Allied Irish Banks, is one of Ireland’s leading banking and financial services organisations. It operates principally in Ireland, Britain, Poland and the USA, employing almost 25,000 people worldwide in more than 800 offices. AIB Group (UK) is the UK division of the Group operating as Allied Irish Bank (GB) in Britain and First Trust Bank in Northern Ireland. Allied Irish Bank (GB) employs more than 1000 staff and provides quality services to SMEs and professional customers. It has been voted ‘Britain’s Best Business Bank’ by the Forum of Private Business, consistently since 1994.
All of the organisation’s 44 offices in Great Britain are serviced by a six person team, based in Northampton, which looks after any hardware, software, telephony, IT and technical support requirements. This team works with the Group’s e-Tech division that makes strategic IT and communications decisions for the entire organisation.
The GB IT team regularly visits the disparate branches throughout Great Britain. It had been organically upgrading and replacing the legacy phones systems as offices were refurbished or new premises were acquired. Some of the existing systems dated way back to the early 80’s and were becoming unreliable and uneconomical to maintain. As the business’s communication demands evolved it became evident that it would benefit from features that
were not currently being provided, such as call routing, queuing and messaging.
The IT team would also benefit considerably from being able to mange the system remotely, cutting down on branch visits to maintain and monitor it.
In early 2002, the team agreed that a single consolidated system across all the branches was now necessary, and organic change was not upgrading the infrastructure fast enough. At this point the focus of the GB business was moving even more towards the professional and business market. It recognised the value of technology in helping it develop fully into a relationship bank as opposed to a volume bank.
As staff should be instantly accessible by customers, reliability was a key requirement. The company needed to manage incoming calls, eradicate abandoned calls and ensure that
customer enquiries were dealt with efficiently.
While the team recognised the need to have an automated call management system, the priority was to ensure that customers would get to the most qualified person to answer their query, as quickly as possible. The right form of back-up should that person not be available was crucial as the company preferred to avoid voicemail and automated call distribution (ACD):
New technology was not intended to replace staff. Phil Lamb, lead network support specialist, Allied Irish Bank (GB) explains why:
‘We regard ourselves as a relationship bank and are committed to providing a personalised service to businesses. Our customer relationships are based on two-way communications, so how we answer calls is of primary importance. I do not consider ACD an ideal way to route calls for dealing with them or maximising staff productivity. It was really important to enable customers to talk to people, not machines – and also to give staff the chance to speak to customers to develop relationships and identify potential growth opportunities.’
Six companies were invited to tender and BT recommended a solution based on Nortel Networks’ Business Communications Manager (BCM). The voice specialists in E-Tech chose it because it had the potential to create a virtual private network, enabling the First Trust branches in Northern Ireland to be networked with the mainland system. Conveniently the Northern Ireland branches could keep their Norstar handsets and it also answered the Bank’s key requirement for call queuing and messaging.
BCM is an advanced but easy-to-use, one box solution for all a business’s voice and data communications needs. It provides a wide range of business applications such Call Centre, DECT Mobility, Unified Messaging and Computer Telephony Integration (CTI).
Paul Nicholls, Allied Irish Bank (GB)’s account manager at BT, explains its benefits further: ‘BCM was the natural solution for Allied Irish Bank (GB) as it had the best strategic fit with the existing installed base, is future proofed, reliable and it maximised the investment made in Nortel Networks.’
The call centre facility is used to route calls more effectively and distribute incoming calls more evenly. The short dial facility is well used by staff who have regular business customers and make many calls within the organisation. Phil Lamb has extended this using routing tables, to enable calling between branches using the bank sort codes, which are known internally by heart.
BCM’s voice messaging facility is used by the Bank purely during out of office hours but makes a great difference to the customer contact experience. The massive memory, ability to take multiple calls at the same time and play back messages more than once are functions the old systems did not provide and they ensure customers’ messages are received and responded to.
The key requirement for the new system was the provision of customer service through reliable and efficient communications. The call centre facility manages incoming calls, giving a fair call queuing experience. It also makes better use of specialised staff – targeting those who are primed to answer certain calls.
Phil Lamb explains how the new system has impacted staff at Allied Irish Bank (GB): ‘The BCM gets calls answered far more efficiently than previously and has demanded a change in behaviour for staff. They now have to log onto a phone and be much more responsive. Previously all the phones rang and the first person to pick it up answered the call. Now each member of staff has equal responsibility as calls are distributed fairly to all users.’
Allied Irish Bank (GB) will be looking at key customer service indicators such as average time to answer and abandon call rate. With this information branches can consider reasons behind higher or lower than target rates and, if necessary identify issues and implement solutions such as training.
Phil Lamb continues: ‘Once the installation is running across the branches the call centre reporting element will prove its worth as we will be able to assess accurately how customer service is performing.’
The initial installation programme is for 19 branches and eventually BCM will replace all Allied Irish Bank (GB) legacy systems. There are also several satellite business development offices which will be considered for installations when they require it. This will be enabled by the Voice over IP capability of BCM.
BCM is hybrid system that supports both digital and IP Telephony, which enables an organisation to adopt IP based solutions at its own pace. Once Allied Irish Bank (GB)’s installation programme is complete, the IT team will network the BCMs and associated PCs in all the branches to manage the entire system remotely by dial in.
Phil concludes: ‘BT and Nortel Networks have been very supportive and helpful – implementing call centre configuration just the way we want it. Now the system is in place and up and running in 11 of our branches, I can see its potential and am keen to capitalise on the benefits of using it as an IP device.’