Companies should look to internet-based communications to transform their operations


Companies need to look at internet-based communications to transform their operations. Internet Protocol – or IP – communications provide businesses with tools and capabilities for making business processes work better, and connect everyone in and organisation to collaborate, identify and implement business process improvements.

It is not often that a real opportunity comes along for dramatically transforming the way you do business – making it more cohesive, effective, productive and profitable, all with a single approach. But such an opportunity is now within the reach of almost any business.

This opportunity for improving business processes comes from a new development that both simplifies and enhances business communications in many significant ways. It involves putting phone calls on the same IP network as email and other data communications. This bridges the gap between two hitherto separate worlds of communication, linking your phone with your computer, your voice mail with your email,and enabling new ways to sort, mix and manage information and communications on a single network.

By integrating telephone systems with the technology of the Internet – Internet Protocol, or IP – companies can now give employees a new set of powerful communications tools that are as easy to use as email and the World Wide Web. These new communications tools have arrived on the scene just in time to answer the call of businesses that are grappling with the new realities of the global economy. They provide easy and economical ways of sharing information to make quicker decisions. They help businesses and individuals communicate efficiently with suppliers, customers, partners and other collaborators. They meet the needs of a mobile workforce, making everyone in the organisation accessible anywhere and at any time.

The business case for moving to an integrated IP communications solution is irrefutable. The challenge facing businesspeople today is how to rethink their business processes and strategies to make the most of these innovations. Every business has innumerable processes to help get things done. These processes may be as simple as a list of mobile phone numbers kept by receptionists so that customers can keep in touch with key people when they don’t answer their phones, or they can be as elaborate as the tools used by a contact centre to ensure that customer queries are directed to the correct agent first time.

Hundreds of business processes such as these, in almost every aspect of any operation, need to be reconsidered in light of the new possibilities that are made possible using IP communications.

Many organisations hope they can achieve improvements in their business processes by making technology investments in products such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and similar software. The problem with this approach is that although the software may provide a company with better information about its operations, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier for employees to collaborate and communicate with each other to share information and act upon it.

IP communications fills these gaps and in the process create improvements that increases the effectiveness of previous business process improvement investments. Organisations need to look at how they do things now, what they want to achieve and how they can improve their processes to achieve their goals more successfully. In many cases, technology may provide the means to do this, but it should never become an end in itself.

A good starting point for seeing how IP communications can transform business processes is to ask how your business would change if everyone were in one location. Imagine you had a company of 25 people all working in the same office. You answer the phone and there is a key customer on the line with a question you can’t answer.

You know that there are two or three people in the company who have the information the customer needs. All you need to do is stand up, look around to see if they’re there and whether they are busy. If one of them is free, you simply signal to them to pick up the phone or you simply ask them for the information you need.

If they are busy and the customer call is important enough, you have the option of walking over to their desk and interrupting them. It is likely that in this environment you will be able to provide the customer with first contact resolution – linking them immediately and directly with the person or information they need – leaving the customer satisfied and allowing you to move on.

This first contact resolution is the key to business success and typically provides small businesses with a strong competitive advantage. Now consider what happens in a company with a workforce scattered around different locations, perhaps in different parts of building or some people working remotely.

The two or three people with the information you need are not in the same office. You have no idea whether they are in their offices, on the road or on holiday. You have to tell the customer you’ll get back to them. You try calling people who might help and you get voicemail for each one. You send emails, but you don’t know when or if they will respond.

Maybe you can reach them through instant messaging or maybe they’ll see the message on their Blackberries. You might get lucky, but you could spend a day or two playing telephone tag before you finally get an answer to the customer’s question. Then you need to call the customer back, which could result in another round of telephone tag. The customer gets frustrated and your other tasks have been put on hold by a slew of phone calls, voice messages and emails – all because of a simple question that should have been answered in thirty seconds.

In many businesses this cycle happens every day. On the other hand, with an IP communications solution in place you’re able to answer the same questions and resolve customer issues in the moment and with first call resolution.

