The phone is an essential communications system for businesses, but getting the most out of its many 21st Century features requires careful planning, consideration and some commons sense. Rafael Cortes, marketing manager for integrated communications provider, Foehn, explains why.
For many years the telephone was just that…a telephone. Two people could hold a conversation ‘electrically’ and that was about as capable and interesting as it got. The fact that two people on opposite sides of the world could speak with each other in real-time through a phone system was and still is, of course, a remarkable achievement of human ingenuity.
Despite the ever-growing plethora of communications technologies available to businesses, the ability to speak to another person on the phone is still an important system in the office. In many instances, a phone is crucial to the way we conduct business.
Most if not all companies have some sort of telephony requirement. At one end of the spectrum a small business, such as a firm of accountants or a sole trader, will have a need to speak with clients, customers and suppliers. At the other end of the scale, a much larger business might have comprehensive and complex telephony requirements that could involve a 24/7 busy call centre or require highly sophisticated calling routing requirements.
Whatever their needs, the modern features of a phone system enable employees to do more than just converse, but such features need to be carefully planned and managed to get the most out of them.
The automated attendant
Many companies now have in place an Auto Attendant facility that removes the need for a human operator or receptionist. Calls are answered automatically and may then be routed to the appropriate person, team or department. In some cases, there may be no requirement for a receptionist, especially in small companies, in which case the Auto Attendant is saving on the cost of an employee. In other situations, the Auto Attendant may be used for ‘out of hours’ calls or when the person who usually answers the calls is away or unavailable themselves.
The effective use of Auto Attendant can make a big difference to the productivity of a business as well as providing callers with a fast, effective and satisfactory way of reaching someone or getting information. However, a poorly designed or configured Auto Attendant can have the opposite and negative effect. Some are too complicated and/or offer too many options. They end up not only confusing callers – existing and potential customers – but can also result in a bad impression of the company.
Getting a call directed to the right person is one thing, but having the call answered is quite another. When the highly useful and now much-used voicemail feature was introduced as a means of capturing and recording calls, it solved the historical problem of a person being away from their phone and unable to answer immediately. The caller could leave a message and the call could be returned later – simple! However, the introduction of voicemail was not without its initial frustrations, some of which still linger today where companies do not use this useful tool appropriately.
If your voicemail is personalised – and usually the best ones are – be sure to record one that is concise, clear and provides the caller with useful information, such as how long you will be away and when they might expect a call or contact back. If you are going to be away for a long period, you might wish to provide them with alternative contact details so that they can speak with someone else.
The most common telephone calls are one on one and millions upon millions take place each day, but conference calling has become increasingly popular, especially where several parties are involved and there isn’t a requirement to travel to meet face to face. A conference bridge allows several individuals to dial in and participate and this can be a great way of pressing ahead with a project.
The etiquette around conference calling differs from a one on one conversation. For example, participants should be on time so that several people are able to start the call at once. In a two-way call, if one person is going to be late, it’s generally ok as it’s relatively easy to reschedule. For a call involving several individuals, and possibly in different parts of the world, the dynamic differs.
IT and telephony integration
Whereas once IT and telephony systems were completely separate, the convergence of these two technologies means that the phone system can integrate with a company’s strategic IT applications, such as its Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
This convergence has thrown up a whole host of opportunities to improve business productivity as well as the ability to serve customers more effectively and efficiently. Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) now makes it possible, for example, to speed up the process of making and receiving calls, activate databases for ‘screen popping’ to aid employees, and also build in PCI compliant call recording.
Any such CTI setup, however, is only as good as its configuration which is why it is important to work with an experienced telephony partner to really get the most out of its features. Technology by itself is not a panacea and if CTI is poorly planned and configured, it can do more harm than good. Customers might not receive the service they expect, because of delays, poor routing of calls and incorrect data being used.
Many business owners and managers have become familiar with cloud computing and thousands are using the cloud to run aspects of their business operations. Telephony has also moved into the cloud and companies can benefit from hosted systems that do not require hardware to be installed at a business’ premises. Instead, companies can run their telephony over the Internet and this provides a range of features and benefits.
For example, for companies operating flexible working policies, their employees can work remotely and at home. They can use the company’s hosted telephony system simply by plugging their computer into their broadband connection.
Moves and changes
There was a time when companies had to rely completely on their telecoms provider to effect ‘moves and changes’ as staff within the company changed location, joined or left. Not only did this take time, it would also almost certainly cost money! Now, with a hosted telephony system, companies can make their own moves and changes as quickly as they wish and at no additional cost. This provides businesses with higher levels of autonomy and flexibility than previously.
Such autonomy, however, should not be at the expense of a fallback position.
Cloud communications services always run over an IP communications network, so companies should choose a provider with a strong track record and heritage in IP communications. The ability to have first hand control of its telephony may be attractive to a business, but it should also ensure there is 24/7 support from qualified and experienced engineers, especially if telephony is critical to the business.
For more information and top tips about how to get more from telephony, visit the Foehn.