Posts Tagged ‘AutoAttendant’

QoS – Voice Quality is Job Number One – Part 1

May 5, 2009

It is a given fact that phone systems are a key component of how a business communicates with customers, vendors, friends and family. The quality of how those conversations sound is crucial to being effective. Anything other than crystal clear talk is just not acceptable. How can we measure that clarity and decide if our phone system meets our expectations?

Let’s separate the phone call into specific components which all together create the overall experience. First we have connectivity. The “dialtone” may be standard copper lines with the same technology that was used 100 years ago. These work very well and typically provide great service at a low cost (not counting taxes and extra fees). More modern types of connectivity include broadband (DSL, cable, T-1 for example) and allow much more capacity through single cables. Frequently broadband service piggybacks voice and data together so one bill pays your telephone and Internet service together.

The next component is the phone system hardware. If you use copper lines then you may simply have a Princess Phone (dating myself!) or other handset on the desk. Very simple, works well but features are totally dependent on the PBX. Your PBX may be hosted and controlled by the telco or it might be in your own office. In a hosted situation you likely have few features and they are the same as what was available 20 years ago. If you have a modern VOIP phone system in your own office then your phone hardware has many features. Some are visible on the handset, many more are software driven and are detailed in your manuals.

The last component is the software that drives the phone system. The most desirable features such as AutoAttendant (the menu system), FindMe-FollowMe, Voicemail to Email, and many others are added as necessary and modified for your business by your phone vendor. You do have someone you can talk to about your VOIP phone system features? Someone who will make the changes you need when you need them as your company grows?

The combination of these three factors presents what is called QoS or Quality of Service. The bar must be set very high in QoS in order for your calls to be crystal clear and effective. Phone companies measure QoS with technical metrics such as Latency (delay in packet delivery), Packet Loss (missing voice data), Network Jitter (voice data packets arriving out of order), etc. They monitor the many metrics available to see if you are receiving top quality or if improvements are required. Voice data can also be given priority over data traffic in a VOIP scenario to improve QoS.

At your own office, the local network also plays a huge role in what QoS you encounter. Whether you are using an old phone system with skinny cables or a VOIP phone system piggybacking along your data network fat cabling, it must be installed properly and maintained. There should be no kinks in the cables or tears in the insulation. The network equipment in the phone room must be “business quality”, not something designed for low traffic residential use. All too often a small business owner tries to save money on routers, switches and other network equipment not realizing that the QoS goes down because the equipment is not good enough for the task. Network bottlenecks can be eliminated via a thorough audit by a quality vendor.

Ask for your free phone system audit from Select Phone Solutions by calling 281-501-6464.

“Productivity Through Technology”

VOIP as SaaS (Software as a Service)

May 1, 2009

One of the true innovations in office technology has been the idea of SaaS or Software as a Service. This means that a software program is accessible through a local or wide area network by an employee to perform a task. The program does not have to be loaded on every computer, it just has to be reachable through your network.

 

Some examples that have been gaining favor are QuickBooks run via the Intuit website, various Managed Service Provider programs (N-able, Kaseyan, etc.) and antivirus scans of your computer through the Internet from the companies’ main office. Most people are unaware that a VOIP phone system acts much in the same way and provides many features as SaaS.

 

Back in the ‘old’ days before VOIP, phone handsets on your desktop were fed a dial tone for connectivity but then had to supply 95% of your features as built-in hardware in the actual phone. If you needed “Do Not Disturb (DND)” you pushed the DND button. If your phone did not have a DND button, well, you just didn’t have that ability. If you wanted to “CallForward” your phone to a different location temporarily, you made a hard transfer by pushing a long sequence of buttons, sometimes having to repeat the commands to set them. That was time consuming and at times difficult.

 

If you wanted “Distinctive Ringing”, a specific ringer tone for certain callers, you could search for ways to accomplish that but most likely you were out of luck. “Repeat Dial”? “Last Number Redial”? “Contact Lists” (Caller ID replaced by text of your choice when a specific number calls in to you)? All of these features are software-driven in a VOIP phone system. It doesn’t matter which VOIP IP-phone you have on your desktop; you will be able to use these features when you need them. Your phone system will not be obsoleted too quickly because as the software advances, so do your usable features.

 

Compare that to a key or hybrid phone system where you may be locked in by the hardware features well beyond your need to change them or add new features. Phone systems are not cheap. They are a vital part of business and demand study and tough decisions to make prior to purchase. You certainly do not want to make a wrong decision that will be with you for ten years.