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Mobile Phone Management Key To Business Success


As mobile phones celebrate a milestone birthday, it’s interesting how they have moved from a simple communications device to now being a key part of business processes.

It has now been 40 years since the first mobile phone call when a telephone engineer rang a technology rival from a ‘cell’ phone in New York. The device was almost 23cm tall, weighed more than one kilogram, contained 30 circuit boards, had a talk-time of 35 minutes and took 10 hours to recharge.

Today, mobile phones in many of our client’s systems are set up to handle many complex forms-based applications that talk to an array of different enterprise back-end systems, making them an integral part of the business process.

Although the mobile phone was developed in the early 1970s, it actually took a decade for it to come into widespread use. Now that smartphones have been around for a few years, the way they are being used by organisations is also starting to evolve, such as connecting multiple enterprise applications to a mobile worker and providing and collecting information that in real time.

Organisations with field workforces are increasingly turning to mobile solutions as a major opportunity to enhance their operational effectiveness. Mobile data is more than just a good communication tool, it is becoming integral to giving key work instructions to the field and capturing real-time job information for the main office.

For example, one of the areas where field workers operate is in supporting the customer service function, whether they be field engineers, mobile repair teams, couriers, insurance inspectors or data collection operatives. Improving the field workers’ ability to deliver service to the customer is having an immediate and positive effect on the operation of the business.

With effective integration into the key back office systems that drive and process the work schedule, it provides the ability to issue work in a timely manner, customers can be given specific appointment times, and workers can move swiftly and efficiently from job to job. The result is the optimisation of resource allocation of a mobile team.

Improving the quality and accuracy of information received by the field worker has been shown to increase their ability to successfully complete each job. This can improve first time completion rates and reduce time to complete a job – be it a repair, collection, inspection or other field-based activity.

In turn, this reduces recalls and the average job lead time, thereby increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the mobile workforce.

The process for implementing mobile applications is principally the same as that required for any major business investment or operational change, involving the selection of technologies and partners, planning and then implementing the solution. Understanding the impact on the business is one of the most fundamental considerations, as mobile technology will impact mobile workers in profound new ways, but in return can transform business performance.

Incorporating mobile phones into business systems has a host of benefits, such as:

  • reducing the workload of administrative personnel
  • reducing the costs associated with delivering service
  • increasing the quality and quantity of work delivered by personnel in the field
  • an enabler of major change in workforce job scheduling

With a real-time mobile data solution, an accurate view of the workforce becomes available at any given time. Real-time information gives an organisation the ability to adjust job schedules constantly. Further review of this information can be the basis for adjustments in future scheduling work, leading to continuous improvement for the organisation.

Clearly mobile data has the ability to deliver all these operational benefits, but there needs to be an understanding of how to achieve these and, in particular, how to harness the maximum potential return for your business.

This goes beyond a technical offering that meets requirements. A successful project starts with an assessment of the mobile strategy requirements and an acknowledgement that the project will impact people and processes.

Mobile data can be a catalyst for change. It can be implemented in two ways; either through mapping existing processes into the new technology or as an opportunity to make fundamental improvements to existing processes.

To successfully introduce a new process, system or technology there must be a clear focus and defined project objectives. Where possible keep it simple, consider a phased approach and concentrate on the initial business requirements.

The opportunities for cost savings are wide ranging. In terms of spending on physical items these include reducing fuel, maintenance and time costs associated with the vehicle fleet through improved travel management; reduction or elimination of unnecessary journeys to the office or depot and overtime costs associated with out-of-hours re-typing of data; and enhancements in workforce resource allocation, job information and scheduling, resulting in fewer missed jobs, less re-scheduled activity and a reduction in re-calls.

This all adds up to improvements in the way customer service is delivered and an improvement in the customer experience of the service received. Therefore, increased customer retention can be expected along with the potential to win new business, through the demonstration of enhanced service provision processes and service levels.

