfaction because the choices are complex and too many options are available.

"It's not just credit unions; many organizations require people to go through quite a few hoops before they can talk to a live person."

The answer, he said, is to have phone representatives available at all times. But, if operating a 24/7 call center is not feasible for a CU, Hoemann suggested companies such as his. Digital Dialogue operates three redundant call centers: two in Michigan, one in Utah. He said the service is available to all members of the FSCC system.

"We have 50 credit unions signed up for our service," he said. The centers use extensive scripting, meaning "Virtually any question the credit union's call center can do, we can do."

Digital Dialogue offers each CU a dedicated toll-free number, which allows customized greetings ("We have people in Michigan answering 'Aloha' for a credit union in Hawaii.'"). Some credit unions use the service to answer all calls, 365 days a year; others do so after business hours, on weekends and holidays, or during overflow times.

In addition to answering questions and checking balances, the call center takes many loan applications, Hoemann reported, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. He said the cost per call is capped at a maximum of $3.25, which he said is lower than the CU average of $5.

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