Communications systems ‘vital to business success’

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Organisations large and small must address a wide range of communications needs based on the roles of their workers and the needs of their customers and clients. Today’s competitive markets demand communications solutions that are flexible enough to provide everyone – from the reception desk to the main office – with the communications capabilities they need to be productive.

Communication tools can make an important contribution to productivity. The UK Office for National Statistics found that investment in telecommunications had a positive effect on productivity, explaining up to 7.5 percent of productivity differences in manufacturing firms.

Although individual tools, including email, fixed-line phone, voice mail, mobile phone, instant messaging and conferencing offer specific productivity benefits, many organisations recognise the additional benefits of integrating them in a unified communication solution.

Research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey reports that failing to integrate communication devices can reduce productivity. In a survey of firms without unified communication, 56 per cent of the respondents reported that employees trying to reach a colleague simply guess which device to use and fail at the first attempt. Nearly half of respondents missed a deadline or experienced project delay because of communication problems.

And mobile communication enables employees away from their desks to maintain contact and access the data and applications they need to maintain productivity. A study of teleworkers found that 69 percent cited higher productivity when working remotely, while 83 percent felt that that their ability to communicate and collaborate with colleagues did not change when working away from the office.

For communication systems to be effective they need to be jargon-free, intuitive, and enable you to become very productive very quickly. This is how organisations can excel in customer service, for example by managing callers during busy hours or to cater for business continuity in the event of a disaster by instantly redirecting calls to another site.

Or you may need to record calls for compliance or training purposes and report on productivity. Or, from a marketing point of view, systems can help your monitor your advertising campaigns and report on the return on your investment.

Whichever communications system was chosen, it is important that:

  • Employees are accessible and able to respond immediately to the needs of others through real-time communication methods;
  • There are a wide range of better, smarter ways to work with colleagues, customers, and business partners;
  • Whatever their role, wherever they are, workers need to stay connected to each other and to customers.

Whether it is meeting the messaging needs of executives, keeping front-line personnel in touch anywhere and anytime, or deploying collaboration, web conferencing, or other productivity-enhancing communications, you need to make sure the solution is tailored to match your needs.

Does reception and customer service stand at the doorway to your business? Do your front-line workers and representatives have the telephone technology they need to make the right first impression and deliver superior support? Can workers in your organisation respond quickly to ever-changing demands, no matter where they are?

Are your sales leaders tuned into emerging, fast-changing opportunities anywhere, anytime – whether in the office, while visiting customers, or on the road? Do your desktop phones give your employees exactly what they need to stay in touch and meet the communications challenges they face daily in a global marketplace? Can management always get immediate access to corporate, customer, supplier and other information they need to make better, faster decisions?

At Pinnacle we establish exactly what any project needs to achieve. We establish the current process, set project goals, and gather the functional and non-functional requirements. We start with a current system inventory and then evaluate it for quality and relevancy. Once we’ve established what already exists, we check for missing parts of a complete system.

Our overarching aim is to make sure that work ‘flows’ better. We make sure clients can take control of their communications systems by providing online access to a full range of routing, monitoring and managing tools to empower any organisation with the perfect customer service package.

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Unified Communications vital to the success of SMEs

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The concept of ‘Unified Communications’ is a vital tool in the armoury of smaller enterprises, and it will lead to more valuable and efficient consumer communications, customer relationships and employee teamwork.

Technologically, we live in exciting times. In the workplace, no form of business technology has been as dynamic as converged voice and data communications – an area where the rate of innovation and change has literally been non-stop, and shows no signs of slowing.

For most small and medium-sized enterprises – SMEs – the rapid changes in communications technology have brought significant opportunities as well as challenges. For example, once largely restricted to large enterprises, advanced Internet Protocol-based – IP – platforms have evolved to the point that highly reliable and fully-featured communication systems are now available – and affordable – to businesses of all sizes.

This means that the widespread availability of sophisticated telecommunications capabilities has levelled the global playing field and given smaller firms the ability to effectively compete against much larger players.

At the heart of this technology is a concept called ‘Unified Communications’. It represents the intersection of IP telephony and advanced online applications and it can launch SMEs into more valuable and efficient consumer communications, customer relationships and employee teamwork.

