Call Centers in the Financial Services Industry
Effective customer management is extremely important for the financial services industry, particularly as consumers continue to struggle with the after effects of the recession. Call center staff are often at the forefront of this, meaning the need for them to have the correct training, technology and expertise to deal with problems as swiftly as possible is vital.
Figures for UK call centers are at least promising and show improvements across the board. The list of the UK's Top 50 Call Centers for Customer Service, as compiled by GfK Mystery Shopping shows that there has been a seven percent increase in the scores needed to get on to the league table.
Some 96 percent of consumers polled said they got through straight away and a similar number believed their queries had been solved the first time they made contact.
The financial services industry was leading the way in this with overall customer satisfaction of 87 percent, with F&C Investments topping the table at 97.5 percent customer satisfaction.
Inadequate complaint handling
Unfortunately a report by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) released earlier this year tells a very different story.
Five high-street banks were required to make major changes to their complaint handling following an investigation by the FSA which found inadequate practices were in place. The research was based on the banking groups responsible for 70 percent of the claims made to the organization.
Among the areas of concern identified was the handling of complaints in "general call centers" which mean consumers were provided with inadequate responses – which highlights the importance of a correctly training call center team.
The banks were also shown to have an unwillingness to learn from previous mistakes and improve their practices, which led the FSA to conclude that it should consider changing its current rules based on the handling of customer issues. In certain circumstances it highlighted that a serious change at senior management level was needed.
Dan Waters, the FSA's director of conduct risk, said, "A culture of fair complaint handling is an important indicator of whether a firm is committed to treating its customers fairly."
Using Call Centers to Sell Financial Products
This is not the only time the FSA has taken action against members of the financial services industry in relation to call centers .
Back in 2008, the organization fined UNAT DIRECT Insurance Management Limited £640,000 for inadequate call center management. Senior managers were said to have not been given correct information and staff had not been trained on the importance of the due diligence process before sales were made.
At the time, Margaret Cole, Director of Enforcement at the FSA, said, "Selling general insurance products to consumers through call centres involves greater risk", adding that the company's practices exposed its customers to greater levels of risk.
Using Technology to Improve Financial Services' Call Center Practices
Technology has its role to play in the improvement of contact centers, not just in the UK, but globally. Figures relating to the Australian call centre industry suggest that investment in technology increased by more than 20 percent in 2009, with many companies saying that they have implemented a multi-channel approach, which includes both voice and self-service responses.
Dr Catriona Wallace, Managing Director, callcentres.net said, that the industry has now returned to growth and that, "demand is not going to go away, particularly given the move towards multi-channel integration".
Yet members of the financial services industry must remember that technology does not always provide the answer to their problems, and in some circumstances can cause more harm than good.
Ofcom, the UK government watchdog for the communications industries, recently created rules to tackle silent or abandoned calls, which occur when answer machine detection equipment is used.
The message seems to suggest that while technology may have a role to play, it is no substitute for effective call center management.