We’ve all been there before. A call that should take mere seconds extends 10 minutes or more because of an aggravating and antiquated phone system that fails to connect you to the proper party or does not notify the person who you are trying to reach.
There are ways to improve customer service simply by updating technology and making the switch to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Some businesses are using automated systems to improve screening, routing and transitions to the right professional, while others are using VoIP to ensure a more personal touch. Neither way is wrong. The important thing is that customers aren’t left on the phone fuming.
“With VoIP you can choose between the two extremes; you can make it very personable or leverage technology for maximum efficiency,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about how VoIP can enhance customer service, improvements on the horizon and the importance of customization.
How can VoIP services help enhance customer service?
Customer service takes so many different forms — it ranges from one extreme to another. Some companies, typically smaller businesses, believe that good customer service requires every incoming call be answered live, and they strive for one-call support. On the flip side, larger organizations want to make sure that technology is in place so the customer can reach the person or department that he or she wants to speak with. This can take the form of auto attendants or dial-by-name directories. VoIP allows large businesses to maximize efficiency and small businesses to add layers to their phone systems, both of which enhance the customer service experience.
What VoIP changes and improvements are on the horizon that will help companies connect with their customers?
First, it’s important to note that companies can keep the current technologies they have in place, such as an inbound dialing system, while moving into the VoIP realm. New technologies on the horizon include virtual PBX systems that will allow more hands-on control and management. Virtual PBX, a private branch exchange phone system offered as a hosted service, can be a very useful tool for marketing efforts. With this system, you can direct people to call the store they are most likely to shop at rather than a call center, where they will have to be redirected.
How can companies identify the right size for their VoIP configuration?
This boils down to picking the right technologies for your mode of communications. I recently worked with a midsize company that has multiple locations in various communities. It’s extremely important for this business that when someone calls them they are connected to the correct office. They don’t want their customers to get shuffled around or transferred to the wrong extension. The system they now have in place allows their customers to call a local number that supports the local office, while from a grand-scheme perspective, they are able to manage their telecommunications under one large phone system so there is four-digit dialing and no long distance between offices.
How can companies customize their VoIP system to improve customer service?
Once you move out of the traditional analog phone world, you can start using a mix-and-match platform. For example, if you determine that you need specialized services for a regional or remote location, it’s possible to incorporate a virtual PBX system into your VoIP solution. This allows you to keep adding bits and pieces to the existing platform under the management of a single supplier. Internally, a person handling a VoIP call might notice a difference with the phone, but customers will have a seamless experience — they will simply reach the person who can serve them best.
Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at email@example.com.
Visit www.ohio.net for a list of educational seminars.
Insights telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net.
As Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) matures, a growing number of businesses are making the switch from traditional phone services to Internet-based services.
When looking for a VoIP provider it is important to seek a company on the forefront of technology that can serve as a trusted adviser.
“Businesses are looking for flexibility, reporting functions and a provider that has its best interests at heart — someone who can help them recognize current trends and provide true consultative services,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about the latest VoIP trends, the importance of adaptability and the re-emergence of user-friendly phone systems.
What are the trends for new or growth companies?
Organizations are creating subgroups within themselves for different lines of business.
The best way to illustrate this is to think of a holding company with smaller companies underneath — they want a division within their organization and they are using a phone system to create this impression.
For example, a publishing company might have a traditional publishing arm and an electronic publishing arm. By setting up different VoIP phone routes within their organization, they are able to have different pods even though they are all just part of a greater whole.
With this model, if a customer needs to reach the electronic publishing division he or she doesn’t have to go through the traditional publishing arm’s receptionist and get re-routed, he or she is directly reaching the people that he or she wants to talk to.
Why is VoIP a good fit for companies that are start-up, virtual, experiencing growth or changing their structure?
There has been an insurgence in the number of businesses turning to VoIP solutions that are either start-ups or changing their structure away from the brick and mortar model to a virtual model.
Some change so they can gain the advantage of having a new phone system with new capabilities. Others make the change so they can segment various parts of their business operations.
Either way, they are able to present a new look, sound and feel when they are communicating with their customers.
How important is a phone system’s adaptability for a company in transition?
A good VoIP system can almost serve as a marketing tool for a business. Companies want to know how their phone system can adapt to changes in their customers’ desires to communicate.
For example, VoIP offers custom reporting tools so management can track how customers react to different messages.
If needed, the system that drives communication can be adjusted in order to ensure optimal customer satisfaction.
