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Don’t Write off a Business Phone System Just Yet

shutterstock_333775412Thanks to technology, land lines have disappeared across much of America. This trend began in the residential space and was quickly followed by businesses abandoning their traditional telephone services. Voice over IP (VoIP) has swooped in as their state-of-the-art replacement, boasting customer relationship management (CRM) integration tools, automated routing, call handling, and sophisticated reporting and monitoring functions. Phone systems have come a long way, and they now serve many more purposes than just making calls. Before making the decision to abandon the company phone system, consider the following points.

Phone Systems and Customer Service

Thanks to the Internet, collaboration tools have never been more plentiful. Free conference calling, webinars, video chat, IM, and other online communications tools make the world a much smaller place and allow geographically dispersed teams to communicate as if they are only cubicles away.

Since there are so many available software options for communication, it’s easy to see how compatibility problems can arise. Utilizing different pieces of software may work for staff members, but that won’t always be the case when working with clients. Even for tech-savvy customers, it always seems like a plugin, system update, or forgotten password is in the way of getting urgent help. Less technically inclined customers may become so frustrated that they take their business elsewhere. In contrast, using a VoIP phone system is an easy way to support customers and provide them with the excellent service they demand.

The Benefits of an Inbound Phone Line

A business may not need to make outbound phone calls, but providing an inbound phone line can be useful in several ways.

  • Customer service is enhanced by providing voice-to-voice contact (which is a luxury today).
  • Listing a personal cell phone number to handle business calls is not always desirable.
  • Having a professional business phone line generates trust and provides accessibility to quality customer service, which can be a differentiator in a congested marketplace.

Phone System ROI

One of the chief complaints about phone systems is the significant expense to acquire, maintain, and add to them. Fortunately, VoIP has made calling very inexpensive (down to a few pennies per minute), and plans can be tailored to a business’s expected volume. Whether personnel need to make one or one hundred calls per day, there is a plan on the market to fit that requirement. Many phone system plans also allow intracompany calling for free using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking.

For a reasonable cost, a company can have a sophisticated phone system with many valuable problem-solving features. Even better, hosted systems may perform all functions through software, with no expensive phone equipment needed. With increased customer loyalty and company growth, the ROI could be exponential.

Forgoing a phone system may save money in the short term, but ultimately it can be an expensive decision. VoIP systems are a great way to provide the communications staple needed for customer convenience while keeping the bill and equipment affordable. Before walking away from a potentially effective solution, research the available plans. The affordability and flexibility of today’s options make them well worth consideration.

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3 Things to Consider When Choosing a VoIP System

shutterstock_344517266More businesses are adopting Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions than ever before. From streamlined platforms to centralized communications, VoIP is a truly cost-effective and flexible alternative to outdated phone systems. VoIP improves operational efficiency, cuts telecommunication costs, and increases overall performance. The preferred choice for countless brands and ventures, VoIP easily integrates into any existing telephony system or communications protocol.

Within the VoIP market, however, there are several brands and services available. The only way to secure the best VoIP package is to conduct extensive research. When it comes to the right system for your business, there are three important aspects to consider.

Scalability

Scalability should be of paramount concern when selecting a VoIP system. Companies should look for the following before choosing a service provider:

  • affordable VoIP services that promote brand growth and expansion;
  • seamless integration of VoIP into existing telephony and business communications platforms;
  • file sharing, screen sharing, uploads, downloads, and any other specific features that are needed by the business;
  • Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking to expand or reduce business lines on an as-needed basis; and
  • compatibility between private branch exchange (PBX) and SIP, with the flexibility to enhance, edit, or bring on new services.

Hosted vs. On-site Services

There are hosted and on-site options available for PBX services. Both have their unique advantages and disadvantages and should be taken into consideration when adopting new VoIP platforms.

Hosted PBX

  • Businesses without existing PBX hardware tend to benefit from cloud-hosting services.
  • Cloud services are easier to deploy, are more cost-efficient, and eliminate the need to purchase new hardware and pay maintenance fees.

On-site PBX

  • On-site systems offer more flexibility and better control over private telecommunications networks.
  • On-site PBX is the best option for companies that have the means to invest in hardware and maintenance for optimal system functionality.

Deciding between on-site and remote services depends on the particular needs of the company. Businesses should also weigh the benefits and risks of deploying these services before signing their names on the dotted line.

