Chelan David

There are many Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers out there, some large and some small. In the case of telecommunications, bigger is not necessarily better. Small providers tend to be more nimble and are able to customize and innovate in order to help their clients grow.

Also, independent VoIP providers can lend a personal touch, says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

“Most small and medium-sized businesses want to work with a local company. Companies don’t want offshore support,” he says. “They want someone who is in their backyard. Someone who is in the same time zone and easy to relate to.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about changes in the VoIP landscape, the differences between providers, and the importance of customer service and support.

How has the VoIP landscape changed in recent years?

In recent years, the marketplace has changed. AT&T and some of the other big players are now offering VoIP services. While the corporate giants have marketing dollars behind them to push their products, it is the smaller, more flexible companies who are pioneering new technologies.

Companies looking for an apples-to-apples replacement for traditional phone systems might be satisfied with a traditional provider.

However, business leaders that want to make a change to VoIP typically prefer working with agile companies that are trailblazers and provide service at the local level.

What are some of the differences between VoIP providers?

Companies interested in VoIP services have two options: They can either choose a big provider with pre-set packages or work with a small, innovative company that is willing to invent solutions from scratch.

For example, many organizations want to integrate their customer relationship management system with their phone system. Unless you work with a provider willing to break the mold and try new technology, it’s likely that you’ll receive a one-size-fits-all model that might or might not be a good fit.

How important is customer service and support?

The service standpoint is what truly makes VoIP providers stand out. Either they are readily available, hands-on and willing to help navigate technological challenges, or they take the stance of expecting a business to be the one that makes accommodations, fitting the company’s telecommunications needs into inflexible packages.

The majority of small and midsize businesses have a telephone system that they set up years ago and haven’t made any changes to since. Such a system might work fine and it serves their purposes — they don’t need anything special.

However, there are other organizations that want to streamline their data and communications in order to be more efficient. That’s when it’s important to have a more dynamic provider that is pushing the envelope and striving to offer new services.

How should a business go about evaluating its telecommunication needs?

Businesses tend to have an IT manager or communications director put together an annual plan for servers, software, licensing, etc., but telecommunications companies will often wait until the contract is set to expire or there are budget cuts.

Under this scenario there is not enough time to investigate what services are out there that might be beneficial. Businesses tend to shoehorn themselves into what they find at the last minute within the budget, rather than figuring out what makes the most sense from an operational perspective, which may not be the best way to approach your telecommunication needs.

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

To find out more about Ohio.net’s VoIP solutions, visit www.ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

The use of cloud computing is surging in the business world. Against such a backdrop it only makes sense that companies would want to emulate this model with their phone services — that is, make themselves available no matter their location. While traditional phone services have been slow to respond to the requests, VoIP providers are jumping at the opportunity.

“Telecommunications is a 100-year-old technology,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “Things have changed, and now it’s more important than ever for customers to get through to businesses quickly and effectively.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about how innovation is reshaping the telecommunications landscape and why it’s so important to always be available to customers.

How is innovation changing the telecommunications landscape?

Businesses are looking for different characteristics associated with their phone system that will help set themselves apart from their competitors. This goes beyond just having a business phone system designed to answer calls or put people in voice mail. In terms of innovation, these can be simple changes or complex changes — it depends on what the business is looking for.

How are companies integrating their telecommunication features into their business model?

Cloud computing is becoming very popular. People are pushing their data away from their facility so it is available anywhere. However, they haven’t done this with their phone system because of traditional phone service capabilities. This is starting to change. Now, instead of being subject to the capabilities of a phone system, businesses are dictating how they want to communicate with their customers.

Why is it so important to be readily accessible to customers?

Customers have short attention spans, and they want to be served quickly. They don’t have the time to leave a voice mail message and wait for someone to respond a half-day later or the next business day.

Much like the traditional way of finding a business in the Yellow Pages, if the first company didn’t answer, you’d simply call another one. A lot of consumers are doing that now because time is money. If they can’t immediately reach the person that they want to talk to, they will move on. You don’t want that to happen to your business.

How is VoIP helping incubated businesses that are not as moveable as they might think?

Business incubators are starting to crop up all over the place. Such entities support the development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services. When the companies grow and need to move out of the incubator, they realize that they can’t easily take the phone number that they’ve been using to conduct their business transactions.

Now VoIP providers are working with incubators to provide VoIP services that can be moved quickly and easily with a business when it’s ready to graduate from an incubator and expand its footprint.

Why is reducing system duplication becoming such a big trend?

Reducing system duplication is particularly popular with businesses that have multiple locations. When such businesses start pushing data out to the cloud and they are remotely accessing the information, they realize that every facility they own doesn’t need a server or duplication of other resources like phone systems.

It makes sense for these businesses to have centralized communications. Everyone accessing the phone system can share centralized voice mail and four-digit dialing between locations. Not only does this make sense economically, but also from a unity standpoint in terms of a single telecommunications presence.

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

To find out more about Ohio.net’s VoIP solutions, visit www.ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

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 adesberg@ohio.net.

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 adesberg@ohio.net

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 adesberg@ohio.net.

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 adesberg@ohio.net.

 

Event: Join Ohio.net for a free technology seminar on March 28, 2013 at TechColumbus. Visit www.ohio.net/events for more information.

 

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

 

Thursday, 31 January 2013 20:03

How to defend against harmful spam email

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 adesberg@ohio.net.

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

Monday, 31 December 2012 20:48

How to effectively implement VoIP solutions

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.

Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

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.

John Shonkwiler is a partner at Novack and Macey LLP. Reach him at (312) 419-6900 or jshonkwiler@novackmacey.com.Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Novack and Macey LLP