Disasters can strike at any time, at any place, and a business that is unprepared can face devastating consequences. One area that can cripple a business in a disaster is the loss of its phone system.
However, with proper planning and preparation, a business can ensure that its ability to communicate will not be disrupted by a fire, flood, or other disaster.
“Planning is very important with disaster recovery,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “Just because a VoIP system has disaster recovery capabilities doesn’t mean that things will run smoothly in the event of a major outage. When you’re working with a VoIP company, make sure you know what steps you need to take in order to initiate your disaster recovery plan.”
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about creating a disaster recovery plan for phone systems, how often the plan should be reviewed and the importance of asking VoIP providers what type of services they offer.
How should a business begin creating a disaster recovery plan for its phone systems?
The telecommunications aspect of disaster recovery plans is often overlooked. If a business loses power or the connection to its phone system, it must have a well-thought-out plan in place. Prepare for the worst-case scenario: What happens if your phone system is wiped out due to weather or a fire? How will your customers communicate with you?
There are significant differences with hosted versus premise-based systems. If a phone system is physically located with the customer and its facility is wiped out, the equipment, as well as the programming associated with the phones, will most likely be lost. In the world of VoIP, or a hosted realm, the recovery process is much quicker. With a hosted realm, the phone systems are not housed in the customer’s facility — they are virtually hosted. Even if the facility that a customer works or lives in is out of service, the phone system will still work, as it is remotely hosted and designed for backup and sustainability.
What are the potential consequences facomg a business that doesn’t have a plan for its phone systems in the event of a disaster?
If you don’t have phone service up and running, it looks like you’ve gone out of business. Often, when phone systems go down — even though the phone lines are still working — the person calling will receive a message that the number is no longer in service. Not only does it look like you’ve gone out of business, but employees revert to their cell phones and it looks like you are not prepared. This could translate to a loss of revenue and a lack of confidence by your customers in your business.
What steps can a business owner take to prepare for a disaster?
First, make sure that you have good connectivity — Internet redundancy is very important. It’s also important to have a planning session with your provider so you know what steps to take in the event of an outage or other problem. Sometimes, just knowing the right person to call can save minutes or hours in the recovery of your phone services.
In the hosted world, business owners can talk to their provider in advance and request that, in the event of an outage, their employees’ phones be automatically forwarded to their cell phones. Or they can have the calls forwarded to a remote office or another branch. This can be preprogrammed so that it is an automatic switchover.
How often should a company review its disaster recovery plan in terms of phone services?
This should be an annual event. Most large organizations have a disaster recovery exercise that they do, and phone systems should be included.
Consider what would happen if someone walked into your office and unplugged your phone system. It would have major implications for both your employees and your customers. Reviewing your disaster recovery plan on an annual basis is critical.
How have new technologies changed the way that businesses utilize phone systems?
As phone systems move away from the customers’ facilities and are hosted elsewhere, automatic redundancy and sustainability play a much larger role. Companies realize that they aren’t necessarily tied to a physical facility. They can lease less office space and integrate more telecommuters.
By diversifying its workplace and pushing people away from the corporate center and into a virtual environment, a company can build sustainability, which pays huge dividends in the event of a disaster. If you experience a major outage and employees are already operating remotely, not only will they be able to continue business as usual, they can also be part of the disaster recovery plan.
What advice would you give about hiring a VoIP provider?
Make sure the provider has a disaster recovery plan of its own. Ask what happens if it loses lines or need to redirect calls. Does it have someone who understands data recovery?
Also, ask what type of services it is capable of providing. Often when a provider says it sells VoIP, it is actually a specific vendor of one type of service and is not really the dial-tone provider. Look for a company that is both the telephone company and the service provider, so it has multiple options on the ways it can deliver service.
Not only should a provider be able offer disaster recovery through hosted VoIP, but it should also be a trunking provider. That means that if a facility loses power in its Columbus office, calls can automatically be rerouted to its Cleveland office, and callers wouldn’t even realize a change in the dialing pattern.
Alex Desberg is a 20-year veteran of launching and marketing internet technology. Most of his technology tenure has been with regional and national providers. At Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications, Desberg has been the development spearhead of a mature VOIP product line designed for business application and brings his support and knowledge to the B2B environment.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
To attract and retain top talent, it is critical for a company to have a strong benefits plan in place. In today’s uncertain environment, employee benefits represent a significant portion of the financial security employees are seeking, and they are demanding jobs in which those benefits meet their needs.
To ensure that employees are satisfied with your company’s current health care plan, it is important to solicit their feedback. Then, based on your findings, it may be time to consider searching for a plan that is a better fit for your employees.
“Companies should look at a number of benefit plans to determine if the designs and structures could better meet the needs of their work force,” says Stephen Slaga, chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.
Smart Business spoke with Slaga about how to identify the right provider for a business’s employee population and how to ensure a smooth transition when changing plans.
How can employers assess whether changing providers would benefit their company?
