Communications help for retail businesses

shopping-2_2171227bPinnacle is proud to be helping retailers who are under pressure to provide outstanding customer service in the current difficult high street trading conditions. We are providing solutions designed to improve responsiveness to customers, as well as providing greater efficiency across the business and dramatically reducing communication costs.

Your employees are busy serving in-store customers, the phones are ringing unanswered; will missed calls result in missed sales opportunities? Simple call routing allows questions relating to opening times, store locations and requests for job application forms to be routed to auto attendants. This ensures in store staff are free to assist purchasing customers.

Or, in another scenario, a customer is in a rush and has a question about a particular retail product. Sales staff are uncertain if any are still in stock. The customer needs a quick answer. Using wireless phones, staff can be contacted anywhere in the store or warehouse to quickly answer pricing or stock inquiries and consequently help close the sale.

Or Head Office needs to solicit, discuss and distribute weekly or daily updates from its regional managers concerning store activities and promotions. How do you keep everyone informed? Audio and web conferencing enables highly cost-effective and extremely flexible conferencing between remote locations removing costly outsourced conference costs.

The simple fact is that the right telephone system can make a huge difference to retailers, but these days they are about more than just voice communications.

For example, as a retailer, customer service contact requirements vary dramatically from season to season. The right system need to be able to perform workforce scheduling providing management, forecasting, and monitoring tools that allows retailers to effectively plan ahead and control costs.

Remote contact centre agents can also be added quickly and easily to address unforeseen needs. Customer service staff can be mobile to ensure they can direct customers around a store and stay in touch. Mobile applications running on tablet devices, for example, can allow sales staff to direct shoppers around a store using mobile store maps, which also removes the need for excessive fixed signs and store directories.

On the one hand, business costs must be kept to a minimum, on the other, the pressure to provide outstanding customer service has never been greater. Striking a balance between the two is critical for success. That’s where Pinnacle can help.

When implementing new solutions, retailers needed to benefit from new technology and protect investment in traditional technology. Our approach enables retailers to benefit from the latest technology and protect investment in traditional telephony wherever it makes sense. Benefits include:

  • Reduced communication and management costs.
  • Improved information exchange through conferencing and collaboration tools.
  • Increased customer loyalty and revenue through improved marketing messaging and responsiveness.
  • Rapid access to sales staff through easy-to-use retail telephone features.
  • Meeting customer demand 24/7 with scalable, flexible contact centres that can be set up at any location.
  • Improved staff productivity via a full range of phones.
  • Creating a personalised shopping experience incorporating mobile store applications.

We are helping retailers succeed in a challenging economic environment with a suite of powerful communication solutions that support today’s dynamic retail environment. We help to reduce the cost of installing state-of-the-art communications at new and older stores, and provide the flexibility to update old phone systems across stores at a pace to suit the business.

Our systems reduce costs, improve responsiveness and enhances customer service and the shoppers shopping experience. Employees productivity can be enhanced whether in the store, warehouse, distribution centre, head office or when mobile and teleworking.

Depending on the nature of the retail business, studies show that customers who call the store in advance can spend up to five times as much when they subsequently visit the store. These customers are ready to spend and quick response times are paramount to maximising their experience.

So where a number of sales staff within a department are called at the same time, enabling whoever picks up the phone first to answer the call thus reducing wait times for customers is an extremely important issue.

In addition, you can use your customer’s time on hold to listen to an in-store promotion, or some music. ‘On hold’ features enables stores to change the music, or promotional message, as often as they like without incurring additional costs.

Integrated communications that can transform your retail business using Pinnacle’s integrated approach to communications is transforming the delivery of retail services, providing the foundation for superior customer service and increasing efficiencies for our retail clients.

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How finance companies can get ahead in a fast-moving world

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Financial organisations need to look at how they can move ahead of their competition by changing the way they do business and re-thinking the way their staff work. They need to bring together telephony, customer interaction, front office working and mobile working to deliver a reliable, unified communication solution.

