When the American Automobile Association (AAA) went shopping for a new bank, its primary requirements were that the institution offer both an integrated customer service support platform, where one customer service representative (CSR) could handle a customer's entire relationship with the bank-no transferring to different departments-and "24-by-7" access. PNC Bank Corp., with its recently completed direct bank call center, named the National Financial Services Center (NFSC), met the auto club's demands. And in one fell swoop, PNC, a $73.3 billion-asset bank which currently serves 3.2 million households, gained access to AAA's membership of 20 million.

NFSC is a centralized telebanking center, and it's changing the face and focus of customer service in banking. This call center is equipped to quickly retrieve complete customer information files on demand, whether a customer is accessing the bank by phone or PC. And its CSRs don't just provide account information; they are also incented to grow the customer relationship, pitching bank products and services to customers who call in as well as those who don't.

The decision to reinvent the call center and consolidate the distributed regional call centers was based on customer demand. "We are always surveying customers to see if we are meeting what they expect from us and found a lot of our business is clearly going toward alternative (channels) of delivery," says Roger DuBois, PNC's svp and head of NFSC. "Convenience to direct banking is very attractive. If we didn't provide it, we risked losing customers."

Bank officials also found that PNC's eight regional call centers were not able to support the kind of 24-by-7 customer service that the marketplace demanded. So the bank started over, investing more than $25 million to launch NFSC. And two years later, in the last quarter of 1996, the call center became fully operational. It now encompasses 90,000 square feet on five floors of a downtown Pittsburgh office building, employing approximately 800 persons, including 600 financial consultants.

The call center staff reflect a consolidated employee pool. Duplicate jobs and those positions no longer in keeping with NFSC's more sophisticated mission have been eliminated throughout the PNC market area, which covers Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, as well as mortgage offices in 30 states. While DuBois says it's not company policy to disclose costs or the number of positions eliminated, he did note that many workers were offered to relocate to Pittsburgh.

The creation of NFSC also affected the company's 827 branches. In some cases, such as in Philadelphia and New Jersey, there was a significant drop in branch traffic, leading to closings. DuBois is quick to add, however, "There is a lower demand for branches, but we will always have branches for those customers who prefer them."

Nevertheless, the key to the call center implementation lay in enabling technology from Middletown, RI-based Early, Cloud & Co., an IBM company. Using CallFlow, a middleware solution, financial consultants are able to quickly access customer records as needed. More specifically, CallFlow provides a way for collapsing as much relevant data as possible onto one graphical screen, says Leah Rubenstein, PNC's vp of the call center's strategic implementations. "With a click of the mouse, the consultants can see the full customer relationship. No more logging into numerous systems during the phone call. No jotting down the customer's name or account number on scrap paper so the consultant doesn't forget. Training is substantially less, and we believe that productivity is improving as well."

Further, PNC will use NFSC equipment and staffing to deliver all on- line and PC account servicing. And the company plans to install NFSC branching equipment, such as ATM kiosks, in corporate offices and colleges. "We want to create a national coast-to-coast bank through the NFSC. And while it is not branchless, it is virtually branchless," says DuBois.

The direct bank has the capacity to do it, too. The system, DuBois says, can develop and support a bank with assets between $10 and $15 billion over the next eight or nine years for far less than it would cost to acquire such a bank.

-witt tfn.com

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