Typically, employers look at overall satisfaction with their current provider to determine if a change is needed. Cost, quality of coverage, accessibility, flexibility and the impact a change may bring both to the employer and the employees are some of the components that are measured to make this determination.
Seeking employee input is also important. For many employers, the No. 1 objective in offering benefits is to retain employees. However, those benefits must not only meet the needs of employees, they must also meet the monetary constraints of the employer.
Determining which carrier can provide the best care at the most efficient price and matching coverage options to what employees are looking for is critical. When possible, use benchmarking data to compare the offerings of different providers. Employers should also review coverage options and contribution strategies that their direct competitors are deploying.
Because the cost of benefits can have a large impact on employees’ paychecks, strong health care coverage and benefits are an important piece of the overall job package. In many cases, a small percentage difference in salary is secondary to the type of health care coverage available to employees.
What questions should an employer ask when seeking potential providers?
It is important to be thorough and to ask the right questions when searching for a potential provider. How many years has the provider been operating? Is it financially stable? What kind of reputation does it have? Inquire about the provider’s different types of benefit plan offerings and the service area. Also investigate historical rate trends in order to gain a better understanding of what to expect in terms of future premium increases.
Finally, be cognizant of customer service criteria. It could be worth the extra premium for the business owner to have the peace of mind of knowing that he or she is dealing with a reputable company that is looking out for the employees.
What common mistakes do employers make when changing providers?
Employers don’t always ask the right questions and, as a result, they may not fully understand the product they are purchasing. In the rush to implement a change in providers, employers sometimes do things that could result in the disruption of services to their employees.
Another common mistake is that employers assume that lower rates will equal a lower cost, which may not necessarily be true when they factor in the possibility of higher deductibles and coinsurance being passed on to their employees.
What steps can employers take to help ensure a smooth transition?
Make sure that adequate time is given to implement all changes when moving to a new provider. Communicate the changes to all employees and allow enough time so that any questions or concerns they have may be addressed. Conduct employee meetings to explain the changes and how they may impact employees. Also explain the overall value that employees are receiving by creating total benefit statements, which includes salary, benefits, workers’ compensation costs, vacation time, etc.
How can a benefits provider assist with the transition?
Transitioning to a new benefit provider requires significant planning. Employees should be told as early as possible about the changes and be provided with written benefit information explaining those changes. The benefits provider should conduct open enrollment meetings to answer any questions that employees may have. Benefit material should also be made available so that employees can review it on their own time.
How should the change be communicated to employees?
Communicating changes to employees requires adequate time and planning. The most common form of communication is done during the open enrollment season. Often, open enrollments are conducted and led by an agent or broker hired by employers to assist in administrating their employee health care benefits.
Benefit meetings should be scheduled around work so that employees are able to attend to ask questions about the new plan. Providing this education to employees is critical, and there are a number of ways to make information available, including health care plan websites, newsletters and direct mail pieces. Through the use of multipronged education programs, employees will have a better understanding of the changes, which results in better customer satisfaction.
Stephen Slaga is chief marketing officer of Total Health Care. Reach him at (313) 871-7810 or SSlaga@thc-online.com.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care
Earlier this year, Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P, challenged small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) to take a look at investment decisions around their current support models. This month, he stresses the importance of adopting a strong sense of urgency to avoid upcoming challenges.
“SMBs worldwide are projected to spend $1 trillion on IT by 2014. But unless something drastically changes, that spending could be like a heavy weight on a vessel headed into a perfect storm,” says Carter. “We want to stop, take a pause and not repeat history by spending money on technologies without really looking for a composite solution.”
Smart Business spoke with Carter about the challenges SMBs face, how to avoid common traps and the importance of managing cost pressure while strengthening customer intimacy.
Why do you feel there needs to be a heightened sense of urgency around creating change right now?
There are two fundamental problems facing the SMB market space: 1) cost pressures to stay competitive; 2) customer intimacy is in jeopardy. All companies with products and services wrestle with relieving cost pressures to maintain competitiveness. However, the most significant challenge I see is declining customer intimacy. This is an aspect that has been ignored. In order to sustain and grow market share, maintaining customer intimacy is paramount. Overall, a quality customer experience is missing, which shows up in lost market share.
What factors do you feel are causing these challenges?
A perfect storm is described as having multiple conditions that are colliding at the same time. There is a perfect storm in the SMB market today. First, all too often, we see both cost and customer intimacy elements are chained to an archaic standard support model. Such a model is actually designed to cost more to interact with the customer.
Historically, this has been why companies scrambled to find ways to cut back on support costs. This standard model is also designed to drive customer interactions out because it costs so much and reflects pure overhead. What this does is create an environment for the SMB that says, ‘Use it less, find a way to reduce calls for support.’ Sounds like a good thing, but it is deceiving. It’s a death trap for the SMB.
