I recently came across an blog post that I thought was timely. I asked Aundraya Ruse, Editorial Coordinator of Software Advice if I could include Kelly Lindner's article in my blog and she agreed. I addresses a question that I am frequently asked: Can't I just run my business on my Smartphone? I would argue that using Ring Central or Google Voice as a cloud based PBX is risky, but we have many customers using our phone systems to suppport "mobility clients" (Smart phones as extensions off the system).
What to Consider if You Want to Run Your Business on a Smartphone
If you’re among the 45 percent of Americans with a smartphone, chances are that you use it for everything from checking work emails to looking up movie times. And with smartphones adding functionality to them all the time, many are replacing other devices (e.g. iPods) with their smartphones. But could you run an entire company directly from your smartphone? The answer: It depends.
In any case, there’s a lot to consider before you consolidate your business phone systems into a smartphone. For instance, what if you want more than one employee to be responsible for responding to your company number? Or, how exactly do you handle call recording, phone routing and other services traditionally associated with a landline?
A recent article by Kelly Lindner, contributor to Software Advice -- a research firm that evaluates software systems -- breaks down a few of the key considerations for those contemplating using smartphones to run their company. Here are a few takeaways.
Decide if You Should Run on a PBX
If you’re a startup in the early stages (say, one to three employees) your smartphone network is likely sufficient to run operations. However, if you’re bigger than three employees, you can quickly max out the capacity of your network. In this case, it’s better to get a virtual private branch exchange (PBX)--a call routing and management service that can direct calls straight to employee smartphones. If you go with this approach, one employee’s number is would be the main line, and other employees would provide their numbers to customers as needed.
Or, companies can use a service like RingCentral or Google Voice to provide a main line, that routes callers to individual smartphones using employee extensions. As an added bonus, when an employee calls from their mobile phone, these PBX systems will show the main line on recipient's caller ID. Some Cloud-based services also offer call recording, voice transcription and other business-focused services.
The Benefits of Running on a Smartphone
One of the primary benefits of using your smartphone for business is customer access. If employees can respond to customers regardless of their location, customers are less likely to wait on hold or wait for a message to be returned.
“Having a landline tied us to a specific location and was presenting a barrier to connecting with clients. … Now we don't have to run back to the office to check messages,” said Stuart Randell, a virtual PBX user and head of business strategy at Code & Company Inc.
Of course, there are also benefits to employees. They get to use the they’re most familiar and comfortable with. Beyond that, there are often cost savings compared with traditional VoIP systems.
The Costs of Running on a Smartphone
But these benefits carry some costs as well. One of the biggest downsides of a mobile workforce that relies on smartphones is the limited battery life of they carry. We’ve all forgotten to charge our phones before a big trip and found ourselves out of the loop. Employees are no different and it’s possible that a simple slip of the mind could result in their phone being dead when an important call comes in.
Beyond that, cell networks are not always reliable and voice quality (in any condition) can be fickle. This connectivity issue can turn into an even bigger obstacle in the unlikely event of a natural disaster. While these issues are unlikely to surface, and difficult to plan for, they’re important to consider if you have a business that relies heavily on phone communications.
What advantages and disadvantages do you see with using PBX-enabled smartphones? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.
Granite Communications, Inc.
We salesfolks get a pretty good idea what trends are evolving from our meetings with business and technology leaders every day. Today, most people I meet are evaluating VoIP phone service. VoIP phone service certainly offers many benefits, and can be good way to lower costs, but it does not come without pitfalls. The following checklist can help guide your evaluation:
1) Is there a real cost savings? On paper, the switch to VoIP phone sevice may look attractive. The actual cost may be vastly understated. Make sure the money evaluation includes the all the components such as:
- IT - You may need to upgrade your data infastructure to support voice traffic. Do you have the appropriate switches and routers?
- Cabling - Are there data cables where they are needed? Is the IT closet any where near the phone equipment closet?
