Archive for March, 2010

 

Phone maintenance – taking no chances

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Your business telecommunications are crucial. Sadly, however robust and resilient modern technology is, it can still fail. If it does, your business could rapidly, perhaps even immediately, come to a grinding halt. If that happens, that’s the time you’ll suddenly start wishing you had a phone maintenance contract.

Phone and technical service support

If your system is relatively new, your provider typically will supply with it some form of support and maintenance contract. This will govern how they will react to certain forms of problem and within what time periods etc.

This is typically documented in a service level agreement (SLA).

If your system is older or obsolete then it may no longer be able to be supported by the original manufacturer or supplier. In such cases, you may wish to consider searching for a third party telephone systems maintenance company. Once again, their services will be outlined under an SLA.

Components covered

A phone maintenance contract may cover just your telephone services but perhaps more typically will cover a range of your business telecoms systems elements too. The exact list of components covered will vary between companies but it may include:

  • PBXs (private branch exchanges);
  • a system control unit;
  • your cabling around the office;
  • handsets;
  • interface and communication devices such as routers.

Thinking about standby

However good your telephone systems support supplier is, you may have to acknowledge the possibility that your system may be down for a period of time.

In some cases, this may stop your business dead in its tracks. Being without your telephones and perhaps PC network could be a thought too terrifying to contemplate!

If that’s the case, you may also wish to consider standby arrangements. Having a standby arrangement as part of your maintenance contract could mean that your business telephone support can be provided by a reserve system in the event of a significant problem.

Taking a few minutes to think about what it would do to your business to be without its phone system for a period might cause you to think about taking further steps to protect yourself through a phone maintenance contract.

What are business telecom services?

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Business telecom services is a wide term that covers many different aspects of business communications.

Business communications

The communications needs of one business are unlikely to ever be identical to those of another. Even so, there are certain things that your business probably needs to be able to do:

  • communicate with your customers and suppliers via phone – certainly verbally and today, increasingly by video also;
  • exchange data (files, faxes, images etc) with clients, suppliers and other third parties;
  • communicate between your various sites;
  • access the internet;
  • obtain office administrative support through the use of things such as telephone menu systems, voice mail and telephone (or video) conferencing;
  • access and use, if appropriate, backup services so that your business can continue to function in the event of a natural disaster.

These are all requirements that a modern business telecoms system can help with.

Multiple technologies

Business telecom services seek to integrate multiple devices and technologies to provide you with the above functions.

For very small business, this may be little more than providing access for a few extensions to the PSTN (public switched telephone network). In the case of slightly larger companies, this may involve the implementation of a PBX (private branch exchange) to control a more complex series of facilities that are distributed around your office.

Phone maintenance

Having sophisticated technology to support your business may inevitably increase your reliance upon it on a day-to-day basis. That means that if you have a problem, you’ll need it fixed fast.

That’s why a contract covering telephone systems maintenance is typically a good idea. It may also be possible to set up your system so that you have what’s called hot standby – in other words if you have a fault you can instantly switch to another system without interruption to your business.

Business telecom systems

In the modern world your business can’t deliver it’s propositions and services to your clients without having some form of business telecom services in place. The market has a wide range of options to choose from and solutions to suit all sizes and complexities of business.

Business telecoms and your customers

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

The business telecoms sector is a major industry. Its products and services make possible much of our modern business world.

Originally, the telecoms used by small businesses were seen as being primarily to do with voice – ie. the conventional telephone system perhaps with something such as a telex system appended. Telecoms were often seen as a necessary evil and somewhat secondary to the organisation’s real business purpose.

Over time, that view has changed and business telecoms are now seen as being a fundamental part of any business positioning itself for success. They facilitate one of the most important parts of any business’ operation – customer engagement.

The customer engagement experience

It doesn’t really matter what your business is, it won’t last long without customers.

Amongst many factors that will be critical to your success will be your ability to:

  • attract new customers;
  • retain those you already have;
  • grow the volume of business you have with existing customers.

