Way To The Call Center

Video conferencing kiosks connecting customers in the branch to a specialist in the call center may be the next big call center innovation technology impediments are removed.

Kiosks give banks the option to deploy specialized personnel in centralized call centers for enhanced service, while decreasing service costs, industry analysts say.

About 57 percent of respondents have installed or are in the process of installing video bank systems, or are investigating the use of video banking in the not too distant future, according to a bank survey conducted by Addison Whitney, a Charlotte-based consultancy.

Pittsburgh-based Mellon Bank {MEL} is the only super-regional institution to undertake a major video conferencing initiative, deploying kiosks in more than half its branches.

The deployment was an attempt by the $43 billion asset bank to sell investment products from Boston Co. and Dreyfus Corp. to existing customers, say industry sources. The bank would not disclose its return on its investment.Tens of thousands of sales revenues have been generated through the medium, bank officials claim. Assessing Entry Blocks "Not every bank will deploy kiosks with video conferencing, but other banks with extenuating circumstances or special needs driven by acquisitions might pursue a similar course," suggests Mark Perutz, industry analyst at the Needham, Mass.-based Tower Group.

Video kiosks and call centers share similar objectives: to automate the way sales and service functions, reducing the high cost associated with branch personnel service.

However, all of the self-service, sales-oriented kiosks have been relatively unsuccessful so far, says Bob Landry, a technology analyst at Tower. Kiosks Deployment In the Branch Banks have found the investment fairly significant and the return very low, says Landry. "Kiosks have been in every branch of the future, but hardly anybody's branch of the present."

Mellon Bank's Video Banker Kiosk expected deployment in nearly all its branches, makes it the largest video sales kiosk deployment worldwide, says Perutz. Customers place a call to product specialist, and receive a response via a "call back," he explains.

Product specialists cover checking, mortgages, loans, investments, small business and private banking issues. The kiosk is not integrated with the bank's core system and provides no customer, account, or bank product information. Technology Impediments Reduce Entry Options Video conferencing expenditures are generated in two parts.

To deploy a network of kiosks, banksneed to route incoming video conference calls and direct them to a customer service with a similar software on his/her PC.

This process requires use of automatic call distributor (ACD) technology, which is where industry growth liesand many technological challenges arise, say technology consultants.

To route calls effectively, banks must deploy ACDs which combine voice, data and video and route them to the CSR's screen simultaneously. The systems also should be able to scale for more bandwidth as more kiosks are added to the network, says Perutz.

"{ACD systems} aren't {scaleable} yet. But in the next couple of years, {they} will make it happen and some banks will pioneer projects. Then kiosks will get more interesting to watch in terms of volumes. Right now, it's more of a novelty," says Perutz. Reaching Customers Remotely Many banks use their call centers to house groups of subject matter experts, including investment brokers and mortgage loan specialists, in a central location.

These employees might have 80 percent to 90 percent of inquires generated in the branch, call center or via the Internet routed to them, says Landry. In most cases, point-to-point transmissions, where a customer dials into a call center and is routed to the appropriate agent from the kiosk cannot be completed.

Point-to-point transmissions require a tremendous amount of data be transferred two ways. A bank can work around connection problems, however, says Landry. A branch employee can call the center for the customer and have his/her request logged for a live representative. Once the agent is free, the person can "call back" the customer, he explains.

After the call has been handled by the appropriate agent, information such as the number of calls, their duration and who the call was routed to also should be tracked, suggests Anne King, director of marketing financial services at PictureTel Corp., a video desk provider in Andover, Mass.

A tower report titled "The Retail Banking Kiosk: A Window of Opportunity?" features PNC Bank Corp. {PNC} of Pittsburgh, which plans to install 15 kiosks in the mid-Atlantic.region by the end of 1997. The kiosks will perform account inquiry and maintenance, product information, marketing, and video conferencing to CSRs for sales and account opening. Kiosk products can be categorized into four types, according to the report:

*Information and Marketing Kiosks. These kiosks provide access to bank products and service for marketing. The customer interface is similar to a touch-screen automated teller machine. Pricing varies from $10,000 to $25,000, depending on customization and integration requirements.

*Specialized Product Kiosks. These kiosks provide information, marketing, sales and new account functions for a single product type. Also known as automated lending machines. Costs range from $15,000 to $20,000.

*Video Sales Kiosks. These kiosks provide two-way video conferencing that connects the customer at the kiosk site with bank specialists. At the call center, a video-capable ACD is required for the acceptance, queuing, routing and tracking of video calls. Costs start at $20,000.

*Account Servicing Kiosks. These kiosks provide limited support for existing accounts. Functions include bill payment and account inquiry. (Anne King, PictureTel, 508/292-5178; Mark Perutz, Bob Landry, Tower Group, 617/965-9090.)