Financial organisations are changing the way they do business and re-thinking the way people work. Today’s financial services industry is challenged by changing compliance requirements, the need to reduce operating expenses and stay ahead of the competition. This demands reliable, secure communications, capable of transforming the business and supporting continuous change.

Financial organisations encompass a raft of different types of businesses. These range from trading on the stock exchange, to insurance companies, to retail banking. All of these have many things in common, including operating in a dynamic financial environment where timely information is critical to good decision-making.

In a trading environment, improving communication between front office trading, back office processing and clients can transform business efficiency. These benefits can be realised through the power of unified communications and collaboration.

The insurance industry plays a critical role in protecting individuals and businesses against everyday risks. Customers expect exceptional standards of communication and response, even during the most demanding periods. Again, agile, secure communication solutions capable of meeting compliance requirements and maximising customer satisfaction is essential.

Then we have retail banks which are looking to differentiate customer experience, maximise staff efficiency and meet ever-changing compliance requirements. Customers expect a consistently high level of service across all channels, 24/7.

Unified communication and collaboration solutions enable retail banks to respond to the economic climate and provide customers with a consistent experience and stay ahead of the competition.

Constantly changing market places, ever developing compliance requirements, the need to attract and retain the best talent and the drive towards better customer service demanded dynamic IT solutions that support financial organisations needs to evolve quickly and efficiently. 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.

Financial organisations are looking to create flexible, efficient, client-focused companies by changing the way people work. They need innovative and flexible working capabilities across offices, at home, or on the move. Distributed teams need to be able to work together effectively. However, older communication systems – called ‘legacy systems’ – all too often lack the flexibility to support today’s business processes, restricting the level of innovation needed to remain ahead of the market.

Technology should support business processes. We install web-based systems which enable changes to be made quickly and easily from ‘anywhere’ to ensure technology doesn’t restrict business development. Particularly in the finance sector, ever-changing compliance requirements require flexibility which can meet ongoing compliance needs as well as deliver day-to-day business benefits.

‘Big Bang’ technology deployments take longer to implement, demand more IT resource, and carry more risk. Instead, progressive migration to new systems enables financial organisations to implement internet-based technology quickly and efficiently to meet specific needs. This means their investment in legacy technology can be protected wherever it makes sense.

But the reality is that traditional, fixed call centres are unable to support today’s dynamic client-focused marketplace. New contact centre solutions deliver efficient and consistent customer interaction. New financial products and services can be introduced quickly and efficiently.

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The importance of ‘Unified Communications’

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Although a much-used buzzphrase, what exactly is the importance of ‘unified communications’ in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace.

Well, at its heart, it is the development of systems designed to tackle constant pressure on managers and key employees, and the intense competition for customers.

The goal of unified communications is simple: to make it easy and cost effective for employees to reach one another – as well as business partners and customers – as soon as they need to, wherever they are.

The idea is to merge two or more communications into one user interface, allowing users to see whether someone is available for a phone call, video or telephone conference or instant message chat, and then to contact them in the most appropriate way.

So the next time a customer calls your business with a question about your services, instead of playing ‘phone tag’ trying to find the person who knows the answer, they can be routed to the right employee immediately.

There can be constant pressure on a few ‘go-to’ employees, who everyone else in the organisation relies on for help and information. Because they are so important to the health of the organisation, their time is at a premium. What they need more than anything else is a tool that can help them prioritise their communications.

Managers need technology that allows them to take important calls from anywhere, and ignore the interruptions that can wait for another day. Doing that requires tools that can identify important callers, properly route critical communications, and enable collaboration from anywhere.

In most organisations, customer service is priority number one. In many companies, for example, product offered by one competitor can be easily matched by another, so what matters most is their service. Success requires features that guarantee customers get the answers they need, the minute they need them.

These same organisations need advanced communications technology to meet their business goals, but don’t always have necessary staff devoted to IT and telecommunications issues. As a result, they need technology that is easy to understand and justify, and simple to deploy, manage and use.

