Lender Cuts Loan Defaults With Better Call Routing

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Through a redesign of its call center that put a higher priority on answering inbound calls and directs sensitive calls to specialized representatives, Southwest Student Services Corp. has cut delinquency rates on its student loans by more than 40 percent.


The Mesa, AZ, nonprofit agency offers funding for secondary education through student loans and a product called the "College Card," which enables students to pay for books and other college expenses on credit.


As a result of the call center restructuring completed approximately nine months ago, Southwest Student Services has been recognizing calls from customers with delinquent accounts as soon as the calls reach the company's interactive voice response unit. Customers who have entered account numbers for delinquent accounts into the company's IVR are automatically routed to the collections department rather than to customer service representatives.


"It allows us to have technically trained people deal with collections," said Daniel Beck, telecommunications manager for Southwest Student Services Corp.


Previously, when all calls were first routed through customer service representatives, CSRs would often stall accounts from delinquent callers who called in by granting callers a temporary reprieve from paying off their loans.


"That meant we weren't collecting money for six months," said Beck. "Now the collections staff may say, 'let me do what I can to help,' and we may collect smaller pieces of money during that interval. We are able to capture more loans before they go bad."


By putting a priority on capturing incoming calls and servicing them properly, the company has seen delinquencies drop from 22 percent to 13 percent in the last six months.


Southwest Student Services' call center system ensures not only that calls get routed properly, but that they get answered quickly. While routing the calls through a Lucent Definity G3 switch, the company uses a combination software and hardware product called Smart Agent Manager from EIS to blend inbound calls into the outbound calling campaigns of the company's collections department.


Smart Agent Manager puts incoming calls ahead of undialed outbound calls in the EIS predictive dialer system that the company uses for outbound campaigns. When a collections agent gets an inbound call, the agent is temporarily taken out of the dialer's rotation for handling outbound calls.


"The collections agents see on their screen that the call is incoming so they soften a little," said Beck. "They realize this is someone who has called in voluntarily, not someone they have chased down, so the agents tell the callers what is going on with their account and that they want to help."


The agent's screens are populated using Lucent's Passageway product with data about the customer's account, including name, address, phone number, account number, balance, last payment, payment due date and interest rates and fees that may apply. The company's abandoned call rate has dropped from 17 percent to 3 percent through the new system.


The system balances the 800 to 1,200 calls the company receives a day with outbound calls that average 800 a day on most days, except Mondays when outbound calling can rise to 1,100 calls.


Call lengths have shortened, and agent training time is also down due to the new technology. The call center has approximately 25 agents in the collections area and 30 CSRs.
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