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The Incom Business Systems Blog Archives
The contact centre as touchpoint for service excellence
In our latest guest blog, Niki Waters, Projects Manager at Premier Holidays, identifies the trends and challenges shaping the contact centre of the future.
They haven’t always been viewed as a company’s most valuable assets, but with customer service critical to winning new customers and enhancing loyalty, the role of the contact centre is fast taking centre stage. So what are the key challenges faced by those responsible for the performance of the contact centre? And how are evolving staff roles and customer expectations influencing the way service is delivered by organisations seeking to achieve brand differentiation?
Customer experience is king
Typically occupying the front line of customer communications, call centre agents own responsibility for critical interactions with customers, where each and every conversation must be regarded as a “moment of truth”. As such, they have the ability to shape the customer experience (or “CX” as it is more commonly known), so it is essential that agents are armed with the tools and systems required to deliver quick answers by a variety of communication channels. Agents need fast and easy access to information and they need access to it via a simple and consistent interface without the need to log into a multitude of different systems. Quite simply, confident and efficient customer service responses and the ability to quickly collaborate with colleagues to answer a difficult question, mean the difference between average and first-rate customer relationships.
Arise the universal agent!
Customers want more from their interactions with a contact centre and expect any agent they speak with to be equipped to answer all their questions. They don’t want to be transferred to another agent or department or put on hold, so how an agent performs will shape the perceptions of the business and influence whether a customer will engage or remain loyal.
There’s no doubt those organisations which facilitate the introduction of “universal agents” will benefit from considerably improved first call resolution, better customer retention and an increased lifetime customer value.
Omnichannel is the name of the game
Digital innovation is having a profound influence on the contact centre. One of the key drivers is the widespread use of mobiles and smart devices, offering instant access to multiple channel including email, social media, video and web chat, and allowing customers to make contact how they want to, regardless of location and time.
The key to success lies with a clear appreciation of how today’s digitally-savvy customers want to engage. This means that businesses must understand which communication channels matter most to their customers and ensure that the service operation is equipped with the right technologies to enable a seamless and integrated customer journey.
The flexible working revolution
The days when employees all worked under the same roof are numbered with home-based and remote working all becoming more prevalent and work being something you do, rather than based from a specific location. Equally, organisations are striving to recruit and retain the best skilled workers, so offering flexible working practices is a top priority for the digitally-savvy millennial generation.
Promoting seamless communication and the exchange of rich information across physical boundaries is vital to the performance of the contact centre. Get this right and organisations will be able to leverage the benefits that improved collaboration and customer contact deliver, by empowering an increasingly mobile workforce to provide a consistently superior experience - one that actively engages customers and reinforces value.
Analytics for continuous improvement
Access to call analytics and management information about the quality of agent performance and customer interactions will help pinpoint areas for improvement. The ability to view real-time information is vital in enhancing performance, while the ability to compare historical data will give a better understanding of trends to plan optimum staffing levels. This will help ensure that agent availability is scheduled appropriately, supporting the drive to achieve enhanced customer interactions.
One of the key challenges in optimising contact centre performance is achieving the balance between human interaction and the convenience and efficiency of automation. Utilising new technology can significantly improve first call resolution via intelligent call routing, leading to a reduction in call waiting times and repeat calls into the contact centre, which in turn enhances the customer experience.
Cloud is becoming the norm
Cloud-based contact centre services allow companies to rent bundles of equipment and software, and stay competitive while pursuing an operational commercial cost model. If contact centres want to transform their contact centres without capital outlay in order to improve the customer experience, communication services can easily be consumed on a utility pricing model with Cloud and hybrid solutions.
It is clear that we live in an age of increasing consumer power, where the customer is now in the driving seat as to how they want to engage with companies. The success of companies is being defined by their ability to listen and interpret customers’ requirements. What better place to act on this knowledge than at “coal face” of service delivery – the contact centre.
Why digitisation is critical to the housing sector
The need for digital services has never been stronger. According to recent research, over a fifth of us will always opt for a digital service, if offered, and online banking and online shopping reign supreme as the most used and valued digital services every day (both at around 67%).
Despite this uptake, there are still obstacles when it comes to digital services, as successfully embracing the digital revolution requires a sea-change in attitude and a clear strategy, if it is to succeed. Housing providers face a number of potential challenges, with the entry barriers into new markets less prohibitive to new players who may be far more agile and entrepreneurial at bringing improved services, such as assisted living, to realisation.
The entire housing sector faces considerable disruption, but embracing digital opportunities is the only option, if providers are to transform their approach and remain “competitive” in a market which is certain to undergo significant change. There are three aspects that housing providers must focus on:
Digitisation of the business
IT teams will drive major change: IT outsourcing, exploiting the Cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) offer new opportunities, such as the management of physical assets, Utility companies have already started to embrace IoT through sensor technologies to monitor their assets and proactively arrange maintenance visits, as required.
Transforming the service user experience
The goal is to transforming the service user experience for both tenants and employees, by providing access to new channels, such as Live Chat, instant messaging and social, by operating an omnichannel strategy that lets users interact in a way they feel most comfortable with. For tenants, this means putting digital inclusion at the heart of the communications strategy. For employees, this means providing simple to use and access tools and services that help them be effective – irrespective of their location, time zone or device.
Reinventing the business model
Housing providers need to reinvent their models and think about how they can deliver innovation – before someone else does. While housing providers still need to “act social”, they must start to “think and behave commercial”, driving change through ideas that help them to be “disruptive”. Far from being a buzzword, there are more ways than ever for housing providers to interact and engage in an innovative way. With the increasing pace of change that exists in the sector, providers need to think on their feet and act fast.
The scale of change approaching - and the disruption it may bring as it is implemented - means that there may not be another chance this decade. Amidst the politicking, uncertainty and cuts, and the housing sector adjusts to whatever becomes the “new normal”, the next twelve months need also to be remembered as a time of innovation for UK housing.
To learn more about Incom's communications solutions for the Housing sector, click here
Connected retail and the rise of "me-tailing"
In the third in our series of guest blogs, Iain Warde, IT Support Manager at Clothingsites.co.uk, reflects on the current challenges facing the retail sector and the rise of me-tailing.
Despite the doom and gloom of recent years, a retail renaissance is underway and it is digital. It’s no longer enough to capture attention and stand out of the crowd, as everything now hinges on how well you engage with a consumer – irrespective of whether they’re in-store, using an app, conducting research using social media or browsing your website.
The speed with which new technologies are being adopted by consumers is breathtaking, as digitally-savvy consumers drive the unstoppable retail revolution. New customer touch points and channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, leave retailers struggling to decide whether to prioritise social engagement, digitally enabled stores or mobile strategy. Understanding when to harness these technologies and how to use them is what connected retail is all about.
Forrester predicts that connected retail will influence 44% of retail sales in 2016. Within three years, it has the potential to revolutionise the industry and transform how retailers operate and how they engage with consumers. It has enormous capacity to improve operations, streamline processes and lead to greater efficiencies. It will improve the in-store experience, breathing new life into the high street in three core areas:
"It’s all about me" Success for retailers lies in developing a deeper relationship with customers, offering highly personalised products and interactions that are contextualised by information gathered in real-time through mobile, social and in-store channels. This new approach, me-tailing, empower consumers with the tools to connect with a brand anytime and anywhere, through varied channels that bring the brand to life in meaningful way to the consumer.
Me-tailing in practice Stores are vying to deliver ever more creative and personalised shopping experiences as they try to develop connections with their customers. To be successful, me-tailing must be personal, so it can quickly backfire if the wrong proposition is delivered, no matter how exciting the technology. Success lies in its execution and in understanding the individual customer.
The future of the high street New channels should not be viewed as threats. Retailers who embrace the changing landscape will do so through a mix of online and offline experiences for the consumer – making shopping more convenient and easier. Unless retail brands understand these issues and anticipate changing digital shopping habits, they will disappear from the high street. If they embrace new technology and invest in developing a clear picture of how customers use digital in their daily lives, they will provide the commercial framework for its future. The ability to personalise will foster the type of loyalty that will make retailers successful in the me-tail world. After all, it's all about you.
Learn more about Incom’s communication solutions for retailers here.
Are you ready for Bring Your Own Device?
Technology is a driver of competitive advantage and innovation in the business world, but with such progression comes challenges. Technology is forever evolving and keeping up with change continues to be a struggle for many IT departments.
With employees expecting to work very differently from a generation ago, these challenges are set to grow. You can now work wherever you are, at any time and on any device. This means better collaboration, increased mobility, better business control and an empowered workforce. It’s essentially “business without boundaries”.
And this flexibility in working has resulted in an increasing trend for company employees wanting to use their own devices to access company data. According to IDC, 95% of employees have used their own device in work and they are often newer and more advanced than the equipment offered by many IT departments. So it's hardly surprising that this new IT self-sufficiency is changing the way that people want to work and has led to the advent of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).
