Posts Tagged ‘automated attendant’

ekt2With the snow falling, congress stuck in neutral and the improving economy started to rear its lovely head, many companies are considering capital investment with the updating of their telephone platforms to Voice over IP high on their list. There are some business owners who have weathered this recession by lowering both profits and expectations. They tell me that they will be interested in talking about upgrading but not until their phone system dies. While this may be the best strategy to maximize your 20+ year investment, there are downfalls. They are:

Your phone system will choose to die at a very inopportune time. There is never a good time to have a major component of your business fail. Lost calls mean lost revenue and more importantly, lost customers.

The cost to maintain and old phone system is greater than the cost to replace it. Just like that 2002 Oldsmobile, there becomes a time when monthly repair bills exceed the price of a new car payment. Phone system pricing has dropped considerably over the years. It’s a safe bet to say that the price of today’s new system will be lower than what you paid back  in 1998. 

Lack of current features means lost productivity.

  • Not having an IP phone system means no off-site employees, no networking with other systems, no advanced features and no using technology to drive new business.
  • Not having unified messaging means your voice mail messages will never be sent to your smart phone. Your customers don’t know you are out of the office. They think that you just don’t care.
  • Not having fax to the desktop means looking for faxes in piles of papers and manila folders instead of a folder on your computer.
  • Not having find me-follow me means that if you do have a customer call transferred off-site to your mobile device, they may be answered by your cellular voice mail and will have to call your company again to get their problem solved.
  • Not having CRM integration means that you can endlessly annoy your customer by asking them their account number, phone number, alternate phone number or address just for the privilege of selling them something. If you’d like a demonstration of how annoying this is, call your cable provider.

As you can see this ticking time bomb approach is not a proactive way to run your business. By giving your customers the best technology available, you make it easy for them to contact you, to deal with you and to buy from you. Make them want to die to do business with you instead of you dying from the lack of their business.

successThe good news is that productivity in the American workforce is near an all time high. The bad news is that we are busier than we have ever been without much hope for seeing things slow down in the short term. Now is the time to use technology to streamline a process, increase customer retention and make it easier for your customers to give you their money. Let’s take your telecommunication system as an example.

Let’s make some basic assumptions and see if we can find a resolution.

  • Customers who call in want a question answered or problem solved. Unfortunately, voice mail is not the answer. Voice mail will document their concern but can never address it. Ignoring and being unresponsive to voice mails will only aggravate your customers. The answer is to leverage the mobility solutions inherent in the more advanced VoIP systems. Find Me-Follow Me and IP Mobility come to mind.  Find Me-Follow Me allows your extension to ring initially but if unanswered, will ring your mobile device. If you are busy or can not answer on your mobile, the caller returns to your company’s voicemail (not your cell phone provider) where they can leave a message or zero out to the operator. IP Mobility works in conjunction such that when you are talking to your customer on your mobile device, you have all the features inherent to your desk set such as, transfer to another extension, record the call, send it back to your desk phone and more. You may even initiate business calls from your mobile device in which the call is routed though your VoIP phone system. The caller receives the Caller ID of your business, thus keeping your mobile number private.
  • If a customer wants to buy something or pay for something, let them. This may seem obvious but so many telecommunications systems are not programmed to provide this level of client interaction. Customers willing to spend money with you are sent to your employee’s voice mailbox. When the call is eventually returned, the customer may be unavailable or unwilling to part with their money. Programming options available to remedy this situation are:
    • Group Ringing with Overflow. Callers to certain departments; sales, billing and the like, ring at all phones associated with that department. If unanswered, calls will ring at overflow positions where the call can be handled in an “as needed” fashion.
    • Linear Hunt Groups. Callers to a department will be sent initially to those in the department best suited to assist them. If there are more callers than department personal, additional callers will be sent to stations who can help out as needed.
    • Uniform Call Distribution. Callers to a certain department are sent to a pilot number. Personell taking the calls are logged in as agents. Calls are distributed evenly among the agents. Callers not answered are put in a queue and answered in the order received while occasionally reminded that their call is important. 

Whatever method best suits your company’s needs is not important. What is important is that all callers are given a chance to talk and interact with your employees. Problems are addressed, questions are answered and money is spent. Take a fresh look and see if your telecommunications platform is part of the problem or part of the solution.

Telephones have been around for over 130 years. It is not surprising that over that century and a quarter a few incorrect assumptions have surfaced. Today we will attempt to shine the light of day on what we believe are the 10 myths about telephone systems.

1. Video Conferencing is too expensive.

In years past that was true. You needed tens of thousands of dollars in specialized equipment and dedicated point to point T1 lines for bandwidth. With today’s low priced cameras and gigabits of inexpensive bandwidth, video conferencing can be affordable for the smallest companies.

2. Self Administration software is helpful if you have a dedicated IT person.

Today’s feature rich applications are designed to be sold to the small business owner. Developers realize this and design the interface to be accessible for even the most novice user.

3. Every system needs Voice Mail.

I am not a big fan of pink slips. I am less of a fan of those who hide behind their Voice Mail. If your business is designed accordingly and has the dedication to customer service, you can function without voice mail. Remember, Voice Mail does not help your customers, it only documents their problem. People solve problems. Get the callers to the right people and see you problems diminish.

