Wachovia Bank Changes To Phone-based Customer Service

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Wachovia Bank has decided to expand their telephone-based customer satisfaction program to all of the bank's regions.

In February, the Atlanta and Winston Salem, NC-based bank decided to move a step away from its well-established direct mail program for communicating with customers about branch service and assess customer feedback over the telephone.

"We didn't change the concept, we changed the methodology to a phone methodology," said Fred Koehl, senior vice president and manager of market information. "We switched to the telephone because of the immediacy of it. We felt that in addition to getting the kind of information we were getting, it seemed that if issues needed to be addressed immediately, we would have the ability to do that."

Working through Sky Alland Marketing, Columbia, MD, the bank has been contacting customers who have had recent interactions with their local branch. Using random samples from each branch, callers from Sky Alland Marketing have contacted 4,000 customers each month. That volume has remained constant since the beginning of the program, Koehl said.

Wachovia and Sky Alland took precautions to avoid seeming too intrusive in calling their homes.

"We try to make sure the customer understands that we are not trying to waste their time," said Koehl. "We were asking these questions to help us serve them better. Certainly there might be some who are annoyed, and if so we apologize, but more often than not they give us their opinion because it is part of an ongoing relationship."

To convert the program from a mail program to a telephone program Wachovia made minor changes to the types of questions that were asked. Although a system had been in place for responding to problems, that system was supplemented to respond to problems discovered in telephone conversations quickly.

Once the program was developed, the bank decided to rotate the number of questions so that the calls would take less time, and tweaked the phrasing of some of the questions after hearing how they sounded during monitored calls.

"The rotation of the questions shortened the amount of time of the calls without cutting down on the amount of data we were collecting. Because of the amount of calls we were making, we were able to get good numbers but we didn't have to burden our customers by keeping them on the phone," Koehl said. "We monitored calls and continue to monitor calls because it is good for us to hear the feedback directly rather than have it translated for us. There have been times that we have changed the scripting a little because we may have decided it doesn't sound right, or it looks good on paper but doesn't come across the way it was meant to. But those types of changes are normal."

The program currently involves Wachovia's branches in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, which represent approximately 450 of the bank's 750 branches. The remaining branches, in Florida and Virginia, are also expected to take part in the program once the logistics of implementing the program in those areas are finalized. There is not definite timeline for the expansion of the program.

"Overall, I think it was the right decision for us. The aggregate feedback is similar, but I think the difference is anecdotal," Koehl said. "Because of the immediacy, I think there have been situations where our ability to be responsive has held onto a relationship."

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