US Trust Outsources Overflow Calls to Fight Attrition

US Trust, Boston, has outsourced overflow calls to stave off instability in the wake of attrition at its inhouse facility.

The contract, signed with SPS Payment Systems Inc., a Riverwoods, IL, call center company, represents the first time the bank has turned to a teleservices provider since creating its inhouse operation two and a half years ago.

“One of the reasons we were looking for a partner, or a company to overflow calls to, was because we were suffering from attrition — people moving to other departments or finding better opportunities elsewhere,” said Claire Panagopoulos, senior vice president of US Trust's Service Center. Lately the bank's own growth has caused further attrition in its call centers as telephone representatives have accepted other positions within the bank, she added.

US Trust's call center in Cambridge, MA, has a staff of more than 100 agents and managers to answer inquiries about accounts and to change personal information such as addresses.

The bank decided balancing calls between a primary and an overflow center would be preferable to consolidating business either inhouse or at an outside operation.

“US Trust reacted to the need for a call center because at many of our branches customers had an expectation of telephone banking. That's why we had not selected a full blown service center, which has its own issues and problems,” Panagopoulos said. “You compound it with attrition and other variables, it presents problems. I was looking for a partner that could stabilize a platform for us.”

SPS operates four call centers. It's Sioux Falls, SD, location is handling the overflow calls for US Trust.

In order to work with US Trust, SPS representatives were given the full training that the bank's inhouse representatives receive, including training on the bank's various accounts and computer technology as well as on phone manner. SPS agents were also taught the bank's rules and regulations.

“They are making sure we understand their own practices and processes, because we are representing them,” said Ruth O'Brien, vice president of teleservices for SPS. “In the banking world the information on the customer is transferred to the bank and transferred to another database for processing. Since US Trust is a neighborhood bank, their customers have high expectations from its customer service agents.”

US Trust monitors the way SPS answers calls by dialing in and listening to calls.

“We are in the process of fine-tuning, and this will take up to two months,” said Panagopoulos.

During this process SPS is handling, on average, 20,000 calls a month and expects to receive approximately 40,000 after the fine-tuning phase is complete. Together, the in-house and overflow call centers field 90,000 calls a month.

“It's been quite seamless compared to other outsourcing projects I have done in other industries,” said Panagopoulos.

Although the transition has been seamless from a customer's point of view, the division of agents between two centers has caused some initial operational challenges.

“We have some refinement to do,” said Panagopoulos. “They still fax documents and forms for lack of a better means of transporting data. But from the very beginning I told my team to think of [SPS agents] as being a group of team members in the room next door and deal with them the exact same way. Even though people have never met, they feel like they know each other because they work so closely together.”

SPS has call center operations for credit card companies and data entry services, but US Trust is its first banking client.

“They want us to be successful, as we are an extension of their bank,” O'Brien said.

Panagopoulos added she has received letters of commendation from customers about the person they spoke to on the phone, and it turned out that agent worked with SPS.

“The nice thing is that customers don't know that they are calling Sioux Falls, SD” she said. “It's the people factor that set them apart from other call centers.”

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