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Weather closes your office - Is your business phone system ready

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Mar 22, 2018 10:38:00 AM

 

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As the 4th Snow Storm hit New England this March, Granite's support staff spent much of the day helping our customers set up their business phone systems for another unscheduled business closing. Some of our customers have systems that are quite old, so making changes are not as straightforward as with newer systems. 

With a little planning, even legacy business phone systems can be configured so that an unexpected closing is simple and allows your customers to reach you if they really need to.

Simply follow this three step process:

1) Determine what level of support your customers require - For many businesses, simply letting their customers know that your  office is closed is sufficient. Some companies, such as IT support firms, medical practices, and sales organizations, will need their customers to be able to reach a live person. Other firms choose to have their customers leave a message in a mailbox and then call back the clients who need assistance.

2) Determine what options are available with the specific telephone system and network services installed in your office - Contact your phone system provider and discuss what level of support you wish to provide your customers when you are forced to close your office. Don't assume that you are limited by the functions of your phone system. There are creative solutions that combine capabilities of your network services, tricks that all good phone system techs know, and third party apps or software. Apply the KISS principal so that your staff can activate the inclement weather procedure easily and your customer can understand your options. 

3)  Set up the solution and document the procedure - Work with your providers to set up the programming, record the appropriate greetings, and activate any network services / applications that are required for the solution. A little pre-planning goes a long way and will make closing the office a simple process which and keep your customers happy. Lastly, document the procedure and share with anyone who may be tasked with closing the office. 

If you are evaluating new business phone systems, include the above factors in your search. Granite Cloud Phone service supports excellent options for closed and after hours call routing and messaging. Since Granite Cloud Phone System supports remote phones, soft-phones and mobile apps, as well as SMS messaging, you can create a virtual office that allows your employees to be connected to your customers from anywhere at anytime. 

If you'd like to discuss options for closing your office or see if there are services that would benefit your firm, contact me. 

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Gregg Haughton has been helping clients improve productivity, enhance customer service and lower costs since 1996. He has been shoveling snow in New England for even longer.

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Topics: Business Phone System, Customer Service, How to choose a business phone system, Cloud Phone System

Cloud phone system use 101. The hard way and the easy way.

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Aug 7, 2017 3:46:58 PM

One of the favorite parts of my job is training our new customers on the use of their phone system. Maybe it's the frustrated teacher in me, but I get great satisfaction seeing our newest cutomers learn how the system works, and the many ways their communication investment will make their life easier.  

Although todays systems are highly complex buisness tools, the user interface is (well, should be) quite simple. There are really only four things you do with a phone call: answer, transfer, park, or put the caller into someones voice mailbox. Maybe if your feeling crazy, you'll conference someone else on the call. 

Both our installed business phone systems and Granite Cloud Phone systems are easy to use. We adhere to the KISS model of telephone system design. 

This does not seem to be the mantra of at least one of our competitors. 

I recently watched an on-line user instruction video from a large hosted phone system provider. This company has been advertising heavily promoting their system and "easy to use". The video shows the following steps to park a call:

1) While on the phone call, presss the Hold key.

2) Press the "New Call" button.

3) Dial *68

4) Wait for the voice prompt. (perhaps recorded laughter that you have made it this far...) 

5) Dial the extension number where you'd like to park the call, then press #

6) Press the "End" button. 

By my count, that is 10 indvidual keystrokes just to park a call. I would not want to be in front of a room full of people telling them this is the new way to move calls about the office. Maybe this is why this particular provider only offers on line training. 

This is how you park a call using Granite Cloud Phone System:

1) Press an open Park button. 

2) There is no step two.

By my count, that is one keystroke. 

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Throughout their video, the procedures for what should be simple tasks required feature codes and multiple steps.

If you are evaluating cloud, VoIP or digital phone systems, don't just take the vendors word that the system is "easy to use". Ask them how to park a call. If they say more that a few words, you probably don't need to hear much more. 

Gregg Haughton has been helping businesses streamline communications, improve productivity and lower costs for over 20 years. 

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Topics: Business Phone System, Cloud Phone System

How Much Does a Business Phone System Cost, Revised 2017

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Jun 2, 2017 3:42:50 PM

Of all my blog posts, the one that has been viewed and shared the most is my September 2011 post titled "How Much Does a Business Phone System Cost". To date, the post has been viewed over 22,000 times. 

