Teleworking is starting to take centre stage


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crucial communications questions for at-risk companies


What would happen if your telephone system failed and you did not have a plan in place to deal with it? Would your business still be able to operate? Would you be able to contact your customers or suppliers? What alternatives could you arrange and how long would it take?

Incidents in recent years have illustrated all too clearly the affect that natural disasters can have on a business. For example, localised flooding has affected thousands of businesses, some of which never recover.

Without timely communication – when, where, and how your customer wants to communicate – there is no customer relationship. Despite all the innovations in self-service over the past decade, the most important connection is often the voice a company can put on the other end of a telephone.

Yet many companies underestimate how fragile that link to the customer is, how many different ways that connection to the customer can be jeopardised – and how broad their options are for ensuring that they never lose touch with a customer.

We help companies with the level of preparedness they need to achieve consistent customer communications through the role of remote technology to ensure continuity and an effective long-term strategy.

A communications continuity strategy is essential for maintaining customer relationships, but upgrading communications systems that increase flexibility have some side benefits as well:

  • IP telephony system upgrades, which are a key solution to the continuity issue, have produced overall communications systems savings of between 25 and 60 per cent.
  • Companies that have changed their communications systems to be more prepared for business disruptions have seen an average savings of up to 85 per cent a year when IP telephony is involved.
  • New systems enable access to voice messages and faxes even if – in the event of a power failure or severe weather, for example – phone systems are down and the office is closed.

To understand continuity, you need to think through your customer’s eyes. They are not tethered to a specific phone or location when they call you. They can reach out from a home or office desk, a cell phone, WiFi hotspot, or a IP Telephony link.

They have little sympathy for an accidentally severed fibre-optic cable, or a road accident causing a power disruption. All you know is that you are out of touch during crucial moments – moments when a customer wants to initiate a contact.

The effects of those service interruptions can ripple through your organisation with greater long-term effects than a major catastrophe.

When customers can research and switch suppliers and partners in a matter of minutes, during even a modest interruption, your company simply vanishes from the customer’s radar.

The cornerstone of any customer communication strategy is accessibility. Know how your customers will access your company during a disruption of services or locations. On the other hand companies are not structured properly to provide to give employees accessibility to their jobs.

If you are having a conversation with a customer and you are told to evacuate the building for a fire or a drill, the technology exists today to switch that call to your wireless handset, allowing you to walk right out of the building and keep talking, and it will be seamless to the customer.

Relationship continuity is subject to pressures great and small, old and new. Much of the high-profile effort put into relationship continuity planning revolves around high-profile threats – threats of terrorist attacks, pandemics, and devastating, wide-ranging natural disasters of flood, earthquake, and fire.

Although substantial, by their very nature these are not the threats most companies face most of the time. Companies must seek modern strategies to deal with a varied range of continuity threats.

Outdated continuity plans fail to account for modern threats and vulnerabilities. They fail to take an updated view of the importance of ongoing customer relationships.

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Communications help for retail businesses


Pinnacle 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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‘Convergence’ can lead to better communication and lower bills


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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Unified Communications is key to contact centre success


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Collaboration the driver to better business


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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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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