There are some key advantages to operating a BYOD strategy, including increased employee satisfaction as they can work more flexibly; cost savings due to reduced hardware spend, software licensing and device maintenance plus productivity gains as employees are more comfortable and often work faster with their own technology. BYOD also means the workforce is no longer tied to a single location and customers can get in touch using a single number, whether their key contact is in the office or out and about.
However, employees expect to have the same level of access to their company systems and applications as they have on business-provided devices and this is where convenience clashes with security. But businesses must recognise the importance of taking action, as by far the biggest risk is not having any sort of BYOD policy in place at all. And by ignoring the challenge, companies may inadvertently expose themselves to attack.
So the arrival of BYOD is forcing IT departments to develop and implement policies that govern the management of multiple, unsupported devices. What data can employees have access to? What security measures are in place? What happens if an employee's device is lost, compromised or stolen?
According to a survey by Spiceworks, a third of IT professionals say their BYOD policy works well for some devices and poorly for others, while 23% say it's a headache for their department. Only 17% maintain that they fully embrace the trend.
BYOD is about being innovative and helping your people to work better. Employees want to use the devices that they are comfortable with in the workplace and they want to have the same experience at work that they have at home. And by giving employees what they want, companies will ultimately benefit – providing that they instigate some control to reduce risk.
Personal Unified Communications (UC) is helping to transform Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies by providing improved collaboration.The research firm ZK Research defines personal UC as, “the ability to deliver a consistent set of UC services to any user, on any device in any work location.”
Personal UC used in collaboration with BYOD policies further enhances the capabilities of the growing mobile workforce. Empowering mobile workers with the same features they use on desktop UC solutions transforms every employee-owned endpoint into a full, robust opportunity for unprecedented collaboration. Businesses can further refine operations to improve productivity as employees become more capable when mobile. Organisations that make the best of personal UC are set to gain a valuable competitive advantage.
Learn more about ShoreTel BYOD solutions here and for advice on implementing BYOD, contact us on 0161 788 0000.
E-Commerce is proving costly - but primary content can help
Bradford Shellhammer, co-founder of design-centric online retailer Fab.com, recently made an eyebrow-raising claim: that bricks-and-mortar stores are becoming more cost-effective than their online counterparts.
He claimed that opening a high street store is “probably” cheaper than launching an e-commerce outlet in today’s market, even when factoring in increased overheads from rent and payroll. And the reason for this shift? According to Shellhammer, it’s down to ever-increasing marketing spend, as well as the hefty costs of postage and returns. In other words, “It costs money to make money”. According to Shellhamer, “When you’re competing for the same ad channels against guys who have unlimited coffers, it’s really difficult.”
Shellhammer contends that if a retailer has a relatively low number of employees, combined with a single premise, it’s perfectly feasible for this model to be cheaper to run than an ecommerce store. As evidence of this shift towards the “old school”, he points to an increase in the number of online start-ups shunning paid online advertising – because getting noticed has become so expensive – in favour of traditional media like direct mail and ad hoardings, where competition is less fierce.
Aside from escalating advertising costs, Shellhammer highlights customer returns as another significant drain on revenues for e-tailers. This is where clear, accurate and informative product description content can play a vital role in the customer journey and help to minimise the likelihood of shoppers returning items on the basis that they weren’t “as described”.
Aside from the well-publicised SEO benefits of producing unique product descriptions, this “primary content” should be seen as a critical sales opportunity – the equivalent of an interaction with a sales assistant in-store. Get product descriptions right and a customer will feel informed, inspired and compelled to buy; get them wrong and the customer could end up with something they don’t want.
Getting product descriptions right
Creating a product page that really assists conversions and provides as much information as possible to the buyer, lowering the risk of returns, requires smart interaction between design, UX (user experience) and content.
The basic best practice principles include:
1. Highlight product benefits as well as features in product copy. That woven-rope handle isn’t just there for the sake of it – it makes the bag extra comfortable to carry and taps into the season’s nautical trend. Appealing to customers’ emotional and aspirational sentiments, as well as providing the “nuts and bolts” of product composition and features, is important.
2. Use high-quality product imagery. Research from MDG Advertising found that 67% of consumers consider images “very important” when they buy, and this is critical for reducing the likelihood of returns.
3. Maximise your user-generated content. Analysis from Figleaves.com found that products with reviews had a 12.5% higher conversion rate than those without, while products with 20+ reviews showed an even more marked increase in conversion rate, at 84%.
4. Give as much detail as possible. When customers shop in-store, they can rely on the knowledge and expertise of sales assistants to help them make a decision. The same principle applies to e-commerce; supplementing product pages with extra information like sizing guides, care and maintenance advice, FAQs and “how to wear/use it” tips will give shoppers confidence and make them less likely to return items.
Why customer service excellence takes more than 140 characters
Have you noticed how we have become a world of prolific “sharers”, creating content on the fly with smartphone apps, and broadcasting our ideas and opinions instantly to a global audience, thanks to the power of social media? We can comment on, review and engage with all our online connections instantaneously, sharing our opinions on everything from a video of a cat “singing” to any aspect of the cultural zeitgeist.
In the commercial world, social media is a godsend, allowing multi-national conglomerates to present their human face by creating a personal touch for brands that previously appeared distant or irrelevant. Consumers appetite for social media shows no sign of abating, and has heralded a stampede of social activity by organisations promoting their services and charitable actions.
Brands operating on social platforms are acutely aware that they are being watched by the wider public - after all, it is a broadcast platform at heart. Equally, consumers can air their grievances publicly with a view to making it as visible as possible. So it’s not too great a mental leap to realise that many organisations are highly motivated to mediate those same problems in a public forum for the same reason – widespread visibility on a global scale.
As a marketing activity, it’s incredibly powerful; take a problem and turn it into column inches and goodwill for a fraction of the cost of advertising. In itself, this isn’t an issue. Of greater concern is that the reality of the customer experience - and the behaviours and business processes which led to dissatisfaction - become of secondary importance to public perception. Let me explain.
Usually, customers only complain when they have a real problem that has damaged their experience and their motivation for complaining is to seek some acknowledgement or reparation. Customers will tend to take the path of least resistance to complain, particularly when faced with the choice between a 30-minute flute solo on a call centre telephone line or a 140-character post on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, many choose the latter.
As the consumer takes their grievance to a public and instantly amplified social channel, the business goes into overdrive to manage their image and reputation, rather than unearthing the underlying imperfections in their service operation.
While that may not seem an issue – the problems are getting sorted, after all – there is a very real risk of creating a double-standard for customer service. Whose problem do you resolve first - the complainant with 25,000 Twitter followers or the one with just 250?
There is strong evidence to support the argument that customer complaints lodged through channels such as email, phone or even webchat, are done so more equitably and the emphasis for both the customer and the organisation is issue resolution and service improvement. And while research continues to support the ongoing trend towards multichannel service delivery, voice remains the channel of choice for the vast majority of customers.
Customer service is all about ensuring a high quality experience - an experience which is hard to control, starts long before anything has been bought, and which plays a significant role in customer loyalty. Today’s digital-savvy customers decide which supplier will receive their business, based on a wider number of factors than ever before, giving consideration to peer reviews, personalised offers and value-added advice before making their purchasing choice.
Predicting and understanding the customer journey has become the new holy grail of marketers, as brands seek to define what the perfect customer experience is and how to personalise the experience for each individual customer.
Consumer demand for omnichannel service means that handling complaints and issues via social media channels is important, but should be viewed with equal importance to email, webchat and good old-fashioned direct dialogue via the telephone or face-to-face.
Winning customers who will recommend you and stay loyal means your brand must deliver its promise and live up to the expectations you’ve promoted about the customer experience. Social media is an important channel of communication, enabling service agents to be responsiveness and manage expectations about issue resolution. However, in the age of the customer, executives don't decide how customer-centric their companies are – but their customers do.
Just don’t imagine that 140 characters will always the best way to deliver customer service excellence.
How to build an agile housing provider
Today’s housing providers are undergoing massive change. They need to be commercially viable, maintain service levels to tenants and meet the demands of an increasingly mobile workforce. Welfare Reform, including the introduction of Universal Credit, and an increased focus on channel-shifting customers to new and more efficient forms of communication means they are tasked with using technology to deliver transformation and business agility.
In response, Boards and Executive Management teams are seeking better ways for their employees and tenants to interact, whilst improving services, boosting efficiencies and ensuring robust accountability. Arguably, this is nothing new - isn’t the purpose of all workplace technology ultimately to support the collaborative efforts of its employees and provide better services to end-users?
There are three key elements that housing providers must respond to:
Tenants are the primary drivers of change within the housing sector. The vision for many organisations is to allow tenants to access information and services from any screen, any device and at any time. These channels may encompass anything from websites and web chat, multi-channel contact centres to access points and booths on housing estates, traditional voice solutions and office access. What is clear is that no effective customer contact strategy can rely on just one or two channels. The skill lies in understanding tenant needs, knowing when it is appropriate to use different channels and ensuring the services are easily accessible and easy to use whatever the means.
