FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – Seeking to serve members better at lowercost, credit unions may be tempted to overlook the contact centerwhile emphasizing Web-based services. Still, if every channel is toyield maximum return on investment, the contact center – sometimesexpected to be a “branch without cash” – deserves attention andposes significant choices, according to a recent report fromFinancial Insights, the Framingham-based research and advisoryfirm. The Financial Insights report forecasts that contact centerswill remain focused on inbound service calls and will never grabtop billing from the traditional branch and ATM as consumerchannels of choice. “Call center/IVR rates are highly variable andreflect the financial institution's contact center strategies,”said FI analyst Richard Bell. His report says that such strategiescan “dramatically influence” call volume, costs, issue resolution,and customer relationship management (CRM). Financial Insightsconducted structured telephone interviews, based on more than 180questions and topics, with 20 retail financial service call-centerexecutives and managers. There is a complex balance between IVRtechnology and agent staffing, and institutions can tip thisbalance not only with cost cutting but also with businessphilosophy, Bell says. Strategic choices “can have a dramaticimpact on overall call center expense,” he says. Since agent costper call is roughly 22 times higher than IVR cost per call, Bellsays, “this is a major operational decision that should becarefully considered.” Costs for IVR are as low as a nickel percall for an institution running an old, fully amortized system, oras much as a dollar per call for an institution with a new systeminstalled only recently. Most institutions reported a cost of about13.5 cents per call, which the FI report characterizes as bothreasonable and stable over time. By contrast, the cost picture foragent calls has dramatically changed. Cost per call ranged in thesurvey from $1.50 to $6, each, with most institutions clustered atabout $3 per call. From a CRM viewpoint, the call-center agent iscommonly the first or second most frequent point of personalinteraction – rivaled only by the teller – between the consumer andthe financial institution. Institutions, Bell says, “shouldseriously consider using such centers to build a relationship withthe customer and, when appropriate, to sell.”

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