In that 2011 blog, I broke down the components of a new system into the following categories: Wiring, Network Services, Telephone Stations, Control Unit or PBX Server, and Installation and Training. If you'd like to read the post, here is the link: Blog, how much does a business phone system cost

Well, apparently six years is a long time in telecom, because a lot has changed. Notably absent in my post is any discussion of cloud or hosted phone systems. In 2011, there were several companies selling hosted systems, but they were rare. Could services were just beginning to gain traction. 

The Forrester Research forecast below shows the explosive adoption of cloud services from 2011 to 2020. 

Why is this trend accelerating?

There are several factors in play. One, internet speeds are faster. According to a recent report by the FCC, internet speeds have tripled over the last three years. This has been driven by high bandwidth applications like video. While internet speeds had raced ahead, the costs have dropped. Two, the quality and reliability of internet service is improving because businesses depend on the internet for vital business systems. If your customer records are safely stored in the cloud, but you can't get to them; that's a problem. Three, businesses don't want the expense and headache of running complex hardware systems (like a business PBX system).

So, How much does a cloud phone system cost?

For a cloud system, you will still have costs associated with wiring, network services, switching, telephones and installation and training. So let's break that down:

1) Wiring - Cloud phone systems use IP phones that run over your local area network. You can either share one network connection with your desktop computer, or have the IP phone on it's own network connection. The cost to run a data cable is $190 in a typical office environment. If you are cabling an entire office, the per cable cost will be less. For the most part, the cost of cabling for a cloud system is comparable to the cost for an installed system.

2) Network Services - For an installed phone system you need phone lines in your office. For a cloud phone system, you only need internet. This is one place where cloud can save money. For a small business, you can get internet for about $100 per month. Larger firms may want to invest in fiber internet, and these costs start at $500 per month and grow with speed. Phone lines can cost $50 per line for analog lines and $500 plus for higher capacity digital services. 

3) Switching - That box in the computer closet that all your computers connect to is a data switch. A cloud phone system IP phone needs to connect to a switch as well. IP Phones also require power to operate, so most companies deploy power over Ethernet (PoE) switches for IP phones. PoE switches come in many sizes (number of ports). A basic 24 port PoE switch is $400 and could support 20 phones. However, your IT folks may turn their collective noses up at a $400 switch. Since your IT folks are going to have to support the data switch you use, it's a good idea to get their buy-in. 

4) Telephones - Cloud systems use industry standard IP phones that can be used across many platforms. This is another area where cloud phone systems can save money. There is no need to buy proprietary hardware that only works on a specific system. Phones for cloud services start at $75 for a basic six line display speakerphone and can go as high as $300 for a color touch screen large display phone.

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5) Cloud Phone Services - Unlike the capital outlay of an installed PBX, you pay for access to the cloud system on a monthly subscription basis. Typically, there is a charge per user. Frequently, there are several options for user profiles depending on what capabilities a specific users demands. User Charges start at $10 per seat and can go up from there. A full blown user with Unified Communications, Call Recording and Call Distribution capability may be $75 per month. There are also charges for phone numbers, e911 location services as well as usage and regulatory fees. Unlike traditional phone services, there are no "local calls" with a Cloud Phone System. Most providers either bundle minutes with each user, or sell "blocks of time" separately. Expect to pay somewhere around 3 cents per minute for outbound calling.

So, How Much Does a Complete Cloud Phone System Cost?

I recently prepared a proposal for a Real Estate Management Company with 30 telephones spread over 7 locations. The firm made 7500 minutes of outbound calls each month. The monthly recurring charges (exclusive of taxes) was $590 and the one time costs were $5000. One time costs included buying 30 fairly high end IP phones as well as installation and training. As a comparison, an installed PBX of the same size would be around $25K. The phone line costs for the installed PBX would be approx $350 per month, so the break even point is at almost 7 years. This ignores the maintenance costs associated with an installed PBX which is not a factor with a cloud phone system.  

So, which do I choose? 

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 The answer depends on your application, budget, goals, world view, IT team, and a hundred other factors. My advice is to speak with a good telecom sales person and design the system which best suits your companies needs. Or, you can flip a coin. 

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 Gregg Haughton is a Partner at Granite Communicaitons Inc. and has been working with customers in Southern New England to improve their communications systems since 1986. 

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Topics: Business Phone System

10 Simple Rules for Setting up a Business Phone System Auto Attendant

Posted by Gregg Haughton on May 11, 2012 1:44:00 PM

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.  
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Gregg Haughton

 

Topics: Business Phone System, VoIP Phone System, Auto Attendant

Is the fax dead? It can still be part of a business phone system.