So by integrating voice and online communications, ‘unified communication’ technologies make it easy for your employees to identify and locate the right person at the right time, get critical information, make faster and better decisions, and deliver exceptional customer service. It can also cut the costs of communications, including voice, instant messaging and conferencing.

Unified communications can deliver a variety of benefits, including:

  • Customer Care – With skills-based routing, presence information and conferencing, unified communications makes it easier to stay in touch with customers, and ensure they get the answers and support they need;
  • Better Productivity – It can use information and click-to-communicate capabilities to get the right information to the right people as soon as they need it, which helps managers make better decisions more quickly, which in turn speeds development and production times, and fills orders faster;
  • Lowering the Cost of Communications – Unified communications may sound expensive, but it can actually help reduce your communications costs. IP telephony has been shown to save thousands of pounds on voice calls alone – throw in decreased call volumes (thanks to instant message chats) and reduced travel (thanks for audio, video and web conferencing), as well as lower costs for conferencing delivered on-site rather than via a hosted service, and you have a technology than can quickly pay for itself.

Many organisations don’t have the time or money to spend on complex, costly technology implementations. They need tools that are easy to use and deploy, cost effective, and complete.

An all-in-one appliance can deliver all those benefits and more. The right one will be easy to install, maintain and service, and it will be simple to use. It will contain a host of communications applications, all accessible through a single client. And it will be extremely cost effective.

Since the majority of knowledge-based employees spend most of their time within Outlook, for example – composing and answering emails, scheduling appointments, and managing their contacts – integrating other forms of communication into that application makes enormous sense.

This is why organisations should look for a solution that will ensure the technology is simple to deploy, manage and use, without the need for a fully staffed IT department, and without too much cost and complexity.

Unified communications is a popular buzzphrase in business today, but the fact is that with the right technology it can boost productivity, increase customer care and cut communications costs.

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How small businesses can increase sales and retain customers through communications

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This week we are showing small businesses how to increase sales and retain customers  through better communications.

We constantly help our small business clients implement some basic technology to help them make the most out of one of their most critical business tools: the phone system.

Increasing sales while keeping the bottom line intact two things that all businesses, especially small businesses, struggle with on a daily basis.

As a small business, you constantly compete with larger businesses and other small businesses for customer share. Competition is fierce, as customers know they can look at many different options to purchase their goods and services.

So how do you attract new business without decreasing the level of support you currently provide your customers? Better yet, how can you improve your level of service to existing customers so they become repeat customers and “tell-a-friend” about the great service that they have received from you? How can your sales staff or mobile workers become better connected to the office so they can be on top of situations as they occur?

And perhaps most important of all, how can you control costs while doing all of this?

Imagine a potential customer who is calling in order to get hold of pricing information for a particular item of interest. The first hurdle they must overcome is getting someone to answer the phone. Unfortunately lunch hour, coffee or bathroom breaks, and office administrative tasks can interfere with this.

As a result phones can remain unanswered, ringing endlessly, or callers are dropped into the operator’s or admin’s voicemail. These days, people expect better. They demand a very high level of customer service, more than 9 to 5 support, and immediate resolutions to  queries.

Those callers who are used to instant answers hang up the phone and try the next company on the search engine page. The odds are you’ve lost a customer forever.

But what about those who do get past the first hurdle? The phone’s been answered. The admin may know to whom the call is routed, but then the same issue arises. Now, the phone on someone else’s desk rings and if they aren’t there it is dropped right back to voicemail. Again your customer more than likely has moved on to another company – looking for that immediate response.

If you have gone through the trouble of setting up a business to sell a product or service, you owe it to yourself to ensure that you make it as easy as possible for people to do business with you. Making it easy for people to contact your company is essential and puts you a step closer to selling your products and providing exceptional service.

What you need is to implement some basic technology to help your company make the most out of one of your most critical business tools: the phone system. And this is where Pinnacle can really help.