What features are businesses looking for today?
There has been a huge shift back toward the importance of talking to a live person.
Bringing the customer closer to the person that they really want to talk to is paramount in the business world today.
Businesses want to make sure that their customers aren’t on hold for extended periods of time and that they don’t have to go through voice mail hell.
Advances in telecom technology should not be used to create barriers between a business and its customers — they should bring them closer together.
Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director for Ohio.net. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
For a list of educational seminars, follow this link.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
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 email@example.com.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
Over the past decade, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has become increasingly popular. While the digital revolution has allowed businesses of all sizes to become more efficient, there can be unanticipated problems.
For example, fax machines were originally designed for use over analog-based telephone lines. Attempting to use an older fax machine with an all-digital phone system can be problematic.
The key, says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net, is to embrace change.
“You have to evaluate how change affects your business,” he says. “Change comes with a little pain, and with pain comes new solutions.”
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about converting to VoIP, questions to ask when making the switch and the importance of conducting a tabletop scenario.
What are some of the biggest struggles for a business when converting to VoIP?
We find that businesses are very happy to convert their traditional phone systems to a hosted VoIP product. What they often don’t realize, however, is how many things within their organization depend on traditional phone line communications. First and foremost are fax machines; fax technology and VoIP don’t normally mix very well. There are a couple of solutions, however. We can help a business completely transition to a paperless technology where they are able to receive faxes through email or desktops and get rid of their old fax machines. Or, we can implement a technology that integrates the traditional fax machine in a device that ‘pretends’ it is a phone line designed for a fax. This fakes out the traditional fax machine into thinking it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing, when it’s actually being converted into a digital format.
What questions should a business ask its service provider when making the switch to VoIP?
During the discovery process we ask our clients what might not function if we took all of their phone lines away. The common responses are that the fax machine and credit card processing machines would not work. Sometimes, there are other systems aligned with the phone lines that aren’t closely associated with the network. For example, we recently came up with a solution for one of our clients for their postage meter. Other things we’ve encountered are fire alarms and security systems running on phone lines. These are the important things we need to be discussing to make sure that when the conversion happens, organizations don’t lose technologies that are important to the function or safety of their business.
What should a business consider when replacing an aging system?
Aging systems tend to have Band-Aid products in place. When you get rid of a legacy phone system, the Band-Aids are exposed. For example, there are still businesses that require remote access to equipment such as dial-up modems. When you take away the phone system there will be hiccups. Another example is door access systems. Traditionally, an access control system works in conjunction with a phone system — you dial an intercom number and somebody on the other end picks up their desk phone and talks to you. When the phone system is being replaced, how do you get the door access system to work? You may either need a VoIP solution or new Band-Aid product in place.
Why is it important to do a tabletop scenario that covers all forms of technology when replacing phone lines and systems?
In addition to talking about phone lines, it’s also important to talk about disaster recovery. How is a business impacted by a loss of power, loss of Internet communication or a situation where they can’t even get into their building? Tabletop scenarios are a part of risk analysis, but unfortunately most businesses don’t conduct them often enough. When conducting a tabletop scenario it’s important to have a risk analysis professional or a technology professional to walk you through the different scenarios.
Alex Desberg is the sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
Spam emails are on the rise. In fact, according to a recent report by securelist.com, the percentage of spam in email traffic is now more than 77 percent. Not only are spam emails annoying, in some cases they can also be dangerous. In order to combat malicious cyber attacks, it’s important to keep your network protected.
“Spam and antivirus filtering provides a defense against internal and external threats such as spam, viruses, spyware, phishing schemes, identity theft and other dangerous content before it gets to your computer or network,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about email security, how to effectively block spam and the emerging trend of archiving email.
What are some reasons businesses should be concerned about email security?
Email is certainly not new. Over the years it has become an important conduit for conducting business, so much so that the technology is taken for granted. As a result, businesses have become complacent in terms of their email protection. Inbound emails can carry a wide variety of security threats, all of which have the potential to interrupt a company’s daily operations and expose an organization to unscrupulous forces. On the flip side, emails sent from an organization may expose the fact that its network is not as secure as its customers would expect it to be. This can be damaging from an image standpoint. Getting a virus from a business contact vividly illustrates that it doesn’t take its Internet security seriously.
How does virus and spam blocking work as a service rather than as software?