Workforce Mobility

With the advent of burgeoning technologies and bring your own device (BYOD) policies, more and more employees are able to get work done while on the go. In fact, many now use their own mobile, wireless, and digital devices from remote venues. With this in mind, businesses need to integrate contact lists, video conferencing, and call-forwarding services for their remote teams.

With modern VoIP features, businesses are also able to secure more freedom and flexibility for workers. They no longer have to invest in expensive tools for mobile workforces, since the same applications and programs are being utilized across the board.

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Five Key Steps to Improving WiFi Performance

shutterstock_328290551According to a recent Cisco study, 89% of all companies let their employees work on their own computing devices. Statista, an online statistics company, reports that the average American owns three devices, and that number is increasing. This surge in employee demand for WiFi strains the networks.

Previous coverage-based wireless network designs have ceased to meet current WiFi requirements. Optimizing wireless networks to accommodate coverage and capacity and taking additional steps to improve performance is a must.

Employees often deploy access points hastily, resulting in wasted effort, slow WiFi performance, and help desk requests from frustrated users. The five steps outlined below will help ensure optimum WiFi performance.

1. Plan WiFi Performance

This step involves asking stakeholders, such as managers and directors, how they expect to use WiFi. Questions to ask include:

  • How many wireless devices will be used?
  • What devices are they?
  • How many access points will be needed?
  • What settings must be tuned?

An infrastructure evaluation will also be necessary to determine whether it is possible to use or upgrade existing hardware.

2. Conduct a Wireless Site Survey

Wireless site surveys should be both pre- and post-deployment, and the former can be either predictive or AP on a stick. With a predictive survey, the engineer can plan the placing of access points using floor plans. With a manual AP on a stick survey, on the other hand, points are placed at different spots where readings are then taken. The post-deployment survey, in which the predictive survey and deployment are validated, is all too often neglected.

3. Perform Spectrum Analysis

Performing a spectrum analysis enables the engineer to pinpoint sources of interference in the 2.4- or 5-GHz ranges. Wireless video cameras, microwaves, and noise-emitting devices are all possible sources of interference.

4. Shut off 2.4-GHz Radios

This part of the spectrum is one of the most overcrowded, and large numbers of 2.4-GHz radios are in use. Three non-overlapping channels to use in that range exist in the United States. With many access points deployed, engineers must plan to reuse all of these and avoid co-channel interference. To make the final decision to turn off 2.4-GHz radios, one must know which devices will be using WiFi.

5. Avoid Co-Channel Interference

Co-channel interference occurs when coverage in the same area, with the same channel, is provided by more than one access point. Multiple access points serving clients on a single channel severely degrades wireless communication, depriving each device of the airtime that it can have.

To avoid this kind of interference, the engineer should make sure that each access point provides a carefully-planned cell size on a set of channels that do not overlap, thus ensuring that each client receives the optimum amount of airtime.

Taking these five steps will help optimize a company’s wireless networks and improve WiFi performance.

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Better Business With Big Data

Big DataWith the many improvements in customer data collection, companies of any size can leverage information to improve products and customer experience. However, many smaller organizations have the misconception that this undertaking is so massive that only enterprise level organizations can capitalize on it. In reality, the following three factors can be leveraged by any organization, regardless of size.

Improve the Customer Experience With Actual Experience

So many pieces of equipment today are equipped with the ability to “phone home” and report back to the mother company. This reporting includes system crashes, customer usage, and identifying why problems happen so they can be patched. More products than ever before — including washing machines, cars, and even refrigerators — now connect to the Internet and provide vital information to organizations.

Such sensors are actually not too costly in most cases and can be included easily in a variety of products. Being able to build a better customer experience is vital to staying competitive in the market. A business can accomplish this by finding out when its products develop issues and quickly resolving them — without a single call made to a customer service agent.

Understand the Target Market

Devices can also collect data about the consumers who actually use the product. For example, when users log into Facebook to create accounts for a smart watch, the manufacturer can see live demographic information that can then be directly utilized by advertising and marketing departments to understand what demographics are consuming the product and what audiences are still untapped.

Increasing Efficiency Through Data

Product development and sales aren’t the only places where data can help improve operations. Companies can also use data to improve shipping logistics by getting more accurate reads on the amount of time required to send shipments out, and HR can compile the profile of ideal employees by matching the elements of current employees with prospective job candidates.

