by Jim Kearney, Edward Dellheim

The Challenge

As the COVID-19 pandemic places stress on financial services organizations, the opportunity for front communications to make an enormous impact on the lives of consumers has never been greater.

Contact center representatives (CSR’s) and leadership in contact centers are faced with the demands of continuously pivoting to evolving engagement expectations, which have become highly personalized when standard ways of doing so are limited or unavailable.

Whether working remotely or continuing to go to the office, CSR’s are frequently addressing inquiry types and customers who may not know precisely what to ask depending on their financial acumen and historic engagement with their financial services providers. In addition to an array of questions about COVID-19 and the CARES Act, CSR’s are dealing with customers who may have lost jobs, be unable to afford next month’s mortgage payment or are wondering whether they’re still be able to access their financial accounts at all. At the same time, like all of us, CSRs are dealing with the pandemic’s disruptive impact on every aspect of their personal lives—their families, finances and their own health.

In the midst of this uncertain and high-stress time, how can banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions prioritize investments that will ease the stress and efforts of their front-line staff—while delivering the more personalized experience expected by their customers?

Point B’s Perspective

Investments in critical areas of need can benefit customers in the near-term while also positioning the organization for the new reality that will be shaped by this pandemic and the subsequent response. Many of these items may be on existing customer service or customer experience roadmaps, but current conditions and client needs make it critical to act on them now. We urge all financial services organizations to use this window of time to make a positive impact with smart CSR-related investments now by doing everything possible to protect customers in this time of need and serve your communities in the future.

Treat each client based on their needs.

Frequently referred to as personalization, let’s take this to its most basic level. Customers are looking for information they can understand and next steps that will solve the need or needs as easily and quickly as possible. Equip your CSRs with both the tools and latitude to deliver a meaningful and value-add experience from a place of empathy.

Quickly spin up personas on which to base current and emerging client needs. How will job insecurity or financial uncertainty affect them? Does a client live in a region severely affected by the virus or restricted by shelter-in-place orders that limit access to physical resources?

In addition to real-time CSR handling of customer inquires, take action to close gaps in client data so that CSRs have the data to guide customers based on their personal needs.

Organizations can use data to develop messaging and content specific to defined segments and deliver via preferred channels.

Empower your frontline to be more proactive and guiding. If you haven’t already done so, create CSR desktop workflows that leverage all your building blocks for personalization. For example, if a member lives in an area with shelter-in-place orders, your CSR can remind them of other channels for engagement.

Now is the time to arm your CSR’s with the ability to ask questions and provide answers such as:

  • How will the Paycheck Protection Program impact me?
  • Does COVID-19 impact my ability to access cash?
  • What happens if I become incapacitated?
  • How can I manage my family’s accounts safely and also help other family members do the same?
  • What’s the best way to find and secure a loan in this environment?
  • With the Fed cutting interest rates to almost zero, how does that impact my account, for better or worse?

Give CSRs the internal and external connections to act as centers of information. Update your IVR and routing among functional teams such as sales and advisory. Simplify CSRs access to SME resources to quickly provide members with relevant support and build links to COVID-19-specific websites and tools that CSRs can share with clients. Finally, be sure your staff gets the training to confidently use these new workflows.

Support your changing workplace as more CSRs work remotely.

Managing remote resources is a growing challenge for organizations as more CSRs work from home. Consider the best ways to support remote office needs while meeting regulatory requirements, including matters of privacy, data security and compliance standards.

Develop a curriculum for supervisors to manage the unique conditions of remote work.

What do your remote CSRs need to be successful? Your budget should cover the costs of setting up a home office or using a co-working facility. Remote workers also need the same robust technical support standards for set-up, repairs and replacements that they would have on-site.

Plan now to accommodate the different needs that come with working from home. Consider alternate schedules to accommodate at-home interruptions, such as childcare needs. Working from a home office while the kids are out of school may call for more— sometimes unforeseen—breaks during the day.

Find ways to increase remote teaming: build escalation channels across dispersed locations; use secure group chats to broaden the CSR support team for difficult customer queries; leverage your internal social media to increase communications from your management team. There’s never been a better time to build teaming skills.

Elevate your service culture—together.

Giving your CSRs a positive employee experience is directly related to a positive customer experience.

Financial services companies that focus on the well- being of their frontline staff retain good people, increase member satisfaction, and build strong, sustainable brands.

Make your culture a priority. Engage CSRs in developing practical ways to manage stress based on their individual needs and experiences. Create forums and practices that encourage them to share a bit of who they are with each other. It’s a solid way to build camaraderie and support. Daily stand-ups around cultural norms are more important than ever to keep team spirit strong. Go ahead—have those birthday celebrations, even if they have to be virtual for now.

Reinforcing a “we’re all in this together” mindset can have a lasting impact. You may even find that once- siloed operations are starting to work together in new and better ways. That’s an improvement that can benefit your organization long after this crisis is over. Survey the team, identify gaps and ineffective long- standing norms and use this time to build on people’s willingness to come together around making positive change.

The Bottom Line

It’s time to pull out the stops to support your CSRs so that they, in turn, are equipped to support your

customer’s needs during this challenging time. Leading with empathy and investing in service improvements will not only ease the burden on your contact center staff but will position you for a stronger future.  The steps you take now to help your frontline people shine during this dark time are the best investments you can make.