Undoubtedly the biggest shifts in tenant behaviour in recent years have been the rise in internet use, the exponential growth in mobile phone ownership and use of social media. Social networks alone grew into a multi-billion pound business by tapping into people’s desire to share information, respond to new developments and answer other users’ queries in real-time - often at a speed that can be bewildering to the uninitiated.
This shift in behaviour has major implications for housing providers, because the majority of their employees and their tenants use the internet and are active on social networks. They have had to modify their contact strategies to meet new expectations. Web chat, social media and increasingly video calling are part of the wider digital inclusion strategy and central to the multi-channel contact centre. While telephone, IVR and self-service remain strong components of any multimedia contact centre, Generation Y uses these channels significantly less than other age groups and they hold high expectations of a seamless omnichannel experience.
Housing providers need to consider how to weave all channels - voice, webchat, social, SMS - into a consistent user experience with a 360° view of the tenant, irrespective of the communication channel chosen. Residents need faster access to the correct information, leading to faster resolution of problems.
In an agile housing association, not all employees work under the same roof. In many cases, key personnel are based at multiple sites across the area, work from home or are out visiting tenants. This means that employees must frequently coordinate their activities with colleagues who are dispersed. Once popular methods of collaboration, such as weekly conferences involving everyone in the office, have become inadequate. Just as important is the time and cost implications of individuals who may have to travel to attend these face-to-face meetings. Add the consumerisation of IT into the equation, and it’s clear that most employees now expect a more collaborative working environment. They want the ability to reach colleagues instantly when they’re online and know immediately when they’re available using the appropriate means of communication for the desired outcome, be it instant messaging, conference calls or video chat.
The trend towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has enabled people to take their digital experience into the workplace - literally. However, the impact of BYOD extends much further than an employee accessing Twitter via their own tablet at a workstation. It means that workers can have the same seamless experience when using technology at work that they enjoy with their devices at home, delivering immediate access to all applications.
Cloud technology has allowed established workplace tools to be enhanced with fresh capabilities that support collaboration, transforming internal processes with greater employee productivity and optimised processes that eliminate silos of separated services and resources.
For mobile workers on home visits, employees can be equipped with laptops and PDAs that connect via Wi-Fi to the headquarters’ infrastructure with a single login, enabling them to find information and answers quickly for the tenant. With this kind of technology, many queries or problems can be resolved on the spot instead of requiring multiple visits or additional work when the employee returns to the office.
A move towards more home-based working can improve employee retention and recruitment, as well boosting productivity. Advanced communication and collaboration tools, such as instant messaging and video conferencing, can accelerate cycle times for the development and delivery of services, while e-learning can dramatically reduce the cost of training, both in terms of expenditure and time away from the office.
The Networked Organisation
Driving the development of a collaborative workforce is the concept behind the networked organisation, enabling network processes to be optimised across the whole organisation, rather than just within particular departments. The convergence of voice, data and video services, such as CCTV, onto a single IP-based network can eliminate substantial operational and capital expenditures, while the standardisation of platforms across departments can simplify network management and generate still more cost-efficiencies. Reduced total cost of ownership and simplified maintenance are additional benefits, as well as access to flexible architecture in a scalable solution that can accommodate future growth.
Security continues to be a crucial area of consideration for the organisation. Today’s intelligent, intuitive security solutions build security into the fabric of the network and can simplify management of the most complex and distributed architectures. Security becomes an enabler for new services rather than a barrier to deployment, allowing organisations to extend the full productive power of the network to its furthest endpoints.
Increasingly, housing providers are finding that specific internal issues can be addressed through improved collaboration and certainly tenant satisfaction is achieved through efficient multi-channel contact strategies. This can be achieved by aligning specific collaboration tools with the core needs of the business. The initial investment in the platform rapidly begins to pay for itself as businesses achieve genuine productivity gains, increased operational efficiency and higher rates of customer satisfaction. Tools like video conferencing can also have a major impact on business travel expenditure and training costs for organisations with multiple sites.
There is no doubt that tools which promote seamless communication and the exchange of rich information across physical boundaries are increasingly important for success. For Housing Associations, leveraging the opportunities of improved collaboration and customer contact are crucial because they will determine their prospects for future success.
To learn more about Incom's communications solutions for the Housing sector, click here
Transforming service delivery in Housing
In the second in our series of guest blogs, Karen Johnson, Head of Customer and Corporate Services at Teign Housing, explores how the use of advanced technology is helping Housing Associations to drive digital inclusion and enhance service delivery to tenants.
The advent of digital inclusion signals a major shakeup in the housing sector and the digital revolution has given housing associations unprecedented levels of engagement with their tenants. With new reforms in social housing announced in this year’s Queen’s Speech, digitalising services will have an important role to play in the Government’s strategy to bring digital inclusion to all.
The motivation is partly driven by the Public Services Social Value Act 2012; for the first time, all public bodies in England and Wales, including housing associations, are required to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area. Yet, despite the fact that the internet currently has over 3 billion users worldwide, the UK Office of National Statistics identified that 4.1 million adults out of 8.7 million living in social housing have never been online.
It’s not just regulation driving change. Housing providers are beginning to appreciate that delivering services via a wider range of channels allows them the opportunity to deliver enhanced tenant services. By integrating an array of existing business systems, such as housing management and rent applications and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, detailed information relating to tenants can be captured and shared, affording housing providers full visibility of a tenant’s profile and their interactions with their landlord. And the benefits of digital inclusion don’t end there. A report commissioned in 2012 by Pearson and the CBI has connected being Internet savvy to increased employment and earning potential.
The pressure is on to get tenants engaging via digital channels. The Government aims to increase the number of citizens who are online by 25% in 2016, then by a further 25% every two years until everyone is connected. By 2017, the Government wants 80% of Universal Credit applications to be made online. However, in setting these objectives, the Government has identified four key barriers to achieving its targets; the ability to connect to the Internet; being able to use the Internet; believing the Internet is a good thing and the fear of online crime.
So while it is clear that there are challenges ahead, the Government’s strategy to bring digital inclusion to all will deliver enormous benefits to all concerned. And technology has a vital role to play. Allowing housing associations to manage their interactions across multiple channels is essential to exploiting the advantages of advancements in communication technologies. The digital age demands that housing associations reassess how they operate and redesign their services to keep up with the society they endeavour to serve.
Building your communications strategy around flexible working
In the first of a series of guest blogs, Spencer Bradshaw, Head of Advanced Applications and Solution Architects, EMEA at ShoreTel, explores how changes in employee working practices impacts an organisation's communications strategy.
The days when all employees worked under a single roof are far less common as multi-site, home-based and mobile working become more prevalent. In fact, across many industries, a nine to five Monday to Friday working week is fast disappearing, as the notion of “work is something you do, not a location” becomes a common ethos.
The Office of National Statistics has recently published data that suggests there were over 4.2 million home workers in the UK in 2014, equating to 13.9% of the total working population. Of these, 73.4% were occupied in higher skilled roles.
One key factor which is driving this trend are the recent changes to employment legislation allowing employees to request flexible working provisions. Employers must give each request proper consideration or face a potential employment tribunal. Some business leaders are adopting strategies that allow staff to manage their own workloads and schedules – even going as far as allowing unlimited holiday leave.
As employers strive to recruit and retain the best talent, they face increasing pressure to provide the tools and applications that allow employees to work productively from any location. The result is that employers must work with their employees to design and enable flexible working practices that are mutually beneficial.
The importance of presence
Employers are right to be concerned about how these changes might impact their business operations and staff productivity. How can an employee working from their kitchen table at home be as productive as they would be in the office?
The answer is to extend line-of-business applications beyond the company firewall, using technology to replicate the office experience from any location. More than simply building VPN and remote access solutions, employers need to facilitate simple and seamless connection to the company’s communications platform using the tools, apps and processes that help employees to be productive.
Unified communications (UC) can help employees maintain a consistent presence, regardless of time or location. Extending phone systems in this way allows remote employees to be contacted on their internal extension or other devices, even when they are out of the office. It also allows them to remain part of internal hunt groups, keeping them connected via the UC platform and apps with which they are already familiar, in order to maintain professional communications with colleagues and customers at all times.
Remote employees have access to the corporate directory, company voicemail and other resources at all times and the use of smartphone apps keep people connected wherever they are, routing calls to their desktop phone and mobile handset simultaneously.
Adopting this approach delivers a more unified and easily managed communications infrastructure while also delivering considerable cost savings, by ensuring work-related calls are routed through the corporate call plan, rather than disparate mobile phone contracts.
Depending on the deployment, companies can benefit from a Cloud-based platform that reduces ongoing hardware management and maintenance. The deployment of new extensions can be as simple as plugging in an additional VoIP handset and mobile apps can also be used to apply urgent changes to UC configurations when out of the office. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) can be used to simplify the routing of incoming customer calls or play recorded messages to help callers resolve common issues themselves.
