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The Credit Union Call Center

November 21, 2014

CUCCC pinkAfter 27 years in the contact center outsourcing industry, I’ve experienced the evolution of the call center and the crucial role it plays in the customer life-cycle. Throughout my tenure, I’ve seen a lot of change and shifting trends along with “experts” attempting to redefine elementary call center practices with ubiquitous buzzwords and terminology. But the one thing that never changes is the importance of fundamental “Call Center 101” methodologies required to deliver an excellent customer experience.

A recent study showed that financial institutions, namely banks, aren’t scoring very high in customer satisfaction these days. Therefore customers are becoming members of credit unions and they’re looking for a more “intimate” service experience. As credit union members ourselves, outsourcing advisors and advocates of customer service, my team at MemberServ Solutions embarked on a journey to research service standards in the credit union industry. We wanted to better understand how credit unions are servicing “members” vs. “customers.”

So we talked to dozens of credit unions. We did extensive due diligence and we reviewed many tangible and intangible variables. We took a holistic view of Total Cost of Ownership and compared internal and outsourced processes and costs. We evaluated performance metrics like First Call Resolution, Cost-To-Serve, Service-To-Sales, NPS, etc. We evaluated training, quality assurance, attrition and performance management. We also reviewed technology and CORE systems connectivity. We took a “deep-dive” (ubiquitous terminology), into the culture and dynamics of internal credit union call centers. More importantly, we took the time to study the relationship between credit unions and outsourced call centers—which is the focus of this article.

So what did we learn from our research? Quite a bit actually. We encountered many success stories that distinguish credit unions as member-centric. However, we did find many gaps and areas of opportunity that we confirmed, are industry-wide concerns. I’ll summarize a few key learning’s:

  • On average—and this is not a scientific survey, annual call volumes appear to be around 3-5 times the size of an average member base
  • Most credit unions in-source a majority of their call center support and outsource overflow and after-hours calls to a handful of “incumbent” 3rd party credit union outsourcers
  • Call center tends to get bundled with other services and at times simply viewed as a “call answering service”
  • In general, in-sourcing and outsourcing costs are high and Return on Investment is under constant scrutiny
  • Credit unions are paying a premium price for call center support and service levels are not always commensurate
  • There are tremendous missed revenue opportunities due to a lack of service-to-sales methodologies and skills training on up-selling and cross-selling members
  • Call centers are run as cost-centers not profit-centers — as they should be with the right combination of process, technology, training and calibration
  • Interestingly, there are effective BPO methodologies we utilize that seem to be underutilized in the credit union sector
  • One of the most striking discoveries is the lack of information available to credit unions on effective call center processes for internal and outsourced operations
  • In summary, the credit union industry is under-served from a call center perspective and many decision makers are welcoming new solutions to solve classic call center problems

Enter MemberServ Solutions (, a compelling contact center that combines the best of the business process outsourcing world with the unique nuances of the credit union world. We’re applying decades of experience and best practices as call center veterans and pioneers to help revolutionize the member experience. Our team of experts are devoted to redefining and vastly improving success metrics and service standards for credit unions.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article along with other interesting topics at


By: Nick Jiwa

Co-Founder, MemberServ Solutions


Credit Union Call Center 2015 in the works

November 12, 2014

For more than 20 years, this conference has been unique because unlike other call center conferences, this one is exclusively for CREDIT UNIONS! We know your call center is where CUCCC pinkthe action is at your credit union. Challenging and fast-paced, your group fields communications from your members and needs to solve their issues, problems and questions fast and accurately.

In addition, technology changes rapidly and you need  to know about the technology your credit union uses to reach members. You’re also selling products and services AND you are on the front lines in the fight against ever-rising threat of fraud.

We know what you’re up against because we work in credit union land, just like you. We understand the credit union mission and philosophy. We speak your language.

At Credit Union Call Center Conference 2015, we’re going to look outside the credit union call center to bring you new strategies and methods to help you make your call center the best it can be when it comes to serving your members.

This year we’re excited to tell you to meet us in Paris. The Paris Las Vegas Hotel, that is. We are planning plenty of fun, educational, and informational speakers and activities.

Watch for upcoming emails with information about other speakers and activities at the CUCCC 2015.

