Posts Tagged ‘VOIP’

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”

Adding An Intercom System Has Never Been So Easy

April 18, 2009

As a business grows from a few rooms into a larger suite and even adds a warehouse for storing materials, it comes harder to find employees who are immediately needed for phone calls and meetings. Do people at your office yell at the top of their lungs for someone to answer the phone call that just came in for them? That’s not a very professional way to handle finding a particular person. It’s also quite annoying for the other people not involved.

A VOIP phone system connects throughout your office via the network cabling system. It can easily be extended to cover any part of your office or warehouse by installing additional CAT5e cabling. Once the cabling is connected to an IP phone, your IP-PBX phone server can direct calls, pages and intercom service as you wish.

If you extend your phone to an area without power capability such as a remote part of a warehouse or up in a ceiling for a paging horn, a special type of network switch can be installed to send an electric current through the network cabling. This current is standardized as 48 V DC current and is known as an IEEE 802.3af compliant system or Power Over Ethernet aka POE. CAT5e cables have 8 wires inside in four twisted pairs. The network only uses wires 1, 2, 3 and 6 for transmitting and receiving data. The other wires can carry the DC current between the “injector” at the source and the “picker” at the destination.

The special switch mentioned earlier is called a POE switch. Some or all of the ports are powered with the POE current so that devices at the other end of the cables can use the 48 V DC current. These switches are a bit more expensive than a plain switch but when compared to the cost of having an electrician run a new circuit through conduit across a warehouse, it comes out as a bargain. Since POE is standardized, it works quite well with IP phones, paging horns, entry door security panels with microphones and speakers, surveillance cameras and other devices attuned to IEEE 802.3af. Performance of these POE-powered devices is identical to those plugged directly into a wall outlet for power.

When a POE-powered IP phone is mounted on a wall at eye level where the CAT5e cable comes from inside the wall, it has no visible trailing network or power cables. With some planning on where POE phones are best placed within an office or warehouse, a more professional appearance is achieved and a potential safety hazard is avoided.

Some IP phones have Intercom buttons built into the keypads. Aastra IP phones have them and an intercom/paging system is easily installed by an IP phone vendor. That allows employees to talk to any other extension alone, a particular group of extensions, or to broadcast over the entire phone system if necessary. When the shouting is all over with, you will have improved your office atmosphere and your employees will appreciate the benefits of the new easy to learn intercom and paging system.

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

“Productivity Through Technology”

Do You Manage Your Phone System?

April 17, 2009

When a business owner or manager talks about specific parts of their office technology that help to keep productivity as high as possible, they rarely discuss their phone system. Sometimes that is because their very old phone system has no means to add features without significant costs to upgrade the system. At other times it is because they assume that nothing is available to provide any better way for how the phone system is used by their employees. After all, “it’s just a phone system!”

Obviously the phone system is a vital method for corresponding with customers, prospects, vendors, employees and others. For most companies it is the primary method with email a distant second choice. Certainly email has its valuable uses but it can’t tell you the emotions behind the words. Anything that can help your phone system to be more effective should be a huge plus for your business.

When a caller reaches your business, they may talk to the desired target person immediately or they may talk to a receptionist and then have to be transferred. If the receptionist simply transfers the call but has no idea if the other employee is there or busy on another call, the caller may get into voicemail when they would rather talk to a live person. If the receptionist knew that the other employee was already on a call, then a different scenario would result.

This is where a software program called “HUD” or “Heads Up Display” can really aid a company. When HUD is installed on a computer associated with a VOIP system, the HUD display shows all of the office phones in a small corner window. At a glance you can monitor who is on the phone and what number they are connected to at the moment. Transferring a call is as simple as dragging the “phone call” from one phone extension to another on your HUD portal. HUD can be integrated with Microsoft Outlook such that it will read your contact list and dial the numbers for you.

This use of technology is called Communications Integration and is a part of a Unified Communications overall strategic plan. Enterprise size companies are implementing new phone strategies everywhere because it helps keep up productivity. A VOIP phone system can easily be paired with programs like HUD to place these very desirable features into small companies so they can achieve the same benefits. Older key and analog systems just do not offer these choices at all.

Imagine how your phone system works today and write down all of the steps a caller goes through to reach their target employee. Then also write down all of the steps your employees go through for basic tasks such as transferring calls. Is there wasted time and effort in the processes? Could changing to a VOIP digital phone system make it easier for employees to do their jobs the way you want them to perform? Do you ever get complaints from callers or employees about difficulties using the current phone system? Do you have bottom line metrics available to you as an owner or manager to know what you need to know?

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

“Productivity Through Technology”

Connecting to Your Office Phone System From Anywhere

April 16, 2009

An assumption that most business people make about phone systems is that they only work with phone handsets installed on the desktops at their office location. This is because they were trained on old world technology, meaning pre-VOIP digital systems. New 21st century technology has changed everything in what can be accomplished for your business.

While it is true that most people will prefer to have a typical phone handset sitting on their desk because that is what they are used to, it doesn’t mean that new ideas about virtual phones can’t be considered. One of the great technological advances in VOIP phone systems is the “softphone” which is a software program that performs just as a hardware handset but exists entirely on your computer monitor.

The softphone program is installed on each computer that needs access to the VOIP IP-PBX. It can be placed on a desktop to replace the hardware handset or it can be loaded on a laptop computer as well. With either method a wired or wireless microphone and speakers are used to speak and hear the phone conversation. A wireless connection can be either a typical Plantronics-type headset or a Bluetooth style headset that is very popular today.