At the same time, the demographics of the end user have changed considerably and it is imperative that you respond to their wishes. Our clients have grown up in the technology world and favor what I call the ‘preferred end user support model’ — they prefer to satisfy the needs themselves rather than call a support center for help.
Lastly, by not considering and committing to a holistic approach when installing new technologies into your business, you are actually burdening your organization with incomplete and ineffective solutions.
How can the SMB know if it is facing the perfect storm?
There are some clear, obvious indicators that every SMB should use as beacons.
- Check your specific market growth. Has your business grown at a healthy rate? If you are not growing at a healthy rate, the storm will ultimately catch you.
- Check your client retention. This one is big. You can’t glaze over client loss as being a result of some external factor. Truth is, if you are losing clients, your model is working against you. The two key components are your cost competitiveness and your ability to be intimate with your end users.
- Check your profitability. This one should be obvious but can be deceiving. If your margins are falling, for example, don’t automatically blame costs of raw materials. The cost of your support model is a more obvious culprit.
What options does an SMB have if it determines it is facing a perfect storm?
There are three options that always apply, and the first two are the most common traps that sink businesses. The first option is to do nothing. Keep steaming straight ahead, believing the situation will improve. The second option is planning to do something in the future. While this one doesn’t sound quite as bad as doing nothing, it has the same result: the longer you wait, the more you lose ground.
There is a third option: Do something new. Now is the time to face the perfect storm.
How should an SMB go about implementing a new approach in order to avoid the perfect storm?
The thing to remember is that surviving the storm requires a balance between the two elements I spoke of earlier: managing cost pressure while strengthening customer intimacy. The first step to bailing water out of your boat is to analyze and optimize your current support model. Then establish a clear strategy and create self-improving client intimacy through customer-facing self-service.
We’ve all made the mistake thinking that just purchasing technology is the answer. Take a new holistic approach that will bring technology, process and management disciplines as a complete and total solution. Examine the investment in current IT expenditures and make the hard assessment: ‘Am I getting real return on investment?’ If not, make a change.
Finally, establish committed continuous improvement processes that focus on balancing the customer intimacy mandate with prudent cost management. With these approaches in place, clearing the perfect storm is simply a matter of having your clients use your new model more.
Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or email@example.com.
Insights Technology is brought to you by ii2P
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, involves delivering voice telecommunication services across a network. Companies that utilize VoIP can realize significant telecom savings. Let’s say your business has offices in multiple geographic locations. With VoIP, you don’t need to duplicate efforts by having different carriers that charge different rates.
“VoIP is a great leveler because it’s geographically independent — the price doesn’t change based on where you’re employing it,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director for Ohio.net.
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about the cost savings that can be realized by utilizing VoIP, how to make a seamless transition, and what to look for in a provider.
How can you stretch your telecom dollars by utilizing VoIP?
Normally, when you have a traditional phone system, there is a maintenance agreement. Every time you need to do an add/move/change with the system, you are paying someone to do it, or someone on your staff is investing their time. In the world of VoIP, because it is a service model, adds/moves/changes are usually included as part of the package. With VoIP, maintenance of the system is removed from the equation, which can lead to significant cost and time savings.
Often, when people are looking to change their technology from traditional to VoIP, it’s because the nature of their business has changed and they need to get a new phone system that isn’t antiquated. With VoIP, there is far less equipment needed than there would be in replacing a traditional phone system. In the past, if you needed to replace or upgrade a phone system, you were looking at software, someone to come out and do the installation, and possible hardware to update the system. With VoIP, all you’re buying is a VoIP phone so the costs are much less.
Also, VoIP services can be cyclical: there are plenty of businesses that have busy and slow seasons. For example, we work with car dealerships who sell more cars during spring, summer and fall than they do in the middle of winter. Car dealerships call us on a regular basis during the winter months and say, ‘Go ahead and scale back our services — we don’t need as many phones or as many lines.’ As a result, they’ll save money over the winter period when they know they won’t be nearly as busy.
This is very hard to do in the traditional telecom world because a contract will hold you to a certain dollar amount per month regardless of usage.
How can VoIP be used to service multi-location companies?
VoIP is geographically leveling the playing field. If I’m going to deploy 100 phones in the VoIP world, I don’t care if there are 100 phones all together in the same physical building or if they are being used by 100 different people in the company spread out across the country at multiple locations. The phone system itself is going to work the same in both cases because it’s essentially a virtualized phone system.
Also, VoIP offers local dialing between all the phones. For example, if I’m in New York and someone in my VoIP partition is in California, I can still do a four-digit dial.
How can a business make a seamless transition from traditional telephony to VoIP?
Training is essential; it is the difference between a clean start with VoIP and a bumpy one. Any time you implement a new phone system, people are going to be uncomfortable with the change. You have to get all of the individuals trained and get them comfortable with the phone before the system goes live.
With VoIP, the transition is seamless because we can have the new system running parallel to a traditional phone system. Once the users become comfortable we do a changeover where their old numbers become live on the new phone system.