You’re unlikely to be able to achieve any of these things unless you communicate effectively and in a 21st century manner with existing and potential new customers.

Although internet site usage is growing phenomenally quickly, the basic verbal communication of the business phone system is still a major channel of dialogue between you and your clients. It is, therefore, often the main source of your customer’s experience of your company.

Your telephone interface is critically important, perhaps even more important than your web presence in forming customer perceptions. Like it or not, your customers will judge your company on the service they receive when trying to call you.

What the customer wants

If your customer wants to contact you, their ‘experience’ requirements of your business telecoms system can be predicted relatively safely:

  • they’ll want their call answered immediately – today, constant engaged signals are unacceptable;
  • whether there is a human operator or menu system, they’ll want to be connected quickly to the person that can deal with their call – long delays with extensions ringing out unanswered is infuriating to most customers and also totally unnecessary if voice mail is used;
  • they want to contact your company when they want to rather than when you think they should – they may not expect staffing 24/7 but they will expect voice mail options etc;
  • no modern customer wants to have to repeat their details (e.g. account number) several times during several stages of their call – they want their information identified once and then retained while the call is in progress, even if transferred between departments;
  • people won’t thank you if they call your office only to be told that the person they need is out of the office and then given a portable number to call – they expect seamless switching;
  • they’ll expect your phone system to be linked in one way or another to your information systems so that you can see their files and data as part of their phone call.

What business telecoms can deliver

Modern business telephone systems can deliver all of the above business support to you and much more. Even if you are a relatively small business, there will be a business telecoms system that could revolutionise the way you engage your clients and at a price commensurate with your turnover!

Getting the best out of your small business phone system

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Having a small business phone system is one thing – getting the best out of it is something quite different and this is where you can take advantage of our expertise in getting the right business telecoms solution for you..

At its most basic, a business phone system could be one line with one or more handsets connected to it, coming into your office over what’s called the PSTN (public switched telephone network) but few businesses today could operate on such a simple system.

Fortunately, office telephone systems are available that can incrementally grow the level of sophistication provided as your business grows and evolves.

Voicemail

Little is more frustrating to a customer than a phone ringing out unanswered or constantly engaged. Using an answering and voicemail service could make the difference between securing and losing a client.

Call routing systems

You may happen to be out of the office but want to pick up calls on your mobile. Your office telephony system can automatically be set-up to re-route calls to your normal office number so that they ring on your portable.

Conferencing

Travel is expensive, time consuming and not particularly environmentally friendly. Yet getting several geographically dispersed parties together for a meeting is frequently necessary.

The small business phone system can help reduce the number of journeys to meetings by using conferencing – ie. linking several parties together on the one call.

If you have access to some form of high-speed internet or phone connection, conference calling can also include video links so that all parties can see each other.

Selection systems

If you have a larger volume of inward calls, the sheer time spent asking each caller for their customer number, order number and personal details, can be very time-consuming and ultimately tedious for your staff.

It is possible to use a small business phone system that collects this information from your customers directly through keypad selections once their call has been automatically answered. This can then link directly to your PC systems so that your staff can see the customer’s information automatically appear on their screen as they pick up the call.

VOIP

The days of seeing staff desperately trying to balance a handset between their cheek and shoulder while they tapped into their PC, should have disappeared with the arrival of headsets.

Yet PCs and telephones have converged ever closer. VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) now means that even a small business telecoms system is capable of interfacing with the internet and receiving or making calls through that route as opposed to the PSTN.

This may result in call cost reductions and allow integration between phone and information sending services such as electronic client billing etc.

Sophistication doesn’t equal high cost

The small business phone system today isn’t always easy to distinguish from the systems operated by the very large corporate world. They offer a power, flexibility and capacity that would have been undreamt of by the small businesses of even a few years ago – and typically at an affordable price!

