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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. – As might be expected, those routine queries for funds transfer and deposit verification have taken a sharp drop at call centers, but the new reality is this, according to one call center expert: “more detailed requests from members on loan and deposit products.” That assessment comes from David Lockhart, director of the Telephone Access Center at Sunmark FCU who attributes the changing nature of call center business to new technology and changing consumer needs. “As we give our members more real time” on loan and deposit options, said Lockhart, “there has been more activity on our voice response unit and home banking/bill pay products thus increasing the ratio” of electronic to human transactions. Lockhart, a speaker at next month’s annual Credit Union Call Center Conference in Las Vegas, conceded that the overall growth in call center volume for his own CU dropped from a few short years ago as Internet usage climbed. The $370 million Schenectady-based CU in 2003 posted a call volume increase of 6.3% over 2002, but three years ago yearly increases were in the 30%-plus range. For example, call center volume jumped 38% in 2000 over 1999, 30% in 2001, but only 10% in 2002. Lockhart who will speak on “The Call Center Magic Zone” at the Sept. 19-22 conference sponsored by the New Mexico Credit Union League, noted falloff in simple transaction calls has given way to the “longer, more detailed requests” centering on deposit account choices, stop payments, check ordering and loan applications.” The call center continues to see an increase in call volume, “but not to the extent it was a few years ago, ” he said adding the average length of calls has increased from 94 seconds in 2000 to 132 seconds in 2003. “ Don’t get me wrong,” stressed Lockhart. “The call center is not a dying area of the credit union. Its function has simply changed. We provide service and financial advice in replacement of the simple transactions.” Call center functions, he continued, have increased “to add services like e-mail response, Internet loans and live chat, and so this is a key reason why we must change to a sales and service culture.” A few years ago, he went on, it was considered “incredible to offer a 24 hour turn-around on a loan decision, but now we give an immediate answer when the member calls in their consumer loan request. ” Sunmark averages a 7.5 minute turnaround on consumer loans in the call center, he said adding “ members like that and we do it because we do not want to give them time to get their financing elsewhere.” Overall, he concluded, through the call center, members “depend on us to give sound financial advice on their loans, deposits and other products and services we offer,” he said. When members call, “we give the personal care they have to come to expect from their credit union.” [email protected]

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