Use of call centers for CU loan applications

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Credit unions have built a reputation for member satisfaction because of their member-first mentality and the intimate relationships they seek to build through face-to-face interactions. Like most consumers, CU members changed their banking habits to cope with the constraints set during the pandemic, but digital-first methods can sometimes feel impersonal and isolating, according to James Urban, vice president of the Member Experience Center at Community First Credit Union.

“The ability to just walk in and listen to your needs is almost gone by this point,” Urban said in a recent interview with PYMNTS. “That really minimized or reduced the number of points of contact members have with staff and branches.”

Personalizing digital solutions through human interaction can strengthen member relationships, and expanding digital options for mortgage and personal or auto loans can increase revenue for CUs who may lag behind other types of FIs in delivering these offerings. Urban explained how adapting technology to each member as well as maintaining access to live operators can help CUs gain a competitive advantage over traditional banks and fintechs in the credit space.

The expansion of credit and call centers from the pandemic

Many consumers have recognized the convenience of mobile and digital banking tools, but are not yet ready to commit to using just them. Definitive evidence of this, Urban said, is the level at which traditionally industry-focused members began interacting with the CU’s call center after the pandemic broke out.

“Our inbound call volume initially grew by at least 60 percent,” he said. “Then it went back to about 35 to 40 percent, and it’s still higher than it normally would have been at that point – not at that high level, as apparently branches have been reopening for some time now.”

A recent report predicts significant growth in online banking usage, with more than half of the world’s population expecting digital banking by 2026. This suggests that digital alternatives have a permanent place, but the increase in call center contacts is a clear indicator that members still want the opportunity to speak to a living person.

The increase in Community First call volume coincided with an increase in demand for credit to alleviate the pandemic-induced economic distress. The CU was able to leverage the tips in both services to meet the needs of its members.

“What surprised us all was that the requests for credit, credit and membership are still, if not at the same level as before the pandemic, maybe even slightly higher,” said Urban. “In response to the fact that the demand for credit and membership was still quite hot due to branch closures and the like, we had to find an alternative way our members could continue to meet those needs.”

The result of that brainstorming session was Express Team, a dedicated live team helping members get credit, open new memberships, or add checking accounts, either by phone or live chat.

“We started with a four or five person pilot test, and we really did it without knowing that we were going to see as much success as we could see. The result was easy to see [we should] go on and go [Express Team] an integral part of our organization, ”he continued.

Personalization of automation increases membership

Members sometimes encounter friction losses during onboarding or various digital application processes. If members cannot resolve problems themselves, the next course of action is to contact a customer service representative. Employees can then start or continue the loan application by telephone or submit a loan request via the credit department. Improved access to human-powered services can then lead to a higher rate of fully completed applications and greater membership acquisition.

Digital data can also help keep track of members and improve the process if necessary. CU employees have access to their members’ accounts and have transparency about all transactions and balances. Insights from member data enables the CU to identify the products and services that potential and existing members could benefit from.

“Our lending system is where [the data] lives for each individual. Then of course we in management can … ensure that we keep track of what needs to be done there. … For example, we open a membership and then this new member automatically receives a welcome package, ”said Urban.

Digital-first trends seem to be at odds with the traditional mission of the CUs to come first, but they are here to stay. However, CUs can turn this obvious disadvantage on its head by adding their unique personalization to the equation. Those who do this will have nothing to fear from traditional banks and FinTechs in a digital-first world.


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