Getting it right with office telephone systems

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

At one time, office telephone systems were relatively simple things. Typically, they consisted of a direct telephone line or two into the office and some method of hanging a few extensions on them. In other words, basically a way of letting people receive and make calls and perhaps transfer calls between extensions.

Even very large companies that had switchboards, essentially operated on the same basis – they just had more lines and more extensions.

Today’s business telecom services

Interesting as such nostalgia is, today businesses typically demand much more of their office telephone systems in a technology-based business world. A telephone system now needs to be part of a much broader business communications infrastructure.

This infrastructure is analogous to the human body’s central nervous system – it is how communications and messages flow around your company and between it and the outside world.

If your business telecoms systems are not giving you the support you need, then you’ll struggle to achieve success.

Telephones as part of information technology

Today’s business telephone systems offer rich functionality as well as the basic business of making and receiving voice calls including:

  • switching calls to mobiles;
  • video call capabilities;
  • sending of text and data files;
  • voice mail and voice menu systems;
  • call recording;
  • call re-routing etc.

Of course, not all businesses will necessarily need all these facilities – at least not immediately. That’s why scalability (the ability for a business telecoms system to expand easily and quickly in response to changing business needs) is such an important concept today.

Many modern phone systems offer easy upgrade paths and can grow alongside your business.

Wide choice

The advance of technology now means potentially that the business consumer has never had such a wide choice of systems and possible suppliers to choose from.

This choice leads to intensive competition and pressure on prices and that’s good news for businesses looking to source a new system.

Today even the smallest business needs to exploit technology. Office telephone systems are now available in a large number of configurations to support your business in achieving that and we can help you discuss possible solutions.

Small business telephone systems – choosing isn’t easy!

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Technological advances over recent years have meant that there is now a vast range of options available if you’re looking for small business telephone systems.

Not only that, but increasingly small business telephone systems have gone, for the smaller business at least, to becoming rather more of a commodity than a highly technical and specialised set of products.

Yet if this has brought benefits such as:

  • cost reduction;
  • increasingly easy to install plug-and-go devices;
  • a large increase in choice in terms both of solutions and providers ;
  • improved reliability;

the downside is that the vast array of possibilities can appear to be something of an intimidating prospect and potential minefield to the uninitiated.

In terms of evaluating your options, there are a number of things to consider when thinking about small business telecoms systems. This may include (this list is far from exhaustive);

  • what office telephone systems does your business need first to survive and then secondly, to prosper?
  • what facilities would you consider to be essential, highly desirable or just plain nice-to-have if possible?
  • what budget you have available?
  • what phone support and maintenance services do you expect from your provider?
  • what other equipment (e.g. older telephone systems, faxes, PCs, scanners) do you have that needs to integrate with your new system?
  • the market presence and reliability of the manufacturers / providers of the systems under consideration;
  • how scalable does your system need to be (you may be a small company now but if you grow rapidly, could your system grow with you?).

Choosing the right business telecom services is often as much a case of trying to assess, or guess, your possible future needs as it is of seeing what you’ll need today. Going for the cheapest solution may be a false economy in the medium to long term but equally buying technical functionality that you’ll never use may be a complete misuse of your precious business capital.

Get the analysis and purchase decision right and you’ll ensure the optimum exploitation of small business telephone systems. That could help you turn your company into a major success.

VOIP – Changing the way we speak to each other

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) has been around for some time but it is now becoming a major driver of change in small business phone systems.

What is VOIP?

For many years the early internet was seen as an environment for computer whiz-kids, academics, scientists and dreamers. Yet in the 1990s and earlier years of the 21st century, its distribution into ordinary offices and homes meant that it became a major method of carrying information.

Given that many internet connections were (and continue to be) delivered over phone wires, it didn’t take too long for someone to think that it may be possible to deliver voice systems over the internet as well.

The voice over internet protocol was born.

Today it is a mechanism for delivering phone calls and business telecom services over the internet.

How does it work?

