Reduce Call Center Hold Times

CUs struggle to balance member service and cost control.

April 25, 2011

Every good business executive recognizes that satisfied customers are the key to success. Yet, many credit unions—like all businesses—struggle to quantify the value of member service against the fundamental need to achieve profitability.

One place where this tug of war is evident is with call centers.

In a perfect world (especially for the member), every inbound call would be answered immediately by someone with the knowledge to respond to the caller's needs.

In reality, financial pressures often force credit unions to live with hold (also called queue or wait-to-answer) times that are above the industry average, leading to excessive rates of call abandonment.

For most credit unions, the problem lies not with the call center metrics, but with how management looks at them.

If your members are waiting more than two minutes, on average, to reach a service representative (the industry average, according to the bank and credit union research firm Facilitas), it's time to change your outlook.

A new viewpoint

Most credit unions have much smaller call centers than the mega-centers of behemoth banks. As a result, they lack sophisticated measurement tools that can pinpoint where problems occur.

Instead, their phone systems may tell them call volume or call abandonment has spiked, leading them to think they have a staffing shortage. The added expense can harm the bottom line because it raises overhead without necessarily increasing business or member satisfaction.

To engage in more productive and efficient decision-making to reduce hold times, credit unions should:

  • Break down and scrutinize call activity in the smallest practical segments (15 minutes is optimal), as well as in big blocks (weekly, monthly, annually) to see when call volumes are high and low. Organize staffing so coverage is tightly aligned with need.
  • Eliminate data from calculations for calls abandoned in less than 10 seconds. Although call abandonment rates are an important metric for determining service shortages, it’s not efficient or necessary to staff for short wait-period consumers who generally have the wrong number, aren’t ready, etc.

Once you've done that, identify spikes of abandonment by long wait-time callers (those who wait more than 30 seconds). These are periods of true understaffing you should address.

  • Determine total call times (talk time plus hold time during the call, if any, plus work time to complete actions from the call) for each representative and compare it against his or her sales goal attainment rates.

If your service representatives aren't well-trained or don't follow a formal process (such as asking qualifying questions), the resulting inefficiency will cause big bottlenecks in call center operations.

Keep in mind that performance incentives can work wonders to increase call efficiency.

  • Find out (if you have a means of tracking computer activity) what else service representatives are doing while they’re working. Sending e-mails, processing mail, and engaging in web or video chat are great ways to boost overall output during slow times (assuming the activity is work-related).

However, if those activities are occurring during periods of high-call volume, it will likely increase hold times. Encourage multi-tasking, but only when appropriate, and account for that added, non-call-related productivity in your metrics.

The production boost may enable you to justify more resources when you really need them.

After you have made these changes, you should see a noticeable reduction in hold times. Furthermore, any staffing increases you make should have a corresponding productivity increase.

The result will be more satisfied members and a better financial picture for your branch.

W. MICHAEL SCOTT is CEO of Financial Management Solutions Inc., Alpharetta, Ga. The company provides business intelligence and performance management systems that allow financial institutions to manage and staff efficiently to meet service and sales needs. Contact him at 877-887-3022.