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Apr 13, 2012 9:06:00 AM

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.

Gregg Haughton

Topics: Business Phone System, Faxing, Fax Server, Cloud Based Fax

Three Companies...ONE Business Phone System.

Posted by Justin Stackawitz on Apr 5, 2012 12:17:00 PM

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.

Topics: Business Phone System, voicemail, business telephone system, PBX

The Benefits of Telephone Headsets

Posted by Eric Moore on Mar 29, 2012 1:01:00 PM

With the rise of computer and telephony-based occupations, many workers experience neck pain or upper back pain in the workplace due to poor posture, positioning, or simply handling the telephone incorrectly. Once worn only by telephone operators 60 years ago, business telephone headsets are becoming more and more prevalent and with good reason. Headsets add many advantages to the workplace as they significantly reduce neck pain, upper back pain, and shoulder tension. You can go so far to say that it improves productivity as well.

It is in the use of the telephone handset that the most significant work related disorders of the neck could occur. When the habitual act of cradling the handset against the shoulder and neck is performed routinely, or held for long periods of time, discomfort, chronic neck pain or back pain, is often the result. As a result, headsets have become a key accessory in alleviating workplace injury.

So, where to begin? There are many flavors and models to choose from but they’re broken down into 2 basic groups- Wired headsets with a base station that connects directly to your phone and Wireless headsets which though the base station is connected, the actual headset is free of any encumbrances which allows for mobility while engaged in a call.

 Advantage to the wired model is its less expensive and more suitable to the worker that simply needs hands free capability. Wireless models allow the user to be mobile within the confines of the office, free to move to a filing cabinet up to even 300 feet from their workstation to retrieve a relevant file. But, they can range anywhere from 60% to 80% more costly than their “wired” counterparts. Bluetooth technology has enhanced the wireless models functionality and headset design by interfacing with many current business telephone systems- but please check with your current vendor as to which headsets integrate with your phone system before choosing a model and purchasing.

Feel free to inquire with our office as to which headset is right for you.

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Topics: Business Phone System

Phone System Buyers Guide

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Jan 31, 2012 3:31:00 PM

VoIP Phone 

www.granitecomm.com

Phone System Buyers Guide

 

Whether you have to buy a new phone system because yours is failing or you are evaluating investing in new technology, your purchase decision should be framed by the following objectives:

 

  1. Improve Employee Productivity
  2. Enhance Customer Service
  3. Lower Costs

 

If your phone system investment does not address at least one of these objectives, you are simply putting a new piece of plastic on your desk and likely missing an opportunity to improve your business.

 

The following are conversations you should be having with a prospective vendor. If the salesperson is not asking you these types of questions, you are working with the wrong person.

 

PRODUCTIVITY

 

  • Do you have employees who work out of the office? Would it make sense for your customers to be able to reach them any time, any place?
  • Does your staff carry smart phones or tablets? If they could manage their messages (voice, fax, e-mail) from their devices, would it help them do their jobs?
  • Have you invested in a CRM or Sales Automation package? How important are metrics to your business?
  • Do you keep business contacts in either a CRM system or in an Outlook Contacts or similar address book?
  • Do you frequently have conference calls with multiple outside parties?
  • Are you using cloud applications such as Google docs? Is your e-mail on an in-house server or hosted? Are technology initiatives moving to the cloud?
  • Do you have IT staff that can handle changes to the system or will you need outside support?
  • Does staff move within the office frequently?
  • Do you have multiple locations? Can you transfer calls from location to location?

Enhance Customer Service

 

  • Do you have either a formal or informal call center? Are your customers frequently looking for the same person or groups of people?
  • Do your clients spend time waiting on hold for help?
  • Would it be a benefit if your customers could call your staff directly?
  • What is your customer’s biggest frustration when they call your company?

 

  • Do you have to ask the same questions of many callers (i.e. what is your account number)?
  • Is your turnaround time getting back to customers too long?
  • Would call volume metrics make it easier to schedule staffing for key phone positions more effectively?
  • Would it be useful to be able to record conversations? Is there a legal need to record calls? Do you bill your clients for time on the phone?
  • Do you provide the same information repetitively? Are your clients calling to ask questions where the answer resides in a database?
  • Do you need to confirm appointments or manage a schedule? Is there a need for mass notification?

