OCC Shrinks Hold Times, Recoups Abandoned Calls

Through a complete renovation of its call center, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has slashed hold times that had sometimes lasted 45 minutes and begun servicing thousands of calls that had previously been abandoned.

Between April, when OCC first implemented its new call center system, and November, the agency serviced just under 43,000 calls, compared to 16,000 in all of 1997. Call hold times now average less than two minutes.

“We anticipated that our calls would double, but they quadrupled,” said agency ombudsman Samuel P. Golden. “This does not in any way mean there are more complaints about banks. These are calls that were dropped.”

The OCC — an agency of the U.S. Department of the Treasury — charters, regulates and supervises national banks and federally licensed branches and agencies of foreign banks. The agency, which encourages people to try to resolve banking complaints and issues directly with their banks first, is a second resort for bank customers across the country. Its toll-free number is listed in brochures, bank literature, and sometimes on the back of credit card statements.

The renovation of OCC's call center involved new technology, added call center agents, and a redeployment of the agency's most senior staff.

Until April of last year, the agency had a maximum of five to six representatives staffing the phones and handling bank-related questions and complaints. Now, through the use of an automatic call distributor, staffing of the lines varies from four to five representatives during slower times, to 15 to 20 in peak periods.

“All team leaders monitor how long people are being held in cues,” said George Leyendecker, LAN administrator.

All desktops are equipped to handle calls, which, during peak periods, can be redistributed to people working on other projects. Calls are also flowed, when appropriate, directly to representatives who speak foreign languages, representatives who specialize in certain sectors, or, in some cases, to the deputy ombudsman or the ombudsman.

The agency tapped Amstar Communications Corp., Columbia, MD, to supply its automatic call distributor, Neax2400 PBX switching equipment manufactured by NEC, Melville, NY, and a call tracking application from Remedy Corp., Mountain View, CA. The agency enlisted Impact Innovation Group, Atlanta, to further link the pieces and customize them to the agency's needs. The total system cost less than $1.2 million.

The agency also restructured personnel so that more senior staff were on the telephones.

“Previously we had the least tenured employees answering the phones. The seasoned staff was devoted to resolving written complaints,” said Golden. “Now, with more experienced staff on the phones, we have much higher first time resolution and fewer cases refer to the mail as a second resort so that means less paperwork.”

The cut in mail tied in well with Golden's goal of creating a paperless environment.

“I wanted the e-mail, letters, phone, fax that we received to be the end of the paper trail,” Golden said. “We had to be able to scan images so that our agents could pull up and work from their CRT or desktop rather than from thousands in some cases millions of pieces of paper.”

Customer assistance representatives, who previously worked with manuals, are now able to access updated information on regulations from their computer screens, said Leyendecker. They also can access a database of banks that is updated weekly. The database, which includes bank addresses and phone numbers, aids call center staff in identifying which bank or branch a caller has a question or complaint about.

The system's ability to more effectively track data allows the agency to better aid bank examiners and the banks themselves in spotting trouble areas.

“With the amount of data and the mining abilities we can do a complete analysis of developments. Where there is a spike in complaints after the completion of an action, like a merger, or following the introduction of new products or after changes in service policies, we can recognize the culprits or targets of the complaints,” said Golden. “We can approach them with feedback on the nature of the complaints and give heads of organizations information that will be helpful to them in improving the situations they are confronted with.”

The data is flowed to banks and examiners, and the agency has been receiving data requests almost daily since the new system was implemented.

“With this system you can really slice and dice data anyway you want to,” Golden said.

While the agency has been testing and modifying aspects of the system since April, and continues to do so, it is starting to take advantage of the system's capabilities more aggressively. While Golden hesitated to step up publicity of the agency's toll-free customer assistance number when the system was first being implemented, he has just approved a new brochure for distribution that describes the agency and the customer assistance line.

In addition, the agency will begin seeking customer feedback on its services and using feedback to modify or improve its systems when appropriate.

“We have plans to start, on a sample basis, calling people back to ask about the services and see if they got what they needed,” Golden said.

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