Investments in customer service operations can pay real dividends, according to a recently published best practices study from Andersen Consulting.

The study, called Strategies for High Performance, found that a $5 billion-asset bank ranking among the bottom 25% of banks in productivity could save $1.28 million annually by patterning its deposit operations after a bank in the 75th percentile.

The findings are a rare quantification of the effect of improved customer service operations.

According to the study, most low performing institutions are under utilizing customer service operations, which leads to more stress on personnel in other areas of the bank.

In addition, customer service areas at low performers tend to be significantly less productive in areas such as abandoned call rates and average customer wait times. This leads to a need for higher customer service staffing at these institutions.

By reducing inefficiencies, a $5 billion-asset low performer can reduce its full-time work force by 50, which accounts for a large portion of the aforementioned annual savings.

One way to reduce staffing is to approach the function more analytically: "High performers use more part-time and peak-time staffing to match call volumes carefully with available capacity," the report reads.

High performers also tend to employ more sophisticated call management technologies, which, in part, explains their ability to handle more than four times as many calls per day as low performers.

Another reason for this disparity is that customer service employees at high-performing institutions tend to have more information readily accessible.

Armed with detailed, up-to-date customer account data, customer service representatives can resolve more inquiries with the customer on the phone, which translates into reduced costs and more satisfied callers.

In addition, the bank employees also can more readily recognize opportunities when given complete customer profiles.

As such, the Andersen study points towards an increased investment in the technology that supplies information to customer service representatives.

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