After the transition happens, it’s important to have support available. Customer service is an important part of our model. One of the biggest complaints we hear about traditional telecom is that their support is terrible.
What advice would you give about selecting a VoIP provider?
Because it’s technology-related, a lot of young companies think they can enter into the VoIP business and be accepted. In truth, however, they need a stable backing in order to understand the technology they are deploying. In addition, they need to have a support system that can serve their clients. There are fly-by-night VoIP service companies that swoop in and make promises, but then quickly realize that they can’t support their customer base.
Look for a VoIP provider that has experience in your industry. If it hasn’t done what you need it to do before, I would be wary. Also, it should have a good future plan. A big part of our business is understanding what’s next and how to integrate that into a seamless service for our customers.
How are VoIP technologies being integrated into smartphones?
We are integrating to any phone out there, whether it is a smartphone, regular cell phone or landline. We can deploy services that allow calls to be routed to cell networks or home networks. For example, we work with a small government agency that has case workers who work from home. We just did our first installation for a remote case worker who is never going to step into the home office, but needed office connectivity.
It doesn’t matter what phone is on the other end. Let’s say you have an iPhone, one of your coworkers has a BlackBerry and another has a landline — you still want to be integrated. In order to allow integration, we built the service into the VoIP system rather than trying to build an app that changes every time someone gets a new type of phone or operating system.
Alex Desberg is Sales and Marketing Director for Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications. Reach him at (330) 658-1888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
In the past, a company’s employees were generally employees for life; there was little danger of them leaving, and if they did, the technology didn’t exist for them to take information with them.
Today, however, the average employee will hold eight to 10 jobs over his or her professional career, and if you don’t take the proper precautions, employees could take your data with them when they leave.
“Today’s ‘migrant worker’ is smarter and comes with strong skills sets, which necessitate more sophisticated data requirements regarding employee identity security,” says Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P.
Smart Business spoke with Carter about the importance of employee identity security and how to balance convenience and compliance.
Why should employers be concerned about employee identity security?
Businesses have three types of security needs: physical, data and employee identity. Physical security involves a company’s structure and its hard goods, data security relates to proprietary business or financial information and employee identity includes access to e-mails and network drives, and authorization to post information on the Internet. Employee identity security is just one leg of a three-legged stool that makes up corporate security.
Employee identity security is critical in today’s economy because of the changing face of the work force. This is the age of the ‘migrant worker.’ The employees who are working for you today will most likely be leaving your employment at some point for another opportunity. As a result, managing employee identity while those workers are with you is a fundamental protection that every company must have in place to reduce corporate vulnerability. Equally important is taking precautions to freeze employee identity when someone leaves your company so that he or she doesn’t take that to another job.
What specific challenges do small and medium-sized businesses face regarding employee identity security?
There is a fundamental balance to consider in terms of employee identity security relating to convenience versus compliance — convenience for the user versus compliance for the organization. Larger organizations are very good at forcing employees to comply with strict IT policies regarding identity security. However, this approach can backfire as users try to circumvent policies because adhering to them is inconvenient.
Conversely, with smaller to mid-sized organizations, there may be no one who is creating and monitoring policies. Without controls around necessary security policies in place, identity protection is left in the hands of individual employees, which can cause a litany of problems. Without protections in place, employees may decide that convenience is more important to them than compliance, resulting in the use of the same password for a company’s restricted database that contains sensitive financial information as for their individual social media accounts.
To deal with these concerns, small and medium-sized organizations often shift the responsibility of identity security to an outsourced IT vendor. In theory, this is a practical plan, as it puts someone in charge of security. However, this may not always turn out as planned. For example, if employees are working on a project after hours and are locked out of some critical system, they need their password reset quickly. And if the outsourced security provider is unavailable, employees may revert to using their personal passwords, putting weaker identity security back in the hands of the employees.
What is the cost for a small or medium-sized organization to invest in solid employee identity security?
Because of differences in size, complexity and requirements, there is no one right answer. Research has shown that enterprise investment in employee security costs the average company between $500 to $600 per user per year.
Many small or medium-sized organizations can’t afford this cost and, as a result, make no investment and expect employees to keep their own identity secure. However, this is a dangerous practice and is not a recommended approach, as it leaves companies vulnerable to security breaches.
What can small and medium-sized companies do to provide better employee identity security?
Start by standardizing security policies across the business infrastructure. Don’t have 10 different password management systems and 10 different login systems. This may sound like common sense, but it is a step that is often lacking in organizations.
The second step is to enable employees to manage their identities on their own but within the constraints of the standardized policies of the company. If employee identity is a rail system, then standardized policies represent the rails. Employees are allowed to throttle how fast they want to go and they can paint their train blue or red or green, but they must stay between the rails while maintaining their own identity. This provides employees with convenience but also ensures that they adhere to the company’s security policies.
How should employee identity security align with data security?