The installed softphone looks like a cell phone mounted in the middle of your computer screen. You use your mouse cursor to click on the parts of the phone just like you press the buttons on your actual cell phone. It is extremely simple to learn and to use effectively. The softphone gives you the same capability that the hardware handset does, perhaps even more!

Many hardware IP phones have an integrated LCD screen that displays information about the phone calls. A softphone can show more information and associated programs such as a “Heads Up Display” or HUD complement the softphone and complete the incredibly useful utility package on your screen. More on the HUD program in a future article…

Once installed, the softphone looks for the IP-PBX computer running your office phone system anytime it is connected to your own Local Area Network at your office or via the Internet. This happens at your home, at a clients office, at a Starbucks or any other hot spot where you can go online. The softphone connects to the IP-PBX as an extension of your phone system and has all the same capabilities as if you were sitting at a desk in the office. Voicemail, dialing directories, day/night/holiday mode, etc. (Shhhhh, it even works from the golf course if you have an “aircard” to provide Internet access from anywhere in your providers service area).

Some businesses totally replace the hardware handsets with softphones to save money, others do it for convenience and mobility. Think of an insurance adjuster or a sales person out on the road most of the business day. The softphone provides connectivity to the office phone system to a degree never seen before. They are also easier to upgrade than a hardware handset on your desktop. New uses for virtual softphones are being evolved every day. Talk to your VOIP phone vendor and see how they can improve your employee’s connectivity.

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”

Telephone Metrics – Do You Know Where Your Phone System Has Been?

April 12, 2009

All company owners and managers institute controls on their business so that they have a way of measuring what is happening within the company. They have to have a way of collecting data that is meaningful, can be analyzed, and point out what they must know as management. Unfortunately, most owners and managers don’t think of analyzing their phone data to see how it could help them become more efficient and profitable.

Of course they first must have a system that allows data collection via computer logs or else they can only rely upon telephone company bills that list long distance calls, if that is available to them. Not all phone companies still provide that data. Even if they do, long distance may be a minor part of a business’ calls if they mainly do local calling. They get no information about the local side of how the phone system is used.

Having computer logs of your phone system, on the other hand, should allow easy filtering to provide a view from any angle of what the employees, clients and vendors do with the phone system. If you don’t know how many calls were made to and from your most important clients, wouldn’t you like to know that every month? Wouldn’t you like to identify how much time each employee spends on the phone to see how that matches up with your expectation of how they should perform their job?

Your phone system should be able to produce a Call Data Report (CDR) that has monitored every call in and out of the system 24 x 7 x 365. Here are some great uses for CDR filtering to quantify your phone usage:

  • Do you know how and when your sales people are communicating with known clients?
  • Are the sales people cold calling for new appointments?
  • Would you like to record those calls for training classes or for review?
  • Do you know how many calls come in to specially setup numbers to track targeted marketing campaigns?
  • Would you like to follow up on complaint calls to your customer service department to make sure the callers were satisfied with the results of their calls?
  • Would it be useful to have a record in your CRM software of every time a specific customer or prospect was contacted?

There are many ways to filter the CDR database in your phone system web-based portal. It is very simple to use the software to create reports for the parties you are interested in as well as for the time period that concerns you. Ask your phone system vendor to show you how to run these metrics if you don’t do them now. It is an incredibly important part of the core of your business data and you should take advantage of the information.

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 Locations For One Company

April 8, 2009

Every business has its own method for receiving phone calls, taking messages and coordinating with other offices in the company that may be at separate locations. These methods have been put in place for a reason and are the most effective ways for you to work with your clients, prospects and employees, right?

Well, not necessarily so. Sometimes the methods used in a company are the result of making your habits fit your phone system instead of changing the phone system to reflect how you want to run your business. Any business analyst would tell you that you don’t want to run your business that way. Technology is so advanced these days so why should you let it control you when you can control the technology?

A case history to tell you about is a large company in the medical industry. They have nine locations in a major Texas city with a total of about 270 handsets. They have a PBX in every location but they were not coordinated to work with each other. The company wanted to have all calls go into one location and then filter through to the appropriate office. This is not a difficult project for Select Phone Solutions because of the customized VOIP software that is used to program all of our phone systems.

Asterisk with trixbox is a Linux-based software control system that runs the phone system via computers linked by existing network cabling. In between locations, the broadband Internet connection serves as the link to create the coordinated system that this company wanted to have in place. In this case all of the offices were in the same city, but it actually does not matter if they are one block from each other or across the state. The project is implemented the same way in either case.

The important features of the system were:

  • Every location was structured to set up local phones and extensions.
  • The main location was set up to handle all of the inbound calls and then pass outbound calls to a second server due to the high volume that was flowing through the system.
  • All locations were linked to act as a wide area phone network.
  • A call center was set up so that the personnel could log in and out of their handset on the desk and allow it to be used by multiple employees during the day.
  • T-1 lines were implemented at all locations to provide proper up and down bandwidth to maintain Quality of Service for the entire system.

The end result was that the company now had the system running the way that it wanted to conduct its business. They didn’t have to conform their methods to an inflexible key system or someone else’s idea of how to run a business no matter what industry or type of clientele was important. The Asterisk / trixbox system performs exactly the way that is best for the company today and if that changes next month or next year, the system can be tweaked to reflect the new method that would be best for them at that point. Should your company have any less than that?

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”