GreenState Credit Union of North Liberty, Iowa, is a 290,000-member financial cooperative with assets of $7.8 billion. It prides itself on its excellent customer service that is delivered through its 23 branches and by way of its contact center team. A total of 29 agents are available by phone and 11 by digital (e.g., chat, email) at its facilities in Clive and North Liberty, Iowa, along with remote team members.
The already-high bar for member service in delivering an exceptional customer experience (CX) and the value of the contact center was raised even higher for GreenState during 2020 due to two events. They were the COVID-19 pandemic and an acquisition of several bank branches, both of which were generating extraordinary contact volume.
Handling a Pandemic and an Acquisition
COVID-19-prompted lockdowns led to GreenState temporarily shuttering its branches. Although its members recognized and supported branch closures during the pandemic, they still expected to reach trusted credit union staff.
In March 2020, as members began to confront difficult financial decisions, incoming calls and online chats increased by 50% (from 30,000 per month to 45,000 per month). If not managed properly, the sizeable volume growth risked negatively impacting the contact center’s ability to deliver on its member-first promise.
And any time financial institutions merge, there are concerns among the customer base. GreenState’s acquisition of seven bank branches in Des Moines and Fort Dodge, Iowa, along with $560 million of assets and 10,000 members from First American Bank, announced in 2019 and carried out in 2020, was an especially unique event. It was one that GreenState anticipated would generate a high volume of inquiries from both the credit union’s members and the bank’s customers.
When credit unions acquire banks, they are governed by field of membership rules that require special attention and effort. Credit unions must demonstrate to the industry’s main regulatory body, the National Credit Union Association, why the banks’ customers fit within their field of membership. GreenState’s contact center felt a responsibility to presentably welcome individuals into the credit union movement: a first-time experience for many of the bank’s customers.
True to its vision of continual progress even in the face of challenges, GreenState did not dial back its growth goals. Instead, the credit union’s leadership challenged its Member Assistance Center to maintain exceptional service throughout these unprecedented circumstances to keep the 80-year-old credit union on target.
The Member Assistance Center team understood that more resources would be required. The center would not be able to service the high number of calls with existing staff, at least not to the standards the credit union adheres to.
It was clear that GreenState would need to outsource at least a portion of the volume to a vendor partner. However, that partner would need extensive knowledge of, and experience with, discerning credit union members.
As financial cooperatives owned by their members, credit unions are held to an exceptionally high standard of customer care. Among the promises made by credit unions like GreenState is that staff are readily available, capable, and familiar with their members.
That promise was made to the new members from the First American Bank. It was critical to the success of the acquisition that they be given excellent service in order to retain and grow their loyalty.
Managing Through the Pandemic
The CO-OP Contact Center maintains a workforce of several hundred people in Fort Worth, Texas and in Clive and Urbandale, Iowa, in the Des Moines, Iowa metro area, as well as a team in its Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. location.
With the onset of social distancing needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March and April 2020 CO-OP undertook a massive effort to split operations to provide ample physical distancing and safeguard the health and safety of its staff.
For instance, the company established a remote location near its Fort Worth office: a facility held as part of its standing business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan. It also enabled a portion of its staff to work from home and the company was able to “space out” remaining staff in Fort Worth.
Thus, the staff was split in three teams in order to continue operating without a hitch. Similar remote staff and social distancing solutions were adopted in the Iowa and California locations.
For newly remote staff, CO-OP provided them with laptops and other office equipment to be able to work. Many staff members were not familiar with remote working, so the company created instructional videos to help them quickly set up their home office and meet security protocols. And, to the credit of CO-OP staff, they were fast learners!
CO-OP mobilized and safely moved staff in less than 15 days. While all of this was going on, the CARES Act stimulus checks began to hit. The CO-OP Contact Center had a record 28,000 calls come in on April 15, 2020, alone versus 12,000 on this date one year prior.
Finally, just before the pandemic hit, CO-OP had completed a technology implementation enabling “Universal Agent” technology, to allow calls to roll from one location to another, and thus even out service demands.
Similarly, GreenState moved 90% of the contact center team remotely in less than two weeks. Because branches were closed, those team members were trained and able to assist with the increase in call volume and online chat, which was a feature quickly adopted by the membership that helped to balance service levels.
The Member Assistance Center team did a great job during the pandemic. GreenState deployed technology to work from home team members and offered tips to give employees the tools to have conversations and stay connected. They even sent fun little gifts and had after-hours virtual parties.
GreenState took good care of their people at a time when employee’s needed it most. They will continue to have a workable home environment too because work from home team members have proven to be as productive at home as they are in office.
External Partner Needed to Scale Services
To ensure the continuance of exceptional CX to every individual contacting the credit union for help, GreenState researched partners that could assist during these unprecedented events and for when a level of normalcy returns, but with a larger customer base. The credit union needed an external partner that had the economies of scale to see it through peaks resulting from mergers and from business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) and normal operational events.
A thorough review of internal resources and external partners brought GreenState to the conclusion that CO-OP Financial Services was best equipped with technology and talent to assist the institution. CO-OP is a Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based credit union service organization or CUSO that delivers a full ecosystem of payments technology services to financial cooperatives throughout the U.S.
GreenState and CO-OP were already partners on other CO-OP services. But GreenState’s relationship with CO-OP now included 24/7 live agent and self-service contact center solutions through the CO-OP Contact Center. Member contact center services have been provided by CO-OP to credit unions since 2009.
Because of CO-OP’s expertise in payments, GreenState elected to have CO-OP provide members with credit card support. Credit cards and other payments mechanisms make up 80% of the average banked customer’s interaction with their financial institution. Therefore, high levels of support for this product line were crucial to maintaining GreenState’s relationship with members and making a good first impression with bank customers who were just beginning to form their impressions of the credit union.
