February 01, 2007

There are few things that frustrate customers more than complicated phone systems. And following growth through acquisitions, Community Bank & Trust had different phone systems -- none of which shared the same feature set -- for each of its branches. Instead of transferring calls from one branch to another, employees had to tell customers to hang up and dial another branch, notes Sheila Genske, IT trainer and telecom specialist for the Sheboygan, Wis.-based bank.

Further, Community Bank & Trust ($515 million in assets) needed the assistance of its local telephone providers to move extensions. "It would cost us $100 or more to move a couple of extensions within the building," Genske says.

So the bank began looking for a telephone system that provided sophisticated call-routing abilities and was easy to manage internally. According to Genske, Community Bank & Trust initially focused on IP-based offerings from 3Com (Marlborough, Mass.), NEC (Tokyo) and Nortel (Toronto), but eventually selected Sunnyvale, Calif.-based ShoreTel's IP phone system. ShoreTel's features "hands down" set the solution apart from the rest, Genske says, and in February 2004 the bank signed with the vendor.

According to ShoreTel, its product is a fully distributed IP phone system with no single point of failure. Call control is distributed to intelligent gateways -- called voice switches -- and voice applications, including voice mail and an automated attendant, which are run on standard server hardware from anywhere on the client's IP network. Handsets connect to the Ethernet rather than a phone line.

The bank first implemented the system at its newest location in Appleton, Wis., in March 2004. Community Bank & Trust purchased a server from ShoreTel that housed the necessary software, as well as IP-enabled phones, which cost about $250 each, Genske recalls. Each workstation at the bank, with the exception of teller workstations, was loaded with the ShoreTel call manager software.

Following the successful deployment, the bank relocated the IP server to its corporate headquarters in June 2004, in preparation for a wider rollout. "ShoreTel trained the first three offices until I got a feel for it," says Genske, who attended a training session onsite at Shoretel in November 2005. After that, Genske says, she was able to implement the ShoreTel system in seven branches in less than three months. All the bank's branches were migrated over to the ShoreTel system by January 2005. Genske notes that each branch required its own voice switch, which helps route calls, at a cost of about $2,500 each.

Full Functionality

With the new VOIP system, calls can be transferred to and from any branch, and tolls for interoffice, intrastate calls are avoided. Call-logging and reporting capabilities generate detailed reports that provide a good picture of call volumes on the main switchboard and among the various departments.

"I can easily distribute programming out to any location, which includes new extensions or updating an auto attendant, or I can even remotely reboot a branch switch or telephone that might be having a slight issue," Genske says. "Even though they appear and behave as one unified system, if circumstances beyond our control cause one branch to lose partial or entire functionality, it has absolutely no effect on any other branches," she adds.

"We've been able to route our calls a lot quicker," Genske continues. One feature that stands out in her mind, she says, is the after-hours emergency mailbox, which sends a message to a designated representative's mobile phone. This is critical in the case of lost or stolen debit or credit cards, Genske points out.

** Institution: Community Bank & Trust (Sheboygan, Wis.).

** Assets: $515 million.

** Business Challenge: Improve phone-based customer service and cut related costs.

** Solution: ShoreTel's (Sunnyvale, Calif.) IP phone system and call manager software.

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