The current global crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on economic activity has no parallel in the recent past. The banks are grappling with day-to-day operational challenges due to the lockdown, and workforce and vendor issues. However, they also have a bigger problem of managing their customers’ experience, given the rapidly increasing call volumes.
The unforeseen impact of the coronavirus crisis on all customer segments has resulted in customer anxiety, panic, and fear of uncertainty on a wide range of issues including retirement savings, value of investments, job security, loan repayment commitments, among others. Constant misinformation being shared on social media has not made it easy to contain customer panic and a lot of this anxiety has been directed to the customer service centers who need support in managing the surge in call volumes.
Knee Jerk Reaction: Pandemic-driven Call Surge
Average call hold times have increased from 41 seconds to over 20 minutes in the last couple of weeks. While banks have been communicating the expected delay to customers, the pain experienced due to the new norm of long wait times is not being felt any less nor is it ending anytime soon.
Part of the reason is banks themselves because they are expecting customers to call in to discuss issues. However, each delayed response adds to friction leading to customer trust deficit. Banks need to choose innovative approaches to address the situation, and do it quick, correctly and be seen as a trusted partner - all this while they themselves face staff shortage at their own as well as their outsourced vendor call centers.
We believe, at home call center agents can be leveraged to manage calls during lockdown. Further, in these times of high call volumes and fluctuation, it is easier to ramp up workforce using temporary home agents. This would allow the banks to provide 24/7 service and manage spikes in volumes.
We believe, the banks can also initiate a proactive, responsive outreach service. The idea here is to reduce the incoming call traffic and still provide the succor needed while retaining the trust and brand image. This will entail using AI to predict the type of queries from the customers. Additionally, the banks will need to implement strategies to manage the large volume of outgoing calls while they proactively reach out to the customers. They can use a mix of e-mail, text, and voice bots in addition to human agents, depending on the requirement. In addition, the communication will need to be lucid and personal. It must also include directions for further course of action through digital channels.
The banks also need to identify potential borrowers in need of support through a moratorium, restructuring or change in repayment period. This can be done using tech-assisted predictive models by evaluating multiple scenarios. It will allow the customer to choose from a set of actions that can be shared with them, thus reducing the time taken to handle calls.
Take it Slow
It will be important not to rush back to normalcy even as things begin to stabilize but focus on gradually releasing the full set of services. This is because given the nature of the crisis they may find themselves under-prepared to handle the still-surging call volumes. Additionally, if a contact center becomes contaminated, it will not be able to run at high seat utilization and the banks will need to adjust staffing models to avoid hot seating of agent spaces. The banks will also need time to sanitize and reopen crowded work areas. They will also need to assess capacity by validating BCP plans to understand the risk of multi-site closures.
Devise Future Plans
Banks need to use this opportunity to evaluate their digital maturity and ensure maximum utilization of services through digital channels without any change in banking customer experience and satisfaction. This will include reskilling contact center staff for specialized roles as most mundane calls will have to be managed digitally by bots and self-service.
The true test would lie in ensuring customers retain their trust in the banks during this crisis. They need to take urgent steps to overcome the crisis by harnessing technology and collaborating with experienced partners to get past the COVID-19 pandemic-led panic.
Banks will do well to strategize and be ready for higher traffic after initial normalcy returns. Subsequently they will need to make services more robust, available, and responsive alongside securing strategic partnerships.