- Bandwidth - Many VoIP providers assume your bandwidth is adequate for the increased traffic. Some providers require that you have a dedicated internet service for their service. What is the cost of adding bandwidth? If the carrier does not test your internet service before recommending VoIP, you should be concerned.
- Faxing - Most VoIP carriers don't have a good way to handle fax traffic. Make sure the cost of a dedicated fax line is considered if the carrier can't handle fax.
2) What is your tolerance for downtime and dropped calls? Unlike dedicated services like analog phone lines or digital T1's, VoIP that has been delivered over your internet circuit is subject to all the variances of internet services. Events such as denial of service attacks, viruses, or regional disturbances can take your service down. Most internet service is delivered by "best effort" level of service without specific service level agreements. If the outage is regional, you will be returned to service when they can get to you. You should consider the risk of potentially less reliable services vs. the savings.
3) Am I under a contract? Most carriers have you sign a contract for the sevices you use. Most also have fairly steep termination liabilities. Does the cost savings outweigh the termination liability?
4) Is the cutover disruption worth the saving? It often seems that nothing in telecom is ever smooth or easy. Although number portability is the law of the land, there are still many circumstances where keeping your numbers is difficult if not impossible. I have witnessed cutovers that take 5 minutes, and some that take 5 days. Once initiated, it's almost impossible to turn back. You should have a plan for the conversion, and a stand by plan of it goes poorly.
VoIP is here and can be a valuable busienss tool and great way to lower costs. However, the decision to adopt VoIP should include doing the same due dilligence that any other critical business decision requires. If you'd like to chat about VoIP or have any questions, please e-mail me at email@example.com
Those of you who know me well, know that I am a bit of a motor head. So, when it's time for me to replace a car, I give careful consideration. This time around, I sought a car that would be efficient yet still be fun to drive.
I have always been partial to Fords and over the years have owned 8 Mustangs. My wife has a Ford, and I also have my Dad's 1922 Model T. After careful research, I zeroed in on a Focus ST.
I was so certain of my choice that I put a deposit on the car months before they were available. Ford was offering a Go Pro camera for the first 1000 orders. The dealership confirmed that I was one of the first 1000.
I pickup up the Focus on 9/20 and the folks at Saybrook Ford (a customer of ours) did a great job showing me how the systems work. The car is everything I expected and get's 10 MPG more than my last car.
The dealer told me that Ford would be sending me the Go Pro camera directly and it may take a few weeks.
Well it's 11/16, no Go Pro, and my numerous requests to Ford have proven fruitless. For weeks I have been trying to reach anyone a Ford who gives a &%#@. I finally got a name of someone in customer service. After expressing in great detail my frustration this is the e-mail response I got:
I have been in contact with the program manager for the Focus ST camera promotion and he has assured me that you will be getting your camera.
I found this quote from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, which I think is appropriate:
"If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends".
Ford has produced a great product delivered my a supply channel that performs, then soiled the whole experience over a camera. That's how you lose a loyal customer.
One of our customers forwarded a copy of a bill received from UST for $425 for a "telecom maintenance agreement". They called to ask if we knew anything about this as we are the vendor for their IP Phone System. We did some research and found out that this is a scam coming from a CA based company. This is from the Better Business Bureau and explains it well.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning area businesses about a questionable invoice from a California company. The phony bill is actually a solicitation.
Local businesses have reported receiving an invoice for $350 for “Telecom Maintenance 1 Year warranty” from UST. The business is located in Ontario, California and is also known as UST Development, Inc. and US Telecom.
The business has an “F” rating with the BBB in Los Angeles, California. BBB reports receiving 143 complaints against the business with claims that the business sends fraudulent invoices for services never rendered. The company states that the invoice is not for services rendered but instead for preventative telephone system maintenance for the year to come. The company also states the invoice includes a disclaimer.
BBB believes this invoice is misleading and does not meet solicitation requirements set by the U.S. Postal Service.
