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Bank tries hybrid IP approach: analog phones working in concert with an IP network boost internal efficiency and customer service levels.

An aging phone system, company growth, the addition of new offices/branches, and a desire to boost customer service while keeping an eye on the bottom line meant only one thing for Resource Bank: a new communications system was in order.

"We had a really old phone system from 1988, it had been upgraded as far as it would go and we knew we had to replace it," says Billie Daugherty, telecommunications manager at Resource Bank, a Virginia-chartered regional commercial bank headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va. "We were growing and wanted to consider other locations being able to dial by extension, avoid long distance and also utilize our robust network to do all that."

Resource Bank has eight branches throughout Virginia, including offices in Chesapeake, Newport News, Richmond and Herndon. Since personal focus is an integral part of the customer experience, a standard, unified telephone system was a priority for bank managers.

They first considered a phone system made by the same manufacturer as the bank's network routers and switches. When they discovered they would be required to make significant, additional investments in the vendor's network gear before installing the phone system, managers searched for other options. "That stopped us cold," says Daugherty.

Resource Bank considered three networking vendors, including Fremont, California-based AltiGen Communications, a manufacturer of IP telephony and contact center solutions. IT team members from Resource first learned of AltiGen's offerings more than two-and-a-half years ago at a technology expo.

"It took about a year to decide to pursue an IP solution," says Daugherty. "We weren't sure how things would be in several years but knew they would be different, and we wanted each branch entity to have its own main number--and a system that accounted for expansion and consolidation."

A HYBRID IP TELEPHONY APPROACH

After a detailed vendor comparison, AltiGen proved to be between 15% and 20% less expensive than the other two contenders. Two other key factors spurred Resource to select AltiGen. First, a technology overhaul to install an AltiGen system was unnecessary, as the technology could be implemented within the bank's existing network infrastructure. Secondly, the bank elected to go with a hybrid IP/analog approach--something the other vendors could not accommodate easily. An all-or-nothing voice-over-IP (VoIP) strategy was "too risky," according to Daugherty.

The bank could not afford to have phones down if there was a network problem. The solution: analog phones working in concert with an IP network. Then, if network service is interrupted, the phones are still fully functional. Another bonus: with the analog phones, the need for nearly 350 new cabling drops was eliminated. By using the bank's existing wiring, the firm saved significant installation time and expense.

The system had to be flexible to accommodate changes among multiple locations. "We also wanted the technical staff to be able to manage moves, adds and changes themselves," says Daugherty.

During the technology transition, Resource Bank was making some location-related transitions itself. The bank had divided into three distinct groups and was in a state of flux as these three units were all moved into one new building. In the new building, the three systems were unified to operate as a single network. Resource's primary goal was to ensure that customer service did not lag during this transition period, when new employees were relocating and operations were being centralized.

Resource opted for AltiGen's AltiServ business telephone system, which includes advanced call routing and comprehensive call-detail reporting. The bank's product "musts" included call routing with seamless dial and transfer (to remove any geographic barriers), call-detail reporting and monitoring, and the ability to see which customer is calling and have that caller ID follow her wherever she is transferred.

FEATURES IMPROVE CALL HANDLING

AltiGen's AltiConsole Operator Console, a feature-rich PC interface that allows the operator to manage up to 50 simultaneous calls, has "significantly improved" how customer calls are handled, according to Daugherty. Bank employees can view extensions and transfer calls among all eight branches seamlessly. With AltiView desktop visual call management (point-and-click dialing, call forwarding, call transfer from the PC desktop, visual voice mail management), bank employees can see exactly who is calling and juggle multiple calls, if needed.

Customers now can dial any branch location and be instantly connected with the appropriate person. "Overall, with these applications, the result is quicker service," Daugherty explains. "When the call comes into the main switchboard, and can then be handled or transferred automatically, the customer does not have to hang up and dial another branch number."

Another customer-facing benefit-automatic call distribution-ensures the right customer is connected with the right specialist to answer specific questions. This is especially relevant for the real estate services group, which constantly receives a high volume of calls.

"Instead of getting a busy signal, the customer gets a live person, as calls are evenly distributed over the group," says Daugherty.

On the internal employee-facing side, Resource Bank is also using comprehensive call-detail reporting and record-on-demand features. With call-detail reporting, employee phone activity is tracked to ensure optimal productivity. Record-on-demand, meanwhile, allows employees to save voice mail as WAV files on their PCs, and to record conversations with business associates for legal purposes.

The bank's mortgage division, for example, often interacts with outside brokers. After a call, a recording can be e-mailed to the broker as backup of exactly what terms were agreed on. The recording functionality is also a boon for potential fraud or harassment situations. With record-on-demand, for example, the bank once archived a threatening phone call that was subsequently investigated by police.

Features aside, the new communications system has translated to quantitative return on investment for Resource. First, the bank's annual service costs have decreased 50%. Daugherty points to the bank's self-administration of the communications system as a major cost-saver. "The self-administration was a big plus, as was adding new extensions, changing names, deleting," she says. "We're definitely moving in the right direction."

For more information from Altigen: www.rsleads.com/507cn-250
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Title Annotation:Voice Networks
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Words:992
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