A permanent solution to temporary problems
Perversely, many businesses may find that a lack of flexible working provisions comes back to bite them in the colder months. A run of bad winters over previous years are estimated to have cost the UK economy £11 billion annually due to lost productivity. Research from eSure Insurance stated that, “43% of staff have been stranded at home due to ice and snow causing transport problems.” With the possibility of almost half of all employees unable to make it to “work”, UC offers much more than flexible working for a select few employees.
Beyond mobile working
Utilising UC offers employers an opportunity to extend the full power of the communications platform to employees regardless of their location, working hours or role, empowering them with the tools they need to be fully productive – and in the manner they are most comfortable with.
Seamless communication and the exchange of rich information across physical boundaries are vital to future success. Get this right and businesses will be able to leverage the benefits that improved collaboration and customer contact deliver by empowering an increasingly mobile workforce to provide a consistently superior experience – one that actively engages employees, customers and reinforces value.
Are you boosting your business with superfast broadband?
Shortly before December 2015, the UK Government announced that the Connection Vouchers Scheme, which is part of the Super Connected Cities programme, had been extended by a further year. The scheme allows businesses across the UK to apply for funding to upgrade their internet connections to superior, “superfast” broadband. As a result of the announcement, this means that the scheme is due to come to an end in early 2016, or when the funds run out.
The Connection Vouchers (CV) scheme is an initiative that signals the UK Government’s commitment to rolling out superfast broadband across the UK. The benefits are significant, enabling businesses to take advantage of a superfast connection to help productivity levels, communication, collaboration and customer service offerings. Superfast fibre connections offer download speeds of over 30Mbs.
Extending the scheme by a further twelve months will enable businesses who have not yet learned of the scheme to now apply and take advantage of up to £3,000 in funding to upgrade their business internet connection. Originally available in 22 cities, the scheme has also been extended to cover a massive 55 cities across the UK. £150 million has been committed to the Super Connected Cities programme, and now that the scheme is being extended it is receiving a further cash boost of £40 million.
This scheme is particularly aimed at SMEs, as premium broadband services can be expensive and not a viable prospect for young companies with tight budgets to stick to. Those businesses who are experiencing or anticipating growth can also benefit, as a fast broadband connection can enable them to put in place a robust communications infrastructure and capitalise on any growth. Superfast broadband can also help businesses to migrate to cost effective VoIP services, in which voice calls and data are delivered via the internet.
The ultimate goal is to get Superfast broadband rolled out to 95% of the UK by 2017, making this one of the fastest rollouts in the world. As an official supplier to the CV scheme, Incom can help you take advantage of the grant and take your business communications to the next level with a newly-installed superfast broadband connection.
Shadow IT - a call to arms for Unified Communications?
Some of us have worked long enough to remember the heady days when the IT department had full control of the infrastructure. No hardware or software could be brought into the business without the IT seal of approval. Business users had neither the knowledge nor the resources to acquire or maintain technology, but soon things began to change.
Unapproved software would "appear" on machines because someone had discovered a new application or device that enhanced their productivity. When the first wireless network points appeared, business units immediately saw the benefits of staff mobility, yet IT was frequently slow to react because of the security challenges presented by wireless access.
Now let’s consider an alarming statistic; research group Gartner predicts that in less than three years, 35% of enterprise expenditures will happen outside of the corporate IT budget. Employees will regularly subscribe to collaboration, analytics and other cloud services they want, while others will simply build their own cloud-based tools and platforms.
Rather than standing in the way, smart CIOs are beginning to embrace shadow IT. Let’s look closely at one particular area of shadow IT area that gets a lot of IT staff hot under the collar - Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).
At first glance, BYOD is an innovative solution to common business communications issues, helping raise productivity and efficiency. But when the devices are unauthorised, shadow IT can cause real problems.
A recent global study found that CIOs are spending around a quarter of their annual budget dealing with shadow IT – 76% reported unauthorised network access within their businesses. Next there is the issue of security, with nearly 75% of the CIOs surveyed admitting they were more concerned with security because of the rise of shadow IT.
It becomes extremely difficult for IT to oversee every application that is being used with some teams implementing their own IM or DropBox solutions and staff bypassing company firewalls with unauthorised devices. This compromises compliance and means more time and effort is spent focusing on IT security. Network speeds are also being affected with unauthorised and unplanned traffic from the use of personal devices and applications.
A complete ban on shadow IT might seem like the obvious response, but it may not be the right solution. By blocking these unauthorised devices and applications, companies actually risk impacting productivity rates, user experience and poor customer service responsiveness because of the perceived high quality enabled through using these devices and services. Throwing a blanket ban over BYOD could destroy trust and creativity with employees who are simply using the best devices and apps to do their job in the most effective way. IT and department heads need to focus on the results and employee needs, rather than the rules, and use the tools offered by Unified Communications (UC) offer to embrace this challenge.
UC shines a light on the shadows
Unified Communications (UC) seems to hold all the trump cards. CIOs certainly seem to think so, with 72% of respondents in a recent global research study citing it as the technology to deliver results while promoting end-user creativity, engagement and responsiveness. UC prioritises the end-user experience, providing employees with an enterprise-grade equivalent to replace a disconnected and less than secure group of applications. A single, easy-to-use and fully integrated user interface offers consistent user experience, security and quality of service across multiple devices, ensuring visibility and control for the IT department.
Application functionality can be supported across all channels – voice, IM, social media, video – and across any device from any location. Designed to offer maximum flexibility, UC provides flexible deployment models, agility and scalability, allowing IT to manage any required systems changes with ease. Ultimately, this helps reduce any impact on day-to-day operations and avoid ad-hoc and unforeseen costs.
UC as a technology puts IT firmly back in the driving seat with enhanced network visibility that turns “hidden” shadow IT issues into catalysts for efficiency and success, and mitigating the threat to security and costs.
For further information about Unified Communications, contact us on 0161 788 0000.
Why the VfM standard acts a wake-up call to the housing sector
The latest assessment of registered housing providers’ value for money (VfM) submissions published in February 2015 by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) reported an overall improvement in the sector’s compliance with the regulator’s standard. The second year in which providers have been required to publish VfM self-assessments, action taken against non-compliance is further evidence that the HCA is taking a robust approach to regulation.
Delivering efficiency savings by a thorough examination of costs is an important element of the VfM standard. However, cost is only one element of measuring value, a point reiterated by Jonathan Walters, Deputy Director of Regulation at the HCA, who, as the latest assessments were published, commented, “Our VfM standard is important; it can help ensure that tenants receive better services and that providers can maximise investment in new supply”.
In addition to cutting costs, return on investment must consider social measures, including high quality services and tenant satisfaction. Achieving these measures presents fresh challenges, all of which are playing their part in shaping the housing sector of the future.
Take the Public Services Social Value Act 2012. This continues to exert enormous pressure on the housing sector to play an active role in the creation of sustainable and more socially inclusive communities. Welfare reform and universal credit are also influencing the way that housing providers perform. Beyond regulatory changes, tenants are inciting significant changes in how services are delivered. The widespread use of smart devices has revolutionised the way service users interact with providers, pushing digital inclusion and customer service higher up the agenda. With more employees working remotely and on the move, the concept of “work” has evolved. As a result, employers must respond by offering flexible working practices that enhance employee productivity - irrespective of location - with access to business tools, systems and apps via their device of choice.
In tandem, the commercialisation of housing provision continues at a pace, as portfolios expand beyond social housing into new territories, such as new build or part-buy schemes.
However, many housing providers rely on an array of legacy systems, resulting from inherited IT and market consolidation. While IT struggles with system management, end-users find it difficult to access critical business data locked in departmental silos. An over-reliance on bespoke MI reports is not only inefficient, but restricts access to a single, accurate view of the service user – with the obvious negative impact on the timeliness, accuracy and efficiency of service delivery and resolution of tenant issues.
As identified in our white paper, responding effectively to these challenges requires a comprehensive review of business practices and a willingness to invest in best-of-breed technologies. Housing providers must make sound decisions about future IT investments, enabling them to deliver the high quality outcomes demanded by tenant and empower employees with the tools, apps and infrastructure required to support new working practices, while reducing their total cost of ownership.
One housing provider that is already reaping the benefits of a sound IT investment is Trident Housing. One of the Midland’s leading associations, Trident has deployed ShoreTel’s Unified Communications (UC) platform and Enterprise Contact Centre, fully integrated with their Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution. The provider has seen an increased efficiency among their customer advisors, more accurate call handling and better reliability and scalability. The benefits of UC do not end there. UC breaks down the barriers between different methods of communication, allowing individuals to communicate easily and seamlessly with each other, irrespective of device, channel or location. Organisations using UC solutions benefit from having services converged on a single platform that allows for one-stop management and visibility across the entire communications infrastructure.
Contact centre software can be easily customised and integrated into the overall platform, giving employees a unified, 360-degree view of tenant information presented in real-time. This is particularly beneficial for expanding organisations and those that deliver tenant services across multiple locations. UC eliminates multiple service provider contracts, consolidating the entire communications infrastructure into one bill and enabling providers to scale their own operations seamlessly and efficiently without overburdening IT or incurring ad-hoc or unplanned costs.