 

VOIP phone systems allow your company the ability to change the system as your company grows and prospers. The technology you buy today is not necessarily the technology you will need in three, five or ten years. Using a software-driven system such as VOIP with Asterisk and trixbox can extend the useful and productive investment that your company makes in your phone system. Ask your phone vendor how much change can be incorporated into your phone system without buying any new hardware. Ask your phone vendor if new features can be added within a day or two simply by turning on software features that are already there but just not used yet. You may have a labor charge but should not incur any parts or software charges, If you do, it may be time to consider the smart way to build your phone system right from the start, VOIP with SaaS as its operating system.

 

Ask for your free phone system audit from Select Phone Solutions by calling 281-501-6464.

 

“Productivity Through Technology”

Which Advertising Method Produces the Best Results?

April 29, 2009

All businesses advertise their phone numbers to the public so that the public will call for a product or service. Theoretically, the more calls received, the more money is made by the business. What if the business used multiple advertising methods to get that phone number out to the public? Which one produced the best results? Which one was a waste of advertising money?

 

One way to accomplish a study of which advertising method was most effective would be to advertise different numbers to the public for each specific advertisement. Radio commercials during the day use phone number A, radio commercials at 2 AM use phone number B, TV ads during the day use Phone number C and TV ads at 2 AM use phone number D. The print mailer this week uses phone number E. The resulting responses to your company using these phone numbers will tell you the quantity of response for each method. Now judge the quality of response by the amount of cost, revenue and profit and the best method will be very apparent. This will substantially change your future advertising and raise your company profits.

 

But wait, this concept can be put in place only if you have enough phone numbers to use for unique events. Most businesses do not have so many extra phone numbers and have no way to do an analysis. This is where having a digital VOIP phone system with T-1 service shows some of the best benefits for you. The variability and recordkeeping of VOIP shines for metrics.

 

Most T-1 providers give you a bundle of services in your T-1 package including your 6 dial tone lines, long distance minutes, fax to email, remote backup, etc. They also usually give you 50 DIDs which are Direct Inward Dialing numbers. This block of 50 phone numbers can be assigned to your incoming service for any purpose you need. The 6 dial tone lines only mean that you can have 6 concurrent calls. They do not limit the number of DIDs that can be used or how you use specific DID numbers. If you needed more than 50 DIDs you could also order that at an extra cost from the T-1 provider. More on a real-life example of that in the next article.

 

All of the DIDs are funneled into your VOIP phone system. The system logs every call coming in and going out in the log files which are easily available to the owner/manager in the customer portal on their own local web browser at any time. Using simple filters for time, date, numbers, etc., any specific information can be presented as a report or exported to another program such as a database or spreadsheet. Want to know the number of calls received for DID A for radio commercials promoted from 7 am to 9 am from March 3rd through March 10th? Easy. Want to know the number of calls received for DID C for TV commercials promoted from 7 am to 9 am from March 3rd through March 10th? Simple. Now compare the numbers to see which had more calls generated, which produced more revenue and profit, and compare those numbers to the cost of the ads. You have created the ability to decide which is the most cost effective for you.

 

Advertise your business but do it with a method to qualify and quantify the results. Every business owner needs metrics to analyze their business and change processes to become more successful. A VOIP phone system provides that opportunity with easy to use tool sets.

 

Ask for your free phone system audit from Select Phone Solutions by calling 281-501-6464.

“Productivity Through Technology”

Music On Hold – Entertaining Your Captive Audience

April 16, 2009

What experience do your callers have when they contact your business as a client, prospect, vendor, or even friends and family? Assuming that your AutoAttendant phone menu system is optimized to handle all of the choices they would naturally want to make, what do they hear while waiting for a particular person to answer? Is it customized for how you want your company to be represented to the caller?

Nobody likes to wait on hold for more than a very short time. We can all tolerate a reasonable hold time but then can be faced with a system that is unresponsive to the callers need to stop holding the phone and move on to something more important to them. Does your phone system have them spend that waiting time in silence? Do you play Music-On-Hold so they hear something or do you use that waiting time to tell the caller about your company?

Silence while waiting on hold is a bad idea for two reasons. The first is that from the callers’ perspective, they do not know if they are still connected to you or have been cut off without realizing that situation. The second is that silence is extremely boring and makes the time seem even longer than it takes. Neither one is good for your business or for the caller.

Music-On-Hold is a better idea. This feature should be setup for every business phone system. It allows the caller to know they are still connected and to enjoy something to pass the time which may give them the perception of spending less time waiting. A VOIP phone system can play any music feed that is brought into a computer including commonly used MP3 files. The choice of the music should be carefully made so that it best matches what your callers would want to hear. The wrong choice of music, such as loud heavy metal rock music at a relatively conservative financial advisors office can send the wrong message to the caller and actually make them hang up in frustration. Also, repeating the same music on a short cycle is annoying to anyone listening.