Just as texting, mobile access, and social media have made the world wide open for a company’s customers, the same possibilities are available within companies. SMEs are being profoundly impacted by the change, or becoming vulnerable to more aggressive and technically savvy competitors.

But Unified Communications can put SMEs on a plane with much larger companies. An audit of current capabilities and an understanding of new technology developments will make a positive difference in workforce and customer communications. Businesses are migrating to unified communications platforms that allow them to pull their voice, data and video messaging together into one system. This provides significant cost reductions, and also helps them look and operate more like a big enterprise.

From a customer service standpoint, collaboration technology via Unified Communications has enabled SMEs to share information on customers in real time to improve service levels, such as pop-up screens that coordinate a voice call with data screens identifying the caller and providing background on their call history. Telephone call control, enriched by a wide range of desktop devices and applications, allows financial organisations freedom to change the way they do business, improve staff retention, create efficient business processes, and better customer interaction.

Through unified communications platforms, collaboration tools are enabling SMEs to communicate in real-time with their supply chain partners, for example, regardless of their location. And reachability may the most compelling reason for SMEs to adopt Unified Communications. Many businesses have staff working from remote locations and they can now stay connected with remote workers while presenting a seamless face to the customers.

From a customer service standpoint, the capabilities delivered by Unified Communications solutions have provided significant competitive advantages for SMEs. For example, with teleworker solutions, contact centres are no longer limited to providing service only during the office hours of the headquarters.

The next phase of reachability for most SMEs is providing simplified and immediate access to their employees who use primarily mobile devices. Companies have started to take advantage of features and functionality such as mobile extensions, which allows mobile workers to receive both their office and mobile calls on a single number.

And through their experience on the internet, consumers have learned that tools like firewalls, anti-virus solutions and spam filters are essential to protect their personal computers. Those same concerns are multiplied for small businesses choosing a Unified Communications system.

In the past few years, security concerns kept many small businesses from adopting Unified Communications. Just as a network or website could be hacked, so could customer data shared via Unified Communications. However, IP solutions now offer a high degree of security. Most current networks are backed by industry standard encryption. This encryption ensures confidentiality and protects against eavesdropping or interception of conversations.

Pinnacle is leading the way toward a new and more personalised approach to communications for enterprise and small business. Our innovative solutions, applications and desktop appliances enable clients to access, process and control their communications and information naturally, simply and efficiently.

Unified Communications solutions allow SMEs to collaborate over distance and time and to interact with their customers, colleagues and partners as never before. By combining the power of voice, data and video over converged high speed networks, this provides enterprises with flexible and personalised tools that lets them connect to their most valuable customers.

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‘Convergence’ can lead to better communication and lower bills

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Businesses should look at converging their telephone and data networks to increase efficiency and cut costs. Joining voice communications with your organisation’s network could lead to a raft of improved features and lower bills.

The move of voice from a separate telephone network to a data network using Voice over IP – or VoIP – is at the heart of what is termed ‘convergence’. VoIP is the data transport mechanism used to deliver telephony over a data network using the internet instead of traditional telephone switches. Although VoIP is all about the transmission of data and IP Telephony is about the system and applications used, VoIP and IP Telephony are used interchangeably to essentially refer to the same thing.

IP Telephony has cost advantages over conventional telephone systems – ease of management, flexibility in use, the reduction in costs associated with the addition and relocation of personnel through moves, and the reduction in line costs mean that IP Telephony can reduce overhead costs by 17 per cent, and for organisations with 500 or more staff, savings can be as high as 32 per cent.

Converging voice onto the network provides for enhanced flexibility and mobility within the organisation. As voice moves to the network it can be managed in a similar way to other applications, moving the voice system out of the closet and onto networks, enabling companies to manage voice communications far more dynamically.

For the end user, it means that the ability to communicate is no longer tied to a desk, but instead has been liberated to enable them to communicate from any location across the network.

Centralised management of a voice communication system can reduce overhead costs by removing the complexities that exist in maintaining traditional telephone systems. The use of web-based tools to manage the system means that applications and services can be more dynamically designed and managed.

In a VoIP system, new applications can be added simply, without the need to make adjustments to each physical device, meaning companies can:

  • Audit the status of the managed devices
  • Perform remote programming and maintenance
  • Locate unused directory numbers and unused circuits

Managers can sit anywhere on their company’s network or dial in from a remote location to make changes where necessary. However, the true value in convergence lies in unifying communications. The aim of unifying communications is to reduce the communication gaps that exist between workers and the various devices and applications that are used to interact.