The expectation was for CO-OP Contact Center staff to assist existing members dealing with the financial stressors of COVID-19 and incoming bank customers with services like card activation, rewards management, and importantly, fraud alerts and response. By the end of 2020, the U.S. had seen $11 billion worth of losses due to credit card fraud, as criminals took advantage of various disruptions related to COVID-19.
The voice-to-voice, human-to-human aspect of member service was another priority need for GreenState as it shared expectations with CO-OP. Although its membership is comfortable with digital self-service, the individuals that bank with GreenState also want to speak with someone when their financial needs are more complex. And complicated money matters were omnipresent for GreenState members in 2020.
If COVID Wasn’t Enough…
Beyond the pandemic and the natural uncertainty of the bank-to-credit union transition, many GreenState members were affected by a record-breaking derecho that hit Iowa in summer 2020. The windstorm caused billions of dollars in destruction to homes, farms, and other buildings, including GreenState’s own Hiawatha branch, which was forced to close due to a partially collapsed roof. In addition, six million acres of corn and soybeans were damaged or destroyed by the 100-mph winds, impacting many of the farmers within GreenState’s membership.
CO-OP’s scalable services, which flex alongside call volumes, were adequately prepared to not only handle overflow but also meet GreenState’s desire for first call resolution (FCR). The last thing GreenState wanted was to ask a member to make more than one call to solve a financial question.
GreenState’s Member Assistance Center staff continued to support member interactions across a range of channels, including phone calls, email, web chat, web forms, online banking, and video teller machines. In addition, the credit union was able to expand its support of mortgage servicing, wires, fraud disputes, and other transactions now that CO-OP partners with the institution.
Easing the Implementation
Implementation of CO-OP’s services was fairly straightforward. A key benefit of outsourcing services to an existing vendor partner was that both GreenState and CO-OP already had access to the same member account application.
CO-OP Springboard gives users, whether credit union staff or CO-OP Contact Center agents, real-time access to cardholder account information across multiple product lines, like debit cards, credit cards, and digital wallets. The application empowered GreenState and CO-OP’s agents to answer member questions efficiently and effectively, thereby limiting the number of interactions to address a member’s issue. The tool was a major factor in the partnership’s success around FCR.
CO-OP’s data management technology also enabled frequent and clear reporting. Any time a CO-OP agent transferred a call back to GreenState, the credit union received a comprehensive detailing of the interaction, informing them precisely why the transfer was necessary, and how CO-OP is working to reduce such instances in the future.
Forthright conversations at the outset of the partnership also helped ensure a smooth implementation. Setting up the partnership for success required both parties to be transparent with what they perceived as challenges and opportunities. Leaders from GreenState shared what members were mostly likely to need as they navigated the pandemic and the bank branch acquisitions. For its part, CO-OP shared a set of capabilities and strategies for meeting those needs.
The open dialog enabled GreenState and CO-OP to adequately address gaps early on, such as with changes to authority levels or adjustments in agent training. As an example, GreenState’s own contact center staff are empowered to waive late fees in certain circumstances. Given the economic uncertainty facing GreenState members in 2020, the credit union extended that authority to CO-OP’s agents, a custom configuration of CO-OP’s services.
KPI Use Bolsters Confidence
GreenState set out four distinct key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor the success of the CO-OP partnership: FCR rates, Net Promoter Scores (NPS), credit card growth, and call quality.
FCR rates far exceeded expectations, hitting an average rate of 95%. As for the NPS, GreenState’s numbers continued to rise consistently throughout the engagement with CO-OP, gaining as many as 10 points during some periods. Credit card growth, too, is on the rise with a 37% growth in card holders in 2020. Lastly, call quality is reviewed each week and is always above goal.
Both GreenState and CO-OP attribute high call quality to the partners’ strong investments in recruiting and retention strategies that are focused on credit union values, like autonomy, independence, financial inclusion, and concern for community. And having CO-OP as a partner had the additional advantage of being familiar with GreenState’s local service area: CO-OP Contact Center sites are located in the Des Moines, Iowa metro area, along with in Fort Worth, Texas.
As such, CO-OP agents were well-suited to join GreenState agents in calming nerves related to COVID-19’s economic impact, as well as rolling out the red carpet for highly-valued new members.
Further Expansion Ahead
GreenState credits the positive experience with the CO-OP Contact Center for giving the credit union confidence to expand the partnership even further in the remainder of 2021 and into 2022. In that timeframe, the credit union expects to acquire two banks while continuing to help members through various phases of the COVID-19 economic recovery.
In addition to rolling all after-hours calls to CO-OP agents, GreenState plans to grant CO-OP contact center agents access to its core data and business rules. This will enable CO-OP agents to assist members with an even greater number of transactions, including account-to-account transfers, online banking questions, and loan payments. GreenState is also in the process of enhancing its IVR system, modeling several of its improvements after those experienced with the CO-OP IVR.
In today’s competitive marketplace, where banking services are on the verge of commoditization, every vendor a credit union brings on is crucial to maintaining what’s known in the industry as “the credit union difference.”
Whether it’s a mobile banking provider or a contact center partner, the vendor must demonstrate strong command of the people-over-profit philosophy. They must have the emotional intelligence and empathy skills to listen to a member’s problems and the cultural empowerment and technology access to solve them. The GreenState and CO-OP partnership is an ideal representation of this imperative, and both parties look forward to learning more from each other as they collaboratively meet the emotional and financial needs of members during a continuously tumultuous time.