The best way to use Music-On-Hold is to play an MP3 file for the caller but to create an infomercial for your business. Depending upon your particular business and how you promote it, you can mix in verbiage about special sales, events coming up, warranty and service information, and other news that you want the callers to hear. Keep the tone of the message appropriate for your business and varied enough so that someone on hold for several minutes does not hear the same message over and over. You want to be informative, not annoying.

These MP3 files can be in place and setup on a timed schedule for during or after business hours. If you have special incoming numbers setup for specific advertising on radio, TV or print media, you can play your MP3 message to the caller before they ever have to talk to an employee. That message could be anything from a code word for a discount to the daily specials for today. Be creative in how you can use Music-On-Hold and your business will benefit from happier callers who are also more informed about your business.

Ask for your free phone system audit from Select Phone Solutions by calling 281-501-6464.

“Productivity Through Technology”

What Type of Experience Do Your Callers Have When They Call Your Business?

April 12, 2009

Every business has a choice of how they present themselves to their clients, prospects and vendors who make a phone call to them. Some businesses will construct elaborate menus and give callers many choices of what can be done. Others will have a simple recording for you if nobody can answer at the moment. How does your choice of presentation affect what the callers think of your business? What is their perception they take away to remember you by? Is it the right perception that you want them to keep in their memories?

Everyone has had good and bad experiences in calling business numbers. Most people can think of a few that they dread to call because the system is badly constructed and difficult to use from a caller standpoint. If anything lessens the chances of a caller preferring to use a different company rather than do business with you, that must be changed to accomplish the opposite and make your business a welcoming place to do business.

A VOIP phone system menu is very easy to configure. The menu is sometimes called an AutoAttendant or Interactive Voice Response (IVR). The entire system can change according to the time and day and even account for holidays when you might be closed during the week. Do you need a day / night setup where after 5 PM the calls don’t forward within your system but rather go straight to voicemail? Do you have specific hours and days where you are a different location and the call should be routed to another number or extension? Don’t waste the valuable time that your caller spends with you on empty choices that simply time out to go to another option.

Some employees don’t stay in one place and must leave the office for appointments and meetings. Do they have the ability to forward their phones or do the phones simply ring until someone else picks it up? How annoying is that for your staff and for the caller? A VOIP system can be setup with a “follow me” feature so that if the phone is not answered then it rotates to a cell phone number or other location such as a home office.

Always ask yourself if you would be happy calling your own business. Test out your system by reviewing the IVR menus. Do all the options work? Are they clear to understand and not ambiguous? Do they cover everything that should be a choice for the caller? Can a caller backtrack to a previous menu if they made the wrong choice? Are they constructed to serve the purposes of the caller who may not be familiar with your business?

Create a phone system menu that is pleasant and easy to use and you will draw in more business, especially from the ex-clients of your competitors who do not pay any attention to this basic yet simple concept. The time, effort and money spent by your company will always show a return on investment for you.

Ask for your free phone system audit from Select Phone Solutions by calling 281-501-6464.

“Productivity Through Technology”

Case History – Multiple Companies in One Location

April 8, 2009

Our company frequently is asked why a VOIP phone system is better than a traditional phone system. The answer simply is that a VOIP phone system is ultimately more configurable and thus can be made to fit your company better rather than having your company fit the phone system. Why should you change the way your company uses the phones? Configure the tool to suit you.

In this case history, a client owned 17 companies that operated out of a single physical location. This office was quite busy as you would imagine, having 27 phone handsets. The owner wanted the single phone system to run all of the companies and be available to different employees depending upon which company was being called by a customer.

To accomplish that, there were 17 separate inbound routes that were created and implemented. Each of the inbound routes began a sequence that started with an AutoAttendant menu (also known as Interactive Voice response or IVR) written specifically for that company. In this way the caller could easily reach a department or person that they needed to speak to.

When the department choice was made by the caller, a select group of phones in the office that were needed started to ring simultaneously. This is known as a Ring Group. Each company had a potentially unique Ring Group that corresponded with their unique IVR. As soon as one phone in a Ring Group was picked up, the rest of them stopped ringing and were ready for the next caller.

To build the 17 IVRs and 17 Ring Groups, a complex flow pattern was created by discussing with the staff exactly how it should work. Management knew the infrastructure of the entire phone system but the staff knew how to make the phone system operate as efficiently as possible for them. Think of a ‘forest and trees’ view. It took the experience of all levels of people to configure the phone system tool to work the best for them.

The VOIP phone system that was created involved all 27 handsets and 17 companies without a problem. It has been operational for a long time and only needs a tweak now and then as employees change or company needs evolve for new situations. The owner did not have to purchase extra licenses due to the multiple companies and associated IVRs and Ring Groups.

