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VoIP case study: TCF Financial Corp.

One financial institution is breaking down the barriers of reality and going virtual with multi-site VoIP.

Who: Earl Stratton
What: Chief information officer
Where: TCF Financial Corp.
Why: Migrating to virtual call center infrastructure
When: Winter 2004

Earl Stratton's faith in VoIP could move mountains. As chief information officer of TCF Financial Corp.,he is leveraging the technology to streamline communication with customers, and eventually move to a completely virtual call center infrastructure.

Stratton spoke with about the Wayzata, Minn., based bank's journey to a VoIP implementation from idea to inception, and the things he would change in hindsight.

Can you give me the basics about your organization, network and the number of end users you support?
Earl Stratton: TCF Bank is a multi-service financial institution with 400-plus banking locations in six states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado and Indiana. The new system allowed us to become more efficient and more virtual, so now we only have two locations serving all 175 agents.

What was the problem facing your organization that led you to consider VoIP?
Stratton: We were in four different locations spanning across the nation to serve the various time zones. We wanted to cut overhead while improving the performance of our call centers. As we looked to consolidate our data centers, we developed a long range goal to provide seamless and efficient customer service regardless of location. The obvious choice was IP telephony because you could move calls around to any physical location you'd like without the additional expense. Plus, routing data with those calls allowed us to combine several interfaces onto one portal, ultimately making the customer service representatives' jobs a lot easier.

Were there any critical requirements or buying criteria that influenced your product evaluation process?
Stratton: We were looking for proven technology. In addition, we wanted something that was flexible that could grow with us and reduce our costs.

What type of product offering did you choose -- IP-PBX, hybrid, outsourced, etc. -- and why did you make that decision?
Stratton: We decided to implement a new multi-site VoIP system. Having the technology deployed at more than one location establishes a fully redundant system for disaster recovery, failures or an overflow transfer of traffic from one location to the other.

Which companies or products were among your top choices and why?
Stratton: When it came to my desk, we were down to two: similar software and hardware technologies from AT&T and Spanlink.

What product/vendor did you select and why?
Stratton: Spanlink Communications Inc.'s multi-site VoIP system replaced our PBX and ACD [automated call distribution] systems. The VoIP platform enables IVR [interactive voice response] data and other caller information to be transferred between sites, on one easy-to-use portal. Additionally, Cisco Supervisor Desktop provides for real-time reporting and monitoring.

What did you need to do to prepare your network, systems and staff prior to the implementation?
Stratton: As far as the network goes, our biggest issue was replacing all of our switches. In the places where we were going to implement it, we had to put the proper switches in place to install the new system. We replaced all the phone systems in all four locations and trained all the customer service representatives.

What work or changes were involved with the implementation?
Stratton: Because the data and voice are routed together, we were able to streamline our communication process with our customers. We added some features and functions, so the reps had to do a little extra work to learn the new system, but it ultimately made their jobs easier. Their work changed because they now have to jump through fewer hoops to complete the same task.

Describe your implementation timeline. When did you finalize your product selection, begin the implementation, reach critical milestones and finally complete the implementation?
Stratton: We made final selection in March or April of 2004. Our goal was to convert over the period of October or November of 2004. All the center conversions were complete at the end of January 2005.

On a scale of 1-10 (10 being perfect) how smooth was the implementation?
Stratton: Nothing is ever perfect, but I would give this a 7 or an 8. Our road to implementation was fairly smooth, but it certainly had a few bumps.

Once in place, did the VoIP system meet your expectations?
Stratton: Yes, and it continues to do so even more as we become accustomed to it. We met our objectives and we're continuing to meet them. There's a lot we can still do with it too because we haven't used all the capabilities of the technology yet.

How did users respond to it?
Stratton: Our customer service representatives responded well because it made their life easier with just having one portal. They are also enjoying higher of levels of customer satisfaction because of the efficiency of our new system.

How did you train users, and did you have to overcome any reluctance to it?
Stratton: It was a fairly easy training process because it was just learning how to perform the same duties in a slightly different way. Overall, it was very well received.

How long have you been using the product now, and would you consider it a success?
Stratton: Yes, it is a success and it will continue to be more successful as we take advantage of it more in the future. It has been in full effect since the end of January 2005.

If you had it to do over again, would you do anything differently?
Stratton: Would we choose different hardware or software? No. Would we take the people part of this slower? Yes. Systems change overnight, people don't.

What was the most surprising thing about implementing and using VoIP that you didn't know?
Stratton: The ease with which we can move data around was pretty incredible. The fact that you can transfer data along with voice is much easier than one might imagine.

What would your advice be to any organization going forward with a similar implementation?
Stratton: Project management, project management, project management. You absolutely, hands-down need professional project management to do things like this. That's not always done, but I highly suggest it.

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