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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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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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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‘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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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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