As Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has entered the mainstream, most businesses are aware of its primary benefits: cost savings, ease of use and flexibility. There are also many customizable features that can pay dividends quickly.

When looking for a VoIP provider, it’s important to ask how services have been upgraded over the past year or so. You want to work with a provider that is adapting to the current business landscape and can tailor services to meet your needs.

“If they are selling a standard, proprietary system that hasn’t improved, they are using off-the-shelf technology and you won’t be able to receive tweaks or necessary upgrades when you need them,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about using VoIP for integrated marketing efforts, the importance of portability and the move toward virtualization.

What are some of the things that make VoIP an attractive option?

When we demonstrate what our services can do during the demo stage, clients often have an ‘aha’ moment when they see a characteristic that enables them to do their job better. One of the major attributes is timely reporting of how phone systems are being used. Businesses can take a look at an entire day’s worth of calling and examine how employees and customers are using the phone system.

Retail customers can incorporate this knowledge to integrate marketing into their phone service. For example, car dealerships want to know where their customers heard about them, what they’re inquiring about and when activity is the highest. Traditionally, the dealership would have to wait until the end of the month to get a full, detailed report of the calling patterns.

Many car dealerships use custom phone numbers based on the marketing outlet — a newspaper ad is assigned one phone number and a radio ad is assigned another. With VoIP, they can see who called what phone number and what time they called almost instantaneously. Let’s say the dealership ran a morning drive commercial on radio and it received calls from 9 a.m. to noon on Monday. This is a pretty strong indicator that people are responding to the radio ad rather than the print ad, which doesn’t appear until Wednesday. The business is able to see a payoff in its advertising, which makes for good marketing decisions.

What are some of the overlooked capabilities that VoIP has to offer?

One of the most overlooked aspects is having the freedom of not being tied to a specific geographic location. Sometimes we forget that VoIP-hosted phones can be unplugged and transported to any area with power and Internet access.

Recently, we worked with a customer that wanted to reduce overhead costs by moving into a smaller office space. The business was concerned because it had a number of employees who performed vital functions, but couldn’t be accommodated with the new layout. We helped the company realize that their customer service people could work from home as flexible telecommuters because they didn’t need traditional office infrastructure to do their job. The client was able to reduce its office size, which reduced its overhead. Its employees love the freedom to work out of their home offices and they still do their jobs well.

What impact have customer requests had on the services you offer?

Customers constantly ask about smartphone integration. A new service allows a cellphone and a desk phone to work together as a single extension. In the past, VoIP users had the ability to have calls directed to their desk phones forwarded to their cellphones. Now, a third-party application has been incorporated that allows customers to receive calls simultaneously on their desk phones and cellphones.

What’s next with VoIP?

So many customers are going virtual with their phone and computer systems. With virtualization, no one will have a static desk anymore. Everything will be travelling with you, whether it’s an iPad and a cellphone, or hoteling, where you sit down at anybody’s desk, log in as yourself and all of your services come to that desk. This releases you from a single piece of equipment and enables you to access what you need wherever you are.

Alex Desberg is the sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

 

Published in Akron/Canton

Businesses are continuously challenged to deliver products or services faster, at higher quality, and to bring new items or issues to the forefront. Finding the time to address all of the issues businesses face daily is often a challenge in today’s fast-paced environment.

However, planning for continuous improvement is critical, says Robert S. Olszewski, a director in the Audit & Accounting group at Kreischer Miller, located in Horsham, Pa.

“Nothing can be achieved without hard work,” says Olszewski. “However, a successful company has the ability to balance between managing today’s challenges and planning for the future. A structured business improvement process, discipline and accountability lead to the development of systems and strategies that leverage the future and foster the true value of a business. Improvement involves assessing the now, where and how.”

Smart Business spoke with Olszewski about the business improvement process.

Are there stages in the business improvement process?

Most people are aware the first step in a business improvement process is to get the structure right. The right structure means the right customers, products, cost to manufacture and people. They don’t realize that once the structure is mostly in place, they should move to the next stage, which is to get the waste out of the structure.

There are seven primary areas of waste: defects, waiting, motion, storage, overproduction, transportation and processing. The identification of waste can be achieved by interviewing personnel, utilizing intellect and flow-charting a process. Identification of waste is the easy part. Businesses must implement a strategy to reduce waste and continuously monitor results.

The time frame for addressing structure and waste is normally a two-year period. However, the final stage of the business improvement process -— changing the belief system of people — can span over a time period of up to five years. One of the significant factors limiting the attainment of change is the degree to which people believe that they are in control of their own destiny.

What is the most difficult part of the business improvement process?

Most companies can respond quickly when asked where they currently stand in the business environment. The difficulty is revealed when a business is asked where it wants to be and how it plans to get there.

The key to addressing the where and the how is defining your sustainable competitive advantage (SCA). The clear definition of SCA is the baseline for developing specific strategies in marketing, operations, innovation, human resources and finance that will generate results in the business improvement process.

What issues do you see in making improvements and implementing change?

One of the greatest obstacles is the acceptance of the status quo or the historical norm. However, being successful in the past is not a sound indicator for predicting future success.

Most successful process improvements involve a vision, a plan and surprisingly, dissatisfaction. Providing insight into the positive elements of change will create dissatisfaction with the status quo and motivate others to adopt the change. Companies that can clearly demonstrate why and how the change will have a positive impact, leading to dissatisfaction, have a higher probability of effective change.

How can you tell if changes are actually improvements?

Key performance indicators must be established from the inception of the business improvement process. Although some things are difficult to measure, specific items need to be quantified and supported by data. Keep it simple, visible and meaningful to everyone involved in the change process. Sharing the goals and making the results readily available to those involved is often a key element to success. Visibility of the common goal and success to date will enhance the efforts of the team.

 

Something NEW has arrived for private companies! Introducing the Center for Private Company Excellence, a community created by Kreischer Miller. Learn more at www.privatecompanyexcellence.com.

Robert S. Olszewski is a director, Audit & Accounting, at Kreischer Miller. Reach him at (215) 441-4600 or rolszewski@kmco.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Kreischer Miller

Published in National