Because the best protection against phony bills and invoices is knowledge and vigilance, BBB offers the following tips for businesses:
- Be on the lookout for solicitations disguised as bills. Bogus invoices are sometimes marked with the notice “This is not a bill.”
- Carefully review all bills and invoices from companies, especially companies that you are unfamiliar with.
- Keep a list of regularly used vendors.
- Establish effective internal controls for the payment of invoices.
- Verify all invoices with the person who gave purchase authorization.
- Check the BBB Business Review on any business that has contacted you before signing anything or giving out any payment information.
If you have an unresolved issue or believe you have been misled by this business, you can file a complaint at www.bbb.org.
We called the 800 number on the invoice from UST and sat on hold for 30 minutes, then were dumped into a voice mail box. We left a message asking for call back and are now holding out breath....We all work too hard to let this happen.
When we install a business telephone system, part of the job is to script the auto attendants and creat the menu trees. This blog post will provide 10 simple rules to follow to make your business phone system a productivity tool rather than a source of frustration to your customers.
- KISS - If you choose to answer your calls with an Automated Attendant, which is common, make sure the front end greeting is simple and easy to follow. It's tempting to try to provide options for every type of caller or question. If you use an auto attendant, keep your front end options to the few most common types of calls. If your auto attendant tree has more branches than a Harry Lauder's Walking Stick bush you'll confuse many callers.
- Option 1st, then number - Many auto attendants are set up backwards. "Press 1 for sales" should be "For Sales, press 1", otherwise when the caller recognizes what dept they need to reach, the number will have already been said.
- Make sure everyone has a name recorded in their mailbox - How many times have you spelled a persons name int the directory only to hear "for extension 345, press *". The name recording in a mailbox must be recorded so the system can confirm to the caller they are reaching the right person.
- Have something on hold - When an auto attendant transfers a call, make sure the caller is not listening to dead air. Maybe it's our inherent mistrust of machines, but callers will fear they have been disconnected if all they hear is a click, then silence. This is an ideal time to play some recorded marketing message (see the messaging on hold blog for more detail). If not, then music is a good alternative.
- Never create a loop - Often referred to as voice mail jail, make sure that each branch on your auto attendant menu tree has an end. Ideally, someone should answer the call, but if no one is available, send the caller to a mailbox. Never send the caller back to the beginning of the auto attendant menu.
- Check mailboxes - If you set up a general mailbox, or departmental mailbox, make sure it gets checked regularly. Ideally, the mailbox should light a message waiting light or be converted to an e-mail and sent to someone responsible for returning calls.
- Check your hours - Most companies set up day and nite greetings. Make sure the clock and settings in your auto attendant match your business hours.
- Set up a back door - Give your employees an easy way to call in and check messages. If you don't have voice mail to e-mail, program a number or extension that plays a simple message such as "to check your messages, press #". You'll be surprised how many folks don't check messages after hours because they don't know how to navigate in the auto attendant.
- Keep the voice consistent - Make sure the same (preferrably cheerful and clear speaking) voice is used on all company greetings. As callers move thru the system, they should recieve instructions from the same voice.
- Keep the menu current - You shoud periodically listen to your greetings to make sure they are relevant. If you close a department, make sure it's eliminated. Make sure any names listed still work for your company.
For many of your customers, your auto attendant is your businesses front door. Make sure your front door gives a great first impression and your business will benefit.
I welcome your comments and encourage you to check your front door.
“Your call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes”. It seems like every time we make a call these days, whether it be into a financial institution, an insurance company, a customer service center or even a small mom and pop car dealership, we hear that recording prior to reaching a live person.
Why is that? Well, with the advent of digital recording technology, inexpensive call recording software has replaced older, costlier reel to reel or DAT tape recording platforms that formerly, only large corporations could afford.
Whereas call detail reporting on a business telephone system provides the ability to track, monitor and optimize call activity, call recording platforms gives a company the tools to ensure that their customer facing personnel are interfacing properly with the public.