There are two ways to do virus and spam blocking. The first way is to install software on your server that manages threatening email. The other way is to handle it as a service, where you are running all of your inbound and outbound emails through an off-site service. In essence, the off-site service provider is managing your threats for you. This helps reduce expenses and possibly even the bandwidth needed for daily operations. A service provider will scrub all of your emails before they get to your network so those that are potentially threatening don’t disrupt your business. Also during the scrubbing process, a service provider can identify trends of threatening email and rule out sources of where such emails originate.
Why is it important to block spam before it reaches a network?
Blocking spam before it reaches a network keeps threats at arm’s length so they don’t affect resources such as PCs and servers. It also reduces the volume of spam that flows through PCs handling emails, which can reduce the burden that’s placed on the available bandwidth. We’ve worked with organizations that, after we’ve installed virus and spam blocking, came to find out that as much as 50 percent of their Internet traffic was being used just to handle the volume of spam emails. With the reduction in traffic, they are able to realize a cost savings.
How can important email be archived?
Archiving is a new trend for email management. With archiving, you can hold on to emails in order to meet requirements for regulatory compliance, litigation issues and business best practice guidelines. There are solutions companies can utilize to implement secure email archiving that can be scaled to fit the requirements of organizations of any size.
Another emerging trend is e-discovery, which allows an organization to interface with an archive so email searches can be conducted using a specific date, keyword or subject.
Alex Desberg is the sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at email@example.com.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
U.S. employers are continuing to struggle with rising health care costs. To limit spending, many are shifting costs to employees while others are emphasizing wellness initiatives or controlling costs through health savings accounts and reimbursement arrangements.
“The biggest area of concern we are hearing from employers today is they can’t manage or predict the cost of health care benefits,” says Randy Narowitz, CEO of Total Health Care. “Having predictable, manageable cost increases is a real value to employers.”
Smart Business spoke with Narowitz about what to ask when choosing a plan.
What factors should companies consider when analyzing their employee benefits?
Typically, you start with the plan design that you offer today then decide if the company can maintain, improve or cut back on the benefits.
It’s important to evaluate alternatives in terms of cost and products offered. There are a variety of ways to differentiate carriers: size and strength of the provider network, plan design flexibility and premiums.
What questions should an employer ask a carrier when choosing a plan?
If you are using the benefits as a tool to attract or retain employees, then you want to evaluate the quality of the benefits and compare them to what else is out there in the marketplace. Features such as co-pays and deductibles are factors in the decision-making process and can be tweaked to be competitive. Also, access to care and a strong provider network are important components to consider.
If you are cost sensitive, then you want to ask about how to optimize the benefits at the lowest possible premiums and analyze the trade-off between the premium costs and the benefits.
What can a company expect from its relationship with its carrier?
Most employers use the services of a consultant or broker to assist them in the decision-making process, and their roles vary.
At one extreme, the consultant is your exclusive liaison to the carrier and can represent several health care plan options, helping the employer understand which products are best for its business. The consultant may also take the lead on administrative tasks including open enrollment, employee education, compliance and communications with the carrier.
At the other extreme, a consultant’s role is limited to the selection process. You can expect your representative to be able to differentiate the plans and the products depending on how you prioritize your decision-making criteria.
As an employer, you should expect your representative to be able to navigate through the decision-making process on your behalf.
Your plan representative, carrier and consultant also need to be able to educate you about the latest changes associated with health care reform.
How can companies save money when they are looking for a carrier?
Shifting the financial burden to employees by raising co-pays and deductibles, and having them pay a portion of the premium are ways to reduce and control your health care costs.
Savings associated with prescription drug costs can be achieved by raising co-pays or by restricting access to branded drugs when generics are available. Employees are very sensitive about changing medications, but there is a real opportunity to save money when you make these adjustments. Contracting with a restricted network, such as an HMO, and introducing wellness initiatives can also reduce costs.
What do employees need to know?
If you change a plan design in any way, it is important that the changes be communicated clearly.
Employees are very resistant to a change in their health care benefits. If you are planning to reduce benefits or shift costs to the employees, make a significant commitment up front to educate your employees.
Simplify the message and commit the time and resources to help them understand the changes before the new contract year begins.
Randy Narowitz is the CEO of Total Health Care. Reach him at (313) 871-2000.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is changing the way businesses communicate. By converging traditional voice and data services on a single platform, VoIP lowers operating costs and provides greater efficiencies than traditional phone systems.
A good VoIP provider can build a customized system to meet your needs and is willing to let you test new features to see if it makes sense for your business.