There is going to be turnover in your organization, so it is crucial to make certain that proper user authentication is aligned tightly with employee identity. Simply put, this means that while employees have the ability manage their personal identity, they only have access to pertinent information that is relevant to their job.
When an employee leaves, that person’s identity needs to be frozen and any access he or she had to corporate data must be shut off.
Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or email@example.com.
Insights Technology is brought to you by ii2P
Health care costs are increasing at an alarming pace and many businesses are struggling to maintain the level of health care benefits provided in the past.
While executives are keenly aware that comprehensive benefit programs play a significant role in attracting top-notch talent, many companies have neglected to analyze the effectiveness of their benefit strategy.
Reviewing your employee benefit program regularly offers the opportunity to revisit your carrier’s rates and ensure they are still competitive, says Steve Slaga, chief marketing officer at Total Health Care. Further, it presents an opportunity for employers to ensure their program continues to measure up against others in their industry.
“Health care benefits are important and serve as a very useful tool for employee retention and attracting new recruits,” says Slaga.
Smart Business spoke with Slaga about assessing the needs of your employees, how to determine an appropriate benefit plan and the importance of employee education.
How can a company assess the needs of its employees?
First, examine your health care plan to ensure you’re providing affordable, quality coverage with good service, flexibility and access to care. Make sure your plan isn’t prohibitively priced, so employees can afford to participate, and gauge employees’ satisfaction levels by utilizing surveys to determine which areas of the plan they consider strong and which can be improved upon. Bear in mind all employers are different and operate within circumstances unique to them, so not every health care plan fits every group.
The level of flexibility a health care plan facilitates is also an important consideration. Some plans work through Health Maintenance Organizations, which have a specific provider network, while others offer Preferred Provider Organizations or Point-of-Service plans with which employees have the option to go in or out of a predetermined physician and hospital network of preferred health care providers without fulfilling certain conditions, such as obtaining a referral. When choosing a health care plan, make sure the services fit the needs of your employees and that employees have access to a selection of physicians and specialists in their area.
How can employers determine an appropriate benefits plan for their employees?
Ask your agent or broker to do a comparative analysis among health care plans. That person will review the factors important to your employees, including pricing, access to care and type of benefits. The actual pricing is determined by the health care plan and is dependent on factors including the business, its industry and the average age of employees.
Employers at a minimum should review their benefit plans annually. By comparing your current plan to other plans, you can stay apprised of options in the marketplace, new products and how your premiums compare with other options. By reviewing plans regularly, you can assure employees you have shopped around and are providing them with the best value for their needs.
How can employers best balance the cost of the plan with employee needs?
This is a decision every employer must make on its own and it hinges on factors including the type of benefit program desired for employees and how much employees will be expected to contribute.
As the cost of providing health care coverage continues to rise, many businesses have scaled back benefits. Among those companies that continue to offer benefits, their employees are more often asked to make higher contributions to offset costs. Other companies pass along a portion of the increased costs through higher deductibles or higher co-insurance; both solutions reflect the challenge of dealing with today’s rising medical costs.
Companies are also coping with escalating health care costs by implementing wellness plans designed to encourage employees to take preventive action to improve their health. The idea is that a healthier pool of insured employees makes fewer claims.
How can employers help employees understand the features of their health care plan?
Education is key. Employees need to have a clear, concise understanding of their benefits from day one. There are numerous ways to make information available to employees, including health plan websites, interactive assessment tools, newsletters and other communications.
It is also important to provide employees with forums where they can ask questions about the plan and provide feedback. In addition, many employers are looking beyond employee communication and implementing multipronged education programs that engage employees throughout the year.
Most employees receive benefit information during open enrollment periods and that’s often the last time they examine the details of the plan. Instead, there should be ongoing education with information distributed regularly to employees so they are fully aware of what their benefits cover. This will allow your employees to utilize and access their plans efficiently and effectively.
What value should a benefit provider bring to the table?
Your benefit provider should present clear and concise information about the health care plan in a timely manner. On a group level, a provider should be able to help you with billing, invoice and claims questions. On the member level, the provider should be able to answer benefits questions. Contact your provider to see what other services are available.
Steve Slaga is chief marketing officer at Total Health Care. Reach him at (313) 871-7810 or SSlaga@thc-online.com.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care
By implementing a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-based call center, businesses can slash their operating costs and increase sales. VoIP allows for delivery of voice information over the Internet. Untethered from costly infrastructure investments, companies that have VoIP dial tones or hosted systems can concentrate not on managing the call center but on serving the needs of their customers.
As an added benefit, there’s no need to spend money to train IT administrators on the nuances of the system.
“The training for a VoIP system is very similar to the training you receive when you get a new traditional phone system,” says Alex Desberg. “VoIP is another tool, similar to features such call transfer or conferencing. The technology is not hard to grasp.”
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about VoIP, the benefits of call queuing and what types of businesses are likely to reap the biggest rewards.
