Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony technology has now reached its zenith among credit unions looking to cut costs and enhance their services with members. While the technology is not new, it has come a long way in the past couple of years in both capability and further reduced pricing. With hard to ignore promised benefits, further credit union adoption growth and further capability utilization among adopters should continue to increase dramatically over the coming months.
According to a survey by BT International Network Services, a leader in IT consulting and software services, the number of organizations that have either implemented a functioning VoIP network or are in the process of doing so jumped from 44% in 2005 to 62% this year. Most credit unions usually take a well measured approach to implementing VoIP, with extensive research in choosing the right implementation and utilization strategy for their particular organization.
Callahan & Associates has recently concluded extensive research investigating effective VoIP strategies. This research included interviews with several credit unions and experienced vendors over the past several weeks. Below are some of the summarized key benefits and areas of concern for credit unions to ponder in deploying and enhancing a VoIP system.
Benefits for Credit unions:
Improved member communications and satisfaction. Calls can be directed faster to particular “knowledge-center” employees, reducing member wait time and response quality. “Presence management” allows updating callers if a particular staff is on vacation, is at lunch or in a meeting.
Lower administrative costs. Typically, credit unions do not need contract for, or hire new additional IT personnel to manage VoIP systems. Most often a credit union’s existing IT/LAN team is capable of implementing and administering an IP-based phone system. Although, complete outsourcing of VoIP operations is common, especially among smaller credit unions without large IT teams.
Faster return on ROI and lower TCO for reliable voice connections.
Improvements in staff productivity through more efficient management of voice mail and email. For example, “unified messaging systems” integrate voice mail and email allowing employees to prioritize messages more effectively with greater understanding of the members needs.
Increase in network flexibility and infrastructure simplification. For example, similar to an e-mail exchange server, a single VoIP server platform can serve contact center applications to the entire organization across multiple branch locations. This dramatically simplifies installation, maintenance, and user account administration.
Enabled new, feature-rich integrated applications. For example, while calls are directed to the right personnel across the organization or call center, members can enter verified account information allowing them to hear their most recent transactions or account balances while on hold and enabling member’s account data to appear directly on the staff’s computer screen as the call is taken (a process known as “screen popping”).
Long distance and teleconferencing savings. Long distance fees can run very high quickly with traditional phone providers, where as VoIP system meets the same requirements at a much lower cost. With credit unions expanding into new branches, this feature enables credit unions to maximize their resources at a lower cost making least call routing a success.
Drastically simplified implementation in new branches. Adding a new branch no longer means a day or two (or more) dedicated to telephone system installation. Credit unions consistently report new branch installations with existing VoIP systems requiring a fraction of the time needed to install a traditional system with minimal or no outside contract assistance.
Enhanced call routings to other branches. Enables credit unions to utilize all their resources if a call center or specific branch is overflowing with calls.
Areas of Concern:
The primary complaints regarding VoIP in the past have had to do with providing the level of quality of service that members are accustomed to with regular telephone technology. VoIP requires a large amount of data to be compressed and transmitted, then uncompressed and delivered, all in a relatively small amount of time. Without a carefully deployed system, problems can develop in VOIP conversations when this process takes too long. While this is rare, callers may experience one of two problems; echo or over-talk. However, modern VoIP systems with data prioritization routing and added software enhancements have made this potential issue even less likely in a properly installed system.
Security is also an important factor of concern. The most prominent security issues over VoIP are identity and service theft, viruses, denial of service, spamming and call tampering. While this treat is real, it is realistically similar to the challenge credit unions already face in securing their existing computer data networks. Encryption technology, private lines, and well defined user policies help to mitigate this challenge.
VoIP is highly dependent on a properly designed LAN infrastructure and sufficient bandwidth across the network. It is important for credit unions to have the right resources required for their organization before making a switch to this technology. An independent LAN audit is highly recommended before implementing a VoIP solution.
VoIP is here to stay and will increasingly become the backbone for most modern telephony in financial services with extensive branch networks such as that of many credit unions. Each of the credit unions that Callahan spoke with that has implemented a VoIP system had one common reoccurring message summed up nicely by one CFO, “It is a decision that has been very beneficial to our organization and I would not go back to the old system.”