“In the world of VoIP it is easy to try something on a trial basis to see if it will work for your organization,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “If your provider is unwilling to let you kick the tires without a long-term contract you might want to look at finding a new provider.”
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about VoIP, the importance of gathering employee feedback and the dangers of choosing flash over function.
How are companies wasting time and money using traditional phone systems?
We often hear clients utter the phrase, ‘We would like one throat to choke,’ meaning it would be nice to have one service provider handle everything. When you have multiple providers for services that work together like the Internet and phone, a lot of time can be wasted trying to track down the right person if a problem arises. We’ve also found that many organizations have taken on the responsibility of managing their phone system themselves. Because they are not experts in the field they tend to Band-Aid problems rather than having a telephone professional properly address options for improved customer service and long-term efficiencies.
How should a phone system serve a company and its customers?
A phone system must be a conduit of communication. It should be designed to deliver the customer to the solution they need. Any complication, ranging from difficulty dialing the number to being unable to speak to the person they are seeking, adversely impacts a customer’s experience. Whether it is a retail customer, a professional services company or a manufacturer, the idea is there should be one-call closure. Hosted phone systems have the ability to deliver the customer to directly what they need, if engineered properly.
Why should the correct personnel make decisions about hosted phone systems?
The role of managing phone systems is falling on two people these days: the office manager and the IT professional. The office manager doesn’t necessarily know much about technology, but they know how the business operates. IT professionals know how data works and what type of technologies work for a business, but they might not know how to apply phone technologies. By interfacing with office managers and IT personnel, we can quickly learn what works best for the organization and which features should be added to a new phone system.
If your customers are not reaching the right people on a regular basis it’s important to investigate. For example, I was with a prospective customer the other day and we talked for an hour about the advantages of changing their phone system. After the meeting I asked the receptionist about her thoughts. I discovered that if a customer called on the company’s second line, all of the lines rang busy. Nobody at the top level realized this because they never solicited information from their employees. Often businesses have meetings about cash flow and other financial principles, but they forget about discussing operations.
How important a role does technology play in communications?
It’s not necessarily the technology that’s important, it’s the function. You could have the most feature-rich, complicated phone system on the face of the earth, but if it doesn’t serve the needs of your customer then it has no value. There are a lot of bells and whistles and whiz-bang technologies out there that might not help your business. When choosing the right technology, start with what the company needs. It’s important that your provider uses a consumer-centric approach. After all, it’s impossible to tell a business what they should buy without knowing what they need.
The cornerstone rule of discovery in civil litigation is that parties to a lawsuit must preserve, gather and produce relevant documents.
However, “it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to carry out this basic obligation, given the staggeringly high volume and informal nature of our electronic communications in the workplace,” says John Shonkwiler, a partner at Novack and Macey LLP.
Smart Business spoke with Shonkwiler about the importance of forming better emailing habits.
What are some ways to improve emailing habits?
Stop ‘reflex’ emailing. Too often, we respond to email immediately. This is the texting culture invading the workplace, which is an environment that demands better judgment and discretion.
It is not inconsiderate or unprofessional to deliberate before responding to email. Sometimes just waiting 10 to 15 minutes can make a big difference. Except in those rare instances where an urgent response is called for and cannot be made by phone, people should not fire off immediate responses.
Why is ‘reflex’ emailing problematic from a litigator’s perspective?
As the volume increases, so does the cost of electronic discovery. Reflex emailing exacerbates the problem by creating more email unnecessarily and so often it can be inconsequential. For example, a response of, ‘I’ll check on this and get back to you,’ is often unnecessary. And you don’t have to be a physicist to understand the laws of ‘e-gravity’: When you send more email, you receive more email. So, consider whether each email you compose has a purpose.
Also, emails that are carelessly or informally prepared are more likely to reflect poor judgment, convey inaccurate information, or contain sarcastic or flippant remarks on serious topics that don’t translate well on paper. These things make for bad documents in litigation. You want to think of every email like a potential trial exhibit. Ask yourself, if you were on the witness stand, would you like to be confronted with this? Often the worst documents that we see as lawyers as we’re gathering documents in discovery are careless emails.
How should employers teach employees about using better discretion?
Just ask employees to place a higher value on their email correspondence. Apply the same care and consideration when you’re sending an email that you would if you were sending a letter on your company’s letterhead. And remember to consider that your message might be better delivered in person or over the phone.
How does organizing help reduce exposure and litigation costs?
Email can be organized like paper correspondence. This means deleting the emails you don’t need and organizing the messages that you keep into folders.