How do VoIP call center services differ from traditional services?
A traditional call center is equipped with a large, private branch exchange (PBX) phone system designed to manage the network. This requires a hefty financial investment in the system, as well as software to manage reporting. In the hosted realm with VoIP, there is just data service. For example, if a company has 100 people, but only 20 are in the call center, services can be added for just those 20 people, which keeps the economy of scale down.
Also, in the traditional telephone world, you need a phone line for each inbound call in order to stack up callers. This requires a significant volume of phone lines and is accompanied by cash outlays month in, month out, whether you use them or not.
In the VoIP world, the features aren’t line by line, they are phone by phone, so you never run out of calling lines. VoIP call center services are ideal for small to medium-sized organizations that want to provide call center-type services without making a huge investment.
How can a company benefit from call queuing?
Call queuing allows an unlimited number of callers to wait for an available customer service representative while they are on hold. The primary benefit of call queuing ties into the economy of scale aspect.
Businesses have a limited number of customer service representatives who can schedule appointments. Companies don’t want to staff 20 people to manage 20 call-ins; they want two or three customer service people taking calls in the order they were received so customers receive personal interaction and information while they are on hold. Call queuing helps minimize the number of personnel needed to service the same number of customers.
What kinds of companies can benefit from VoIP call center services?
Clients such as plumbers, electricians and glass replacement companies can benefit. They service a large area and operate out of one centralized location, and it’s important for them to have a local number in every market that they service. Businesses that utilize VoIP call center services are able to provide a local number even though the calls are handled remotely. This works particularly well with franchises that are supporting a large geographic area.
Car dealerships also benefit from VoIP call center services. Typically, they have different call volumes throughout the day. In the mornings, car dealerships receive a lot of calls into their service departments but might only have two service managers, and the influx of calls can be overwhelming.
With call queuing, the service managers can handle calls in the order they were received and customers don’t feel like they are getting the run-around or being routed to voicemail. The calls can be stacked and everyone can be tended to relatively quickly. By utilizing VoIP, dealerships don’t have to invest in a huge call center-type phone system.
Are there disadvantages to using VoIP call center services?
VoIP call center services aren’t designed for megacorporations. Companies with huge call center capacities can’t achieve all of the statistics and reporting they need. However, for small and medium-sized businesses that have never done call center services — but that would like to — VoIP is a great starting point. VoIP can make companies look bigger than they really are and can help them handle a larger customer base.
How can a call center make a smooth transition from traditional phone services to a VoIP model?
There are two ways to employ VoIP. It can be hosted, or it can provide dial tones to an existing phone system. You can take baby steps away from the traditional phone services by first transitioning to a VoIP dial tone. Then the next step would be to release yourself from your existing phone system and transition to a hosted system.
Alex Desberg is a 20-year veteran of launching and marketing Internet technology. Most of his technology tenure has been with regional and national providers. At Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications, Desberg has been the development spearhead of a mature VoIP product line designed for business application and brings his support and knowledge to the B2B environment.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the basics. Technology changes on a daily basis, new competitors arise and the market is constant turmoil. It’s important, however, to slow down and take the pulse of your company. Are the fundamentals in place for a healthy balance sheet? A good place to start is making sure that you have a clear value proposition in place.
“A value proposition is a clear statement of the benefits a customer will receive from purchasing your products or services,” says Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P. “Essentially, it is your brand’s promise. A strong and differentiated value proposition can help your business capture your target market.”
Smart Business spoke with Carter about value propositions, the importance of focusing on current customers and how to keep your business in shape.
Why is it important for a company to have a value proposition?
Having a strong value proposition can sharpen your company’s focus and allow you to hone in on your greatest strengths. I call this principle ‘sticking to your knitting.’ You can’t be all things to everyone. You can be the very best at what you do, however. It’s important to know thyself. Understanding who you are allows you to refine your value proposition so you separate yourself from your competitors rather than trying to keep up with them. You will never succeed if you simply try to keep pace with your competitors. They will always stay one step ahead.
Make sure that your value proposition is concrete. If you get up every morning and try to convince yourself that you have a solid value proposition, then you probably don’t. A lot of companies make their value propositions complex. This is a big mistake. There is a misnomer that a proposition requires complexity in order for it to be valuable. The simple, easy-to-embrace proposition is much more effective. Rehearse the value proposition, understand those elements of your business, and market what you excel at. Your value proposition should serve as your anchor.
What are the benefits of focusing on current customers?
Being successful doesn’t mean going after every available customer; at some point, you won’t be able to service your clientele properly. It’s important to cherish each customer that you do have. The reputation you achieve from making your customers feel truly valued is how you grow your business.
Your current customers are your most important ones because they have laid the foundation for the success of your business. Building a reputation on the back of excellent service creates a solid platform for growth. Don’t grow your client base any further unless you are able to treat your new clients as intimately as the ones you first established.
What are the dangers of taking customers for granted?