Data is typically thought of as something that is primarily used by IT, but nearly every aspect of an organization can capitalize on it to improve decision making. It is important to remember that collecting data is useful for any organization. Small companies of all verticals and industries can utilize data. It’s up to the organization to make the jump.

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Public Cloud Concerns: Myth vs. Reality

CloudDespite the increasing popularity and adoption of cloud services, many misperceptions still abound about their potential disadvantages. Companies considering a cloud service purchase should carefully sort through both the hype and the myths about cloud computing before making a purchasing decision.

Cloud misperceptions vary, but three primary myths have emerged that might cause IT decision makers to stop and reconsider their cloud purchase plans. However, the reality behind these myths should give buyers reassurance when it comes time to make a cloud decision.

The Data Center Death Knell Myth

With data and functionality increasingly moving to cloud services, IT employees may be concerned about being replaced by the very technologies they choose to deploy.

While this isn’t a completely unfounded concern, the reality is that cloud services are largely being adopted by younger and smaller companies that don’t already have in-house IT departments. The ability of the cloud to provide IT services that such companies would otherwise have to build from scratch is one of its primary advantages.

For companies that already have an established IT team, cloud services aren’t likely to steal away jobs anytime soon. Companies may move some of their data and processes, particularly storage, to the cloud, but most companies will continue to house critical data on private networks in a hybrid approach. In-house IT will continue to be needed to support private network operations.

The Security Myth

One of the most common and persistent misperceptions about the cloud is that it opens up companies to a variety of new security risks. The thought of having data leave the safety of the corporate security fortress and travel via potentially unprotected connections to a public cloud creates concern over attacks on a company’s critical data.

In reality, because of their singular focus on providing data services, cloud providers often have some of the best security experts on staff who focus entirely on predicting security vulnerabilities and protecting against attacks on client data.

The Data Black Hole Myth

Some companies worry that once they allow their data to transfer to a cloud service, they will lose control over it or have difficulty moving it or getting it back. This myth likely circulates because in the past, it had some truth to it. Making a cloud transition sometimes meant data was locked in with the chosen provider.

But trends surrounding this cloud concern are changing. Some of the larger cloud providers offer tools that make it easier to control and move data when the company chooses. Amazon’s Snowball appliance allows customers to easily migrate data, and Velostrata introduced an appliance that eases the migration of data to and from the public cloud.

Making an Informed Cloud Purchase

Cloud services provide many benefits to companies that want to improve their operations and increase efficiencies. IT decision makers have a responsibility to choose a cloud service that protects the company’s data assets and provides the right services for its users.

All technologies have pros and cons. Deciphering myth from reality surrounding security, data availability, and future IT employment can help decision makers make the right cloud choice.

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4 Ways the IoT Will Revolutionize Customer Contact Centers

shutterstock_262511567The Internet of Things (IoT) is populated by countless new smart devices that might not have been thought of years ago — smart watches, health monitors, and even washing machines, all connected to the Internet. These devices equip customers with exciting new features while providing businesses with new ways to collect intelligence on how their products are actually being used. The IoT is a concept that will revolutionize contact centers in several ways.

 

Revolutionary Intelligence

Let’s imagine an organization that makes smart cars. The automobile can collect data such as average speed while driving, required maintenance, and services that are not being used, automatically providing a car dealership with valuable intelligence when a vehicle is brought in for a trade-in or even regular service. Such constant communication gives manufacturers a better understanding of how their products are used so that future sales collateral can focus on known customer preferences. This type of intelligence helps close sales and resolve customer complaints in a way that wasn’t possible before the IoT.

Self-Service Is King

Sometimes technology seems to malfunction. For many years, frustrated customers had to call a company only to have a customer service representative ask seemingly silly questions such as “Is the device plugged in?” Now, an IoT connected device can download system updates, apply fixes, and even report directly to the representative when a call is made, allowing customer service to focus on what is actually wrong with the device.

Specialized Agents

Calls can be intelligently routed to agents that are subject matter experts in specific aspects of a product. For example, a smart watch manufacturer might have specialists with extensive knowledge of mechanical parts as well as specialists who are experts on the operating system running the smart watch. Call center agents no longer need to develop mastery of every product offered by the organization or even comprehensive knowledge of a single device.

Proactive Customer Service

Since smart devices can “phone home,” it can be clear to a company when a device is experiencing technical issues or simply isn’t being used at all even before a customer calls to complain or attempts to return a product.

