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Homestar Direct: Using IP Telephony To Gain A Competitive Edge


As nearly everyone in America can attest, the residential real estate market continues to defy the odds by growing at a near exponential pace. All over the country, buyers are in hot pursuit of their “dream home,” whether it’s a sprawling home in the suburbs, a penthouse with a city view, or a beachside vacation retreat.

Keeping pace with this hot real estate market is the highly competitive mortgage lending arena, where literally thousands of financial institutions battle one another in search of customers looking for new mortgages, or to refinance their existing loans. This frenetic activity has resulted in hundreds of new entrants into the marketplace, resulting in intense competition and compressed windows of opportunity for lenders to attract and secure new business.

“To say this is a competitive environment would be an extreme understatement,” says Jamie Troia, director of information technology for Homestar Direct, a mortgage lender based in Paramus, New Jersey. “Once upon a time, customers met with their neighborhood bankers and shopped for mortgages in person. Obviously, the Internet has changed that paradigm. Today, our company competes with lenders that are located throughout the country, and use go-to-market strategies that rely on speed and efficiency to identify customers. In order to remain successful, we leverage technology to give us a competitive edge. We literally do not have a second to waste.”

Success is a subject very familiar to Homestar Direct. A division of Opteum Financial Services, Homestar Direct originates some $30 million in mortgages per month, serving a customer base that’s primarily located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the country.

While most of the company’s 65 employees work out of the company’s Paramus headquarters, the company was exploring new avenues that would allow its agents to maximize performance and generate more income. The idea of using a team of agents to work flexible hours to handle periods with high call volume made strategic sense. The challenge was to identify a technology solution that would allow Homestar Direct to implement this strategy without adversely affecting the company’s customer service or productivity.

As a potential solution, Homestar Direct met with several vendors to explore voice over IP as a means to address their challenge, as well as to improve the overall productivity and efficiency of the organization. Upon reviewing the offerings of several providers, Homestar Direct selected Inter-Tel for both its VoIP connectivity and its ability to deliver applications that tangibly improve business processes.

“After meeting with Homestar Direct and understanding their challenges and business direction, we felt comfortable that we could offer a solution that would provide the flexibility they need as their business grows,” said Joseph Denise, chief operating officer with Norcom of New York Telecommunications Solutions, LLC, an authorized Inter-Tel distributor. “Our approach was to deliver an IP-based system that would certainly help Homestar Direct better utilize its personnel, as well as serve as a foundation that would positively impact the company’s business processes by improving productivity and enhancing customer service.”

By using Inter-Tel’s Axxess communications platform, along with Inter-Tel’s IP endpoints, Homestar Direct is able to maintain efficient operations seven days per week. The system’s IP capability enables agents to work from their homes while allowing them to access the company’s database resources and other tools to conduct business. The system is transparent to the customer, who receives the identical customer care as if they were calling into a centrally-located call center. Most importantly, the IP deployment allows Homestar Direct to remain competitive while giving it the flexibility to meet customer demand during peak hours.

“While Inter-Tel IP’s system has exceeded our expectations for overcoming our local staffing issues, we’re just as pleased with the reliability and elasticity of the platform,” explained Troia. “The ability to add and change agents without incurring additional expenses, along with the integration of powerful applications increases our capacity to serve more customers in an expeditious and efficient manner.”

According to Craig W. Rauchle, president and chief operating officer of Inter-Tel, a growing number of companies are mirroring Homestar Direct’s deployment of voice over IP.

“One of the most compelling aspects of IP communications is its ease and efficiency in facilitating remote communications,” he remarked. “Businesses like Homestar Direct, which rely heavily on knowledge-based workers and agents, are coming to the realization that these individuals can use IP technology to work from home offices, customer sites, or virtually any location that has broadband access. As these customers are finding out, the impact on productivity, customer service, and efficiency is substantial.”

In addition to the core IP communications system, the company also elected to leverage a power dialer provided by Inter-Tel to build its outbound marketing campaigns — crucial components in the company’s ability to generate revenue. Using this technology, Homestar Direct can instantly import fresh leads it receives from a variety of sources, such as online repositories and other databases directly into the power dialer, which immediately contacts these prospects. This gives Homestar Direct a substantial competitive edge by touching these potential customers in near real-time, ensuring that they reach these individuals before any of their competitors do.

“The power dialer has been a tremendous asset in our ability to turn leads into mortgages,” said Troia. “In our business, speed-to-market is incredibly important. If we’re not the first lender to touch a customer, chances are that individual will choose another lender. The power dialer puts us where we need to be — in the position to reach customers well before other lenders.”

The last piece of the puzzle in Homestar Direct’s communications system was the integration of Inter-Tel’s Call Center Suite, a powerful application that provides businesses with comprehensive tools to gauge and manage both incoming and outgoing call activity. Call Center Suite provides companies with myriad real-time statistics, such as the number of agents on duty, the amount of calls in a particular queue, calls on hold, and a wide range of performance-based statistics for individual agents. Call Center Suite provides this detailed information to managers in a variety of graphical formats, or dashboards that can be customized to provide both complex statistical information as well as performance snapshots.

As Homestar Direct has learned, the power of Call Center Suite becomes even more pronounced when it can be directly linked to the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) database. For example, Homestar Direct can cross-reference both inbound and outbound call activity with a wide range of data, such as the number of mortgage applications that are generated, and the volume of loans that are originated. This heightened functionality allows the company’s managers to have immediate insight into the productivity of its agents, the quality of its leads, and the effectiveness of its various marketing campaigns.

These measurement tools are equally accurate and efficient with employees who are working from their homes over the IP system as it is with agents that are located at the company’s headquarters.

“We have been completely satisfied with the way our Inter-Tel solution has performed,” said Troia. “The flexibility and reliability of the IP-enabled Axxess system provides a cost-effective foundation to that will meet our business needs as we continue to grow.”

“Additionally, Inter-Tel’s business applications are equally integral to our success,” he concluded. “They have made a substantial impact in our productivity and organizational efficiency. The entire solution continues to pay for itself many times over.” IT

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