4. A receptionist is a waste of money.

As we stated in number 3, you can have a company that chooses not to use Voice Mail. If so, they wouldn’t necessary need a receptionist, but they do need someone to answer first time callers and be available to help customers whose primary contact in the company is unavailable. Having someone work an hour a day and then spend their time filing their fingernails and reading romance novels is not a good idea. Not having anyone to answer when customers call to spend money is far worse.

5. Voice Recording is only practical at the Police Station.

With the drastic cost reductions in hard drive storage and the advancements made in speech compression, voice recording also known as voice documentation can be affordable to almost everyone.  If you don’t think you’re a candidate ask yourself what the financial impact would be if you could reduce order errors? Could you improve customer service if you knew first hand what their experience was? Does your staff make it easy for your customers to buy things from you? The questions go on but the answer may just be voice documentation.

6. Pure IP is always the smart solution.

I’m all in favor of IP phone systems with their laundry list of applications. When it comes to IP, versus digital, telephone sets; that depends on the application. Pure IP may require re-wiring your building to Cat5e or Cat6a cabling, installing QOS routers, POE switches, setting up a V-LAN. If you don’t know these acronyms, you’ll need to hire an IT person to help design your network. If you do understand these acronyms, ask yourself if the investment is worth the reward.

7. Signing a 5 year contract for Network Services is a better deal than signing a 3 year contract.

Historically pricing for comparable Network Services has dropped since Alexander Graham Bell called Watson. Additionally, if new offerings arise that may prove a better fit for your company, those last two years may seem like an eternity.

8. Dealing with a large company is superior to dealing with a small one.

Small companies can give you local personalized service, quick response and in-house billing resolution. Larger companies tend to focus on larger accounts, have defined response procedures and corporate billing resolution. If you think the little guy can do the job and be there when you need them, give him a chance.

9. Never lease, always pay cash.

Leasing may be the way to go depending on your company’s income, expenses, debt and other factors. Talk to your accountant and ask them the benefits and arguments for and against leasing. It just may make their day.

10. Maintenance Contracts are a waste of money.

Today most Maintenance Contract costs are calculated on the actual risk involved. They’re a good idea if you want to buffer and budget for unexpected costs. If your company’s finances can take a little feast or famine occasionally, that’s another story.

We’ve just debunked 130 years of myths. At the rate technology is evolving, we’ll need to address this in about 130 days.

We have just concluded a 30 minute session on Blog Talk Radio. We took questions and e-mails from callers. We discussed Hosted IP, Carrier Service issues, telephone system design and a plethora of all things related to telephone systems, services and how they can affect your bottom line. Give us a listen at or hit the Bog Radio picture. Welcome to the next big thing in Social Media.

The short answer is neither. Having a qualified receptionist to answer incoming calls, transfer them to the appropriate extension and address questions and concerns is the best way to provide good customer service and foster client retention.

If for reasons beyond your control you can not have a full-time receptionist, you have a choice. Making an informed decision will affect how your customers perceive you and your business.

Let’s first look at Automated Attendant which is the application in a Call Processor that routes callers to an extension or group of extensions based on the digits entered by the dialer after the auto attendant answers. We have all heard, “If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it now;” or, “For the Sales Department, press three.”

The benefits of Automated Attendant are:

  • It’s relatively inexpensive. If you have Voice Mail you have Automated Attendant
  • It operates 24/7/365
  • It’s never in a bad mood
  • It can provide a wealth of information a receptionist may find tedious

These are all pretty impressive and need no additional discussion.

The weaknesses of an Automated Attendant are:

  • It’s impersonal
  • The more choices you give a caller, the more annoyed they become
  • It cannot answer questions or provide customer service without making the caller “guess” to whom they wish to speak

Remember, people don’t like talking to a machine. Keep the choices short and specific. It’s impossible to get all callers to the correct extensions 100% of the time. Make sure you have an exit strategy, usually by allowing callers to dial “0” which will send them to a live person who can guide them through the process. Make the technology enhance your Customer Service Department, not replace it.

Let’s now talk about Direct in Dialing also known as DID. DID is the ability to have a 10 digit phone number ring directly at an extension or group of extensions. It’s a function of your Carrier Service Provider and your telephone equipment. In other words, you need to pay for the service from you dial tone provider and your telephone hardware must be sophisticated enough to support DID.

The benefits of DID are:

  • Callers to whom you have given your DID number have direct access to you without receptionist or Automated Attendant intervention
  • Incoming traffic is redirected away from those extensions previously involved in transferring callers
  • A small company can give the allusion that they are much larger

The drawbacks of DID are:

  • There is cost involved if you need to upgrade your current telephone equipment to support DID
  • Once an unwanted caller has your DID number, there is no easy way to screen them

Depending on the size of your company, DID service may be less expensive than typical voice lines. If DID can be cost-effective, it should be considered. If you choose to implement an Automated Attendant solution, you can get very favorable results if it’s designed correctly. When designing any telephone system, think of the users; your customers. What is the most efficient and user-friendly way to get them to purchase your goods and services, resolve a problem or pay their bill? If you keep that in mind, the “Which is Better” argument becomes moot.