Within the financial services sector there continues to be significant pressure to reduce expenses and grow top line revenue. Whether it is banking, insurance, investments or the credit card sector, organizations are re-designing, restructuring and re-engineering areas of their business to improve financial

performance.

In an effort to cut costs and increase employee productivity, the branch office is emerging as an important resource of skills and knowledge for diversifying and adding value to the contact centre.

Many progressive companies already view the branch office as a critical component of their integrated customer-management strategy. Utilising new technology, staff in branch offices are taking on the additional role of on demand contact centre agents.

By adopting converged voice and data Internet Protocol (IP) networks, firms now have the ability to truly virtualize their business. The IP protocol essentially provides a common means to enable voice, email, fax and Web traffic to be routed over a single computer network. This common environment allows any employee connected to the network to be brought into a distributed or virtual contact centre scenario.

This enables financial institutions to augment their traditional contact centre models by tapping into the rich knowledge and expertise of their branch office employees.

Tellers in branch offices today needn’t just handle customers in person — they can take phone calls, answer emails and route requests to subject matter experts anywhere within their large, diversified organisations. So, all time becomes productive time, transactions are handled more efficiently, and customers benefit from proactive touches.

It may be a bank teller handling contact-centre overflow in their spare time, a salesperson managing a key relationship from the field, or a stockbroker turned temporary telecommuter. No matter what it looks like, optimising the branch’s efficiency and effectiveness should be high on every financial services executive’s to-do list.

For example, a modern view of the teller “branching out beyond the branch” is enabled in part by seamless connectivity to centralised information and applications. No longer consigned to debits and deposit slips, the teller now functions as a general sales consultant, with the full resources of the organisation at their command.

The teller handles overflow from the contact centre and calls up customer information from a single, centralised repository. They can even serve customers who need to send documents securely by having them reach their fax-enabled voicemail, helping maintain privacy since nothing is left in an open fax machine.

Increased recognition and understanding is emerging for the distributed or virtual contact centre models and for representatives to be reachable anytime, anywhere. When their clients and employees can engage in more complex consultative interactions, financial institutions can increase customer acquisition and retention.

Of course, connecting multiple branches comes with numerous challenges including standalone communications systems inhibiting the delivery of integrated customer service; disparate technologies becoming more of a burden to manage; and customer experience suffering when employees can’t access the resources of the institution, putting revenue — and reputation — at risk.

That’s why converged IP networks hold the key. They allow interoperability between multiple voice and data platforms; the flexibility to connect new sites quickly and to cope with temporary sharp increases in call volume; savings in call costs by routing calls over computer networks (local and wide area networks); improved total cost of ownership by removing the need to manage disparate networks.

So, whether for banks, insurance companies or an investment firms alike, converged IP networks need to be at the core to re-engineering the customer experience. In many instances the move to a converged IP network does not require substantial investment. Increasingly, businesses are migrating their networks, leveraging their existing investments to do more. Customer services need not cost the Earth.

Mario Belanger is the president of Avaya Canada of Toronto.

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