Conspiracy theorists and paranoiacs will claim otherwise but there are actually valid and constructive reasons for recording calls: order entry/accuracy, training purposes, performance management, dispute resolution and keeping the occasional rude employee in line are but a few examples.
Consider taking or documenting a complex order with many components- what better way to guarantee that you’re taking down the correct info than recording the conversation, then going back and listening to each entry and confirming that you have all the pieces to the puzzle before submitting for entry?
Or contemplate a new hire in a telemarketing firm that needs to learn a new sales pitch- recording the call will allow the recipient to listen and fine tune their delivery before sending them out in the field and running into the proverbial buzz saw that is the general population.
There are regulations at the State and Federal levels to recording calls so please consult with a legal advisor to determine what is and isn’t acceptable. Suffice it to say that to inform the caller that a recording is taking place is the first step. If you feel that Call Recording could benefit your business, please inquire within our office- we can help!
My first job was selling for an AM radio station that no one listened to. My second job was with EBC Communications selling two bleeding edge technologies, cell phones and fax machines. In 1986, cell phones were rare, and fax machines were even more so. The first fax machine I sold was a Nitsuko machine that was purchased by a Mail Boxes Etc franchise in Westport. It cost over $5000. The paper came in big rolls and used thermal transfer to print. Ah, the good old days...
Today, cell phones are practically disposable, and every business office has a fax machine. Many are gathering dust except when they spit out junk faxes shilling cheap vacations and flat roof repairs. Is this yet another technology going the way of the typewriter?
Well, yes, no and maybe.
There are still many business that use fax; medical, real estate, legal to name a few. But even in this die hard community of fax users, the trend is toward paperless document delivery. I just renewed an insurance policy using an on line e-signature to bind coverage. Health care's push to electronic medical records is reducing fax traffic in this document rich profession. Many real estate companies have set up web portals so their agents can access documents and handle them electronically.
Part of the problem with fax is geography. The traditional fax machine sits on a counter in your office and you have to go to it. In today's "everything at my fingertips" world, this is a disadvantage. This is where a business phone system can come into play. Many support fax server technology, which allows you to send and receive faxes from your desktop.
Another way to handle faxing is by using cloud based solutions. This is a service which converts fax documents into an e-mail with a PDF attachment and also allows you to send a document to cloud and it will convert it to a fax which can be received by a traditional fax machine. This is paperless, requires no equipment, and you only pay for the service you use.
The curtain call for faxing may be coming soon. As the telecommunications world moves to VoIP (voice over internet protocol) and more businesses use IP based services, faxing becomes technically difficult. The compression and error correction technology that allows us to speak over IP services can cause fax transmissions (which are analog signals) to fail. The cost to have a dedicated fax line is hard to justify when all you get are deli menus and vacation offers.
I can see a day in the not-too-distant future when faxing is something we remember fondly and the technology is no longer a component of a business phone system. If you would like to evaluate fax technology, send me a fax at 203-234-4999.
Bluetooth technology, created by Telecom giant Ericsson in 1994, is a proprietary open wireless standard for exchanging data signals over short distances from fixed and mobile devices, creating what are now called personal area networks with high levels of security.
Bluetooth is an effective and clutter free replacement for cabling and it provides a secure way to connect and exchange information between popular electronic devices such as PDA’s, mobile phone, laptops and video game consoles to name a few.
Interestingly enough, the word “Bluetooth” is the English derivation of “Blatand”, the name of a 10th century Danish king who succeeded in uniting numerous disparate Danish and Norwegian tribes into a single unified kingdom- Bluetooth technology does the same with communications protocols by uniting them under one universal standard.
ICON Voice Networks has embraced Bluetooth technology by providing an industry-first internal Bluetooth module that allows users to pair and use a Bluetooth headset with their Iwatsu Icon Series telephone. This effectively gives the end user more choices of comfortable ear piece headsets at significant cost savings than other wireless headset options currently available.