There are a whole range of areas that smaller businesses should look at to improve the customer experience through things such as call distribution, mobile communications, roaming, and innovative networking solutions.

To start with, when your phone rings, there is no reason why that call shouldn’t be immediately and automatically routed to the appropriate person or group, eliminating the time needed for someone to manually complete the task.

An easy way to determine the best routes for your automated system is to set up a simple chart. Write the date along the horizontal axis and leave space for the reason for the call on the vertical.

For a week or two have your front line staff quickly jot down the reason for each call: those answered and those dropped to the admin or operator voicemail. At the end of the monitoring period you should have a fairly good idea of what people are calling about. From there, you can develop your automated attendant by grouping and tallying the results.

It’s a very simple exercise, but now you have a situation where callers can bypass the endless ringing at the front desk and route themselves to their area of interest: be it customer-based or personal calls. If a caller does have a request that is out of the ordinary, they still have the option of speaking to a live operator by pressing “0”.

What this means for you is that the front line staff who was previously spending a significant portion of their day routing calls is now free to concentrate on other tasks. Essentially, you’ve gained a more productive employee with more time for other company business. This can only benefit your bottom line.

What if your needs are greater? Your auto attendant can forward to a department, but what if that department has more than one person who can respond to a call?

Call distribution solves this problem for you. Ring groups can be programmed to have termination points, such as if the call is not answered in a certain amount of rings it should be sent to voicemail or another answer point. This increases the chances of someone being available to answer the call.

Or there is ‘hunting’ where a call can search through a pre-programmed sequence of telephone extensions, terminating at the first free one it finds.

There are many such communications issues that especially small businesses struggle with on a daily basis. But the easiest and most cost-effective way to change is by unifying your communications. We offer numerous options for small businesses, allowing them to compete and excel in a competitive market.

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Communication Linked To Firms’ Ability To Grow

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It’s impossible to overstate the significance of telecommunications technology to any business, especially as it relates to growing the capacity of businesses. Telecoms technology is any firm’s central nervous system, and without it a business can’t compete or survive in today’s information service-dependent economy, making it one of the most important investments to make as a business expands.

Telecommunications technology has many roles, including transmitting information, improving efficiency and productivity and ultimately helping businesses expand. Arguably the greatest contribution of telecommunications technology is its empowering firms to reach more customers with fewer resources and manpower.

Online credit card processing and phone payment, virtual meetings, queued customer service lines, remote monitoring – even basic home and network security monitoring and the like are examples of how your firm can service more clients.

Telecoms has radicalised the phrase ‘do more with less’. It essentially reduces the costs of all transactions. For example, your customers can use the phone or the Internet to make and cancel orders without an employee being involved. Telecoms technology can make your delivery operations smoother by automating many of the basic processes that people once handled.

With the vast amount of information available to each employee of your firm, telecoms technology allows more employees to access and harness information. Mobile and wireless has also freed employees and helped with costs. No longer is an employee required to be in any particular location to get work done.

At Pinnacle, we specialise in take all of the ways a business communicates – person-to-person and conference calls,  social media, email, fax – and integrate them independently of device and location. We are here to help businesses be more productive, enabling them to excel in customer service while at the same time cutting their costs.

We are experts in helping firms access critical information seamlessly and automatically switching between devices, media, and networks, and having continuous, synchronised access to information and applications from a common user interface.

The telephone remains an important element of a customer service strategy. By using call management techniques, you can handle incoming calls quickly, even when lines are busy, and you can route calls to employees with the right skills to deal with the inquiry.

Or if your employees in sales, technical and service teams spend a large portion of their working days with colleagues, visiting customers, working at home or traveling, mobile telecommunication can help them maintain essential contact and work productively on the move.

And the increasing sophistication of smartphones makes mobile telecommunication an integral part of a wider communication capability. Employees can use the same telecommunication device to access data, send and receive emails, work on documents or participate in multimedia conferences.