As UC consolidates all communication channels into a seamless experience, tenants can communicate with their landlord in the way they want and by the means they have available. Utilising a true omnichannel communication solution ensures that housing providers can deliver a consistent brand experience, irrespective of the channel used. By integrating UC with back office systems, comprehensive contact history is clearly visible and easily accessible, aiding faster resolution of tenant issues.
UC must be viewed as a game-changer by those seeking to increase business agility, decrease costs and improve customer service, providing the housing sector with a robust communication platform to enhance tenant engagement, accomplish digital inclusion, improve mobility and achieve a significantly lower total cost of ownership - all making for a very positive VfM self assessment.
Click here for more information about our solutions for housing providers.
For further information about unified communications, contact us on 0161 788 0000.
Reinventing the customer experience in the insurance sector
It’s not an easy time to be an insurance company. Cultural, operational and general market challenges are converging to shift the market landscape, plus widespread modernisation and major regulatory changes are on the horizon. As a result, insurance companies must take a long, hard look at the traditional ways of conducting business. Against this backdrop of change, the focus must sharpen on innovation and creating operational efficiencies that create a competitive differentiator to aid customer retention, brand loyalty and company growth.
Customers want superior customer serviceResearch conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) shows that “strong customer advocacy” and “superior customer service” are rated as the top two things customers want from an insurance provider. In fact, the report states that, “Generation X and Y – who have increasing economic clout – demand simple products, transparent pricing and relationships, quick delivery and the convenience of dealing with insurers when and where they want.”
So how important is the customer experience with insurers? Here are a few compelling facts for consideration:
PwC’s report also states that productivity-enhancing tools are key to help insurers enhance the customer experience, recommending that insurers actively look to improve customer and agent interaction, through the use of consistent interfaces and workflow across systems including policy, billing and claims. As insurers rely on multiple channels to communicate with customers, a consistent brand experience is critical, from initial quote to sign-up through to claim handling.
UK insurers responding to the market challenges include Sterling Insurance Group and Premium Choice, with both organisations deploying ShoreTel’s advanced Unified Communications (UC) and Contact Centre solutions. In an intensely competitive market with escalating premiums, Premium Choice uses ShoreTel to provide a tailored service via dedicated telephone numbers and other channels for different customer groups and prospects. This has resulted in a 15% reduction in call waiting time for the 400,000+ calls and enquiries received by Premium Choice annually, and a 10% increase in call centre agent productivity.
The benefits are clear to see; insurers that tackle their challenges head-on will have an advantage over the competition, whereas those that do not are likely to struggle. With so much at stake, can you really afford not to take action?
Building the business case for UC – download our Five Benefits of ShoreTel’s UC Platform.
To see how an insurer has benefited from a UC and Enterprise Contact Centre solution please read the Premium Choice Success Story.
Revolutionising customer experience with omnichannel communications
The insurance business is one of the most competitive industries and faces multiple challenges. In a worldwide survey in collaboration with FEMA, Capgemini uncovered that only 30% of insurance customers report a positive “insurance customer experience”. Yet research by PwC shows that “strong customer advocacy” and “superior customer service” are rated as the top two attributes customers want from an insurance provider. The conclusion is that striving to deliver a superior customer experience is a must.
The customer is king – and so is omnichannel support.
A focus on customer service isn’t a new concept, but understanding how customers want to receive service has changed dramatically, largely as a result in in the rise in omnichannel interactions between customers and service providers. The use of mobile and smart devices continues to grow, and the mobile channel is emerging as the consumers’ primary choice for service activity, according to Michael Maoz, Vice President of Gartner Research. Why? Because mobile allows consumers to act at the point of impulse. Maoz comments, “The fastest way anyone can react to any call to action is to put their hand in their pocket and respond via text.”
Couple this with the fact that Gartner estimates that more than 50 of the 500 largest global businesses will introduce video-based chat for customer-facing interactions by 2018 and the case for revolutionising your customer experience strategy is compelling.
So here is the critical question; is your contact centre sophisticated enough to support omnichannel service that provides “anytime, anywhere” access to information that enriches customer care and creates real value?
Increasingly, insurers are finding that the only way to provide meaningful assistance is to invest in unified communications (UC). People are used to communicating over a wide variety of mediums and voice is no longer the only means of digital connection. Offering support over a variety of channels can help to make consumers feel more comfortable. For example, with text messaging, contact centre agents are able to facilitate live, interactive dialogue, while also giving customers who prefer texting to phone calls a chance to reach out in way that is more familiar to them.
UC to leverage the modern workforce.
Thanks to the consumerisation of IT, a vast number of people have developed a new set of skills relating to mobile technology. Many professionals now work from home more effectively than ever. Not only that, but they are starting to expect that their jobs will allow them to fulfil their duties from home on a regular basis.
Thankfully, many organisations are achieving success in permitting more flexible schedules. According to No Jitter contributor Matt Lautz, we’ll see an increase in the creation of the unified experiences that help make this happen in the contact centre. He comments, "During 2015, the emphasis will be on giving agents and employees the same user experience - whether they are at home using a softphone, on a computer using a desk phone or in the car using their mobile device.”
It's essential that UC is put into place if insurers are serious about creating a 21st century contact centre. Both consumers and agents must have a variety of channels and resources at their disposal. A robust UC solution allows decision-makers to gather insight into collaboration strategies, track customers across multiple channels and observe interaction history more efficiently.
Quite simply, the deployment of UC is going to be vital in empowering an increasingly mobile workforce to deliver a superior experience which engages customers, reinforces value, and differentiates the insurance brand in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
Building the business case for UC – download our Five Benefits of ShoreTel’s UC Platform.
To see how an insurer has benefited from a UC and Enterprise Contact Centre solution please read the Premium Choice Success Story.
Why clients, staff and IT love Unified Communications
Many law firm clients are emerging from the downturn with different expectations of the professional services they rely on, particularly legal. Financial pressures are forcing clients and firms alike to review the way they combine technology, people and processes, to "do more with less". Those law firms that successfully evolve their business models and delivery systems will be best positioned for growth.
Earlier this year, Legal Support Network (LSN) published a report entitled "Legal IT Landscapes 2015", based on research conducted among the most senior IT decision-makers in the UK’s top 100 law firms. The report findings make for very interesting reading. Behind the scenes, competitive pressure and the recession have reset the IT ambitions in the legal sector, with the report underlining the fact that firms must combine their people and processes with new technologies to successfully evolve their business models.
It also confirms that an increasing number of firms are becoming more distributed and decentralised, with the mobility of workforces becoming incredibly important to tomorrow’s legal businesses in driving competitiveness and efficiency.
However, the bottom line is that staff tend not to be particularly interested in the technology they use, identified in our Legal White Paper, though they are very interested in how it can make their lives more flexible and easier. LSN’s report reinforces the need for employers to listen to increasing employee demand for more flexible working practices, if they are to attract, recruit and retain the best talent – fundamentally changing the “how” and “where” work is done.
But employee mobility is so much more than just handing out iPads and other smart devices. It requires robust technologies to help make interactions with clients more personal, responsiveness and billable, while empowering staff to work productively, irrespective of location, working practices, time zones and existing systems.
And this is exactly what Unified Communication (UC) delivers. With the report also identifying that UC can revolutionise how law firms work and 76% of respondents confirming that they are currently considering a UC pilot, why is UC seen as a game-changer?
UC extends a telephone system to include mobile devices, making Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) a genuine option. Seamless roaming enables staff to stay connected from any location around the world on any network—voice over Wi-Fi, voice over 3G/4G, or cellular – thus improving working agility and productivity.
UC also offers tools to aid collaboration between employees and clients, making interactions more personal, responsive and useful. Teams can share documents and spreadsheets with a single click, using their devices of choice. Instant messaging, voice chat, video chat, screen sharing and file transfer are also part of the collaboration toolkit, making working together and with clients efficient, effective and more productive.
UC makes the lives of IT management so much easier. Executing moves and changes (MACs) is intuitive and quick, while ease of use guarantees faster end-user adoption and buy-in. Many UC platforms are based on open standards and will integrate with a wide range of back-office systems, including ERP, CRM and case management applications for a 360-degree view of the customer.
IT departments will also be very happy to hear that UC is flexible and offers modular scalability to grow with the organisation thus reducing "growing pains". ShoreTel's UC platform offers incredible reliability, especially when layered on the IP network with no single point of failure, delivering enhanced disaster recovery via a distributed platform. Ultimately, this results in 99.999 per cent availability for enterprise-class performance.
For those holding the purse-strings, switching to UC tends to cost less than keeping an existing system, and many firms find that it pays for itself within a year. Read our free Nemertes White Paper and learn more about how UC lowers overall organisation costs.
In addition, some UC solutions are available as a premise-based or cloud solution, giving the flexibility to account for it either as operating expenditure or as a capital investment.
Law firms must view technology as an enabler that delivers real benefits for all stakeholders in the business. What is clear is that UC will not only help meet your staff's productivity goals and therefore your clients, but also the budget owners. So what’s not to love?