The exact mechanism is beyond the scope of a short article but suffice it to say that it allows your business to both make and receive telephone calls and faxes over the same lines and computer equipment that your office would use for its internet connections.

This may mean that you no longer need to use the PSTN (public switched telephone network) at all.

The real impact of voice over internet technology for the small business includes potential benefits such as:

  • access to potentially cheaper global telephone services;
  • the utilisation of video calls (.e. seeing the person you’re speaking to on your PC or videophone;
  • less equipment required;
  • the integration of your information and business telecommunications systems with your calling – in other words on one PC window you could see your client and speak to them and in another window on the same screen you could be viewing and updating their account records;
  • fax and data (images, video, files) transmission services fully integrated.

What’s needed to get it?

VOIP isn’t something you can go into a shop and buy. It is a set of standards that governs the way certain business or personal communications systems work over the internet.

Typically a company looking for small business telephone systems may set out to look for a solution or solutions that are PSTN based. For many very small companies, that may be sufficient to meet their business telecoms needs.

If, however, your company already has an existing investment in PCs and internet connectivity then an internet based solution may be worth considering.

There are a wide range of VOIP based systems available offered by a number of major suppliers. Many operate dually over the PSTN and internet – something that may also offer increased resilience and contingency. You’ll need a good broadband internet connection to really maximise the benefits that this technology can provide and some other application-specific equipment.

If you are looking to switch to VOIP, or are interested in finding out more as to how this could be a business telephone solution for you, why not get in touch?

Telephone systems maintenance – protecting your interests

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

If you have any form of business telephone system, then sooner or later you’ll have a problem – unless you’re exceptionally lucky! That’s why a telephone systems maintenance contract may be very important to the continuity of your business.

Of course, today’s technology is generally reliable and it may also have a high degree of what’s called fault tolerance. In other words, a single problem shouldn’t cause your entire system to collapse and there should be a degree of built-in backup.

Even so, your business telecoms are likely to be core to your ability to conduct your business. Lose them and in some cases you may be physically unable to continue your professional activities.

Having a telephone systems maintenance agreement could help you avoid such a catastrophe. It may offer three forms of protection:

  • preventative inspection and maintenance;
  • the attendance of qualified engineers on your site if you encounter a problem;
  • fallback or contingency emergency cover.

Preventative inspection is self-explanatory and may be important – particularly if you have an old and perhaps obsolete system. It may be serving your needs perfectly adequately but if it goes wrong, it could be out-of-warranty and the original provider may no longer support it.

Having engineers get to you quickly if you lose your system may be of paramount importance. These sorts of contracts are typically governed by what’s called an SLA (service level agreement), which provides you with specified target levels for the service. This may cover things such as:

  • the average time for an engineer to get to your premises;
  • target resolution times (to get your system back up and running);
  • periods of cover such as 24/7 or during normal office hours only, depending on your needs etc.

Fallback provision, when provided as part of telephone systems maintenance contracts, is sometimes called contingency cover or it may also be included as part of a telephone disaster recovery plan.

This type of cover means that in the, hopefully unlikely, event that your telephone systems are unavailable for an extended period through fault or a disaster that affects your office, you can quickly switch to a backup system until your own is repaired and restored.

In the case of recently purchased and modern business telecoms systems, your provider may offer a period of reactive support and maintenance as part of the purchase.

If this has expired, there are providers of such contract services.

Telephone systems and their maintenance is an area that it’s perhaps tempting to economise on. This may be particularly true if you’ve had a long trouble-free period using your existing business telephone systems.

If so, some caution may be advisable. If your system fails, it is likely to do so without being thoughtful enough to provide you with a warning period! Thinking about a telephone systems maintenance contract in advance of such a crisis just might save you some stress and also possibly your business.

Siemens business telephone systems – a household name

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Getting the right telephony to support your business isn’t easy. There are a multitude of companies and options including, of course, Siemens business telephone systems.