The result of incorporating mobile applications into your communications infrastructure is increased efficiency, higher customer satisfaction, lower costs plus a reduction in the time to invoicing and, therefore, faster revenue collection.

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How small businesses can increase sales and retain customers through communications


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


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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Call Management Reporting Can Slash Business Costs


Organisations need to take a look at ‘call reporting’ as a way of bringing down their business costs by up to 15%. Logging and recording calls using cutting-edge but affordable software can show a telephone network’s cost, performance, capacity and quality of service.

The old maxim that ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure’ has proved to be so true when it comes to communications. Retaining existing customers, controlling costs and seeking competitive advantage have always been difficult goals and a challenging economic environment only adds to that difficulty.

For smaller organisations, often without in-house technical skills and experience to determine which communications products and applications are best suited to their needs, the prospect of using technology for commercial advantage can be daunting.

Our telecoms systems are designed to manage and improve the use of telecommunications throughout an organisation by delivering a wide and flexible range of reports that show them exactly what is going on in a format that is easy to understand and tailored to their business.

As well as the immediate cost savings of up to 15% on calls can be realised as well as the associated savings in staff time, these reports can quickly highlight further immediate savings that can be made by terminating unused lines, redeploying unused extensions, and identifying and eliminating unnecessary and unauthorised private calls.

In addition, real-time call reporting will alert you quickly to any unusual telephone or trunk activity, thus potential telephone fraud can be recognised early and huge expense avoided.

Call Management reports can highlight such areas as:

  • Cost Control – cost of calls, cost of trunk lines, costs by department or individual extension, number of unused extensions, etc. Call logging software can also discover instances of Telephone fraud.
  • Performance Management – looks at how long it is taking an organisation to answer phone calls by operator, department or extension and demonstrates whether they meet acceptable target levels for that organisation.
  • Capacity Management – judges whether the system is being over or under used. It examines trunk usage and call patterns that show where extra capacity is required or where cost savings can be achieved.

Call Management software is a simple to use, yet highly sophisticated management tool that lets an organisation see what is happening within their business when it comes to telephone usage and much more. Quite simply, Call Management can help you run your business better, increase productivity and save you money.

With Call Management you can reconcile your phone bill by seeing reports that show the phone calls you actually made, by number, call duration, which extension made the call. More significantly, you can block calls to unauthorised numbers so you don’t get caught out again. It’s a sad fact that the hacking of phone systems is on the increase again.

Criminals can hijack un-protected systems – usually at night or over a weekend – and use them to redirect calls to overseas locations or very expensive premium rate numbers they own.

The first users general know about it is when they get the bill, often tens of thousands of pounds – and be warned, you are liable and you have to pay up. Call Management can protect you against this fraud by identifying any irregular call patterns and stopping the calls before damage is done.

With Call Management you can also list out your major accounts and identify calls to and from them in simple-to-read reports. How many calls did you miss last month from your biggest customers? Call Management can tell you.

And do you know which of your customers is tying up your expensive customer service desk? Are 80% of your service calls coming from just 20% of your customers? Worse still, are those 20% of customers really spending any money with your business? Once again, Call Management will identify the issues and provide the reports you need.

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‘Doing nothing’ is the wrong option when it comes to future communications challenges


Right now every every business across the world is about to face their biggest challenge – and opportunity – in over two decades.

It’s not a milestone invention like ARPNET’s launch of email in the 1970’s. Nor is it a ‘first’ like the Mosaic ‘consumer’ web browser ten years later. It’s not a single evolutionary step forward like the move from mainframe to desktop computing.

In fact, it isn’t even a single defining event at all. It’s the convergence of a series of trends forcing organisations to choose their next move very carefully. This is so significant because, according to research consultancy Loudhouse, it’s the reason why almost 9 out of 10 enterprises surveyed are investing in their communications infrastructure in the next twelve months.

Not 18 months, or two years, or five, but right now. Organisations need to decide whether they will be one of the 89 per cent of firms taking the path to this new and exciting unified communications future – and in doing so gain a competitive edge.