 

Lower Costs

 

  • When was the last time you reviewed your network services? Have you looked at what several carriers can provide for voice and internet access?
  • Are you currently under contract with your carrier?
  • Do you have dedicated to answering calls, if so, does the call volume vary?
  • Are you expanding into new markets or geographic areas? How are you supporting the remote operations?
  • Do you make international calls?
  • Do you provide your staff with cell phones or reimburse staff for their personal cell plans?
  • Do you track phone usage and assign costs to departments?
  • If you have a call center, do you track agent productivity and follow trends?
  • How much do you spend with your current vendor on service calls? How many times do you pay to have program changes or moves on your phone system?
  • Do you have a budget for the technology investment? What ROI is acceptable?

 

A good first meeting with a prospective vendor will likely last about an hour.

 Gregg Haughton

Gregg Haughton

203-234-4901

Gregg@granitecomm.com

Topics: Business Phone System, VoIP Phone System, Phone System Buyers Guide

Is Your Answering Service a Thing of the Past?

Posted by Justin Stackawitz on Dec 2, 2011 3:33:00 PM

You are probably saying to yourself “I thought Answering Services have been a thing of the past for ten years!”. You might be surprised. I have worked with countless business phone systems for organizations that are still, even today, reliant on subscription-based outsourced answering services. Admittedly, the far majority of these are in the medical (or dental, or veterinary, etc.) community, as they naturally have a greater need to ensure that every single call from a patient gets answered appropriately.

As telephone systems, and more specifically voicemail systems, have evolved over the years, businesses have had the opportunity to migrate their after-hours answering responsibilities from the recurring cost of a service that has live humans answering all calls to automated attendants which not only eliminate the need to pay a service on a regular basis, but also will route calls to their intended destination. For industries that do not typically receive emergency level phone calls during non-business hours, this was an easy switch to make…basically a no-brainer. However, for those in the medical industry, or any others for which emergency calls can be received during off hours, there continues to be trepidation that an automated attendant simply cannot replicate the level of service provided by a human being answering a phone call.

We are finding now, though, that because of further advancements in the technology of current voicemail systems, they have the ability to effectively replicate the duties that a live answering service can provide, even in emergency situations. Granite Communications has many clients which have implemented this level of use for their voicemail systems. Using the options available in today’s voicemails, there are medical facilities (and property management companies, and plumbers, and oil/heating companies, etc.) which can simply direct callers to a designated emergency mailbox, which can then immediately notify – by home phone, cell phone, beeper, even e-mail – an on-call Doctor, or technician, or serviceman. This allows the on-call professional to quickly respond to emergency requests from their patients/customers.

Of course there are still operations out there with the philosophy that the only way to properly handle these type of calls is with a live answer 24/7…but as the technology has advanced, so too have the options available to companies in this situation.

Topics: Business Phone System, Business Telephone Systems, Business Phone System, busines phone systems, voicemail, Auto Attendant, Auto Attendant

Uncle Sam Can Help Buy Your New Business Phone System

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Nov 30, 2011 11:20:00 AM

2011 can be a great year financially, you can save money and get new equipment to improve productivity and enhance customer service!

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 Section 179 of the United States Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 179), allows a taxpayer to elect to deduct the cost of certain types of property on their income taxes as an expense, rather than requiring the cost of the property to be capitalized and depreciated. This property is generally limited to tangible, depreciable, personal property which is acquired by purchase for use in the active conduct of a trade or business. You can expense up to $500,000 in 2011.
This deduction maximum is slated to be reduced to $125,000 at the end of 2011. Though Congress could elect to extend the higher allowance, don't count on it in the current political environment.

So how can this program allow you to save money on a business phone system? Let's look at the following expample:

  • You buy a new business phone system for $20,000
  • Let's assume you are in the 35% income tax bracket
  • You expense the entire system in 2011 according to section 179 rules
  • Your savings is 20,000 X .35 or $7000
Many businesses have cash flow constraints at year end that make a $20,000 outlay difficult. You can lease a business phone system to conserve cash and still take the deduction. This can be like Uncle Sam making the first 14 payments for you. Here's the example:
  • You Lease a $20,000 phone system over 60 months at $475 per month
  • You take the 179 deduction and save $7000 (35% rate)
  • The first 14 months are on Uncle Sam

By investing in a new phone system that will improve your team's productivity and enhance the service you provide for your customers, the 179 deduction will lower the cost.

Note: I am not an accountant and your situation may be different than the example. You should speak with your accountant to see if the 179 deduction works for your business.

Gregg Haughton

Topics: Business Phone System, Tax Savings when buying a business phone system on, VoIP Phone System

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