Automation Smoothes Way for CSRs and Customers During Refinance Boom

Garth Graham, first vice president for customer acquisition and relationship management at ABN AMRO Mortgage, knows a lot about his customers. Graham understands that most homeowners calling to find out if refinancing makes sense for them don't want to be placed on "terminal hold", and they'll hang up and maybe call another company if they don't quickly get an answer. Plummeting mortgage rates turned up the volume of calls pouring into ABN AMRO's call center last year. Graham needed to find a solution that he trusted to do the job without having to reinvent the wheel. "Traditionally, when short-term mortgage rates show a substantial drop, customers are immediately on the phone asking how much they can save by refinancing," Graham says. "If we can't handle their calls instantly and give them an answer right away, we risk losing their business." A packaged voice application, Loan Capture by NetByTel, was chosen with speech recognition from SpeechWorks International. Within the first month of operation, ABN AMRO was able to recoup its initial cost. And after about a year, it has generated incremental revenue of several million dollars. Before the Loan Capture application was integrated the high volume of calls was swamping the company's call center and making it difficult for operators to work effectively. With the new system, callers to a toll-free number can answer questions either verbally or by pushing a number on a telephone keypad, and more quickly find out if they will benefit from refinancing. With the automated system, loan agents have more time to focus on providing quality service, and potential customers spend less time on hold. In the past, about 20 percent of callers agreed to refinance their mortgages. Since the new system was installed, that number is reaching about 50 percent. "One of the main reasons for our success with voice self-service is because ABN AMBRO Mortgage is willing to trade information with the customer so that there is value in the transaction for both parties," Graham says. "With NetByTel's Loan Capture application, our customers learn immediately if they can save with a refinance through us and within half a minute, know how much they can save." A factor that has led to a positive spike on customer satisfaction surveys, is that customers can get information on a 24/7 basis. Graham and the team at ABN AMBRO sought a speech application that could help them avoid having to add staff. At the same time the company needed to make sure it had a way to respond quickly to customer inquiries. And timing was critical, since there was no telling if and when the volume of calls would fall off. With that in mind, the team at ABN AMRO sought a speech application that could be deployed without having to buy their own system. This made using a hosted solution with a pay-per-call agreement attractive. Due to the upswing in calls, it was important that ABN find a way to have a solution in place quickly. ABN AMRO also wanted:
  • Voice applications that were able to integrate with ABN AMRO's existing database systems.
  • Voice applications that could use ANI (Automatic Number Identification, i.e., caller ID), social security number, loan number or address to instantly identify and validate the caller.
  • Voice applications were able to integrate with a back-end mortgage refinance savings calculator developed by ABN AMRO, along with standard pricing and eligibility engines.
  • Manage the call flow according to specific yet customizable criteria set by ABN AMRO.
  • Integrate with existing major telecomm infrastructures such as those provided by AT&T.
  • Offload call traffic as its voice response system filters out those customers who can't save enough to justify refinancing.
  • Collect and process loan application information without involving a live agent. It should pre-qualify and streamline the application process by capturing caller information, convert it to data and get back a response using industry (MISMO) standards.
  • Provide for a secure query and posting of data to ABN AMRO systems.
In July 2001, ABN AMRO began using the new application and interface. Callers are recognized through ANI, their loan number or social security number, and current account information is used to calculate savings using Virtual Agent™, the user interface for the system. The Virtual Agent also helps to ensure that calls are sent to the right place. The voice application is dynamic so questions can be based on a caller's response. Depending on the response, callers are routed directly to a live agent or continue to have their entire transaction handled automatically. Because callers find out up front how much they can save by refinancing, they are more willing to hold for a live agent or use the Virtual Agent to help speed up the processing of their transaction. ABN AMRO is seeing benefits in several areas including:
  • Increased Agent Productivity Because the automated system is handling more calls, customers are seeing better service from reps and there is a savings to ABN AMRO. "Our call volumes have in some weeks tripled or quadrupled over the same period last year," Graham said. "Without this new voice self-service qualification system, we would have been overwhelmed and unable to handle such volume. Now, we can provide better information up front to ensure that those who can save money are helped."
  • Increased Customer Satisfaction ABN AMRO has used surveys to measure its success. Since the introduction of the self-service loan qualification system, surveys show that overall satisfaction with loan services has increased. And customers have also commented on how much they appreciate being able to find out any time of day or night if it makes sense for them to refinance and how much they can save.
  • Increased Revenue In the first three months the Loan Capture application has helped the company generate an estimated $1 million in incremental revenue. "That in itself is justification for integrating the system into the company's existing infrastructure," says Graham. "The return on investment has been phenomenal. It paid for itself within the first month, especially given the recent high call volumes we've been experiencing." Based on the success of Loan Capture, Graham and the team at ABN AMRO say there is a good chance they will be expanding their voice self-service applications. "Ultimately, our goal will be to streamline as much of the loan refinance process as possible," he said. "That way, we can continually improve our customer self service and provide customers with the best possible service from our agents."
    Ken Jackowitz is the chief customer officer for NetByTel. He can be reached at kjackowitz@netbytel.com.
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