This helps in at least two ways. First, it makes it far easier and cheaper to find and gather relevant email in response to discovery requests. Second, when every email must be accounted for and filed, or deleted, the sender tends to place a higher value on each email, give greater care to the contents and more carefully consider whether a message needs to be sent in the first place.
For people who have never organized their email, how can they get started?
If the task of sorting through every email in your inbox is too imposing, just move the entire contents of your Inbox into a folder titled ‘My Inbox as of [date].’ You can do the same with your sent items. This way, you can start clean and use your new habits going forward, and still have easy access to your old emails if you need them.
Have there been any recent developments in the law concerning email discovery?
Electronic discovery is probably the single hottest topic in continuing legal education courses, and has been for years. It is interesting, however, that for all the attention given to the issue, there has been relatively little discussion about addressing the root of the problem, our emailing habits. This is going to change as employers continue to learn about the significant costs of housing massive amounts of unorganized email.
In today’s business climate, people want the convenience of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), in which employees use their personal mobile devices to access company resources such as email, file servers and databases. VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is also a part of the BYOD movement.
“People want their voice to follow their devices,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “To meet this demand, VoIP providers are looking at assimilating voice and video, integrating tablets with phone systems and running different types of voice applications.”
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about how technology has improved VoIP capabilities, how it can help keep a business up and running in the event of a disaster, and the cost savings associated with this phone service.
How has VoIP availability expanded in recent years?
In the early days of VoIP, providers installed their own networks and used their own facilities to port numbers and bring services to new areas. In essence, providers shouldered the responsibility for creating an infrastructure.
As the product has matured and more services have become available, carriers and other telephone companies now port numbers for providers into remote service areas. It has become far easier for providers to deploy services in places where, previously, there was no availability.
How has technology improved VoIP capabilities?
VoIP came on to the scene about seven years ago. As it has become more accepted and heavily used, the software programming has become much more refined. The code has been tightened, which allows for better networking and compatibility with different devices. As with any technology, the more it is used and the more it becomes accepted, the less expensive it becomes to maintain and operate, and the easier it is to deploy.
Why is VoIP ideal for disaster recovery?
With Hurricane Sandy dominating the news, disaster recovery is a hot topic. Businesses are making sure that they back up their data and have alternative points of access so they can keep their companies up and running if there is a catastrophe. Unfortunately, many businesses fail to include a plan for their phone system when preparing for a disaster.
A common misconception is that an organization can simply rely on cell phones if its phone system is down. In reality, a business cannot operate at full strength when its communications system is down for an extended period of time.
With VoIP, businesses can be prepared for a disaster by having their provider host their phone system. This enables organizations to run seamlessly in the event of a calamity and carry on business as normal.
Customers and suppliers won’t even realize that your business model has changed and that you have switched to disaster recovery mode.
How can telecom costs be contained with VoIP?
Usually, as new technologies emerge, a service becomes cheaper and easier to deploy. However, when it comes to traditional telephone services, this has not been the case. People have requested new features for their phones and those have been accompanied by exponential increases in cost. The biggest costs associated with traditional phone systems are adding new features and the monthly service fees that accompany those.
VoIP has taken a different approach. Providers have simplified the process of delivering a dial tone to phone systems and driven down the cost of monthly service. Also, VoIP serves as a fixed-cost model, and additions and changes are usually included as part of the package. You are not making another investment every time you need an upgrade to meet the demands of your business.
Finally, VoIP is a nonregulated product, so tariffs are not set by the FCC. This enables providers to be able to offer new services at whatever rate they choose.
How does VoIP compare to traditional phone service in terms of ease of management?
Oftentimes, management of a phone system falls to IT personnel. In other cases, there is a dedicated telecom professional whose sole responsibility is the upkeep of the phone system.
VoIP providers offer two options. First, they can take all of the management responsibilities away from an organization by adding a hosted provider and serving as a service provider, which includes adding and changing features, troubleshooting and training.
Second, they can change the level of management to provide a single point of contact. A business can take as much or as little responsibility for managing its phone system as it would like.
In what ways has the track record of VoIP improved over the years?
Customers have demanded improvement. If VoIP providers are going to offer cloud-based phone services, the quality has to be as good, if not better, than that of traditional phone companies. Good means dependable and reliable. Better means that VoIP providers need to offer features and services well beyond those of any regulated telephone company, and they must be ahead of the curve in terms of developing and deploying new offerings.
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.
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,” Slaga says.
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.
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