It allows for one touch remote answering and disconnection from calls and alleviates the need to pick-up your telephone's handset. Plus the range is up to 300 plus feet in a normal office environment. Please inquire with our office to see how this technology can benefit your work environment.
For someone in need of a new business telephone system, it would certainly seem logical that if there were more than one separate organization involved - if, for example, a landlord was providing communications for multiple tenants - an independent phone system solution would be required for each company.
That is not necessarily the case, though. I am currently working on a project for a multi-tenant medical facility in which all of the tenants are controlled by their affiliated hospital. As such, the hospital is responsible for accomodating each tenant's communications needs (telephone lines, business phone system, voicemail, etc.). Rather than forcing the hospital to acquire separate and disparate phone systems for each of their practices, I was able to easily design a solution which takes advantage of the capabilities of a single system to meet the needs of all tenants concurrently.
There is a great deal of flexibility in the way that telephone systems can be programmed. Because each individual telephone line coming into a system can be told to route its calls to a completely different location than those of another telephone line, this allows the freedom to create separate groups of extensions, with each group representing a completely different company. Just because there are 9 telephone lines (for example) feeding the phone system, that does not mean that they are all accesible by every extension on the system. Similarly, a centralized voicemail system can be accessible by any extension on the same system, so that any of the companies (or groups of extensions, from the phone system's perspective) can have access, and as long as there are enough mailboxes to cover all of the extensions, no additional voicemail is required.
Returning to my medical facility scenario, I was able to use the exact model that I just described. There are to be three separate medical practices all inhabiting the same geographical area of a building, each with three telephone lines of their own, and roughly 10 extensions...so I will provide them with a single, centrally located, PBX telephone system, with ONE internal voicemail card. So long as I equip the system with the capacity to accept 9 telephone lines, 30 telephones, and enough mailboxes in the voicemail for all users, the rest will be left up to our expert technicians! They just need to make sure that the telephone lines for each practice are separated from one another and that those lines will access ONLY those extensions corresponding to the same practice.
So, if you are a landlord, a property manager, or even just have a neighbor that you want to share a phone system with, it may be a lot easier than you thought.
"Mobility" is a term that you will often find associated with VoIP business telephone systems. In almost all cases, the mobility that is being referred to (especially if it is in the context of marketing a phone system) has to do with connecting to a system from outside of the office. For example, we often license IP phone systems to include software for Smart Phones which allows remote workers to use their mobile phone as an extension directly from the phone system inside the office.
However, today I am writing about a different kind of "mobility"...having the ability to move around WITHIN an office, warehouse, plant, or even outdoor grounds. It is fairly typical to have the need to be able to move around within a facility while maintaining a conversation, but users are often confused by exactly how to accomplish this, and what capabilities their specific phone system supports. For the purposes of this blog, I will refer only to handheld cordless phone options, but there are also versions of wireless headsets which provide the freedom of mobility.
Some business phone systems have proprietary cordless phone models which will only work with that particular system...while they may be harder to come by (particularly if it is an older phone system), they are likely more user friendly because they can have multiple lines and behave more like the other desktop sets.
In addition to these proprietary models, good old fashioned analog cordless telephones (just like one that you might put in your house) are also a completely appropriate option for integrating with a phone system. These phones are only single-line devices, so they have some limitations, but they still serve the basic needed purpose of allowing users to move about while remaining communicative.
A third option for intra-office mobility is a variation on the single-line cordless unit just described. There are third-party manufacturers that produce long-range cordless phones designed to integrate as an extension on a telephone system. EnGenius is the manufacturer of choice for Granite Communications, as they offer a few different versions of their phones, each for a different type of application. We have installed this type of phone for a wide spectrum of customers, from residences all the way to an orchard...in each case, using the phone with appropriate range for that specific location.
Please inquire with me if you want to explore cordless options and increase your mobility!