Instead, customer service can call the customer preemptively with a full understanding of what is wrong with the product or the knowledge that the customer doesn’t appear satisfied. From there, a conversation can ensue to create a positive customer experience, potentially even creating a brand advocate from a scenario that was simply unheard of prior to the IoT.

The IoT creates a revolutionary channel for customer service that wasn’t possible before. As the technology continues to evolve, even more methods to improve the customer experience will emerge.

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SIP Trunking or Hosted PBX: Telephony Planning for a Growing Business

shutterstock_258855056Every growing enterprise faces choices about the best telephony solution to meet its needs. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking or a hosted private branch exchange (PBX) are both viable solutions, but a business must determine which is more suited to its particular requirements.

Exploring the Similarities and Differences Between SIP Trunking and Hosted PBX

At first glance, SIP trunking and hosted PBX seem very similar. Both are IP-based systems and offer the same basic services such as:
• streaming audio and video;
• VoIP telephone connections to include local, long distance, and toll-free lines;
• support of both mobile and fixed phone systems; and
• support of data transmission for email, fax, text messages, and Internet access.

However, one of the primary differences between the two is that a SIP trunking system requires fixed assets and support, whereas hosted PBX does not.

Hosted PBX is generally a service provided by a vendor that requires neither an investment in equipment nor staff to oversee the system. This is a lower cost solution, but it is completely dependent on a third party for the operation of a vital business asset.

A SIP trunking solution requires an initial investment in expensive equipment and infrastructure as well as the ongoing cost of maintenance and service professionals. But despite these costs, this investment can lead to long-term flexibility and room for growth.

Size Matters

Smaller businesses will often benefit more from hosted PBX. Essentially an all-in-one telecommunications provider, the hosted PBX vendor delivers a hands-free telephone system that meets a small business’s needs without the cost of equipment and dedicated staff. Additionally, because hosted PBX is cloud-based, a small business has the option to switch providers without any significant interruption of service.

But as a business grows, it often needs much greater use of bandwidth and therefore requires more resources. A hosted PBX service can be expanded to compensate for the greater needs of a larger business, but this is usually accomplished at a higher cost. Eventually, there comes a point in a business’s growth when it becomes more efficient to opt for a SIP trunking solution.

A larger business with a SIP Trunking solution is able to manage its critical telecommunications system in-house and does not have to rely on an external supplier. This affords the business a level of self-reliance and allows for more overall bandwidth as well as room for growth.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, it seems that both SIP trunking and hosted PBX systems have a future in enterprise telephony. Both systems are well suited to a particular clientele and have enough overlap in customer base to allow for healthy competition. Choosing between SIP trunking or hosted PBX is a matter of analyzing a business’s current and long-term needs.

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Why BaaS Is Becoming Tomorrow’s Standard in Data Storage

shutterstock_119366347Using the cloud for secure Backup as a Service (BaaS) data storage is rapidly becoming a quality that potential clients look for when evaluating business partners. In a high energy business environment with ever increasing dependency on information and data storage, the consequences of data loss can be catastrophic.

How It Works

Online backup systems operate by using agent software to compress designated data files, folders, and drives, then encapsulate the compressed data in encrypted packets and transmit them to an off-site facility where the data is stored.
The initial backup can be time consuming, but in subsequent sessions backup systems save bandwidth and time by using algorithms to scan the selected folders and drives and focus only on data files that have been added or changed since the last update.

In-House Backup Difficulties

Backing up data is nothing new in the business world. Traditionally it has been a function performed as time allowed by IT professionals within the company, and the data was stored on location. There are a number of drawbacks to this method. Three of the more prevalent are:

  • cost of IT personnel,
  • cost of equipment, and
  • potential for total data loss.

Online backup systems provide viable solutions via the cloud to each of these persistent problems with in-house data backup.

Labor Savings

Once the agent software has been installed, the company’s IT professionals need only designate the material to be backed up and schedule a recurring time window for the backup to take place. After that, the process becomes automatic. No further active participation is needed on the part of employees. The result is less manpower and less labor cost.

Infrastructure Savings
The savings in equipment cost is immediately obvious. Eliminating the need to purchase, keep, and continuously update data storage equipment translates to a great deal of savings even after the cost of the online backup is taken into account.

Reduced Risk of Total Loss

One of the more often overlooked advantages of online backup is the reduction of total data loss risk. When data is backed up and kept on location, the original data and the backed up data are both at risk if the building is somehow destroyed. If the backup data is stored off-site, as is the case with an online backup system, the destruction of the business building does not mean that all of the business’s vital data is forever gone.