Siemens is a global company that has operated in the UK for well over 100 years. They are one of the leading suppliers of telephone systems and are known for their innovation and quality.

However, rushing out to purchase a telephone solution from Siemens business systems may be a tad premature unless you have done a little homework beforehand.

A buyer’s market

Never before has the business purchaser had such a degree of choice, both in terms of technical options and possible suppliers. The problem is that it may prove difficult to really exercise that choice if you’re trying to do it without really thinking about your business and its needs beforehand. Why is this?

Voice, data and video

Today, many businesses have requirements across many areas of communications.

Certainly voice communication has always been very important, which is why Siemens business telephone systems continue to provide voice systems. Yet companies also increasingly have need for video communications for conferencing, data exchange for their IT systems, internet connectivity and perhaps access to external media services such as the TV.

If this all sounds a bit high-tech then don’t worry!

In practice, many of today’s business telecom systems providers have devices that can perform multiple functions and the distinctions between things such as telephones and the internet are blurring. This is due to developments in areas such as VOIP (voice over internet protocol) and other technologies.

This increasing integration offers many businesses, even some of the smallest, major opportunities for technology aid to their business. This could include videophone calls, online presentations, free phone calls, telephone support and so on. It could revolutionise the way you deal both with your customers and your suppliers.

Requirements analysis

It isn’t always easy to pull together a picture of your requirements and an understanding of how small business phone systems and wider technology could help. The good news is that many office telephony solutions, such as Siemens business telephone systems, will be able to offer a range of solutions to help.

Choosing a business telephone system

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

If you’re looking for a business telephone system, you may believe at a first glance that you’re going to have an excess of choice.

While that may seem great initially, in practice it may cause you some difficulty. The sheer volume of different types of technology and solutions may make the selection process bewildering. So, what can you do to make it all a little easier?

Preparation

It’s typically a good idea to avoid diving-in headfirst and contacting lots of suppliers, as you may find that you just get inundated with confusing brochures and annoying sales calls.

Before you start looking around, it’s important to think-through your basic requirements in terms of supporting your business operations. For example, do you need:

  • multiple concurrent external calls;
  • heavy internal extension-to-extension dialling;
  • a human voice to receive all incoming calls or direct-inward dialling to specific extensions;
  • fax connectivity;
  • internet connectivity;
  • etc.

Once you have all that clear in your mind, it will position you to better understand the offers and proposals in the context of your given business needs.

The systems

There are now so many competing options that it’s not easy to outline what is a typical business telephone system. Typically though, business telecoms phone systems fall into one of several basic categories:

  • one or more direct external lines (numbers) with multiple extensions and faxes connected onto them – this is the classic very small business and possibly most economical solution;
  • keyed systems (KTS) that again provide a number of lines coming in which are distributed to the extensions, which can pick up calls and outside lines via a variety of buttons on the handsets – a classic smaller business telecoms solution but now becoming superseded by other approaches;
  • PBX (private branch exchange) – essentially a computer that performs all the functions of what was once called the switchboard giving multiple outside lines and full internal extension connectivity;
  • VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) – a method of receiving and making your calls over the internet and likely to be an area of huge growth in future.

Integration

In fact, these distinctions are rapidly becoming a little artificial when talking about a business telephone system. Office telephone systems in general are coming together with things such as PBXs not being easily distinguishable in function from a PC network router.

That’s why understanding what business functionality you need to support your operations is more important at the outset than trying to grasp all of the technical implications of the wide range of business telecoms systems out there.

For example, if all of your staff are on PCs that are internet connected then perhaps a VOIP solution may be more practical and economic than having entirely separate internet and business telephone systems. Yet in terms of risk, an internet delivery problem would not only disrupt your PCs but also your telephone communications!

Advice

In the end, selecting your business telephone system will require a balancing of cost, functionality and risk, all against a backdrop of your business needs. Getting professional advice and help in selection will, in due course, probably be highly advisable.