I’ve been with my bank for a very long time—out of convenience. There is a branch within blocks of my home. I have a checking account, a savings account and several CDs, and the institution has held my primary mortgage for the last 10 years.
When I started to think of refinancing my mortgage, the first place I looked for current rate information was my bank’s web site. There wasn’t much information, so I called the bank. And later that day, when I visited my branch, I was quoted a substantially lower rate, which I took, and signed up for automatic payments. This was pretty painless—after three tries.
My first payment was due on a Saturday, a day the bank was closed. Online, I saw that my payment had not been made. I navigated the automated phone tree until I reached an agent, who told me that nobody could help me on a weekend. She did give me the loan department’s direct-dial number.
Monday morning, I called the number and navigating the phone tree for 10 minutes, before I reached an agent, who told me she could help me only with a home equity loan, which I did not have. When I asked to be transferred to someone who could help me, she told me this was not possible. All she could do was route me to the correct phone tree that would eventually connect me to a human.
If I could have switched banks, I would have.
Yet, instead of being frustrated with the agent, I stepped back and started to consider what was important to me in my interactions with my bank. Would I pay $5 a month to speak to a human every time I called? Or would I pay more for the bank to know the types of accounts I hold with them and my banking preferences?
I wanted the bank to know me and to consider that my time was valuable … to me. I wanted agents to appreciate that their job was to quickly and accurately answer my questions. I wanted to be able to find answers on my own online. And if I needed more information, I wanted to be able to connect to a live agent, through a chat session, email or a phone call, who would have a record of my searches so I did not have to repeat myself. And I wanted to be able to ask a question and get the same answer every time, no matter whether I was online, on the phone or at the bank.
Call centers need to pay attention to this wish list. Today, customers have little brand loyalty and shop by price, typically on the web. But customers are also searching for a good service experience and oftentimes will pay a premium to be assured of it. Good service builds trust and loyalty. Only when you have a receptive customer base can you be successful at marketing and selling to that base.
The technology is available to make this all happen. There are call center software solutions that fulfill all these requirements and ensure that customers experience optimal service. Traditional CRM solutions that capture the details of a service call can now integrate seamlessly with a knowledge base that stores all the information an agent would need to be able to answer customer questions.
However, a browsable knowledge base is merely a start. Agents also need to have access to sophisticated knowledge-retrieval methods that narrow down search results. This is because search typically overwhelms the agent with too many solutions to consider. Tools such as decision trees, interview guides and clarifying questions must be available in conjunction with search to quickly target the right answer. These tools are also instrumental in guiding novice agents and trainees through the discovery process, and render them effective at helping customers out without a long ramp-up time.
An agent’s desktop should have much more than basic knowledge retrieval tools. It should also display similar questions linked to the solution under consideration so that an agent can easily answer follow-on questions. It should contain a list of the most frequently asked questions, service alerts such as fraud notifications or system downtimes, with content updated in real time over the course of the day.
An agent should be empowered to add new content so that knowledge of a company can grow organically in step with customers changing needs.
And if the agent cannot answer a question using this plethora of knowledge retrieval tools, the agent should be able to escalate the issue to second-level support and preserve the session history so that the customer does not need to repeat the discovery process. In all cases, once an answer is located in the knowledge base, it should be pasted into the case-tracker system and given to the customer—via email, chat or phone. With these tools, the company would ensure that customers have consistent, accurate answers to their questions.
Businesses need to learn to look beyond a simple one-time customer service exchange and address the overall experience—for a lifetime of good will. A good experience can lead to trust and future sales.
I would appreciate it if my bank knew who I was when I called. I would be grateful to be notified in the case of suspicious activity on my account. And I would be thankful if my bank proactively warned me that I had less than, say, $100 in my checking account and could be exposed to overdraft service charges.
I would be equally grateful if the bank notified me of offers tailored to my particular situation, based on my past banking history, instead of spamming me with bank offers that I delete without reading. Services like these would go a long way to making me a more loyal and trusting customer.
If my bank had this customer service software, I would be content. And I might even refer a friend or two.