Customers need to feel like you’re taking them to a higher level through the use of your products or services. Your job isn’t just to deliver your product and walk away; it’s about making sure that your product has value to them. Ultimately, this strengthens your relationships and allows you to grow your own business.
Customers in today’s environment are looking for leadership. They want you to maximize the benefits of your products and services into their core business. Too often, they are treated as ‘revenue inventory’ rather than ‘loyal assets.’ While it seems simple, you need to demonstrate to your customers that you are willing to fight for them, not against them. Your entire business and support model should be structured to demonstrate that you value your core customers.
It’s crucial that you listen to them and value their feedback. Otherwise, they’ll take their business somewhere else.
How can a business prosper by ‘staying in shape'?
You need to make certain that the investments you plug into your business are the kind that keep you lean and strong. In order to make wise decisions, you must listen to the market as it is changing. The demographics for end users are changing, and they are much different than they were five to 10 years ago. Their requirements have changed considerably. Support is a key element in retaining and growing your business.
Creating effective intimacy programs, backed by a market-driven support model, will keep your costs lower and your customer loyalty higher. If your support model is still equipped from a legacy standpoint, it’s imperative that you update it. Today’s consumers want and expect self-servicing support strategies.
No matter how good your product is, if you have a legacy support system behind it, you’re not serving as a leader. Institute a self-support model that is easy to navigate and provides value. Once such a system is in place, you need to pay attention to the feedback left by the end user. Staying in shape is not a one-time thing. You need to be disciplined and continually improve your processes. If you have that discipline within your business, your clients will see that you are always meeting or exceeding their needs.
How should businesses balance the need for convenience versus security?
In today’s society, people generally prefer convenience over security. There’s a tradeoff, however. The most effective strategy is to use a balanced approach that guards your intellectual property while enabling users access to the information they need.
Implementing the most up-to-date technologies, such as password management protection, protects the end user. Securing your information today is no more important than it was a decade ago, but it is more difficult.
Make sure you are implementing practices and solutions to keep data and identity access secure. It cannot be overstated: Your intellectual property and your competitive advantage are perfect targets for your competitors.
Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) involves sending voice information in digital form rather than by using the circuit-based protocol of traditional telephone networks.
VoIP can mean different things to different people, says Alex Desberg. “We define VoIP as delivering voice services across a network. It could be Internet-based, it could be private-network based. Such services have been strategically designed to replace traditional telephone services.”
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about VoIP, the cost efficiencies such a platform provides and how it can lead to increased productivity.
What’s new with VoIP?
Ohio.net adapts VoIP to accommodate virtual businesses. People are getting rid of brick-and-mortar offices and setting up telecommuter or remote environments. In the past month we’ve had several of our VoIP customers realize that they really can have everyone work out of their homes and get rid of their offices. One company we work with has 26 employees working remotely, but all working together as if they were sitting in their office.
When you can front-end a business with what sounds and acts like a traditional phone system, but nobody is sitting in the same building anymore, it really makes sense. A VoIP system helps a company become more cost effective by eliminating the need for a facility, not to mention rent expenses, power expenses and commute costs for employees.
What are the benefits of VoIP?
One of the key benefits is the release from traditional telecom. There are inherent geography issues associated with traditional telephony. Plus, people get wedded to legacy phone systems that keep perpetuating the need to be upgraded or repaired. This becomes costly. By moving away from legacy equipment, you can take advantage of a hosted environment for your phone system. You won’t be responsible for upgrading your software anymore or making sure the rollout of a new feature is integrated into an existing system. A VoIP system is more of a service-based model: as long as you are subscribed to the service you can take advantage of all the upgrades, changes and benefits that the provider offers.
Are there any drawbacks?
VoIP is like any business technology, if we are poor managers of technology, we might be a poor manager of a phone system in a VoIP environment. You have to pay attention, just as you do with any other technology. If you use questionable or problematic Internet service, then you will have questionable or problematic phone service as well.
A lot of it depends on the provider that you choose. The VoIP environment has been a little volatile. Some entities want to become a phone company overnight without realizing the impact they can make on a customer by not providing a quality service or not understanding the market properly. It takes a history and understanding of the traditional telecom world to do well in the VoIP market.
If you’re going to choose this type of technology, you have to do the research. There are plenty of VoIP providers available online, but I’m a big believer in working with a local company that is close and can support you. You don’t want to have to buy service from a company in Denver that is down due to a power outage or snowstorm while you’re still working and trying to do business.
What advice would you give about implementing VoIP solutions?
We have three areas that we really stress to new customers. First, it’s crucial to select the right hardware. Some people believe they can go with inexpensive voice equipment. However, quality hardware on a quality network really makes a difference to the end user’s experience.
Training is also very important. We have a staff of trainers that help with the implementation of a new phone system to ensure that everyone knows how to use it when it’s launched and that they have the proper resources. Finally, there should be a go-to team available if any problems are encountered once the technology is implemented.
