Musing 2013 #3 – Unified Communications

You may recall in Musings #1 that we talked briefly about Unified Communications (UC), well, it is a concept that I would like to delve into more in this issue of Musings.

As mentioned before, email, smartphones, etc have evolved and are integral to our lives and it seems like the humble office phone is being left behind. However, with UC the office phone has evolved and can increase your responsiveness to your customers. The fundamental change with UC is that the ‘phone system’ (PBX/ KSU/ whatever) is no longer a ‘black box’ that uses proprietary cards and add-ons, it is a server-class computer system running an open source operating system and an open source software program that runs the phone system. As well, the phones themselves are computers running open-source operating systems and are highly programmable. This combination of open source, standard server components and programmability means that there is nothing we cannot do with these systems.
Let’s take some examples from some of our installs;

We had a company that offers 7/24 emergency services. Previously with their old phone system, their ‘after hours’ auto-attendant stated they were closed and gave the number of the emergency services person and left it at that. Now, if it is late, I am frustrated because my device is not working, I call the company, I get the auto-attendant telling me the company is closed… then I have to find a pen and a piece of paper and write down a number and then make yet another call. It is not a big deal but it is yet another step when I am already annoyed / frustrated with the equipment. With the new system, there is a message giving the emergency number but also a ‘press x to connect directly’ which transfers the call to the cell phone of the after hours emergency personnel. One less step, one less barrier between the customer and your service.

As a refinement to the above, not only can it do an off-premise transfer but it could do an off-premise transfer to a rising ring group (basically call a series of numbers in turn till it gets an answer) if there were more than one after hours personnel. Or, since this is a computer that is *VERY* programmable, it could be loaded with the call schedule for the after hours emergency personnel and, without having to constantly change the auto-attendant programming, it would know who to transfer the call to depending on which person was on call at what time.

Speaking of time, what about switching the Auto-attendant on/off at night, changing the auto-attendant for holidays, etc, etc…. well, it is easy to maintain but it is also programmable in the case of holidays or day/night settings. It can automatically switch the day/ night auto attendant, override the ‘day’ auto attendant on statutory holidays, have special pre-programmed messages for plant shutdowns… pretty much anything we can dream up. This lowers the cost of the system since there is less maintenance and gives the customer a better experience.
Now, I did promise to tell you about being more responsive to your customers. There is a small example above but here are three more big ones;

We have travelling personnel that may be in their office, on the road with a smartphone or sitting with a laptop in an internet café. In this case we really shine. What we can do is load a softphone (an app that thinks it is a business telephone) on the smartphone and the laptop or tablet. Then we can program the phone system to ring each extension that is active till it gets an answer or, if it doesn’t, it can ring back to a backup person or voicemail. When the travelling person is on the road, they activate the softphone on their smartphone and they are just an extension on the phone system, no special transfer or intervention required. Their customer just dialed the regular number, put in the regular extension and they are connected. Likewise when the travelling person is in the café, they de-activate the smartphone softphone, activate the softphone on the tablet or laptop and their office calls are routed to them automatically. As well, any outgoing calls they make from the softphone (on the smartphone or tablet or laptop) go through the company lines at the office taking advantage of cheap rates and, if the customer has call display, it appears as if they are being called from the office.

Does this help? Yes, the customer does not have to think about *HOW* to get in contact with you, they dial one number all the time and, if you are available, they get you. I believe the easier it is to contact you, the more often and the more willing your customer will be to reach out to you. This is part of the Unified in Unified Communications.

In the case where we have a central switchboard live answering calls and wanting to live transfer to one of a pool of employees. There is a piece of software that runs on the switchboard person’s computer that shows the status of all extensions in the pool (or multiple pools or all the phones in the business or any subset thereof). This visibility of extensions allows the switchboard person to know who is on a call, who is logged into the phone system (therefore indicating they are available for a call) etc and then they can route the call to best effect and minimize wait time.

We have a customer that would like to understand how much time their customer service reps spend with clients. This would allow them to match interactions with revenue, review high – use customers to target them for additional training or services, etc, etc. Since this phone system runs on an open source operating system and is *VERY* flexible, we were able to extract all the calls from the extensions were interested in, match the phone numbers with customers and then process the data (call duration, peak times overall, peak times by customer, rep call loads, etc) and then take action based on this information. The cost? All free add-ons to this open source system. Value to customer, amazing and now that it is being used regularly, it is revenue generating due to the opportunities identified.

Also, example 2 above reminds me that the phones support automatic presence detection. What is that you ask? Well, the phone system can be designed so that it detects, in a variety of ways, whether you are ‘there’ or not (one way is when you log into your computer in the morning, a little program runs that tells the phone system you are ‘here’, this is another part of the Unified in Unified Communications). What that means is that the phone can make decisions about call routing based on that presence. For example, it can be set up that between 9-5 Monday to Fri if the system ‘detects me’ it rings 10 times before going to voicemail. If it does not ‘detect me’, it goes immediately to voicemail (why make a customer wait?). We could further program that Wednesdays I am on the road so that schedule overrides the presence detection and tries my softphone on my smartphone and tablet before going to voicemail. Or, in all these cases, the system could check for me and if I am not detected, go to my backup immediately.

Now, I have always been a fan of voicemail from the standpoint that my customers can leave technical info, long explanations if required etc. that may not be practical to have a live receptionist write down. However, I am NOT a fan of having lots of places for messages to be left (I know people with 3 or 4 email addresses, 3 voicemail boxes, etc) as the more places to check for communications, the more likely it is that some will get lost or something will get lost in translation. So, that is another part of the Unified in Unified Communications, voicemail once left, can be turned into a sound file (a small MP3 file or WAV file) and emailed to me. Now, I can have people leave long, detailed info on my voicemail and it ends up in my email so I only have to check one place for my messages.

Another trend over the past few years is ‘Hotelling’ of the mobile workforce. Basically, the company provides a number of desks with phones and computers and rather than having a specific desk, the desks are assigned 1st come, 1st service to those mobile workers. Makes a lot of sense if only a small percentage of you mobile workforce is in the office at any given time, you need less floor space, fewer handsets, computers etc. However, what about those mobile workers voicemail, extensions etc? Well, the phone system allows the mobile worker to ‘log in’ to the phone on the desk they are assigned. The phone system then routes them their calls based on who is logged in where, very smooth.
Another item we are asked about is headsets for the phones. It can get cluttered and annoying if you have to take in/out your Bluetooth (BT) earpiece and change it out for another headset for the office phone. Well, remember I said that the office phones were just computers… well, there is a Bluetooth adapter for the office phone that would allow you to pair your BT earpiece with both your smartphone and your office phone so no need to switch. It also allows you to answer calls without rushing back to the desk (making you more available to your customers). Very handy.

I could go on for a few hours on this but I think you get the 3 main points of this system;

Responsiveness to customers by eliminating communication delays.
Ability to integrate with other systems and provide data that can be revenue generating.
Flexibility so that the phone system works with your processes and can change as required by the business.

So, ask yourself, what has your current business phone done for you lately to advance your business? Then, call us @ 1-800-263-8433 FREE and talk to us about the opportunities that a UC system can help you with




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