We’re ready to rock and can’t wait to see everyone this year!

Watch the CUCCC 2015 website for registration, room rates, agenda, and other information.


Mission Impossible

September 12, 2013

Will Your Contact Center Accept?

Today’s credit union contact centers must be all things to all people, and as if that weren’t pressure enough, they must make that formidable task look easy and effortless. Like NASA managing a vital space mission, the modern contact center must track a number of complex metrics in order to pair responsive, compassionate member service with relentless attention to efficiency and the bottom line.

Watch the CUCCC 2015 website for registration, room rates, agenda, and other information.

The Central Engine for Member Experience

Credit union contact centers undertake this “mission impossible” all day every day because the stakes are exceptionally high. In any given month, a typical contact center will handle calls equal to 20 percent or more of a credit union’s membership, making it the principal direct touch point with members. With the contact center also being one of the largest direct expense centers for a credit union, it’s critical for it to constantly run on all cylinders.

The challenge of blending the contact center’s role as the organization’s warm, beating heart with the coldhearted realities of staffing and expense control demands experience and a keen eye to understand what truly drives performance and high standards of service. From a thoroughly involved senior management team down to the newest agent, everyone needs to be on the same strategic page to deliver exceptional service.

What Is Wrong with This Picture?

That professional pride is one reason why I was puzzled to see how much press a recent comparison of bank and credit union contact centers received. The survey, conducted by economic research firm, Moebs Services, reached the sweeping conclusion that banks provide better service than credit unions based solely on a mystery shopping exercise in which they counted the number of rings it took banks and credit unions to answer the phone and the average hold times.

Without getting lost in the weeds of the survey’s methodology, what struck me was how simplistic and misleading the survey results were. There are many moving parts that need to come together, not just wait times, to effectively manage a contact center. And today, it’s critical for credit union senior management to be engaged and understand those drivers more than ever. The member experience is not just about how long the member waits on hold.

Contact Center Science 101

Anyone with a contact center background understands there are multiple factors that contribute to a customer’s perception of quality service. Using a singular metric, like wait times, and then making broad assumptions across providers distorts what really drives customer and member satisfaction.

That’s why contact center professionals use First Call Resolution (FCR) as the true measure of service quality. Are callers’ questions completely resolved the first time or must they call back a week later with the same problem? Ultimately, it’s what your agents do after they answer the phone that really matters.

Along with FCR, we believe the real key to providing excellent service is to manage your call center on a consistent basis, day in and day out.  Member service perception will not degrade on a short wait, but if those wait times significantly fluctuate from call to call it will ultimately shade their opinion.

The real challenge that credit union contact centers face isn’t answering the call on the first ring; it’s answering the caller’s questions correctly and thoroughly. And with the added complexity that online and mobile banking innovations have created, contact center questions have morphed from simple informational inquiries like “What’s my balance?” to sophisticated—and lengthy—technical problem-solving sessions that deal with questions like “Why am I getting this error message and how can you fix it so I can pay my bills?” 

The Deeper Dive

The brave new worlds of online and mobile with their complexity and recurring upgrades have spiked call volumes and extended talk times in today’s contact center. These new dynamics make it even more essential for management to look beyond base metrics to understand what is really going on and rule out nonexistent problems.

A prime example of this happened at a credit union we recently reviewed. Their reported abandon rate was 12%, which was clearly much higher than the common industry target of 5%. Taking that metric at face value might have caused management to hire unnecessary staff, alter schedules, or modify break times, any of which could have negative impacts on the contact center.

Looking deeper, we uncovered that 64% of their abandons occurred within 10 seconds! In today’s cell phone world, callers are more likely to hang up if they are not quickly connected, and in this case very quickly. Due to this growing behavior we now recommend calls abandoned within 20-30 seconds should not count toward the reported abandon rate. In this credit union’s situation, discounting the calls abandoned within 20 seconds brought their rate down to an acceptable 4%.

Having the Right Conversation

By taking a deep dive into a contact center’s operations that includes analyzing staff levels, ACD call routing, training, employee engagement, incentive plans, mystery shopping and other factors that drive both member satisfaction and operating efficiency, Advisors Plus gives senior management the clear view and common sense recommendations they need to understand how the contact center can strategically fit into their operating and growth plans.