Our easy-to-use and flexible systems help businesses to simply ‘get more done’ by being able to access emails, calls, faxes and vital business information in a single location; check on team member availability; screen calls and messages to help workers focus without missing key calls; and all designed to work within current familiar interfaces like Microsoft Outlook.

These sort of systems are vital to improving customer service as they enable such things as routing calls to the best available person; linking relevant client information to incoming calls automatically; using social media to extend reach and relate to customers; and getting through first time with one-number reachability.

And, of course, there is the all-important element of saving money, such as by slashing conference costs by up to 90% with integrated in-house conference calling; cutting trunk charges by up to 30% with internet-based calling; reducing office and travel costs with mobile worker support; and saving important time with voice and web-collaboration including video.

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The increasingly powerful ‘Presence’ features in communications technology

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‘Presence’ features in telephone systems are becoming increasingly more powerful. Knowing whether someone is available before you try to reach them dramatically improves communications effectiveness, and ‘presence’ is gradually spreading into messaging systems.

What isn’t always recognised is that a type of enterprise ‘presence’ functionality has existed for a long time in the form of traditional phone features. A busy lamp on a phone indicating that a colleague is engaged is a well established form of presence information that improves communications performance – you know up front to try someone else or that you’ll need to leave a message, for example.

Similarly call waiting tones, redirection to voicemail, do not disturb features, call forward, etc all represent communications functions influenced by what other users are doing at any given time. These capabilities – and more – are already embedded into standard telephone systems, but the exciting part is how the next generation of ‘presence’ information is being brought into a unified communications environment.

We are now looking at incredibly powerful features which, for example, can take information about a user’s availability from a variety of sources including electronic calendars, GPS or bluetooth enabled devices and even intelligent systems that recognise trends in behaviour.

This means that systems can see what you are doing, who you’re with, your location and your next scheduled activities, and intelligently decide on the best course of action for call or message actions, and provide confirmation feedback to people trying to reach you, for example giving a response indicating your next available calendar slot or an alternative way to reach you.

In addition to automatically updating call routing policy – for example, which device should receive calls or messages – certain unified communications applications can use presence information to optimise performance – for example ‘out of office’ presence information advises a unified messaging system to send the user an email if a voice message has been received.

A user’s presence status provides information to others about the ability or willingness to communicate and should also determine the preferred mode of communications. Even with rich presence information and the resulting sophistication in policies, the user still requires ultimate control to customise their communications. Our approach is to enable users to control both how their presence information is displayed and which communications modes are to be used.

The user’s preference settings determine which devices are contacted and how calls are handled – for example forwarded to another user, sent to voicemail, or delivered a custom greeting based on presence status, caller’s identity, time of day or calendar information.
The “3 Cs” of effective enterprise presence solutions are Context, Control and Confirmation:

  • ‘Context’ recognises that a user’s availability status really depends both on what they’re doing and on who is trying to contact them.
  • ‘Control’ refers to the ability of the user to maintain presence policies with the minimum of overhead and effort.
  • ‘Confirmation’ is the negotiation and acknowledgement process that is an inherent part of human interaction. When you’re behind closed doors, I peek through the window next to your office door and wave to get your attention. If you’re talking to someone else you give me the “just a minute” signal (or you wave me off). Regardless of the outcome, I know you received my request for communication and were able to make an informed decision about its relative importance in light of your current activities (context and control).

At the most basic level, presence information is a status indicator that conveys the ability and willingness to communicate. A user’s desktop client provides presence information which can be made available to other users to convey their availability for communication. The most common use of presence in an instant messaging client is to display an indicator icon along with a text description of the state. States exist in many variations across different clients but common ones are “free”, “busy”, “away”, “do not disturb” and “out to lunch”.

But we can now go one stage further and put these states in context for the user. For example, VIP lists, in which a caller is pre-authorised by the user to over-ride presence-driven policies, is particularly relevant to the fast-paced enterprise environment. Good teamwork is essential to most organisations. However, in today’s complex business environment, team members are often scattered around the world, working in different time zones, different departments and different offices, some working from home and others on the road.

