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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

Determining When Call Center AI Initiatives Benefit the Member Experience

By W.B. King

During a fireside chat webinar hosted by InflowCX in May 2024, representatives from A+ Federal Credit Union, Access Credit Union and Zoom Video Communications, Inc. discussed how artificial intelligence (AI) and automation can help the member experience as well when it could potentially hurt call center operations.

The webinar was moderated by InflowCX’s Chief Revenue Officer, Michael Dolloff. The Beaverton, Ore. company offers engagement technologies and processes designed to improve operational efficiencies in the customer experience ecosystem.

“Today our topic is really about member experience and credit unions and how technology, specifically in this case Zoom, has played a role in helping with a lot of these core initiatives that these two great credit unions have been working on,” he said.

Since AI is ever-evolving, with varying definitions and use cases, Access Credit Union’s Director of Information Technology (IT) Cory Mestdagh said it is a difficult topic to be definitive on. “As an organization, Access is looking at that as a formal investigation piece and how we are going to use it—the demand is there,” he noted.

The $10.7 billion Winkler, Manitoba, Canada-based credit union serves more than 175,000 members at 52 branch locations. Among areas of interest is deploying AI call center chatbots, designed to help members with certain queries. Mestdagh said the management of these AI initiatives, however, is critical so as not to frustrate members.

“There is a fine line on what the members want and how to ensure that conduit to an actual end person is accomplished—that’s our big piece, investigating and developing a plan for it,” he said.

Who Is Getting AI Right?

Zoom’s Brian Sherman, a Toronto-based contact center specialist, said he is sensitive to the “personal touch” culture credit unions are known for and agreed that extra care must be taken so as not to sully the member experience. He noted that he has been working with Mestdagh on deploying the credit union’s new Zoom contact center.

Sherman asked the panel: “Are there any credit unions that are currently doing AI right?”

“There is definitely room for improvement,” responded Mestdagh, adding that many members still prefer to talk to employees via the phone.

A+ Federal Credit Union’s Brad Shoff, executive for the contact center and retail analytics, explained that the credit union has had a chatbot in place for nearly one year.

“In the credit unions space, tools like AI are best employed if they are in addition to instead of a replacement of personal services,” he said.

The $2.8 billion Austin, Texas-based credit union, which serves more than 190,000 members, is presently working with InflowCX to construct its “intelligent virtual agent” that will offer more self-serve options in the cloud.

By being in the cloud, he added that the credit union will be able to better validate member’s identity and pass them through to agents, already verified, which expedites the conversation.

If the credit union were to push AI as a call center replacement service, he believes members would revolt.

“I’ve had some discussions with my team,” Shoff continued. “I said, ‘I fully expect as AI goes on that your calls are going to get tougher and longer because as we get better at self-service and the members begin to accept self-service, the simple calls will be handled in chat or voice AI and we’ll get the ones that really need a personal interaction and a human solution.’”

Silver Tsunami

Referencing the “Silver tsunami,” an aging banking demographic, Sherman asked Shoff how A+ FCU is preparing for the demands of members today opposed to over the next five to 10 years.

“I’ve heard that term as well but my experience with new and additional channels doesn’t ever really seem to reduce overall contacts, it just gives members another way to contact you,” said Shoff. “I think it comes down to not so much of an age piece as a preference.”

He added that some members are most comfortable with chat, while other members will use chat for some tasks and voice for others.

“We find that if they have a greater level of concern, like it’s a dispute or possible fraud situation or they generally don’t understand [something], that will definitely turn into a voice call,” he said. “We see members self-segment what they choose to do. They will also physically visit us in a branch.”

Dolloff noted that AI and automation are not necessarily meant to replace the entire call center process, but remove redundancies from communications, such as “numbing and time consuming” tasks like validation and verification.

“We were just reviewing a customer’s metrics after they deployed chat and other AI products into the contact center. All the metrics they were tracking went in the right direction,” he said, adding that members felt AI assistance was viewed as beneficial.

“Average channel time actually increased,” he said. “This is because a lot of the lower-level things are being handled through self-service and AI, so they [customer service representatives] are dealing with more tricky problems where humans are required.”  


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