We think it’s the quality of those answers—not whether it takes one or two rings to answer a call—that will ring a bell in members’ minds when they remember your credit union’s great service.

Frank A. Kovach is director of Contact Center & Operations Consulting for Advisors Plus, where his group works with credit unions to identify cost savings and improve operational efficiencies through process change, increased employee engagement and deployment of technology.

Which came first — the chicken or the egg?

August 2, 2013

By Michael D. Baker, President, KIVA Group

In the case of Member Relationship Management (MRM) or Member Experience Management (MEM) the answer is clear…MEM, or the proverbial chicken.

By its very name, MRM assumes that there already is a relationship in place to manage. MEM assumes a need to develop a relationship based on positive interactions. Case closed.

Delivering an exceptional experience for the member should be the goal of every call center interaction. Member Experience Management is based on the premise that exceeding your members’ service expectations while creating a satisfying experience with each and every interaction is crucial to developing loyal relationships.

Developing member relationships is both an art and a science. And without question, it is an ongoing process. It is my belief that MRM strategies and technologies aim to build on what you know (or data you can purchase) about a member, while MEM strategies and systems build on what the member knows and feels about you.

Building on the member’s positive perception of your organization and your ability to meet and exceed his/her needs has been the focus of some of the world’s most successful retailers. Themes such as “the customer is always right” have led service and sales teams to build powerful brand loyalty. But I never heard of a marketing theme  such as “we know more about you than you do” leading to a retail bonanza.

Delivering exceptional service, taking that extra step will open the door to cross selling opportunities and position your organization to build broader member product relationships.

Regardless of the investments you have already made in MRM technology or the plans that you have for developing member relationships, go back and look closely at how your organization is handling member interactions at each touch-point. Would you be wowed? And don’t overlook self-service channels because success in expanding the use of self-service options is often tied to the ability to “opt-out” to a live agent should the member want to speak to a “real” person.

As you well know from your own life experience, how you feel about a retailer is a result of how they present themselves to you and how efficiently they handle interactions whether it is over the phone, by email or on a Web Chat.


MIKE BAKER is president and CEO of KIVA Group, Inc. A 26-year veteran of the retail financial software industry, he founded the company in 1995 to answer financial institutions’ collective call for solutions that enable them to truly integrate and optimize their multiple interaction channels.

At CUCCC 2013, Mike will lead Call Center > Contact Center > Communication Center, an interactive session that will look at the shifting landscape of call center services and consider the approaches being taken to manage the evolution.

Register for CUCCC 2013 and see Mike and other speakers who will educate and inspire.

The Customer Service Training Success Equation

July 26, 2013

When you invest in customer service training, you naturally want results. The sad truth is that many times there are no lasting results from business training programs. Sometimes this can be the fault of a poor instructor or materials, but more often it is a result of how training fits into a bigger business picture.

This picture is painted with a few training success equations. Let’s look at a few of these.
First, here are the three main parameters to be included: Training, Measurement, & Reward

T= Training
M= Measurement
R= Reward

T X M = Short Term Results
If we train and measure the results, we are assured of at least short term results. How you train, and how you measure are of course important components. Training in today’s world, especially in the customer service realm, should be highly interactive and situation specific.
If you have employees who interact with the public or even with other B2B clients, do not make the mistake of putting them in front of a screen to take a computer based course and think that you will have great results. A huge part of their success lies in the intricacies of human interaction and that cannot be trained with a visual only. It requires a ‘full body’ experience and face to face skills practice.

How do YOU measure results? If your training participant sits in training and knows from past experience that no one will check to see if they are implementing the skills being taught, behavioral change is not highly likely. Thus it is important to measure AND to let trainees know how they will be measured when the training begins so they know they have a stake in learning. By the way, if the M=Zero, then the result of this mathematical equation unfortunately will likely be Zero!

T X M X R = Long Term Results
Training combined with measurement AND reward will naturally bring longer results. So why do so few businesses embrace this strategy? Many operate under the ‘I am paying you to work – that is your reward’ philosophy. In addition, firms often associate reward with cost. While costs can be incurred, there are literally thousands of ways to reward employees without spending a dime. Creativity is the must have here. Yes, financial rewards are important too, and should be considered an investment in your bottom line. Just be careful as the same dollar reward received on a consistent basis actually becomes part of what an employee considers regular compensation and then ceases to motivate.

