How to spin Y2K : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

This article does an excellent job of answering all of my questions except one. Why does the bank teller in the story below think her bank is in such bad shape for Y2K? ==============================

How to calm your customers about Y2K

August 27, 1999 Web posted at: 1:29 p.m. EDT (1729 GMT)

by Kathleen Melymuka

(IDG) -- Early last year, a woman was opening a certificate of deposit account at a branch office of Comerica Bank when a comment from a bank employee stopped her cold. "I don't know that I would do that," the employee said, "because this CD goes past the year 2000, and this bank is in trouble. We may not make it."

As luck would have it, the woman opening the account was the wife of Comerica's CIO. That day marked the beginning of the bank's efforts to educate its first line of customer service representatives on year 2000. The need to gear up customer service is especially acute in the financial services industry. A spring Gallup Poll found that 54 percent of Americans plan to obtain special confirmation of their bank accounts and other financial records in preparation for Y2K, indicating a likely surge in customer service calls in the last quarter. But service industries like utilities, airlines, telephony, delivery and electronics and appliance retailers may also be hit, especially after the new year, when many expect a wave of inquiries about real or perceived Y2K problems.

Bruce Calhoon, director of the Contact Center Practice at Answerthink Consulting Group in Atlanta, outlined the problem for call centers at a recent International Quality and Productivity Center conference on Y2K customer service. A 100-seat call center may answer 15,000 calls in 24 hours at a cost of about $3 per call. That means a modest Y2K-induced increase in customer calls -- say 20 percent from mid-November through mid-February -- could generate $800,000 in additional costs. Certainly an event worth planning for.

But many companies aren't doing that. Earlier this year, the Center for Workforce Effectiveness, a management consulting firm in Northbrook, Ill., found that only one-third of major companies surveyed had customer service people on their Y2K teams. "The very people who would have to deal with these issues were not involved in solutions," says John Bremen, a principal at the center.

The financial services industry is out front in preparing for Y2K customer service issues and can serve as a model to other industries that need to get in gear. It has approached the problem from two angles: front-line service representatives and call centers. For front-line service representatives, the question is how to turn them into an efficient force for reassuring nervous customers.

For call centers, the issue is how to handle or deflect the expected increase in Y2K-related calls and plan for Y2K problems that may affect the call center itself.

After the fiasco with the CIO's wife, Detroit-based Comerica Inc. realized it had to educate its staff. "Employees have to know the key messages and deliver them with confidence," says Becky Siewert, Y2K communications program manager.

Keep the key messages simple, she says. Like this: "The Y2K challenge is our top priority. The safest place for your money is in the bank. Your funds are FDIC-insured up to $100,000 per account. For more information, visit their Web site at"

All of Comerica's 11,000 employees have received key Y2K information on an 8- by 5-in. card, and the bank augments that through newsletters and e-mail. "Any time we communicate with employees, we add something current and important about Y2K," Siewert says.

Comerica is stressing each employee's responsibility to get the Y2K message right, she adds. Each employee must take a 25-minute year 2000 computer-based training (CBT) course, pass a test and sign a statement saying he understands the bank's Y2K message and is accountable for what he says. Managers must report on the number of employees who have taken and passed the course and how many have attended Y2K training updates.

Finally, the bank uses some good-natured bribes to make sure employees get with the program. For example, Y2K e-mails often come with small rewards for those who open them or solve Y2K puzzles inside. Employees who are designated "Y2K champions" roam the buildings asking year-2000 questions and award $10 bills to those who give the correct answers.

The program is working, Siewert says. "We've had a 98 percent success rate on the CBT test, and employees are no longer getting into these hour-long conversations with people. We've provided them with the confidence to say, 'We can speculate for days, but this is what you need to know.'"

Call-center contingencies

At Progressive Insurance in Highland Heights, Ohio, call centers handle customer service, so information services executive Dennis Sutcliffe assembled a Y2K customer service team that includes decision-makers from every business process the call-center supports.

Call-center plans are intrinsically entwined with contingency plans, because many year-2000 problems will result in more calls, he says. So the team began by brainstorming about what could go wrong in each business process. Phone outages, power failures, postal delays, cash and credit processing problems could all affect service. System failures could result in breakdowns or -- more dangerously -- in inaccurate customer statements, erroneous shipments, inappropriate dunning notices or supply problems.

The team estimated how each scenario would impact call volume and telephone switch capacity and set up processes to deal with the most likely and biggest-impact scenarios. For example, the team determined that it was insufficient to have only two buildings with backup generators and planned to add a third. It also decided to move the company's 24-hour claims service unit to one of the backed-up buildings, starting with the New Year's Eve shift.

The group also looked at needs for additional call center staff, rollover phone routing and increased switch capacity. It devised space plans, seating plans and even desktop configurations for moving more people into backed-up buildings. They worked with the business units to determine minimum staffing levels to deal with short-lived meltdowns, sporadic disruptions and ongoing disruptions.

The completed plans were reviewed with each process area such as claims and product development, with the business process leader heading the discussion. "The idea is to get them to think about it," Sutcliffe says. "The press has been so optimistic lately [on Y2K] that we wanted to create a bit of an edge and get [the staff] more engaged." The final stage, Sutcliffe says, involves scheduled and unscheduled readiness drills.

Deflecting calls

At Belnexxia Inc. in Hull, Quebec, Maggi Williams is expecting an increase in year 2000 customer calls in December. She's director of business development at the Business Center, which provides help desk services for a half million customers of Internet service providers. "When Junior asks his parents if everything they've got will work [in year 2000], then they'll phone us," she says.

The tidal wave will hit in January. "If anything goes wrong with anybody's computer, they will phone on the first of January," she says. "It's a free call, so if there's no one else you can call, you'll call us. Even if things go great, people will call and say, 'Nothing happened. What do I do?'"

Because most callers will be asking questions that should be directed to hardware and software vendors, Williams plans to deflect as many questions as possible with a Web-based end-run. She has used a product called e-Service from Silknet Software Inc. in Manchester, N.H., to build a Web-enabled help desk to which about 400,000 of her customers have access.

Starting in September, a section of the Web page on Y2K will be highlighted, and users will be able to click on it for answers to frequently asked Y2K questions. An automated, voice-response phone system with the same type of information will catch customers who bypass the Web site. If all else fails, there are call center operators who will have the same information.

Having done what she can to provide access to potential Y2K-panicked customers, Williams is philosophical. "If the worst comes true, there will be no phone service," she says. "And we'll have no problems."

Is your call center ready?

Many companies assume their call centers can handle a Y2K surge with no special preparation. Calhoon suggests that considering the following issues will help you decide whether you need to take action.

Who is likely to contact you and why?

How will calls be routed?

What information will call center operators need?

Can your people qualify calls and answer the simple ones, forwarding the rest to a few experts?

Can you estimate volume and duration of calls based on historical data?

Can you project calls by quarter, month, day of week and time?

How will events such as billing cycles and new product introductions affect call volume?

How are peak calling periods handled now?

Is there room for more people?

Does your system have the capacity to handle more calls?

What technology will be used?

Can you use outsourcers and overtime?

Can you triage service, offering the best service to the most profitable customers?

-- John Ainsworth (, August 29, 1999


John, good question, but rest assured that that bank teller -- one way or another -- is no longer in a position to give such "bad advice" again at that bank. Or any bank. (In fact, one may reasonably conclude that said teller probably is now jobless, unemployable, wandering public buildings by day, sleeping on park benches at night, and generally feeding from garbage cans.)

-- King of Spain (, August 29, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