The most important reason that the system worked so well for the owner was the communication and analysis by Select Phone Solutions to understand what the client wanted and needed as well as the ability of the phone system software to meet expectations.

Does your phone system meet your expectations? Do callers easily get through to the right people or do they wander around voice mail jail in your system until they hang up out of frustration? Do you need multiple companies or locations covered by a single phone system? Select Phone Solutions can create a custom system for your business that will improve your customer relationships and employee productivity.

Ask for your free phone system audit from Select Phone Solutions by calling 281-501-6464.

“Productivity Through Technology”

New Years Resolutions for Your Phone System

April 8, 2009

Most of us make New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions to make them come true. Unfortunately we become complacent or lazy and never seem to follow them through. Here are seven resolutions for the phone system in your office that are easily performed and will really help your business become more successful.

1) I will be friendly to all callers. You never know who someone knows and how a good experience will help you in the long run. Consider your phone skills as important as face to face networking.

2) I will test my own phone system to experience it as if I was a client or prospect. Have you ever called your own system to see how long it takes to reach someone? How difficult the menus are to navigate? How much time there is to leave a voicemail message? How loud or soft the volume is for speaking and for on hold music?

3) I will review my AutoAttendant menus to verify that they are accurate. We all periodically change our personnel and menus. Does your menu system reflect exactly what you want it to do? Is the flow control right for today or for a year ago?

4) I will make sure that the employees are trained in the phone features that they should know how to use. Frequently employees do not get proper training to use the phone system. Have your phone vendor come in for a periodic update and extra training so that everyone knows the fundamentals that you paid for plus any new features that they should learn.

5) I will make sure that every employee who needs a phone has one on their desk. Do any of your employees have to share phones? That lowers productivity by causing people to wait for a time when they can make calls instead of getting them done right away.

6) I will keep a log of all phone system problems to see how often they occur so that they can be fixed by the phone vendor. If you have any issues and cannot tell the phone vendor what they exactly entail or how often they occur, it will be more costly and difficult to fix the problem. Treat the phone system like a computer network and create a detailed written log of what must be fixed.

7) I will review my phone system yearly to have an idea of when the system is due for replacement or upgrade. As the business grows, your phone system needs change. Determine when your system is inadequate by getting the assistance of your phone vendor so that you can budget for the replacement or upgrade as well as plan the best timing for it away from your busy season if you have one.

Select Phone Solutions can help you plan to do all of these resolutions. Your phone system can be mapped and documented so that you have a visual understanding of what you own. Be proactive and manage your phone system instead of letting it manage you. Your company productivity is at stake.

Ask for your free phone system audit from Select Phone Solutions by calling 281-501-6464.

“Productivity Through Technology”

Do You Backup Your Phone System?

April 4, 2009

Disaster Recovery Plan. Business Continuity Plan. CYA Plan. They all mean the same thing – do you plan ahead for problems in your business such that you can both avoid having those problems and at the same time quickly recover from the ones that do happen? Smart business people have these in place, some more formal and some less. The key question is “Do you know if you have a plan in place for protecting your phone system?

Here are some points to consider in creating, revising or reviewing your plan:

1. Does it accurately represent your current phone system as is or was it written a while ago for an earlier version of what you have or even a previous system all together?

2. Does it list your phone system vendor and how to get technical support when you need it?

3. Does it list your telecom vendor (the dialtone provider) and how to get technical support when you need it?

4. Does it list your phone system hardware and software so you know what you have?

5. Is there a plan for how to prepare for an emergency situation such as an impending hurricane?

6. Is your phone system customization and configuration backed up locally and at a remote location in case of an office disaster?

7. Who performs this backup and how often is it done?

8. Who in your office is aware of this plan and knows how to implement it when necessary?

9. Who is accountable for phone system decisions?

Just as you backup your computer data, your phone system also must be protected. From these nine points it is obvious that some thought must go into the process and preparation of your plan. Think back to the last time you changed your phone system. It may have taken days to finally get everything just right. That would include your AutoAttendant (IVR) menu, phone extensions, call flow of your entire system, voicemail, and custom recordings for every office worker just to name a few items. How much productivity could you lose by having to recreate all of that from scratch?

Some company plans will include having the redundancy of a backup phone server and handsets. Most will just know where to find the vendor to supply replacement parts when necessary. The critical point is to plan for contingencies and know how you should respond to various problems that may occur. Involve your phone and telecom vendors so that you get their advice on what should be in your plan. Establish who has responsibility for each part of your plan so that you can implement it immediately when necessary instead of first deciding what to do. Every wasted hour or day where your phone system doesn’t work is time where your clients can’t reach you for your business. Can you afford not to have a qualified phone system backup plan in place?

Ask for your free phone system audit from Select Phone Solutions by calling 281-501-6464.

“Productivity Through Technology”