The last equation to consider is an important one:
Reward X Perceived Opportunity to Earn = Motivation
Having worked in customer service and sales for many years prior to starting my consulting business, I know first hand the meaning of this equation. Let’s put it in other words. If I offered you a million dollars to swim from Miami to Cuba, would you get in the water?
NOOOO… you would know that you’d never make it as you would either drown or be eaten by sharks on the way! In an effort to minimize expense, businesses often set the bar so high that the rewards are unattainable for most at which point the rewards cease to be a motivator. Another pitfal to avoid is a system which allows the same employees to be rewarded over and over again while other ones have not a chance of receiving anything. How many of us would even watch the Super Bowl if we knew the same two teams were going to play and who the winner would be?!

In your next management meeting, have an open and frank discussion about how your success equations are stacking up for success!

Teresa Allen is author of Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines and is often asked to speak at customer service meetings and conventions to share her expertise.
To contact customer service speaker Teresa Allen, call or email at or call 800-797-1580. This article may be reprinted if you include this contact information.

Call centers in the digital world

July 10, 2013



Mark Chatfield

July 9, 2013

From their beginning, call centers have traditionally been associated with ringing phones, taking messages and passing them on. But today’s call centers have evolved to become substantial contributors to credit unions’ value proposition of service, convenience and trust.

Call centers in 2013 play an important role in the present and future operation of credit unions and for the credit union industry. In a world where direct human contact seems to be losing ground to email, voice mail and texting, the sound of a real human voice can be a significant business asset when a member calls for help or wants to conduct a transaction such as buying a car.

Read the full article on the Credit Union Times website.

Mark Chatfield, with more than 20 years of credit union industry experience, is the Chief Operating Officer of CO-OP Member Center, a subsidiary of CO-OP Financial Services, based in Fort Worth, Texas.  See more.

Delivering great member experiences — it’s all about consistency.

June 28, 2013

A guest blog by KIVA Group Inc.

Likely, many of you are now offering up to five different ways for your members to obtain account balances. Yet amazingly, for most credit unions, balance inquiry is still the #1 transaction for call center agents and it still ranks high as a primary reason for many branch visits.

Why is this? Why aren’t members taking greater advantage of self-service options? I believe that they have the perception that it is easier, and they are more likely to get accurate information, if they speak with a live representative.

Is this an accurate view of your organization’s delivery channels? Do channels exist in their own silos of data and processes?

Whether member perception is accurate, or not, the key to changing perceptions is consistency. Consistency in the content of a response and consistency in the delivery of information builds confidence in your institution in the eyes of members and your staff (yes, your staff); and, we all know that confidence and trust is the foundation of any good relationship.

All About ConsistencySo, how do you achieve consistency?

One, employ a single “system of record” approach to organizing data. If there is only one data source used by all channels – self-service as well as live agents – then the information will truly be consistent across the enterprise. When staff can count on the fact that they can easily pull up accurate, up-to-date information (member and product data, transaction histories, etc.) from your system every time they assist a member, they are confident in the service they provide—and that confidence will then be conveyed to members. Not to mention, training staff to use a single system of record is significantly faster and easier.

Two, establish a single process flow for the delivery of information. Regardless of channel, a single process flow can be designed and executed which always moves the interaction through a predefined set of steps (facilitated by the single platform/system of record). This results in a sense of familiarity and comfort with how the information is retrieved and delivered. For example:

  • Step 1. Member is greeted in a personalized way
  • Step 2. Member is always identified
  • Step 3. The reason for the interaction is determined (How can we help you?). And so forth, through fulfillment or determining the next steps that will bring a satisfying close.

The bottom line…the key to achieving consistency is to breakdown the information silos created by disparate technologies and infrastructures and establish uniformity of processes across all of your delivery channels.

Consistency builds comfort and confidence. We all feel better when our expectations are based on experience—and delivering great member experiences with every interaction (face-to-face and self-service) is the name of the game.