Posts Tagged ‘IVR’

Planning Company Growth and Telecommunications

May 17, 2009

Successful businesses start out with a business plan. It keeps them on track, on budget, and on a road towards growing the business. Of course the key to a great business plan is the thought and planning that goes into it. Do you talk with your lawyer, CPA and other trusted advisors when creating that business plan? Does that group include your technical vendors? 

To build a worthwhile business plan you need accurate information from all of your trusted advisors. Not including your technical help is a recipe for wasted money, questionable growth and lost time. Technical vendors should include IT, phone systems, telecom, cabling infrastructure and security. You may have vendors who perform more than one of these but make sure that they are all covered. 

You must find out what your requirements will be for the present time and then project what your needs will be six months, a year, perhaps even three to five years in the future. You will want your technical capabilities to be proper for today and then capable of scaling up into what is necessary as you grow. Saving a few dollars each month at the start may cost you much larger dollars in the future if you are forced to totally scrap some technology and start over to grow. 

For example, spending $1000 for a few four-line phones from the local experts at the office supplies store may work for you right now. Your basic functions work but you have no metrics on how your phone system is used. You must mold your business to the features of the four-line system. You will miss benefits that your competitors may be using to get, keep and impress clients and prospects. You have no remote capability to connect into your phone system from the field for sales or technical staff. You are spending telecom (dial tone and long distance) money each month to support your phones and you are adding Internet service on top of that. You are likely in the $250 to $350 per month range when you total up everything. 

Push forward to needing 6 phone lines for more people and more handsets. You will have more computers to feed with increased bandwidth. Now you have to throw away your four-line phone system and buy a larger system. Your telecom costs are over $500 per month. It is time for a T-1 line that includes both the phone lines and the Internet bandwidth for $500 per month. It is time for a review of what you have and where you will be. 

But wait, didn’t you plan for this growth in your business plan? This growth should not be a surprise. Weren’t you aware that you would reach this point and plan for it from the start? Your technical advisors should have told you to get the T-1 and the larger phone system from day one if you are properly capitalized and you have faith in your business plan. You should have purchased a VOIP phone system that is scalable to 50 phones at little additional cost. The VOIP features for remote access, report metrics, and larger company benefits would have made your growth more likely without wasting the $1000 spent on the four-line phone system that hindered your growth. You might have spent $2000 to $4000 for the initial VOIP phone system but the benefits would already have made themselves worthwhile and linked you to future growth. 

What if you don’t have a business plan? Start one now!. Gather your technical advisors and ask them what they recommend for your company. You can only improve your company’s future.

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

“Productivity Through Technology”

Is Your Phone System Prepared For Growth?

May 13, 2009

Most businesses start out small and grow larger as they become successful. Along the way their focus varies from growth to quality depending upon their business cycles, industry trends and general economic conditions. As they grow they change how they use their computers and networks; shouldn’t they pay the same attention to their phone systems?

Small traditional phone systems were hardware dependent. The features were basically built into the handsets on the desktop and the key system unit (KSU) in the back room. As the company grew, more KSU extension boxes were added to the back wall to supply the needed capacity for phone lines and extensions. The system worked but it was expensive and it limited the ability of the business to rapidly change phone details and priorities that the company needed. After a few years of using a KSU system it could become difficult to find the hardware necessary to implement what was needed for a growth cycle.

Modern VOIP phone systems on the other hand are built for rapid growth without obsoleting your old equipment as fast as the KSU systems seemed to do. VOIP systems are software driven and can be frequently updated to maintain their winning edge of new technology and firmware updates. Need a dozen new handsets? No problem, just deploy them, register the new IP phones with the IP-PBX phone server and set them up with names and extension numbers. Easy, quick, and no trips to the dreaded back room where the network and phone monster lives with boxes, racks and cables.

This is a crucial factor in comparing ROI for the new VOIP phone systems against the much older KSU style or even hybrid style phone systems. VOIP systems will have a much longer useful life and maintain their technological edge because they can be fully reprogrammed and updated at any time without new hardware expenses. A business can add more concurrent phone line capability and more extensions without buying any new equipment except perhaps additional handsets as needed. That too can be avoided by the use of softphones, programs that are installed on the desktop screen and look like a cell phone that you click on with a mouse to make it function. Add a headset and a softphone runs exactly like a desktop handset without spending the money for the hardware. Softphones can also be used to create a telephone extension out of a laptop computer that is as mobile as your sales and technical support workforce on the road.

The most important factor for a successful business to grow properly is to accomplish it with a plan. That plan should be checked by a competent phone vendor so that you can see where your company is now, but also where you project to be in six months, a year and in five years. Do you have the right phone system to scale up without throwing the entire technology away? Will your phone system be malleable enough to grow with you at minimal expense without forcing your company to be limited by inadequate phone system capabilities? Will your company be able to add features and derive benefits from growth in your phone system because a competent phone vendor is there to explain and implement them right away? Can you gain a competitive advantage because your phone system metrics and Call Data Reports teach how to best use the phone system to have happier customers when they call into your company?

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”

Case History – Prequalifying Your Callers

April 29, 2009

All businesses are very happy to receive phone calls from prospects and clients. That is typically the lifeblood of the business sales cycle. Are some of those calls more desirable than others? Do some calls lead to higher profit or a greater chance of landing that deal? Shouldn’t they take priority over calls that lead to tougher sales and lower profits?

The trick is to prequalify the callers before the staff even picks up the phone. If the staff, whether it is one person or fifty, can see at a glance on the VOIP phone LCD screen that the purpose of the call is type A or type B, that presents an opportunity to skew the time spent towards the better calls. How can a VOIP phone system help create that winning approach towards higher profitability?

Let’s take the example of a bail bonds company. They get calls for service from basically two types of callers. The first group are people in jail or family members who want to get them out ASAP. These are high profit jobs with a high rate of turning the caller into a client but only if you can speak to the caller quickly. If you place that caller on hold, they are gone looking for the next bail bonds company in the phone book. Time is of the essence and they can’t wait for you to get around to take care of their need.

The second type of caller is someone who has a warrant out for their arrest for not responding to a court order. They also need help but it is not on an emergency basis. This type of call is not as profitable and is much less likely to turn into real business for the bail bonds company. The number of calls for warrant help though is much higher than the emergency calls and can drown them out. It would be bad business to allow working on the warrant calls to cause the company to lose their emergency clients because the lines or staff were busy.

The answer is to market an emergency phone number and a warrant-only phone number. The VOIP system will recognize which call-in number has been used and forward the call to the right person along with the notice on the IP phone LCD screen that the caller is emergency or warrant. The employee can tell at a glance whether or not to take the next call or stay on the line with the current caller. By the way, all menus heard by the caller are available in multilingual choices of English, Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

But wait, could you do the same thing with a ten year old phone system? The answer is that you could know which caller was incoming but you still can’t get their information if you are overloaded with concurrent calls. VOIP phone systems have the ability to ask questions of callers and get recorded responses as Voicemail to Email .wav file attachments. Every warrant call that is not answered live by an employee will be sent to a menu system to answer five pertinent questions about their warrant. From the recorded responses the staff can decide in which order and when to return those calls.

Prequalifying your callers via VOIP features will boost your company profits. You will service many more clients with VOIP rather than continuing to use a ten year old phone system because it is already in place. Don’t look at the cost of a system, look at the resulting ROI.

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”

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”