Read the Ison Harrison Success Story, watch the case study video and learn more about our solutions for law firms.
Why and how insurers must engage their customers in new ways
With 24,000 respondents across 30 countries, the 2014 Ernst & Young (EY) Global Customer Insurance Survey offers an authoritative insight into the factors impacting success in the coming years. The responses provide something of a roadmap for insurers seeking competitive advantage through stronger customer relationships and optimised cross-channel experiences.
Alongside the economic and regulatory pressures, the survey is clear in stating that customer satisfaction will remain the cornerstone of success, and that there are three key factors that will play a major role in this; communication, technology and collaboration.
When it comes to communication, many UK insurers have only limited contact with their customers; in fact, 56% contact their customers just once a year and 44% of customers have not received any communication in 18 months. Interestingly, the survey also found that 57% of customers want more frequent, meaningful and personalised communications – ideally, once every six months.
As a result of this infrequency, each interaction becomes “a moment of truth” that shifts the perceptions of insurers in the customers’ minds. How they perform in these interactions can lead directly to new policy sales.
Next, there is technology to consider. While customers still gravitate towards traditional contact methods, digital channels provide a whole new approach to searching for insurance products. The insurance sector must offer innovative new ways via multiple channels in which to engage and provide clear information and support, without compromising brand consistency and quality.
The final factor is collaboration. The EY survey identifies that customers who purchase policies via independent brokers are significantly more likely to change insurers. The need for greater and more intimate collaboration between insurers and brokers is key and will have a considerable influence on customer loyalty.
So which technologies can be deployed to support insurance firms in meeting these challenges? Unified Communications (UC) in conjunction with the advanced features available within Contact Centre solutions, delivers a significantly lower total cost of ownership for business telephony, but also a clear advantage in an increasingly competitive market.
In combination, these communication solutions can significantly improve first call resolution via intelligent call routing, leading to a significant reduction in call waiting times and repeat calls into the contact centre, and enhance the customer experience. They also allow more calls to be handled, greater staff utilisation and ultimately, an increase in the number of sales opportunities. UC and contact centre solutions, such as those offered by ShoreTel, integrate easily with existing back office systems, including ERP and CRM, leading to seamless customer identification. Empowered to offer a more bespoke service, agents gain a 360-degree view of the customer and all their interactions with the insurer or broker, aiding a more personalised, responsive service and improving customer retention.
Contact centres can also benefit from integrated access to a diverse range of communication channels with email, web chat and video, in addition to traditional telephone calls. This multi-channel approach to communications ensures the contact centre team has seamless flexibility to communicate with customers in the way they want.
UC and collaboration tools enable teams to engage and share documents and spreadsheets with a single click, using their devices of choice. Instant messaging, voice chat, video chat, screen sharing and file transfer are also part of the collaboration toolkit, making working together efficient, effective and more productive.
Not only is this a powerful tool for internal collaboration to improve customer service, but imagine the possibilities for communicating with your brokers. With almost one third of customers purchasing their policies via independent brokers likely to change insurers, achieving customer engagement through advanced UC technologies is an area that most insurers cannot afford to ignore.
For further information about UC and Contact Centre solutions, please contact us on 0161 788 0000.
Why one size doesn't fit all for business mobiles
The big mobile network providers might specialise in mobiles, but our experience suggests that many of them are distant from the real needs of their business customers.
Dave Williamson, Mobile Sales Manager at Incom Business Systems, comments, “Mobile networks often fail to appreciate the needs of businesses, offering only a limited number of inflexible bundles that work for the provider, but fall short of delivering the advantages and cost benefits required by their clients.”
“The networks often try to shoehorn businesses, particularly those in the SME space, into a “one size fits all” package. They don’t invest sufficient time in getting to know the customer’s business, or what they need from their network and mobile fleet, instead offering the nearest fit from an off the shelf solution. The net result is excessive and inflexible packages that just don’t work as a business evolves – and lock in the customer unnecessarily.”
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for businesses, according to Williamson, who has over 15 years’ expertise in the business mobile arena. “The good news is that we do things very differently at Incom. We stake our reputation on making it easy and cost-effective for our customers to reap the benefits of mobile telephony, so they can focus on their core business activities. We exist to remove the hassle and stress of keeping up to date with the latest mobile offerings.”
Incom Business Systems aims to secure the best deal for customers, offering a free review of existing mobile spend in order to identify potential savings and efficiencies. Concluding, Williamson states, “Our team has direct access to the major providers, as well as our own Vodafone Incom Mobile network, which means we can offer a free review of mobile spend for our customers and typically, we can quickly identify potential savings and efficiencies.”
Incom’s free mobile review can also be incorporated into a wider audit of business telephony, encompassing landline, calls, data and broadband. Incom’s status as a ShoreTel Silver Champion Partner, matched by our expertise in voice and data convergence and contact centre technologies, enables us to address the evolving communications requirements of SMEs, enterprises, Not for Profit and government organisations. In fact, since 1989, Incom has been the trusted partner for thousands of clients across the UK including Audi, The Range superstores, The Salvation Army and Horizon Nuclear Power.
To request a free mobile spend review or to find out more about our business telephony solutions, call us today on 0161 788 0000.
Is your business protected from vishing?
Fraudsters have been targeting UK businesses using a telephony scam known as “vishing” (“voice-phishing”), which is when a fraudster phones your business, pretending to be from the bank, to gain access to your bank account. With advanced research on your company, scammers sound knowledgeable and credible when they call your business, claiming that there are fraudulent transactions pending which require your immediate action to stop them. Placing you under pressure to provide confidential information, such as your bank PIN and password, they’ll then use this information to access your account(s) and transfer money illegally.
This is the standard vishing format, and email spams are just another way to initiate vishing. With the rise of VoIP, scammers have discovered new opportunities on the internet, since it is much more vulnerable than the PSTN. Similarly, for all the same reasons a business may switch to VoIP, scammers also see VoIP as the perfect tool:
Why is your business a potential target?
All businesses are potential targets. Through their research, fraudsters hope to identify periods when cash balances are higher than average for a specific business, e.g. as a result of seasonable trading fluctuations. Their calls may coincide with these periods, requesting your bank security details to access funds.
How to protect your business
Thankfully, like most VoIP security threats, the solution is simple. Again, it’s all about awareness, meaning you should learn about the various internet-related threats and react accordingly. For vishing, specifically, here are a few helpful tips.
For further advice on protecting your business, contact us on 0161 788 0000.
How law firms “do more with less” with unified communications
The legal sector continues to face an increasing number of challenges to its traditional operating practices. The introduction of Alternative Business Structures has had far-reaching consequences, creating increased competition from non-legal entities. Faced with a wider choice of service providers, clients are making choices based on brand preference, with a number of household names taking business away from recognised legal practices.
In turn, this has exerted significant pressure on fees and the demand for fixed fee services has increased considerably. Ultimately this has led to an increasing number of practices offering heavily discounted rates, with the negative effect on fee income all too apparent.
If that wasn’t enough, the pressure on IT departments in the form of shrinking budgets and increasing user demands - a hangover from the 2008 financial crisis - add to this potentially toxic mix. Add in changing working practices and the introduction of virtual teams, “doing more for less” is an all too familiar mantra, forcing firms to seek out innovative ways to work smarter and more cost-effectively. What is clear is that legal firms must adapt their working practices, systems and processes to meet evolving market forces, as identified in our recent white paper.
Three law firms that have taken this to heart and are already reaping the benefits are Wright Hassall, Stephens Scown and Ison Harrison, all of whom have deployed a ShoreTel Unified Communications (UC) solution, as part of their overall strategy to introduce greater efficiencies and enhanced communications. Amongst other advantages, Wright Hassall has already benefited from a 12% reduction in telecoms costs and Stephens Scowns has increased mobility allowing the firm to provide a better service to its customers.
Ison Harrison wanted to consolidate a number of legacy telephone systems inherited from acquisition, into a single, manageable platform. By implementing ShoreTel, the firm has resolved system management issues, simplified communications and reduced their total cost of ownership. The new system lets IT staff handle moves and changes (MACs) with ease, giving them the ability to be responsive in adding new users to the system as the firm continues to grow.
As Michael Peel, Practice Director at Ison Harrison comments, “ShoreTel’s products are easy to use and have proved popular with staff and our IT support team. If it’s going to help speed up what staff can do and enable them to deliver services to clients in a more cost-effective, responsive way than they currently do, then they’ll go for it, now they’ve seen the possibilities.”
For those who remain ambivalent about whether UC is the right way to go, there are a plethora of other benefits. Let’s look at the financial considerations first. Switching to ShoreTel tends to cost less than keeping an existing system, and many customers find that it pays for itself within a year. (Read the free Nemertes white paper on total cost of ownership.) ShoreTel’s platform is flexible and offers modular scalability to grow with your organisation. It is also very reliable, delivering enhanced disaster recovery via a distributed platform layered on the IP network with no single point of failure resulting in 99.99999% availability for enterprise-class performance.
