The millennium is nigh, but the age of miracles hasn't passed. That's the drill about the call center of the not-too-distant future, three years, by most accounts. It will integrate all channels, echo the retail chain mantra of "consistent customer experience" (uniformity and reliability), and, mirabili dictu, present the ultimate cross-selling opportunity for financial services, in real time. What more could bankers ask for?

The popularity of the telephone itself makes call centers the natural hub for electronic delivery for both consumers and banks, reports Ian Rubin, technical analyst at The Tower Group in Needham, MA. Echoing the views of others, he says, "A lot of financial service customers are accustomed to using the phone. It is ubiquitous, cost effective, comfortable, and accessible. A lot of the infrastructure in place at larger institutions for the phone channel can support the fax, Internet, and emerging channels."

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