A value-added service for Royal customers

If any further proof were needed that Canada's bankers have embraced customer service with a vigor that would have caused their corporate forbears to swoon, an observer need only look to the Royal Bank's telebanking centres for evidence.One of eight such...

If any further proof were needed that Canada’s bankers have embraced customer service with a vigor that would have caused their corporate forbears to swoon, an observer need only look to the Royal Bank’s telebanking centres for evidence.

One of eight such centres is tucked away in Mississauga, Ont., a bedroom suburb just west of Toronto.

Susan Stauth, manager, marketing services centre, for the operation that handles the telebanking business for Toronto and the surrounding area, says the centres were started as another value-added service for Royal Bank’s customers.

The centre handles inbound and outbound applications – everything from requests for information to processing loan and mortgage applications to sales campaigns for bank products – over extended banking hours.

‘A lot of clients now – with banking machines and cash counters and that kind of thing – don’t necessarily step into a branch,’ Stauth says. ‘This is just one way we can communicate with them.’

She says central to the telebanking centre is its support of local branches.

For example, the bank puts a local phone number or a toll-free number in its advertising so the centre answers those calls, in the same way it answers calls generated from the bank’s direct mail efforts.

‘We are a referral centre. We will take all the information – we’ll take a full-blown loan application, for example – and then we’ll electronically transfer it out to the branch and the branch is still in control of the client.’

As for outbound calls, Stauth says the centre is proactive, typically calling 150,000 or 160,000 clients a year.

She says a local branch can direct any outbound call initiative to its own client base, for example.

‘We position a lot of this outbound calling as an extension of the branch’s staff,’ Stauth says.

‘We’ll call to inform [clients] their mortgage is coming up for renewal,’ she says.

‘We want to be the first institution to remind our own clients that their mortgages are renewing with us because a lot of financial institutions are very aggressively going after a lot of mortgage business.’

Stauth says the centre tries to reflect what Royal branches and districts are doing, pulling up potential client prospects and generating enough interest among them that they will want to talk to a personal banker.

She says the Mississauga centre answers its calls on a first-come, first-served basis.

The centre tries to match staff to incoming calls says Stauth, although some customers get a recorded message telling them their call will be answered by the next available agent.

She says there is a voice response system at the Mississauga centre for clients with touchtone phones, but adds, so far, its applications are limited to ‘transactional’ banking such as checking account balances, paying bills, and the like.

She says the breadth of the staff’s experience is extensive, adding, typical telebanking operators could be students, empty-nesters, young mothers, and so on, and many work part-time.

All are given four weeks’ training in the bank’s products and services and phone service skills as well.

Stauth says the training is done on-site at the Mississauga centre, adding, at the old location, there were 15 staff.

She says since the move in 1990 that number has jumped to about 60.

Although the telebankers are trained to answer most questions of a general nature, Stauth says there are specialized staff available to answer questions on such matters as mutual funds, loans and other financial instruments that can become complex.

She says her centre got the go-ahead in the spring of 1990 and was open for business that summer.

The cost of the Mississauga centre remains undisclosed, but Stauth says its two biggest expenses are staff and telecommunications.

Fortunately, she says, there is a lot of local calling into her centre, so those telecommunications costs are not as high as they might be.

From its start-up until now, Stauth says the centre is getting better and better at what it does.

Technology is helping, as are extended telebanking hours that run from 8 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

‘One of the big things we have is our extended hours,’ Stauth says. ‘Clients can call us up to 8.30 at night.

‘And, we’ve got the luxury of time to talk to these clients,’ she says.

‘We take a lot of time in answering their questions and making sure that they feel comfortable that they have all the answers that they need.’

One result of the call centre’s operations is more sales, and constant tracking means the Mississauga telebankers can seek constant improvements.

‘We know what we’ve referred out, and what’s actually been closed in the branches,’ Stauth says.

‘So, we do track that and report that to the branches so they know what our contribution was [to campaigns and other initiatives,]‘ she says.

As for the future, Stauth says the centre wants to move ahead with projects that allow Royal Bank customers to do anything over the phone they can do in a branch.