Looking Forward to BaaS and the Cloud

Any enterprise that does business over many years will learn that suffering data loss is inevitable. The deciding factor between data loss being a mere inconvenience or a serious financial disaster will depend on how well prepared a company is for the problem.

It should be noted that as the business field of play changes, the cloud becomes more essential in daily operations. Businesses that fail to adapt to the ever increasing influence of the cloud will find themselves left behind. Existing and prospective clients are becoming more conscious of whom they do business with. In increasing numbers, potential businesses are looking at survivability when choosing their partners.

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The Ever-Evolving VoIP

shutterstock_21824359The birth cry of the Internet came about in the U.S. when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) delivered the first data packet between two computers in 1969. That very same ARPANET saw the birth of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) when the first data packet of encoded voice was transmitted in 1974. In recent years, the dawning and proliferation of the information age has seen VoIP truly come into its own.

 

An Innovation in the Data World

From businesses to the home internet connection, relatively inexpensive high speed internet is allowing VoIP to replace traditional telephone services. In all but the most remote rural areas, sufficient internet speeds are now available, prompting consumers to question the need for both telephone and internet services when internet will serve both voice and data functions.

Affordability and Convenience

In the past there has been resistance to innovations such as VoIP due to cost and the dread of having to get a new telephone number. That is no longer the case. VoIP equipment is highly affordable and often is less costly than even an average smartphone. Further, the cost of transmitting a data packet over long distance is hardly more than the cost to send the same data packet across the room, making VoIP more affordable than traditional long distance telephone services.

In the early days, a VoIP call had to go through a third party because telecommunications companies held a certain level of propriety over the connections. Now, VoIP calls go directly to the recipient, bypassing the middleman and keeping costs low.

Changes in FCC laws now allow phone numbers to be transferred from one service to another. The process of making the change takes just moments, and the service provider is usually happy to do the work in order to get new business. The service itself is has yearly costs comparable to regular monthly cellular phone charges.

Services That Are Part of the Package

Most VoIP packages include long distance as just another service provided for a very low single fee if not provided entirely for free. A number of services once considered to be extras were billed as such but are now being provided by VoIP as a standard package. Some of these standard services provided at little to no additional cost include call forwarding, voicemail, and call waiting.

Marrying VoIP to Apps

VoIP is IP-based and highly adaptable with regard to data handling applications. As a result, VoIP telephony systems are capable of previously unheard of functions and new applications are arriving on the scene every day. From screen sharing to faxing to email, the IP-based world is growing and expanding in capabilities at a mind-boggling rate. With the affordability of VoIP services being realized, what was once thought to be a tool for businesses has taken root in the home.

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Weighing the Pros and Cons of the Cloud

shutterstock_270601862Getting involved with the cloud is a popular proposition when looking at acquiring new technology. A company should consider how cloud technology relates to the business as well as current regulations before moving to the cloud.

Understand the Benefits of the Cloud

Businesses should first consider how a move to the cloud can be beneficial. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools, for example, enable employees to view customer interactions so that technicians, sales staff, and customer service agents are aware of how other employees interacted with a customer at certain intervals. Management can also more easily monitor employees from a single dashboard. These actions are difficult to replicate outside of a cloud service.

Understand Any Potential Negatives

Preparations should be made to understand what migration to the cloud will entail as well as what could potentially go wrong. For example, pieces of confidential customer data may be collected and stored in the cloud and will require protection. Confidential company data such as product costs and internal reports will exist in this tool as well, so internal security is also a consideration.

Other factors that should be investigated when searching for a cloud provider include the potential for customer data to be lost or compromised if the system is hacked as well as the actions a company would need to take if the cloud provider suffered a major outage.

Understand Cloud Provider Services

It is important to investigate what a cloud provider does to protect its clients. Pull data from the cloud provider from time to time so that backups are in place in the event that the relationship with the cloud provider ends or the provider takes much longer than the service agreement allows to resolve technical issues when they occur. If data can’t be exported easily from the beginning, that should be a red flag.

There is a lot of good that can come from the cloud. Capital expenses can be reduced or even eliminated and employees will be able to access their data in a variety of ways, among many other benefits. But it is important that a business makes preparations to transition to the cloud so that the company does not experience any pains while growing into the technology.

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