A Regional Multi-state Bank

Expanding a Call Center Devoted to Small Business

Imagine a call center that needs to triple the number of bank products it services within 90 days, as well as expand the number of calls it handles by a factor of 5 -- without sacrificing quality.

The client, a regional multi-state bank, has expanded rapidly through internal growth and acquisitions. They recently began an initiative for increased expansion into some of their existing business lines, one of which was small business customers, or those with less than $10 million in revenue.

A recent small business customer survey reported that when customers have questions or need service, they often have to make numerous calls in an attempt to identify individuals who can assist them. Since the bank prides itself on delivering excellent service, senior management wanted to improve the quality of service provided to these customers.

In order to improve service and meet expansion goals, management determined that a call center devoted entirely to small business customers was needed. The Robert E. Nolan Company was called in to assist the bank in this project.

The Small Business Call Center

A Strategic Team was formed to develop project goals and select the products and services needed to support the new call center. As determined by the team, the major project goals were to:

  • Retain small business customers through improved and standardized service,
  • Create a model for the new Small Business Call Center,
  • Build a scalable infrastructure capable of handling 20% annual growth,
  • Create a Voice Response Unit (VRU) to answer 80% or more of customer questions without human intervention, and
  • Map the systems and handoff workflows to support customer calls not handled by the VRU.

The Approach

The Tactical Team, comprised of a core group and a group of subject matter experts, was formed. The core group, people with expertise in VRU technology, call center scripting, training and functioning, attended every meeting while the subject matter experts attended only meetings appropriate to their area of expertise. The involvement of people with different disciplines was essential to the successful working relationship of the team and the acceptance of changes that would be recommended. The Tactical Team drew upon their experience and technology to help shape the new Small Business Call Center. However, the most valuable assistance came from the rudimentary small business call center that was already up and running. This call center was established as a result of a past acquisition. While this call center only answered DDA questions from customers who were part of the original acquisition, it provided unique insights into the behavior of small business customers who use call centers. The Tactical Team met twice a week for 12 weeks, covering a single product per meeting. For each product, the team reviewed the product characteristics and related sub-products, the current and anticipated volumes of product usage, and a list of probable customer questions. Armed with this information, the team went to work to identify the proper answer to each question and how to best provide the answer to the customer.

The Mighty Tree - VRU Functionality and Call Treatment

One primary project goal was to create a Voice Response Unit that would answer 80% or more of customer questions. Meeting this goal after adding twenty products to the servicing menu meant approaching incoming call treatment with an open mind as to which functions should be performed by the VRU and which required human intervention. The treatment for incoming calls was visualized like a tree. At the base of the tree is the VRU, which is designed to answer as many calls as possible, in this case, 80%. Each additional level of the tree is designed to take a lesser and lesser percentage of the calls. Once the Tactical Team determined the correct answer to a likely customer question, the next step was to determine how far down on the tree the answer could be handled. For example, the Team discovered that a relatively high volume of calls was being received asking for a re-faxing of daily information. In this case, the Team decided to allow the customer to automatically order the refax through the VRU without human intervention.

As a point of information the "call tree" sequence is:

  1. Answered by the VRU.
  2. Answered by the Call Center Specialist (CCS) completely.
  3. Answered by the CCS completely with an on-line form completed by the CCS and the actual research or file update being made by another area.
  4. Answered by the CCS but the technical nature of the call (detail product or system knowledge) requires a transfer to another area. In this case the CCS stays on the telephone until the customer and technical area establish rapport. This is known as a "warm transfer".
  5. Answered by the CCS but the request requires a customer’s signature. In this case, the CCS tells the customer to fax the request on the company letterhead to a fax number the CCS gives them.
  6. For calls that must be answered by the customer’s account officer, the CCS gives the customer the correct number to call. These are the only calls where a customer is given another telephone number to call.

The new VRU was designed to be extensively more robust than the VRU used with the original rudimentary Small Business Call Center. The new VRU increased the automated functions from 17 to 57 while adding an additional 20 products to the servicing menu. Furthermore, the number of scripted procedures used by the Call Center Specialists increased from 50 to over 200.


One outcome of this collective approach was a major reduction in the number of VRU levels a customer would need to plow through in order to have their question answered. As a result of this project, 90% of customers have their question answered by selecting just three options or less. After three months of operation, the number of incoming calls has increased by over 500%. More importantly, this call center has improved overall customer service.

The Future

Many exciting plans are being developed for the next phase of this Call Center. The bank will begin to sell and cross-sell directly to their small business customers. They will have access to a check imaging system and will be able to view actual checks that the customers have questions about. Additionally, the VRU will have the capability to automatically fax these images or screen prints to the customer. Perhaps most exciting plan of all will be the blending of the call center operations with Internet technology to create a whole new level of superior banking service.