Formula for Cutting Costs: Fax Replies to Phone Queries

The use of fax machines to answer requests for information quickly has some potent applications in the banking industry, a recent study finds.

For a customer with a Touch Tone telephone and access to a fax machine, the service would provide a direct link to a bank's fax machine, enabling the client to request copies of account statements and other documents. The system could cut back on the need for customer-service representatives to perform routine tasks.

According to a report by the Gartner Group Inc., a technology consulting firm in Stamford, Conn., banks could substantially improve the return on their investments in customer-service technology by employing the integrated fax systems.

Rapid Return on Investment

For an investment of $15,000 to $125,000, depending on the size of the system, bankers can install the technology. Industry estimates place the payback period for most institutions at six months to a year.

A number of manufacturing firms have already employed the integrated fax machines, but penetration into the banking industry has been sparse so far, industry sources said.

The Gartner Group - which retains a number of large banking clients including BankAmerica Corp., Bankers Trust New York Corp., and First Chicago Corp. - is advising bankers to investigate the use of integrated fax technology.

|Ripe for Deployment'

The report specifies that the highest potential for return lies in linking the fax system directly with voice-response systems. Voice-response technology lets callers enter information using the telephone keypad and automatically answer with a series of recorded messages.

Financial services "was one of the first to embrace voice-response units and it's also ripe for integrated fax deployment," said Thomas Robinson, a researcher at the Gartner Group.

Many financial institutions use voice-response units to give out information on account status, check clearing, and rates on investment instruments. An estimated 60% of all customer-service calls to banks involve such information.

Quicker, Cheaper than Mailing

Offering the fax service is quicker and cheaper than sending statements through the mail. And the service represents a potential source of revenue for institutions that choose to implement a charge for each fax sent.

At institutions that do not presently employ voice-response technology in their customer-service areas, integrated fax systems would free up the representatives to deal with more complex matters.

"The eyes of the data [processing] world view a fax as an antiquated communications device; but everyone seems to have access to one these days," said Robert Trent Jr., northeast sales director of Marietta, Ga.-based Audiofax, which sells integrated fax systems. "Many businesses, including banks, are finding they can use that to their advantage."

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