As European retail banks try to cut costs while maintaining high levels of customer service, call centres and their agents are likely to gain an even more prominent role in banks' CRM strategies, according to market analysts Datamonitor.
In its latest report, Call and Contact centres in Retail Banking, Datamonitor predicts that European retail banks will try to optimise their call centres further, making corresponding cuts to the bank branch in order to enhance cost savings and customer services capacity.
For technology vendors, this news heralds more growth prospects for call centre technology in the retail banking sector. However, success will depend on each vendor's ability to provide IT solutions that offer significant service improvements and cost savings.
European call centres
According to the report, the European uptake of call centres has been most pronounced within retail banking where they have assumed a central position in distribution strategies.
Such call centres do not only give simple balance enquiries; Their agents are also equipped to offer more personal financial advice. A recent Datamonitor survey found that in European retail banking, call centres are second only to branches in terms of generating business. Consequently, retail banking agent positions in Europe account for nearly half of financial services call centre agent positions (a total of 8% of all agent positions).
Low cost channels
Retail banks appear to be racing to find cost effective alternatives to traditional (and expensive) service channels, such as the bank branches. Call centres allow banks to reduce costs while maintaining high levels of customer service, and simple enquiries will increasingly be handled by cheap-but-impersonal channels such as the internet and telephone voice recognition services. Conversely, call centre agents will help customers with more complex enquiries and services.
Datamonitor expects banks to push a large number of incoming enquiries into call centres, making corresponding cuts in their branches. Speech recognition is already allowing them to move a considerable number of enquiries and requests out of the branch, without even involving a call centre agent. This technology can deal with the routine parts of a call - taking the caller's details, directing them to the most appropriate person, and giving out simple information such as bank balances. And for customer enquiries that require authentication, voice technologies can handle over-the-phone authentication using voice prints.
Selective call routing
Skills-based routing is particularly relevant for retail banking call centres, as it allows for an incoming call to be directed to an agent with the most appropriate skills for the query. In addition, value-based routing is also gaining prominence in retail banks, as it allows them to route callers according to their value (where, for example, a premium customer may receive faster service or be bumped to the front of the queue).
The benefits of improving routing technologies are seen in cost savings from agents' reduced call times, and from providing a better and more personalised service to the customer.
As the role of call centre agents expands, call centre managers will need to ensure that agents are properly allocated and trained. Workforce optimisation solutions are designed to monitor, analyse and improve agent performance in the face of increasingly complex enquiries and requests. A growing number of call centres are implementing agent efficiency applications such as quality monitoring, e-Learning, workforce management and agent analytics.
The overall success of customer relationship management (CRM), however, hinges on the bank's ability to deal effectively with the associated organisational and business obstacles. In the context of a call centre, the main requirement is that agents are trained to use the system properly.
For technology vendors, the strong growth in call centre technology signals that there will continue to be great opportunities in the retail banking call centre market. However, in order to make call centres a feasible alternative to bank branches, both in terms of product offerings and service levels, it will be essential for vendors to thoroughly understand the business and technology requirements of retail banks.
Datamonitor technology analyst, James Adams, commented, "Retail banks have diversified their product offerings, moving away from traditional products toward more complicated, personalised ones, so the demands on call centres and agents are continuously growing."