With ShoreTel’s focus on simplicity, ease of use guarantees faster end-user adoption and buy-in. Based on open standards, ShoreTel integrates with a wide range of back-office systems, including ERP, CRM and case management applications for a 360-degree view of the customer.
The increasing mobility of staff combined with the rapid adoption of BYOD can help firms to work smarter while lowering overheads. ShoreTel extends the phone system to include mobile devices, driving up productivity by enabling staff to stay connected from any location around the world on any network—voice over Wi-Fi, voice over 3G/4G, or cellular.
With ShoreTel’s UC platform, law firms can take advantage of a future-proofed, feature-rich communications environment that enhances staff productivity and collaboration, but you can also expect to achieve the holy grail of IT of “doing more with less” – at least, where business telephony is concerned.
Read the Ison Harrison Success Story and find out more about our solutions for law firms.
Millenials drive the new enterprise communications revolution
When most organisations think about making a change to their business communications solutions, they normally consider the benefits they will experience and the competitive advantages the new tools will bring. Most companies, however, don't think about whether or not their employees will enjoy using the features or how they will interact with new services. Employees' satisfaction with and interest in communication solutions will become an increasingly important factor in the decision-making process when implementing new tools as a growing number of "millennials" join the workforce.
Millennials - the generation roughly born between 1985 and 2000 - came of age in a time when technology was available at every turn, and those born closer to 2000 grew up with mobile phones and computer permeating all parts of their lives. As the enterprise becomes more fully staffed by members of this generation, the technology that is such a big part of their lives will be expected to be available in their workplace as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50% of the workforce in the U.S. will be made up of millennials in the next five years. By 2025, three-quarters of the jobs in the U.S. will be claimed by the group.
Luckily for organisations looking to appeal to younger candidates, communications service providers offer a variety of voice and messaging features that leverage the technology that millennials are used to in order to create more effective and efficient business communication tools. Instant messaging, video and Web conferencing and mobile calling options are all available in unified communication suites that allow employees to access these features from their mobile devices.
Utilising cloud-based communications solutions like voice-over-IP, enterprises can offer staff the ability to work remotely in the way that best suits their individual preferences. A recent experiment conducted by professors at the Washington University business school in St. Louis found that the ability to move around when thinking of new ideas helped participants to be more creative and be more engaged with their peers. The professors studied more than 200 undergraduates and found that those who were standing felt less constricted and were able to produce more ideas than those who were seated.
As TechRadar contributor Leslie Ferry noted, the productivity and engagement that comes along with the ability to be mobile will likely encourage an increasing number of organisations to provide solutions that allow for uninterrupted communications between a variety of platforms. A UC suite that enables a user to start a phone call at their desk and seamlessly transition it into a video chat on their mobile device will not only improve efficiency for remote workers, but it will encourage collaboration and movement within an office as well.
With the enterprise tables turning in favour of millennial workers in the coming years, enterprises that are equipped to offer these workers the features and services they've grown accustomed to will have a competitive advantage in wooing the best candidates to fill their open positions.
Law firms must evolve and innovate to meet key market challenges
“The most agile legal firms anticipate change and adapt their working practices, systems and processes to meet evolving market forces.”
This observation, taken from our recent white paper, sounds like a straightforward piece of business advice. However, the realities of keeping pace with a fast-changing market have proved beyond the capabilities of many law firms. With several highly publicised failures in recent years, including Halliwells, Cobbetts and boutique firm EOS Law, and a near miss for Linder Myers, the call to arms is to evolve and innovate.
Our white paper identifies four key challenges affecting the legal sector - an increased pressure on fees, evolving client demands, the introduction of alternative business structures and new working practices - while exposing the negative impact on fee income, client loyalty, service provision and employee retention and collaboration.
The growing demand for fixed fee services, particularly for non-contentious legal matters, combined with the increasing number of firms offering heavily discounted fees, has had a significant impact on firms. As a steady stream of alternative business structures enter the market, more established players need to demonstrate to clients they are doing everything in their power to provide value. This means managing workloads smarter and tackling obstacles to efficiency with rigour. In order to remain viable, some firms have merged together, while others have been forced to shut their doors permanently. In fact, the Legal 500 report 2014 warns of more consolidation in the legal market, particularly in the North-west of England, with clear evidence of ongoing market turbulence in Manchester and a contracting legal market in Liverpool.
New entrants to the market also include an increasing number of “virtual” firms, who utilise a blend of employed and non-employed practitioners on a lower cost basis, many of which work remotely. This model is likely to grow, as firms continue to focus on lowering operational costs. But while the virtual model brings opportunities for new revenue streams and client acquisition, it also brings fresh challenges. Firms may not need to employ as many office-based staff, but those that are in the office are increasingly keen to use their own devices in the workplace or when working remotely. If client service levels are to remain uncompromised, managing the twin trends of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and mobility demands an effective communications platform.
Of course, passing on cost savings isn’t the only driver. Law firms must get closer to their clients, developing a deeper understanding how they work and providing information gained over the course of a relationship to help guide future decision-making. By evolving business processes, systems and services, law firms can achieve a sustainable competitive edge but only if they are prepared to reinvest in the IT infrastructure and communication solutions that underpins a client-centric strategy.
Unified communications (UC) should be at the heart of this new investment. Deployed effectively, it can accelerate competitiveness by offering a differentiated and personalised client experience, improved tracking and measurement for billing, greater collaboration between staff, and enhanced client service delivery. With increased competition across the legal landscape, unified communications offers firms a cost-effective way to differentiate their brand, in what has become an over-crowded marketplace. Is your law firm ready to innovate?
Click here for more information about our solutions for law firms.
For further information about unified communications, contact us on 0161 788 0000.
Are you doing enough to protect your business from telecoms fraud?
With telecoms fraud increasing by 300% in 2013 and costing UK businesses close to £1billion, it’s more important than ever to ensure you have a robust risk strategy in place to deal with telecoms fraud. Telephones are the lifeline of most businesses and you can’t afford to lose contact with your customers. Arming yourself with knowledge and implementing best practice is your best protection against telecoms fraud.
Taking a few simple measures to safeguard your business could save you thousands of pounds. Here are our top tips for safeguarding your business:
- Change the security settings and passwords on your telephone system from the default or factory settings.
- Change voicemail and DISA (Direct Inward System Access) passwords regularly and protect them and your access codes from unauthorised use.
- Remove or de-activate any telephone system functionality you don’t need including remote access ports.
- Never publish the remote access phone numbers that connect callers to your voicemail system.
- Programme your telephone system to disallow access after three invalid attempts.
- Remove redundant mailboxes.
- Immediately deactivate access codes and voicemail passwords of people who leave your business.
- Keep an eye on your monthly phone bills for anything that looks unusual.
- Carry out regular audits of your telephone systems including privileges and restrictions.
- Restrict access to equipment and hardware and limit users systems access to the minimum level required.
- Implement policies and procedures to minimise risk.
Ensure you have full protection - for as little as 0.89p per month, Incom FraudGuard monitors account activity throughout the month and alerts you immediately to any unusual activity when it happens.
Call us today on 0161 788 0000 to discuss how we can help you protect your business from telecoms fraud.
Does your business use non-geographic numbers?
Are you aware of the change in legislation regarding non-geographic numbers? You should be, as this change, which comes into force next month, will definitely impact your business.
Grant Counsell, Corporate Sales Director at Incom Business Systems, is advising businesses of these changes,“Companies now have a responsibility to provide a basic rate number for their customers’ enquiries. This ensures that customers are not facing high call charges for contacting organisations they have existing contracts with.
This shouldn’t be cause for concern, as there are a number of options available to make sure your business complies with these changes in legislation. Having said that, you should make sure the necessary changes are implemented before the deadline, to ensure you are not liable to refund your customers the difference in cost between the basic rate and any non-geo charges.”
Under The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 - as of 13th June 2014, a customer who makes a call to a supplier, regarding an existing contract, must not pay more than the basic rate for that call. If they incur charges over the basic rate, the supplier is liable to refund the difference to the customer.
Take a look at our helpful summary below:
You can retain 0800 numbers for customers calling in from landlines. However, you must also offer a clearly labelled 03 number as an alternative for customers calling from a mobile phone. This is because 0800 numbers dialled from a mobile still incur premium rate charges.
For 01 numbers (e.g. Manchester 0161) no changes are required.
Similarly for 02 number (e.g. London 0203) no changes are required.
0843, 0844, 0845, 0870 (or any other number beginning with 084 or 087) OR Premium numbers beginning with 09
From 13th June 2014, these numbers can no longer be legally provided for customer helplines. They must be switched to an 01, 02 or 03 number.
These changes needn’t pose problems for your business, and there are a number of options available to you. However, it is important that you address the issue before the new legislation comes into force.
The Incom team can advise you of the options and guide you in the best choice for your business - call us today on 0161 788 0000.
