Magazine Article | November 1, 2001

Abandon Ship

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

When the Navy Federal Credit Union experienced a sudden increase in membership growth, it found manually scheduling its 650-employee call center difficult at best. After automating its workforce management system, however, the credit union sees smooth sailing ahead.

Integrated Solutions, November 2001

The Navy Federal Credit Union ( is the largest credit union in the world with nearly 4,000 employees, 2.1 million members, and $14.5 billion in assets. With 92 member service centers, including 25 overseas, and 244 proprietary "no surcharge" ATMs worldwide, the credit union serves primarily military and civilian personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps and their families. Inside the Navy Federal's facility in Vienna, VA, are call centers that house 650 agents and handle 600,000 calls per month. After a recent increase in member enrollment, Navy Federal call center managers found scheduling agents to be an overwhelming task. "Because many of our trained agents are college students, they require part-time schedules that change from semester to semester," says Dee Kirby, call center analyst in the Operations Department. "It is challenging to keep up with our changing peaks and various seasonal influences in each call center. After experiencing growth in membership, we knew we had to automate the process of scheduling our agents." Prior to automating its call center scheduling, Navy Federal found itself falling into the pattern of more traditional office settings where individuals start at 8:00 a.m., take a half-hour lunch at noon, and then punch out at 4:30 p.m. "Losing even two or three agents at break time can have a major effect on how fast calls are answered," notes Kirby. "We have agents who specialize in specific services ranging from mortgage loan processing to credit card accounts. If too many agents specializing in our consumer lending program each take lunch at the same time, and members call in to the center asking about consumer loans, we may fail to provide members the service they have come to expect, by directing them to wait or call back later." With several call centers located in the same building, Navy Federal found it difficult at best to coordinate breaks among agents.

After sending out an RFP (request for proposal) in early 2001, Navy Federal eventually narrowed its decision down to Pipkins (St. Louis), a WFM (workforce management) provider offering a solution called Maxima Advantage. "We installed the Maxima Advantage solution at our headquarters in February in just one day," recalls Kirby. "And then we tested it for the next 60 days before going live with the program." After the trial period, all of the credit union's call centers were able to tie into the WFM solution and take advantage of its forecasting and automation functions.

From Chaos To Order
"The WFM solution, combined with our phone switch, makes it possible to detect call center trends in as small as half-hour increments," says Kirby. "With the built-in forecasting and scheduling functions we are able to accurately schedule break times and lunches, and we know when we need to schedule our part-time employees. During our peak times we may have as many as 400 agents on the phones whereas during slower periods we may only have 4. Using the automated system we can adapt quickly to these changes." Another benefit of using an automated system is that employees from all five floors are incorporated into the system, giving each call center manager more resources to draw upon for scheduling purposes.

Navy Federal's WFM solution runs on an Oracle database and ties into many of its enterprise applications, including Lotus Notes, a homegrown human resources information system, Lucent CentreVu supervisor call management system, Witness call monitoring and coaching system, and an online training system which further enhances its functionality. Call center agents can switch schedules with other employees and can request vacation time or personal time off by using the company's intranet, which further automates the scheduling process. "By setting up the rules ahead of time via the system's built-in functions, employees are able to handle many of the tasks themselves that previously would take up a supervisor's time or even a supervisor and another employee's time," says Kirby. Employees can sign in to work at their PCs, find out specific information related to benefits, such as how many vacation days they have remaining, or they can access their performance review information.

Wireless: Making A Good Solution Better
For its future technology initiatives Navy Federal is considering adding wireless technology to its repertoire. This would enable call center managers to move about the call center and handle certain employee needs on the spot. For instance, if an employee needed to take a scheduled day off and didn't know who to ask, the supervisor could pull up the schedule on a handheld device, such as a Palm Pilot or Pocket PC. The supervisor could then send out a request or make a switch in the database rather than going back to the manager's desk with the employee and wasting time. The wireless solution could be set up to transmit data in a batch format using a cradle, or it could transmit data in real time via a WLAN (wireless local area network), much like a cordless telephone transmits voice information. Either way, the credit union will run even more efficiently than it did before.

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