Ultimately, improved business interaction improves workflow and reduces communication gaps, thereby increasing efficiency and boosting customer service. Unified communications moves beyond the conventional context of convergence by integrating telephony with a multiplicity of communications tools.

This is where convergence truly gets interesting. The convergence of voice and data enables new applications to be created, from presence and availability tools, to conferencing and collaboration tools to tools to enhance corporate mobility and business continuity.

Understanding what it is you are trying to achieve and how convergence tools can aid your organisation is a vital first step on the road to convergence. Understanding where you are today and what is required to achieve your goals will enable you to develop your roadmap.

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Time to ditch your fax machine

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Companies need to look at ditching their fax machines in favour of a leaner, greener option. Our new ‘Fax to Email’ service cuts the costs and hassle associated with using a physical fax machine.

There are many reasons to ditch the fax machine and move into the cloud. Just having one less piece of equipment in your office will free up some space and you won’t have to maintain it any longer. You can also get rid of the extra phone line, the cases of paper and expensive toner cartridges.

From an ecological perspective, the benefits are huge. If you send and receive a lot of faxes, you are using a lot of paper that most likely gets tossed out. Even if you recycle it, wouldn’t it be better to not use so much of it to begin with? Just all the cover pages alone would be a big deal.

And if you do happen to save all those faxes, think about how much better it would be if they were now all digital files that you could keep in the cloud or on a hard drive.

Our new ‘Fax to Email’ service provides businesses with a confidential, efficient and green solution on either existing or new ‘Geographic’ – for example, codes beginning 01, 02, 03 – and ‘Non Geographic’ – for example 0844, 0871 – telephone numbers.

Along with a choice of numbers and the ability to move costly existing fax machines to this service, you can also benefit from an online management portal, allowing complete management of fax numbers and email addresses, and the ability to archive received faxes securely, reducing the costs associated with printing and storage.

An organisation’s fax number will be registered with the service so that any faxes received will be automatically converted to a PDF file and sent to a nominated email account. In addition, the PDF file is available through the online portal.

The solution allows firms to easily and securely archive and share information with colleagues online and also enables businesses to receive faxes off-site and through mobile email.

Using the service means organisations can take advantage of the following:

  • No need to pay for hardware or fax phone lines
  • No expenses for ongoing fax machine maintenance, toner and paper
  • A green fax solution – no paper waste, no ink-related pollution, no power consumption
  • Most modern fax machines can be reused as a dedicated scanner instead

Retrieving faxes from the fax machine sounds simple. However, complications arise when the fax machine has run out paper or toner. Or the fax has been misplaced – at some else’s desk, in the bin, or on the floor.

Sending a fax has a lengthy process of creating and printing a coversheet and then finding available fax machine to send the document. When you have done all that you find out an hour later the fax has not gone through to add further frustration to the process.

With desktop faxing these complications are avoided as faxes delivered to your email inbox and the ability to send faxes from your desktop with confirmations retuned to your email inbox.

The money saved is reductions in telephone line rental, paper, toner, fax machine, maintenance, and office power usage. But a big cost saving is time because to retrieve a fax manually the average time is 3 minutes. The cost of retrieving faxes manually starts to add up when the volume grows.

Receiving faxes into your email inbox in an electronic format allows you to distribute amongst co-workers easily via your email plus all the correspondence is in one place.

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Unified Communications is key to contact centre success

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The integration of real-time communication services is key to contact centre success in the current economic climate. Unified Communications has come of age and is becoming an increasingly important part of a successful contact centre’s armoury.

Few people in the contact centre industry would disagree that in this tough economic environment, good service and high customer satisfaction levels can make the difference between winning and losing business.

The ability to resolve an issue upon the customer’s first call has become one of the most powerful measures of a contact centre’s success. In fact, if a contact centre increases call resolution, not only is the quality of customer service improved, but also customer satisfaction levels climb while operational costs are driven down.

However, tying back-office systems and processes into the front of the contact centre can present an enormous challenge. This is only heightened by the growing number of an organisation’s experts working out in the field, traveling, or connecting from remote offices.

So how can a contact centre manager bring relevant information together successfully to build the foundation for a highly efficient contact centre? And how can technology, process, policy and information all be better integrated for first call resolution?