The business benefits of adopting Unified Communications
Unified communications systems are scalable solutions that can be implemented in a variety of business environments (contact centres, SMEs, Enterprises, GP practices etc.) to provide payoffs for companies large or small. At the simplest level, unified communications (UC) add value by improving productivity; however the greatest returns come from integrating the technology into business applications throughout the company. This approach transforms workflow by introducing business capabilities and combining resources in a way that is only possible with UC systems.
What is UC?
The premise of UC is the ability for anyone to send and receive information in real-time, on any media. In the early days of UC, systems covered telephone, voicemail, email and fax. More latterly, instant messaging, video and web services have been included within UC platforms. The main measure of effectiveness for these systems is their ability to reduce the time it takes for messages to transmit through the system and reach the recipient, reducing inactivity.
A key tool of UC is presence detection (or presence awareness) which is the ability to see the availability of other users – be they within the same building, working remotely, or on the move. This feature enables employees to collaborate during the working day, regardless of location. The interactive directory permits any combination of voice, text, file, or video information exchange within a period of a few minutes. For example, a customer service representative can answer a caller’s technical question immediately by contacting a specialist who happens to be travelling. Eliminating delays such as ‘phone tag' (when individuals, attempting to contact each other by phone, repeatedly trade messages) provides customers with exceptional response times that improve efficiency within the organisation.
Bring your own device (BYOD) and UC
This growing trend, which encompasses Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP) and Bring Your Own PC (BYOPC), encourages company employees to work on the device they choose. An employee’s mobile device may well be newer and more advanced than the equipment deployed by many IT departments (!) so it's hardly surprising that the rapid adoption of lightweight tablets, iPads and large-screened phones are changing the way that people want to work.
As UC solutions adapt to support this growing trend, integration and security issues that existed in its infancy no longer need to be a headache for IT departments. With applications such as ShoreTel Mobility, which uses encryption and authentication techniques and Sophos mobile control software, data stored on mobile devices can be protected and even ‘wiped’, if the device is lost or stolen.
Key business benefits of introducing UC
A VoIP system offers capabilities unavailable in older, traditional PBX-based systems, such as mobility, voicemail transcribed via text or email, and video chat. Combine this increased functionality with the versatility of UC and you’ll see significant improvements in performance, business processes and customer service. Offering fast and versatile message handling via phone, email, smartphone, tablet, IM, and fax; UC can consolidate operations that are currently limited by communications gaps. Furthermore, the ability to communicate through any device (PC, mobile phone, or tablet) provides ultimate flexibility.
When an organisation adopts a UC system, the company sees improvements in three key areas:
IT management is simplified with a comprehensive UC system. Intuitive interfaces, familiar administrative tools, and centralised directory controls reduce maintenance costs, improve efficiency and increase employee productivity.
Work-related collaboration, regardless of where employees are located or the devices they use, offers further business savings through:
Reduced running costs
Business savings with a UC system include:
When making a purchasing decision, buyers should look not only at its purchase price, but also at its long-term price, known as the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). The item with the lowest TCO will be the better value in the long run. There are many components to assessing the TCO, which can be categorised into the following areas:
Speak to Incom Business Systems about your UC needs
Moving to UC is inevitable for most companies, if only to maintain their competitive stature. Companies of all sizes can gain from "anywhere, anytime" communications. Receiving messages and data promptly, no matter where you are, drives faster, informed decisions. As more workers spend increasing amounts of time away from company offices, being able to instantly reach the right person will impress customers and give your business a competitive edge.
Incom Business Systems works with many of the leading telecoms manufacturers including ShoreTel whose systems are recognised as providing the lowest TCO in the telecoms industry*.
Speak to our experts today and let us help you identify your business pain points and operational objectives for UC adoption. Whether you’re looking to blend with existing infrastructure, as a cost-effective route to rolling out UC across your business, or you’re in a position to replace your existing systems; we’ll work with you to identify the best solution to serve your business - now and long into the future.
With over 24 years spent at the leading edge of the business communications industry, our team is made up of highly skilled individuals. Incom provides one bill, one supplier and one point of contact for everything from telephone systems and data networks to line rental, call charges and business mobile.
Call us today on 0161 788 0000 to discuss how we can help you implement UC capabilities whilst reducing your costs, increasing business productivity and improving sales performance.
*The TCO benchmarking study for UC - The Aberdeen Group 2012
Reply by awesome things! on 09/01/2014 09:20: VHdx0C Im thankful for the blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.
Don't Get Phreaked Out!
Telephony fraud is more sophisticated and targeted than ever, and is growing at a remarkable rate. Dial-through fraud, otherwise known as phreaking, costs businesses £40 billion a year globally, as hackers hijack phone lines and route calls through company switchboards. Once a phone line has been seized, hackers can make revenue by placing high volumes of calls to premium rate phone numbers or selling calls to a third party. In March this year, the average loss across 40 UK businesses who reported such cases to the police was £21,000.
It is impossible to make your phone system completely immune to these attacks and, if you are targeted, you are liable for payment of all costs relating to calls made from your telephone system. The best approach is to take precautionary measures to protect your business. Incom Business Systems offer a fraud protection service which can be included in your calls and lines package. The scheme allows you to set e-alerts based on call spend, call destination and call duration. Call activity is assessed at eight hourly intervals meaning that you would be alerted to any call that doesn't comply with the parameters you have set, before high levels of charges are accumulated.
Alternatively, we can install a firewall on your phone system in the same way as we would your data network. The firewall is designed specifically to stop calls and reduce excessive bills through phone system fraud. It does so by monitoring dialled calls and electronically disconnecting any pre-set, unauthorised, expensive international and premium rate numbers. The firewall, therefore, enables you to have complete control over your telephone system both during and out of working hours.
As a first class network services provider we would be happy to discuss in depth which service is best suited to protect your business. For more information on how to reduce the risk of telephone fraud please contact us on 0161 788 0000 or email Grant Counsell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reply by seo service on 27/05/2013 14:43: KnRUAC I cannot thank you enough for the blog. Really Great.
Dave De-mystifies Cloud
The hot topic in IT and telecommunications is the cloud. Everyone's talking about it - but what is it all about and why should you care? Incom MD, David Hughes, attempts to de-mystify cloud and help you to understand what it is and what it can do for your business.
In our industry, if you ask 20 different people about the cloud you will, undoubtedly, receive 20 different answers. The reason for this uncertainty, even amongst the experts, is largely to do with the scope of the available offerings but it is also because of the buzz words and hype which surround the subject - so let's begin by saying that 'the cloud' is essentially a marketing term with little substance!
You may not think you know anything about it but, chances are, you are already utilising the cloud on a regular basis. Do you have a Social Media account, or use an email program like Hotmail or Gmail? These are cloud based services. Applications like Dropbox and Google Drive are becoming an increasingly popular way of storing, accessing and sharing documents – again these are cloud services. It is also highly likely that cloud computing is already part of your business because, unless your website is physically stored on a server within your own building, it is being hosted by a third party - requiring server space and the ability for people to access it. You pay an amount per month for this service - a cloud service. Any clearer?
On the subject of hosting; we used to talk about 'hosted telephony' to describe the alternative to having a physical telephone system on your premises. 'Hosted' is a far less mystical term than 'the cloud' - but, essentially, the two amount to the same thing - telecommunications applications, switching and storage which are hosted by a third-party outside of the organisation using them, and accessed over the internet. Put another way, cloud is a service based (as opposed to a product based) delivery method for all your business communications.
There are, of course, some general considerations to address when adopting a Cloud strategy for your business including:
- The type of offering that best suits your business
- The logistics of getting your data into the cloud
- High quality connectivity to your data
- The security of your data in the cloud
The advantages of cloud computing heavily outweigh the disadvantages and the experienced team at Incom Business Systems would be happy to contextualise the benefits for your business and advise and guide you on the right decisions for cloud adoption. Contact us on 0161 788 0000 or email David Hughes at email@example.com.
Reply by kbjohnso on 24/07/2012 14:13: Having all of your sensitive information stored remotely somewhere, is it safe from being hacked into- e.g. Accounts data, etc?
Reply by Kimberley on 26/07/2012 11:23: Though the media would have you believe that having private information stored on a cloud based service has risks, it carries no greater risk than having this information stored on your private network, which is likely to be connected to the internet in some way. In fact, the more reputable companies more often take security more seriously than an in house IT department, as they will have dedicated teams constantly monitoring security to ensure the correct safeguards are in place.
Reply by kbjohnso on 26/07/2012 11:26: I suppose you're right. I guess what I mean is how can I guarantee the owner of your cloud server or administrators can't view the data on your cloud area? Is there a way to password-protect the content, etc.?
Reply by Kimberley on 09/08/2012 09:39: If your virtual server is hosted on a shared platform within a datacentre you have control of passwords to access the server and content on it as these are set by us when the virtual machine is set up. Of course the staff at the data centre still have access to the host machine for administration and maintenance purposes but they are bound by strict ISO 27001:2005 regulations to protect access to your data. Alternatively you may choose to move your own physical hardware into shared or private rack space within the data centre, by doing this the setup of the server is handled entirely by yourself in exactly the same way as if it were in your own rack.
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