Answering the call

Leading brokerage EFG-Hermes has implemented an intelligent IP telephony solution to make life easier for clients and staff alike. Daniel Stanton finds out more.

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By  Daniel Stanton Published  October 31, 2006

With the rate that Middle East stock markets fluctuate, dealing can be stressful enough without having to wait for someone to answer your call to a broker. This is why EFGHermes Brokerage decided to do things differently when it set up its new call centre in Dubai International Financial Centre.

The brokerage, which started life in Egypt, and now has offices in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, decided IP telephony was the route to take to make it easier for its to request transactions.

With its Dubai IP telephony operation now proven on its IP infrastructure, EFG plans to roll out IP telephony throughout its Middle East operations.

Seif Fikry, head of brokerage, EFG-Hermes, says: "The reason that we're moving to IP telephony is the way EFG is structured across the region. We need to improve our connectivity to meet our business needs and the only way to do that is through IP telephony. Analogue is a dying breed."

"You can't really do a lot with analogue phones, especially when it comes to brokerage needs and requirements," says Fikry. "If you look at all the London houses they use IP phones, or at least IP backbones. The needs of a brokerage have now become fully IT-dependent because you need to figure out what you're going to do with your calls. You need to become more flexible in grouping your employees. If someone doesn't pick up the phone, what's going to happen later on? Which numbers will group ring, which numbers won't?"

Although it is not the first time EFG has used call centre technology, Fikry says there is no comparison between the old environment and the new, more intelligent system.

"It was a zoo," he says. "In order to do something like that on an analogue system, you have to group ring, and when you group ring what you have is basically 15 phones ringing at the same time. And when the market is moving, what you have is a non-stop ring tone from 9.30 to 1.30.

"I remember at one point of time I used to get heart palpitations being in that room, let alone the people who are there all day. The amount of stress is abnormal.

“If you're sitting in a room where someone's mobile goes off for five or six consecutive rings, what you want to do is take that mobile and throw it in his face, it's as simple as that,” he says. "Can you imagine 15 phones, non-stop ringing for three or four hours, being in a room like that? High blood pressure, heart palpitations and most probably death in the next year."

Life at EFG is calmer now that calls can be routed more intelligently. "What you have right now is a fully automated system that can monitor calls coming in, monitor who's handling this phone, who's available to answer the phone and who has enough technical support to answer," says Fikry.

Roger El-Tawil, channel and marketing director, Avaya MENA, says: "EFG-Hermes acts as one enterprise regardless of location. A colleague in the Abu Dhabi office is just an extension away and if a colleague does call, there's no 'can I call you back?'. It's connected to all the offices."

A call made to the brokerage can be automatically redirected to another physical location that also deals with the relevant area if no one is available to take the call at the first location.

"When it comes to technology, all of these computers and software - and now phones - we're one company, one platform," says Fikry. "Where the call gets redirected depends on the jurisdiction, whether we're allowed to take that call or not. Also whether there is a need to redirect that call, or if I can serve him in the office, or redirect him to any other office that will be able to serve him."

There are two main brokerage services: institutional and retail. Institutional customers tend to deal with one specialised broker. Retail customers generally only have a few needs: buying, selling, transferring cash or stocks, or account enquiries.

A group of employees who are able to deal quickly with these particular needs tend to serve retail customers, and so a call can be directed to any of them who is available.

Calls are filtered according to the type of customer and directed to the people who are equipped to deal with that area. However, EFG will soon be using Avaya's Interactive Voice Response (IVR) speech recognition system to direct callers.

"IVR will guide the client through a list of questions to be able to service him without any human interaction," says Fikry.

The next step is for the IP phones to interact with EFG's other systems. "It interacts with your backend CRM (customer relationship management) so your customer's data is available to the agent when the customer calls," explains El-Tawil.

"He could greet him by his name or have the details and history available to that customer, so he is treated as the only customer. That's what customers look for, for that experience and that personalised service." It is also essential for calls to be recorded, in compliance with international regulations, something which can be done through Avaya's systems, while its Call Centre Manager solution can monitor the quality of the calls.

Fikry expects further IVR features to be implemented within the next two months. “We’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg with that system," he says. EFG will also implement email and web chat aspects for online trading applications.

It has no plans to use IVR to automate the process of making telephone trades, however. "When it comes to people who use the phone and they want to trade, they want some kind of personalised service," says Fikry. "They want human contact. If they don't want to do that then they will most probably go for online dealing, not the phone. It will not be a very fast service if it's going to be based on IVR. It's more for account balance enquiries, market quotes, stuff like that. The most added value for the IVR is that it turns the service 24/7."

It is hard to measure return on investment from the new system, but Avaya's El-Tawil says: "There are intangible returns, like being reachable wherever you are, and making sure your customer is put straight through to the right person."

Such benefits may not show up on the balance sheet directly, they are invaluable to customer retention.

“Can you imagine 15 phones, non-stop ringing for three or four hours, being in a room like that?”

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