When a customer service representative is limited to talk time

Bank of AmericaMy client Jennifer called Bank of America to discuss a mortgage modification on her existing loan. Many of her friends and customers who I work with have had positive results modifying their loans; the process although at times frustrating and record intensive has helped many families remain in their homes with a more affordable monthly payment. The banks aren’t really losing anything because they do make it up at the end, they don’t have to spend the time and money on a foreclosure and sheriff’s sale, and they don’t have to clean or care for another distressed piece of real estate.

Jennifer had not spent more than ten minutes on the phone with the bank customer service representative when the agent told Jennifer she would have to ask the remainder of her questions at another time. So is each customer service agent in this very confusing section of mortgage modifications only allotted ten minutes to answer customer questions? Are bank agents pressured to end calls as quickly as possible to handle the astronomical amount of phone calls and inquiries that come in daily about mortgage problems?

I did call Bank America, but could not get through to the particular agent who told Jennifer to call back at another time with the rest of her questions. An analysis of the situation, however makes me think the agent, by rushing a customer off the phone would be missing  information and therefore inhibiting the business process to proceed with any kind of efficiency. Then there’s the angry factor associated with a customer being dismissed. If the customer has to now call back to find the rest of her answers, isn’t the bank just wasting more time? After all Jennifer will have to spend the time going over her background again when she calls back tomorrow.

Limiting talk time is not going to improve customer engagement. More than likely the customer service agent who listened to Jennifer only had limited knowledge of the entire process, and was not prepared to answer the more complex details of the transaction, but customer service representatives can’t appear to be treating customers as if they were burdensome liabilities. In what is the most expensive and important purchase of most people’s lives, banks still need to create a rapport and help to solve problems with positive outcomes by following some basic protocol, and not be forced to be bound by time limits. Not only does customer service suffer, but the stress and pressure on an agent has an effect on job performance.

So what should an organization do? Companies need to begin with identifying the problem and what causes the increase in talk time. Is it because the agent isn’t knowledgeable about her program? Do customers have to be on hold while a supervisor is found? As with so many other customer service problems, education and training of employees is paramount to running any successful operation. Once employees are confident with their job knowledge, handling times decrease which in turn reduces call backs – thus making for a more efficient and less stressful work arena.

Companies hire customer service representatives to connect with customers and solve their problems. In the complex and frustrating world of home mortgages, there are admittedly no simple solutions, but the protocol for helping people wind their way through the maze of government and banking regulations are all standard. The trouble is the complexity of the paperwork, and there is where banking customer service agents need to focus.

Banking is a business, and just like any other business, employees need to be comfortable in their knowledge and their training. Implement better training programs, have supervisors listen in on calls and direct agents, have agents critique their own work, and reward employees for exceptional service.

When customer service agents listen and focus on their customers again, handling times will decrease and more people can still realize the American dream and stay in their homes.

photo credit: Tumbleweed:-)