This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Could the humble contact center, which still relies heavily on technology invented in the 19th century, hold the key to the ability of retail banks to transform themselves into nimble, digitally adept institutions?
Contact centers, known for their long rows of employees wearing telephone headsets, are usually thought of as a cost of doing business, not as a pillar of the retail bank of the future. But contact centers are being reborn. As banks close their physical branches, they are reimagining their contact centers as multi-channel hubs for customer interactions.
For the most part, contact centers aren’t seen as bastions of great customer service. When 115,000 banking customers were asked in a Bain & Company survey to evaluate their experiences interacting with their bank through various channels, they ranked contact centers dead last. They had significantly better experiences using digital channels, especially mobile.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, banks are actually using phone-based contact centers to drive digital adoption. Customers who call in for help on digital transactions are being coached on how to do them on their own. As many as 70% of calls to present-day bank contact centers are avoidable and better handled by digital channels.
A study at a major financial institution showed that more than 40% of customers were in front of a screen or had ready access to a device when they called the contact center about an issue, making it relatively easy for agents to show them how to use the company’s digital apps. The agents may have spent extra time working with customers on those initial calls, but their efforts were repaid in future productivity gains in calls avoided, not to mention improvements in customer experience and retention.
That’s not to say human-based telephone interaction is going away for good. Even in a digital age, some issues are best handled by phone, and some customers simply prefer to speak to a live person. It’s critical for banks to get these encounters right. Although contact centers account for less than 10% of customer interactions at most banks, they represent nearly 30% of the so-called moment-of-truth encounters—those that inherently have higher emotional stakes for the customers, such as calling to report a stolen credit card. These moments are key to maintaining—or losing—customer loyalty.
As more customers migrate to digital for routine transactions, contact center agents can concentrate on selling and supporting more complex products, such as home mortgages. A new kind of contact center may require a new type of employee. As the channel and product mix evolves, banks are rethinking their sourcing and location strategies to ensure they’re able to tap into skilled labor pools. In some cases, banks are insourcing or re-shoring operations that were previously outsourced or offshored.
Using technology, banks are giving their contact center customers more choices for interactions. Leading-edge banks go beyond phone, email, chat and social media to offer video and screen sharing. Banks are also taking advantage of advanced tools such as speech analytics and episode analytics to help them understand why customers contact them and which channels they’ve used.
It may take considerable investment over a period of years to build a dynamic, customer-focused contact center, but it’s well worth the effort. Forward-looking banks realize that the long-neglected and underappreciated contact center is the critical element in improving the customer experience and promoting the migration to digital.
Nikola Glusac is a partner with Bain & Company in the Munich office, and Corrie Carrigan is a Bain partner based in Chicago.