Unified Communications has been a much-hyped concept in the contact centre industry during recent years. Now it is truly coming of age, as technologies such as VoIP, video, web chat, email and calendars have become much more common in the workplace and can be integrated using common business rules.

The market for Unified Communications has matured in a relatively short space of time as a new generation of tech savvy workers – and customers – have grown up using these technologies, such as instant messaging and Skype, in everyday social interactions. At its most basic level, Unified Communications empowers employees to work in the best possible way. They can use technology and tools that enable them to have a ‘birds eye’ view of all the experts within an organisation, indicating their availability and preferred method of contact at any given time.

For example, if an expert is out in the field, a contact centre worker would be able to discover their availability and how best to contact them to get an immediate answer; for instance via mobile phone rather than email or instant messaging. In this way, Unified Communications technology gives agents the best multimedia tools for handling customer inquiries and providing quick call resolution.

There are many industries where Unified Communications is particularly relevant. For example, in GPs surgeries and health centres, technology provides a much easier and effective way for staff to connect with doctors and nurses on the go, so they can provide answers quickly on the phone or via instant messaging, and free up more time to develop patient notes.

Businesses should ask themselves a series of basic questions to determine if Unified Communications would help:

  • What is the purpose of introducing Unified Communications?
  • What multimedia tools are already used widely across the organisation?
  • What problem(s) do I want to solve?

It is only once you have a clear view of your organisation’s requirements that you can assess the best solution to meet your needs. Another important point to consider, once the benefits of Unified Communications become clear, is the scale of integration required. It is important for companies to research suppliers who can provide solutions that easily integrate into existing business systems.

And the rise of social networking tools could potentially move into the call centre as a new generation of technology-savvy employees enters the workplace. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are all tools that could have the potential to improve the contact centre environment – and time will tell whether they are effective.

New collaborative multimedia tools could also be used in the contact centre to solve problems on a shared basis among experts within the organisation and fed back to the call centre agent. Video and digital photography have yet to be fully embraced by call centres, but there could also be a future in which these technologies have a place in improving first call resolution.

For example, an insurance company could use the technology so that car policy claimants could take a picture or video of their vehicle at the scene of an accident. This would then be used to accelerate the claims process and reduce administration for the insurer.

Whatever the future holds, it’s clear that when customers call a contact centre today they are looking for quick first-call resolution. In this tough economy, businesses need to make the most of every inquiry and customer service experience. Contact centres must better integrate with back office systems and business processes – and Unified Communications could be the key to unlocking the door.

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Collaboration the driver to better business

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Effective collaboration with co-workers, partners, customers, and others is critical for meeting an organisation’s goals and driving its productivity. And in a world where work groups are spread throughout a building, across a country, or around the world, fostering productive collaboration is more important and more challenging than ever.

Just about everything that gets done in an organisation is the result of collaboration. Only by working together, by sharing knowledge and resources, and by building consensus about goals and how to achieve them can teams of workers accomplish what none of them could alone.

Collaboration within an organisation drives productivity and competitive advantage. Collaboration with partners extends those benefits across the enterprise. Collaboration with customers builds profitable relationships.

In short, collaboration is a critical ingredient for achieving any organisational goal. This, combined with the changing nature of the workplace, makes it both more important and more challenging than ever to foster simpler, more spontaneous and productive ways to collaborate at work.

It’s no secret that the traditional workplace is changing. The once centralised organisation is becoming increasingly widespread and diverse all the time. The classic warren of beige cubicles in a single location has been replaced by offices across the country and around the globe, by remote workers in satellite locations, and by individuals teleworking from home offices.

With all of these changes, it’s not surprising that workers aren’t what they used to be either. The evolving workplace calls for new ways of working, and the best workers are eager to embrace ways that will make their lives easier and help them be more productive.

In a world where speed characterises the flow of information among vast networks of people, communication with friends, colleagues, and superiors takes place faster than ever.

This challenges organisations to provide the new tools that workers want and need to turn creative collaboration from a special event into a spontaneous and natural part of their work lives.

Recognising the importance of collaboration, organisations need to invest in a range of tools and techniques to foster it, which include multimedia solutions that address the new workplace by enabling people in diverse locations to see and speak to one another, to share documents and presentations, and to interact almost as though they were in the same room.

Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration. All too often people scuttle from meeting to meeting to coordinate work and share ideas, but far too little gets done.

They need the kind of spontaneous, any-time collaboration that people need to be their most productive. And they need to have the intuitive and fast collaboration that the changing workforce is coming to expect.

To be sure, occasional centralised meetings are necessary. But they don’t address the need for ad-hoc collaboration throughout the day. Something more is needed to make collaboration a normal part of a productive work day – a next-generation tool that makes initiating and conducting multimedia collaboration as natural and easy as making a phone call.

That is the challenge that companies tell us they are facing. Pinnacle uses various technologies to make meetings become a whole lot simpler and more spontaneous. Whether you plan them in advance, or start them in response to emerging needs, collaborations can become just another part of a productive work day.

The aim is that there’s no need to send documents in advance or to interrupt productive activity to schedule collaboration – it just happens when you need it to.

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Teleworking is starting to take centre stage

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In the face of rising energy prices, globalisation, and competitive differentiation, there has been a quiet revolution in the way organisations and employees are revisiting the notion of teleworking. Recent advances in voice and data are redefining the very nature and form of work.

Traditional work-day activities are no longer tied to a specific time or location. In this new scenario, employees can now work collaboratively and access their business network across remote locations. Reducing overheads, improving customer satisfaction, increasing productivity and staff retention are the core business benefits that stem from flexible teleworking.

However, companies are also starting to recognise that their environmental responsibilities can also be addressed, with teleworking helping to decrease ever-burgeoning traffic congestion, air quality problems and cut carbon emissions. Telecommuting or telework is an alternative work arrangement where employees enjoy flexibility in working location and hours.

Within the flexible telework idea, the daily commute to a central place of work is replaced by telecommunication links. Many employees work from home, while others, occasionally also referred to as ‘web commuters’, use mobile phone technology to work from cafes or many other locations.

The idea of avoiding the daily commute to work is not a new one. But the rising trend in the past few years is due to a combination of factors, including the proliferation of high speed broadband and wireless access, which has made it both less expensive and more productive to work remotely, and the willingness of more employers to embrace flexibility and work-life balance.

The recent increase in teleworking also has a lot to do with new voice and data applications and devices such as smartphones, tablets, instant messaging, and web-based audio and video conferencing. This is coupled with a shift in demographics to workers who are all comfortable using this type of technology and are looking for flexible work, and have an increasing concern for the environment.

Despite the rise in telecommuters, widespread acceptance of telework as a common business practice had been hindered by concerns regarding employee productivity. One of the main barriers to telework has been management trust issues of employees working from home. But a common misperception is that telework is a full-time arrangement. A typical telework schedule tends to be one to two days a week.

Managers increasingly understand that every individual has a different style of working, so by allowing their staff to work how they feel best able to achieve results will only benefit their wellbeing and most importantly increase their productivity and ultimately customer service.

It comes down to a matter of trust. If you trust and respect your employees to get the job done, they will trust and respect you in return and do the best they possibly can, regardless of whether they are in the office or not. Teleworking provides companies with a back-up strategy to continue business operations in the event of a disaster or bad weather. Given that telework employees are geographically distributed, that distribution provides a business with a degree of resiliency.

Teleworking enables continuity of operations during poor weather, such as snow, or traffic congestion which prevents employees from being able to reach the office. It can also come in to play as a back-up strategy in rare disaster or emergency health situations like a hurricane or a flu pandemic. And increasing fuel costs combined with worsening traffic has begun to prompt employees to look to their companies to provide relief and in some cases think about changing jobs to improve their commutes.

Teleworking directly impacts job satisfaction in terms of less motivation to leave the company, less stress, improved work-family balance, and higher performance ratings. With high speed broadband currently accounting for 90 per cent of all household internet connections, and a wealth of telecommunications technologies, such as IP telephony now an affordable business standard for seamless connectivity to the office, the technology to enable home working is now more sophisticated than ever.

Through the use of virtual teams using instant messaging to communicate, having the ability to set up video and conference calls and share documents from the network, there is no need for employers to panic that people working from home or outside the office cannot contribute to the business as a fully functioning member of the team.

Flexible working practices are becoming an integral part of a successful business strategy and can be a critical tool not only in improving the bottom line but also as a starting point to decrease corporate carbon footprint.

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