Doing nothing is likely to mean spending an increasing proportion of your already over-committed budget on supporting ageing communications technologies.

But organisations doing something – taking proactive action – means you will be able to instantly leverage new cost-saving technologies like SIP; reduce maintenance and upgrade charges; enjoy pay-as-you go utility pricing models, for example, hosted telephone systems; and deliver agile new services that allow users, customers and suppliers to work and collaborate socially – wherever and whenever they are – and on their favoured devices.

Organisations that remain static – i.e. those wrestling with the realities of supporting a complex, expensive legacy communications infrastructure – will soon be struggling to compete at all.

For example, interconnecting platforms and equipment, and maintaining disparate voice and data networks, requires substantial expertise and resources that bite deep into already stretched budgets. Added to which, there’s those ever-escalating network, hardware, maintenance and upgrade charges to consider.

And if that wasn’t enough, the older the system the more limited the ability for it to address new user demands like mobility. Yet each new solution or product represents an additional layer of cost to the business. And because it’s old, one day it just might expire.

This patchwork quilt approach to maintaining an ageing communications infrastructure has even wider implications. These include exposing the business to network vulnerability due to system redundancy, to say nothing of the potential for security breaches this creates.

And then there’s the ‘knee jerk’ and expensive investment decisions that are frequently made following a system failure. Worse still, the inability to leverage new communications channels quickly and with ease puts organisations on the back foot when it comes to competitive advantage – from constraining the productivity and performance of employees to failing to deliver the social media and collaboration tools customers expect.

Clearly, the cost of doing nothing represents a missed opportunity – both in terms of competitive advantage and cost savings.

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Leading the way with ‘Hosted Telephony’


Hosted telephony services are changing how small, medium and large businesses use voice communications. They can deliver an extraordinary range of business, financial and technical benefits – making business voice communications more resilient, saving money and making it easy to adapt to change.

Office phone systems are often called PBXs – Private Branch Exchanges – or PABXs – private automatic branch exchanges. In the simplest terms, they connect any two or more phone users in the same organisation together.

Of course they can do a vast amount more, providing facilities such as voice mail, conferencing, call forwarding and so on to make life easier. PBXs are sited at the business’ site, and connect to the outside world via analogue and digital circuits, with cabling around the business location to which handsets are connected. The intelligence to make the components work together is within the PABX itself.

Hosted phone systems, by contrast, take most of the switching and intelligence of the conventional on-site system and move it off-site to a remote location where it is managed by a service provider, such as Pinnacle. Equipment at the business’ site is limited to the phones themselves, a switch, and broadband routers.

As a result, hosted systems are usually quicker, cheaper and easier to install and set up than conventional phone systems. As they are hosted remotely, there is less need for on-site expertise or maintenance.

In contrast, premise-based PBXs require equipment to be located on site. The organisation will be responsible for installing, managing and, when required, upgrading the equipment, as needs change.

Hosted telephony services are good for:

  • Small and medium-size businesses.
  • Organisations with multiple offices or remote users, and those that anticipate rapid changes in size.
  • Any organisation wishing to avoid the significant capital cost of acquiring an on site phone system.
  • Organisations with limited on-site knowledge of managing a phone system.

On-site or premise-based systems are best for large, stable businesses with a predictable number of users that need custom features or to integrate their phone system into their business applications.

Hosted phone systems provide small- to medium-sized businesses with abilities and features that are available to larger organisations, while providing the potential to reduce long-term operating costs considerably.

As with any rapidly growing technology, there is a wide variety of providers and a range of features at widely varying prices. Key benefits include: basic operating cost reductions due to lower call charges, the need for only one communications network, and lower maintenance costs.

There is a minimal investment risk, because no significant upfront investment is needed, and straightforward installation costs are based on tested, reliable components connecting to a system which IT personnel already understand.

It is important to make sure that your system has the basic features that you require now for the operation of your business and for its future growth than to drive the cost to the absolute bare minimum. Be clear about your initial and ongoing costs, contract terms and additional costs you may be committing to.

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