By Roy Urrico
Three lanes deep drive-thrus wrapped around locations, and 45-minute call queue times, became the norm at the $1.4 billion Eugene, Ore.-based Northwest Community Credit Union after branches closed during the early days of the pandemic. However, a new SMS-based messaging center helped the credit union stay connected with many of its 108,000 members.
In February 2020, before the 14-branch NWCU closed its brick-and-mortar locations due to COVID-19, the credit union partnered with Bozeman, Mont.-based Quiq, a cloud-centric, software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider that helps connect organizations with customers across SMS/text and rich messaging, web chat and social channels.
“Implementing a messaging platform was part of our digital roadmap. We know our members needed to be able to connect with us in a mobile messaging platform and we knew we wanted one solution that would offer many messaging channels,” April Cooper, director of digital experience at NWCU, said.
At least that was the initial plan. Cooper added, “Like everyone else, the COVID-19 situation took our roadmap and at times made us run the route backwards and blindfolded. We knew we had to get messaging out to our members as quickly as possible, because the traditional ways our members were doing business with us were changing drastically. In a time when members needed us more than ever, it was really difficult to reach us.”
Quiq CEO and Founder Mike Myer observed, “Credit Unions recognized that messaging was a faster, more convenient way for members to get updates, ask questions, apply for loans, get education and to really provide the kind of digital presence they’ve come to expect.” However, then offices shut due to COVID-19. “Members no longer could get in-person assistance. Banks and credit unions were forced to rapidly look for new technologies to interact digitally with their members.”
A Team Effort
Cooper recalled NWCU was just signing its contract with Quiq when Oregon began its quarantine. “Our original plan was to rollout outbound texting for a couple of our internal departments first. However, seeing the need to have another inbound channel for members to reach us made it very apparent that we needed to roll out webchat, and quickly.” The Quiq team helped NWCU set up webchat within days of signing the contract.
Cooper explained the simplicity of the Quiq solution, and the comprehensive training modules available, allowed NWCU to pull together a team composed of tellers, member service specialists and back office employees, who typically do not engage with members directly.
“We needed a solution that allowed us to have the flexibility to have employees in and out of the queues as the needs of their home branches or teams changed,” Cooper noted. The credit union was able to create a new user, train the agent and have them taking inbound chats in less than an hour. It was a game changer for our organization during COVID-19.”
“We didn’t just set up webchat though,” Cooper pointed out. Quiq helped the credit union build out a chat bot to answer the most frequent questions. Things like branch hours, scheduling appointments, using online banking, small business PPP loans and how to skip a loan payment. “As the COVID-19 situation changed, so did our members’ need and their questions. We were able to make changes ourselves, in real time, as our needs changed.”
Messaging in a Bottleneck
When NWCU went live with Quiq in the first week of April, 2020, the messaging channel immediately provided relief for a contact center flooded with phone calls and crowded inboxes. The new communication vehicle enabled members to receive responses in 1.5 minutes or less.
NWCU put messaging capabilities in its interactive voice response system, website and all social channels. Said Cooper, “Every single message that came in was greeted by our chatbot, and provided a list of options. Our chatbot handled approximately 70% of the messages that came in through webchat.”
Cooper admitted, “It was hard to benchmark how many calls we were able to divert to our webchat because we were (and still are) dealing with unprecedented times. We did see some remarkable results with the chatbot in deflecting messages coming in to our ‘Speak to a Human’ option through messaging, specifically with updates to the chatbot regarding how members could check the status of their stimulus check deposit.”
However shortly after opening the messaging channel, the credit union became inundated with messages and calls from all over the country seeking information on stimulus checks and deposits. Cooper explained due to some effective Google tagging, the credit union became the top search result for many non-members who had stimulus questions not realizing they were contacting an Oregon credit union.
NWCU updated its chat bot to deal with the added influx of inquiries by asking whether the person messaging was a member or not. A “no” answer triggered information on how to check with the IRS. Those answering “yes” received information about the credit union’s e-banking. “We completed hundreds of messages from non-members through the chatbot with this quick and easy update,” Cooper said.
Myer said the NWCU team put a bot in place with some really simple logic. “This helped to deflect a lot of calls and they were able to get that live on their website in a matter of two or three hours.” Myer explained, “When it comes to designing a bot, most of the heavy lifting is in figuring out what you want the bot to do and what kind of experience it’s facilitating for your member.” He added, Quiq’s bot designer makes it easy for companies to execute on that design. “Northwest handled the rest.”
Cooper said the credit union also uses outbound texting to send soft, non-intrusive, payment reminders to members who are past due. “Quiq has provided us the tools to quickly and easily reach thousands of members each month that we wouldn’t have been connecting with before — often times until after they’d received a late charge or needing additional help from our member solutions team.”
Myer noted Quiq includes native authentication and payment features that allow a financial institution to verify the identity of a member and receive secure payments directly in a messaging conversation across all messaging channels.
Quiq-ly Adding to the Foundation
Quiq began with a vision in 2015 when Myer noticed people preferred texting as a communication vehicle, but often did not have that option available with companies. Myer observed email is slow and impersonal, and phone calls disruptive, inconvenient and frequently go unanswered. “Quiq makes communicating with your favorite business as easy as your best friend.”
Quiq began with SMS/text because of its ubiquitous use, then expanded its channel mix to include Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp, WeChat and Google’s Business Messages and rich business messaging (RBM). Myer said, “We also support in-app messaging and web chat, but our chat is asynchronous unlike other web chat (remember the last time an agent hung up because you didn’t respond fast enough?).”
Myer said, “We’ve designed the UI (user interface) to be easy for agents to manage multiple, simultaneous conversations while still having access to other business intelligence with integrations.”
One of Quiq’s messaging attributes, Myer explained, is that parties involved in an interaction do not have to complete the dialogue at one time. “For example, I can start an interaction in the morning when I’m getting ready for work and put it on pause while I’m driving to work.”
Quiq also features a chatbot designer that allows business users to create bots to handle common inquiries and integrate with internal systems. “In addition to completely automating repetitive inquiries, Quiq also improves human agent efficiency. With messaging they (agents) are able to handle five-times more customer interactions,” Myer said.
Credit Union Messaging Adoption
“It’s been really exciting to see how credit unions use Quiq messaging,” stated Myer. He pointed out the Quiq system removes friction from common interactions and helps reduce the back and forth of missed calls. “Then there are things like collection reminders where credit unions are getting a 75% response rate to text messages where they previously only got a 5% response rate from calling members.”
Myer explained, “The bot presents a menu of topics members are most interested in including branch availability, scheduling appointments, processing a skipped payment or checking the status of stimulus checks or Payment Protection Program loans. With a bot NWCU is able to provide members the information they need without having to call in or speak to a human.”
Banking disruption from a lot of different angles started way before the pandemic, suggested Myer. Online-only banks and digital wallets, among other digital financial services, changed consumers’ relationship with their financial institutions. “One thing that has been important, especially for credit unions, is to maintain a relationship with their members and messaging helps them do that.”