How can VoIP translate into increased productivity?
Let’s say you have an office in Cleveland, an office in Kansas City and an office in Florida. With VoIP we can tie these together like they are one. With traditional telephony you can’t easily do that. Also, you can work with one provider so you have one telephone company and one bill for as many locations as you have. Finally, the upgrades, additions and changes that are made for the phone system are service-driven so you don’t have to buy a phone system every 10 years, or live with outdated technology until you can afford it.
Why is investing in new technologies like VoIP so important?
If your organization is going to run on antiquated equipment, then you are going to be an antiquated business in about five years because technologies change so often. What is big with VoIP today is not going to be the same thing that drives people in five years. We see the growth of mobile phones being integrated into VoIP today. Five or six years ago, we didn’t even have that on the radar. Most people thought that VoIP would just replace landlines. Now companies have field teams that are armed with smart phones but still need a VoIP system so they look like legitimate enterprises, rather than giving everyone’s cell phone number to do business.
Alex Desberg is a twenty-year veteran of launching and marketing Internet technology. Most of his technology tenure has been with regional and national providers. At Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications, Desberg has been the development spearhead of a mature VoIP product line designed for business application and brings his support and knowledge to the B2B environment.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
In the face of a stifling economy, many companies have focused on cutting costs as a means to improve profits. Such measures, however, don’t stand the test of time. Inevitably, quality goes down, as do sales over the long haul.
In the technology realm it is more important than ever for business leaders to invest in new platforms and cater to customers’ needs. According to Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P, the market has spoken and they are asking for small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) to provide self-service platforms.
“Our clients that truly have self-service platforms are seeing overwhelming results,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Carter about issues SMB leaders currently face, the importance of investing in self-service models, and the rewards that can be reaped.
What main issues do SMB leaders face as it pertains to surviving in the marketplace?
First, I want to emphasize that the issues are not limited to small and medium-sized businesses. They face many of the same challenges that larger enterprises face — they need differentiating innovation such as a self-service platform. However, SMB leaders do have more difficulties adapting to the self-service platform. If they don’t embrace this new model and are unable to remain competitive from a cost and convenience standpoint, it will affect their ability to retain their company client base. Every decision that is made within a small business environment has an immediate and dramatic effect. Whereas with a large enterprise, although the results may be the same, the consequences show up in a longer time frame — it is not so immediate.
What should SMB leaders be investing in?
It is paramount to be market driven and keep pace with where your market needs are today. Today’s market — end users, clients, etc. — have changed dramatically. The demographics of the end user today are not in line with current service models. The service models of today, for the most part, don’t embrace self-service. Yet the behavior and desire of the end user is all about self-service. If you embrace innovative solutions and are able to provide a competent gateway to self-service you will reap the benefits.
What innovative solutions do you believe SMB players should take advantage of?
Many technology developments have been tailored to larger enterprise environments. A good example is something as straightforward as password management. About 30 percent to 35 percent of all IT service-related calls, whether it is in an enterprise environment or a small to medium-sized business environment, have to deal with this matter. Password management is becoming more of an issue today because, as security needs grow, the need for well-disciplined password management solutions becomes more pressing. While password management has been geared towards larger enterprises, this is an area ripe for small and medium-sized businesses as well.
How can this be funded?
The secret sauce is creating a formal strategy and approach for bringing innovation to the SMB, not just reacting. Over the past 15 years or so a lot of businesses have been plagued with what I call “drop off the technology and run syndrome.” The technology as a standalone looks good and accomplishes what it’s supposed to do. But unfortunately, that’s where a lot of companies have left it. They’ve made the investment in capital, but haven’t been able to realize the benefits because the solution really wasn’t a business solution, it was more of a technology solution.
In order to improve the existing platform you should first look at the inefficiencies within your end-to-end platform. Examine the platform and change it to make it more efficient and more effective. I have not yet experienced an engagement where there wasn’t significant amount of monies being spent on ineffective end-to-end support solutions. In most cases, the money saved by optimizing the environment is more than enough to support the investment for self-service. There is no magic or big bucket of money sitting out there, but there is a methodology to determining how to begin investing in a self-service platform.
Where should the recovered excess money be spent?
You should invest those dollars in creating a platform that is going to be more market-driven. Then you will be able to take the return on those monies and spend them on growing your business. It is important to invest in growing your business so you can become more competitive in the marketplace.
If this strategy is applied correctly, what are the outcomes to the SMB?
In today’s existing model, business is driven by using the platform less. In other words, providers are hoping that their end users, their B2B clients, etc, are using their existing model less because every time they use it, it costs the service provider. The paradigm shift is when you develop the self-service model; the more they use it, the cheaper it is. We’re talking about a complete re-engineering that will affect not only the behavior of the end user, but the provider as well. When you adopt the model that your end users prefer, you will benefit because, the more they use it, the less it will cost you.
Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or email@example.com
Insights Technology is brought to you by ii2P