Teams often extend beyond the boundaries of the business as part of a community of interest of partners, suppliers and other collaborators. Each individual team member may also work with several other teams and communities of interest. With unified communications and presence tools that let each individual indicate whether they are available to communicate at any given time and what device they can communicate with, team members can collaborate with their colleagues without wasting time with messages and telephone tag.

Our vision of unified communications provides a converged infrastructure that streamlines communications between people and organisations, regardless of the medium, mode, platform, device or location. This leads to improved productivity, enhanced customer service, reduced costs, and ultimately improved business process integration.

This converged infrastructure brings together voice communications, presence and availability, instant messaging, conferencing, collaboration, unified messaging, mobility, and business applications into a seamless environment to enhance the user experience and the effectiveness of “in the moment” communications that is a critical element of business success.

A robust and flexible presence infrastructure, that leverages the strengths of IP Telephony call status information as well as presence information, presents dramatic opportunities for more effective enterprise communications.

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The benefits of cloud-based hosted IP telephony

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New technology is reshaping the workplace. The widespread availability of high-speed broadband and new mobile technologies is opening up exciting new possibilities.

The way we work, the way we communicate and the way we interact with technology to do our jobs is quite different from ten years ago. One of the key trends to emerge is the so-called move to the cloud.

Typically, an organisation will outsource its IT requirements to an external specialist, instead of maintaining and updating its own hardware and software onsite. Applications and data are hosted centrally ‘in the cloud’ – the provider’s network.

Users then access the software and files simply and securely via their web browsers. This has two key advantages. First, it eliminates the need for extensive in-house IT resource and second, it means organisations can effectively rent the service they need – on a per-user, per-month basis.

Hosted telephony is becoming a significant part of this outsourcing picture. In simple terms, hosted telephony is a telephone system that sits in the cloud rather than in your office.

Users access the system using a traditional IP handset or a ‘softphone’ – a screen-based virtual phone. Calls are transmitted using a broadband connection to the service provider’s network, from where they are routed to fixed and mobile devices.

Hosted telephony means you no longer need to maintain and upgrade costly PBX hardware onsite. The provider, who hosts your system, is responsible for the hardware and software, including system upgrades.

As well as giving your organisation access to low-cost and free IP calls, a hosted system puts a huge range of smart call management features at your fingertips. Mobiles and other devices can also be integrated.

More importantly, hosted telephony gives organisations a high level of control, meaning their entire communications system can be managed easily, right down to the individual user level, using a simple interface.

Increasingly, hosted telephony is available to suit any budget, usually sold on a monthly rental basis, with no initial capital outlay and targeted at delivering a solution at a set price to the customer.

One person can manage an organisation’s entire phone system through an easy-to-use web interface. The system can be configured and settings changed at the click of a mouse – right down to the individual user level.

This means your phone system can be optimised to meet your business needs at any point in time. New users can be added easily by the administrator, without having to contact an external engineer.

Using an IP phone is as easy as using a traditional handset, so there’s little training required. Users can manage their own phone settings, for example, if a user wants to work from home or on the move, they can log into their account and divert calls to their home phone or mobile.

This kind of flexibility can contribute to boosting employee productivity and enhancing customer service levels by ensuring key people can always be reached.

Because a hosted system sits in the cloud, there’s a clear business continuity advantage. Say, for example, a heavy snowfall shuts down your workplace for a few days in winter. Call forwarding can provide an automated ‘failover’ to a user’s mobile, or as long as the company can log into the system via the web, they can easily divert calls to home phones, mobiles or to another site unaffected by the bad weather.

The flexibility of the technology also means you can use a standard geographic number even if calls are being answered in a completely different location. This is due to the fact that the number is hosted in the cloud rather than being tied to the local exchange.

Moving your organisation’s telephony to the cloud clearly has a number of potential advantages – enhancing management control, raising employee productivity, improving customer service and cutting call costs.

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