Call Centers: Gearing Up for the Electronic Hub of the (near) Future

By Bosco, Pearl | American Banker, September 15, 1997 | Go to article overview

Call Centers: Gearing Up for the Electronic Hub of the (near) Future


Bosco, Pearl, American Banker


Banks set on optimal service are integrating channels and databases for the ultimate cross-sell opportunity. Just look to costs, financial and otherwise, and make sure your center works efficiently.

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."

technology in the air

At the same time, through a host of messages from the manufacturing arena such as "Quality is job one" and "Anything, anytime," consumers are becoming oriented to technology packaged in manageable ways, according to Dominick Cavuoto, consulting partner in charge of financial services electronic commerce, KPMG Peat Marwick LLP. "Think of the scanner at the supermarket checkout counter or the wand at the gas station which automatically starts the pump and charges your account," he says.

Some industry experts argue that since revenue momentum is a problem in banking, the call center, a focal point of customer information and contact, will become more important for proactive marketing, sales, and customer retention as well as service. It will almost equal the branch network, which will concentrate on service, reports Ladd Willis, executive vice president of First Manhattan Consulting Group. "A couple of years ago (we expected) the branch to become the sales organization. Instead, 75 percent of the sales in branches produced unprofitable relationships." The call center is the logical point to pull information together so that wherever the customer interacts, the bank turns the point of contact to a sale or retention activity. "You must monitor customers and flag their needs or they may be targeted by the competition," he adds.

So what's the hold-up in building a multi-media call center operation? The ramifications of year 2000, at the moment. "Banks are overwhelmed by the people and huge resources devoted to it," says Anne Livingston, payments systems coordinator at the American Bankers Association (ABA), Washington, DC. When IT says something about call centers, the bank says 'Get in line.' It's a problem of where it falls in the food chain."

Trepidation about cost, personnel, organizational change and lack of political will are more constant factors. The question of where the responsibility sits for such a decision varies with each institution. At PNC Bank Corp. ($73.2 billion in assets) in Pittsburgh, PA, executive vice president Frederick J. Gronbacher took that lead. In July of this year the call center took 2.9 million calls; 965,000 were answered in person.

The bank is organized into market segments and components. Segments include private banking, small business banking, American Automobile Association (AAA) members, and mass market. Products include loans, credit cards, deposits, and investment products. Channels include branches and the National Financial Services Center, PNC's direct bank responsible for the telephone and online activities: ATMs, PC banking, kiosks, and the Internet. "Once you divide business into components (manufacturing refers to products; sales to customer segments; delivery to service, sales), you try to manage each business to its value proposition," he says. …

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