This month’s featured Fan-of-the-Month is actually a team of ShoreTel enthusiasts. We’re pleased to introduce Pegula Sports and Entertainment, a sports management company whose clients include -- among others -- the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres teams.
Read more about why Pegula decided to choose ShoreTel.
Improving customer service, on-demand scalability, and lowering TCO were tops on your agenda for your franchises, the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. Can you elaborate?
The telephony needs at both facilities were somewhat different. Over at First Niagara Center, the Buffalo Sabres’ aging telephone system was unreliable. The system was dropping calls and it took forever to find replacements as various components failed. Its lack of flexibility prevented staff from making any changes in-house, which was costing both time and money.
Creating superior customer service was very important to the Buffalo Bills. The HARORCENTER housed an aging communications system that couldn’t scale to keep up with the needs of the NFL, entertainment events, or the organization’s increased staffing. A new system was critical to providing the best possible customer service, on and off the gridiron.
What has impressed your executive team most about ShoreTel?
“From the switchover, ShoreTel UC features have enabled our employees to better communicate, and allow Pegula Sports and Entertainment to use one platform across a number of its different businesses. That has eliminated the need to duplicate services,” says Chuck Lamattina, executive vice president of finance and business operations and CFO for Pegula Sports and Entertainment.
He estimates that ShoreTel has reduced the company’s total cost of ownership (TCO) by approximately 50%.
In the case of the Buffalo Bills, the ease of use and scalability were key, according to Dan Evans, vice president of information technology at the Buffalo Bills.
“ShoreTel has elevated customer service in the organization and call center. When calls come, a series of prompts guide guests to the proper operator, who can quickly help them with questions or ticket purchases,” says Evans.
What features in ShoreTel UC VoIP is Pegula Sports and Entertainment most excited about?
With ShoreTel Enterprise Contact Center, the Buffalo Sabres can prioritize calls for season ticket holders and direct others to information or a department via established workgroups. The team store is one workgroup, and this enables the Buffalo Sabres to consolidate all of its inquiry calls to a specified group of agents. This group can be augmented or changed on the fly to respond to peaks and changes in traffic, which has created a positive customer experience.
The Buffalo Bills have been able to leverage ShoreTel’s integrated communications system and mobility application to improve employee productivity whether they have staff in the office, on the sidelines of a game, or in a remote location. ShoreTel has also worked for the Buffalo Bills because of its scalability. The Pegula Sports and Entertainment group can host a small group and then instantly flip a switch and we are ready to host 80,000 people on game day.
What would you say if another sports franchise asked you about the ShoreTel UC VoIP business phone system?
“The ShoreTel solution is very user-friendly. It doesn't take a lot of training to use the system,” explains David Wheat, chief administrative officer for the Bills. The Bills are the second NFL team to use ShoreTel technology, joining an impressive roster of sports customers, including six professional basketball, four professional baseball, and two professional hockey teams.
“ShoreTel has has allowed us to expand to Rochester, where we purchased a minor-league hockey team. It has grown with us as we built HARBORCENTER here in Buffalo, New York. Also, since Buffalo has been selected to host the 2016 draft, we’ll need at least 120 lines for suites and individual team needs. With ShoreTel, we can scale up without any additional infrastructure additions,” concludes Lamattina. “ShoreTel is a great product and a good company.”
Watch this video to learn more about Pegula's experience and insights.
Publish Date: March 31, 2016 5:00 AM
The impact of this shift in usage patterns on business is clear. Just as voice calls eliminated the wait time associated with sending a letter and the inconvenience associated with physically visiting a business, digital communications options have reduced wait times and eliminated the need for a live voice connection with a customer service center. Web chat and SMS offer alternatives to fit any situation. They eliminate wait times and offer instant gratification that an issue is being addressed. And, they allow consumers to multitask while awaiting a response.
Meanwhile, the evolution of Web 2.0 has created a shift toward user-generated content and social media platforms for 24/7 communications, whether for corresponding directly with one another or broadcasting messages, pictures, and video to the world. These social outlets give consumers a new voice and an undeniable power as word-of-mouth marketers. And in the online world, hell hath no fury like a customer scorned. The social networking soapbox extends the reach of customer complaints exponentially. Luckily, the same applies to compliments.
Today’s consumers are no longer content to work within a company’s set business hours. They expect the freedom to choose how they interact from a variety of communications channels.
In this always-on, always-connected, continuously broadcasting world, the expectations of consumers have changed. Today’s consumers are no longer content to work within a company’s set business hours. They expect to connect at any time of day or night. They expect the freedom to choose how they interact from a variety of communications channels. And, they expect to receive instant answers to their queries through seamless digital interactions. As noted by Gartner, failure to respond to social channels will lead to a 15 per cent increase in churn rate for existing customers.
Communicating with customers through channels other than voice calls or in-person meetings is not an entirely new concept. Unfortunately, many businesses that have embraced additional communications vehicles to complement their standard telephony offerings still have some way to go to achieve efficiency and full-scale integration. In most businesses, communications silos have emerged as a result of the addition of digital capabilities (such as email, SMS, social media, and chat) that enhance interactions with customers. These silos are rarely under the control of the same business function.
For example, the marketing department may own the social media feeds and corporate identities that customers inevitably wind up expecting to engage with. And, the engineering team may own the technical support portal that addresses product issues. Each silo performs to a different set of standards and is enabled by independent processes and infrastructures that waste resources through unnecessary duplication. Typically, each silo also fails to make full use of the knowledge base within the organization and its performance is not measured and recorded.
To truly deliver an optimal customer experience, independent communications silos must be transitioned to an integrated digital framework that funnels all interactions to one central location.
To truly deliver an optimal customer experience in today’s digital environment, businesses must transition independent communications silos to an integrated digital framework, either funneling all interactions to one central location or facilitating easy collaboration between customer touchpoints and subject matter experts. With this framework, employees can assess and respond to customer queries in an appropriate, efficient, and consistent manner. Plus, each interaction can be stored for compliance purposes.
The inefficiencies of communications silos are also evident in self-service options The myth that self-service is an inferior alternative to providing a constructive and personalized customer experience has been eliminated by many market innovations. The most visible example is offered by the banking sector.
Although consumers love self-service when it works for them, they really hate it when it doesn’t. This is especially true for phone interactions.
For years, the only way to make deposits and withdrawals at a bank was to visit the bank and stand in line. Today, banks offer consumers 24/7 access to bank accounts from millions of automated teller machines (ATMs), through online banking, and smartphone-based apps. Consumers like the convenience these options offer. They don’t complain about how much more impersonal the experience is compared to standing in line to see a teller during business hours. They recognize that these alternatives offer a good self-service option that provides an opportunity to get things done quicker. As a result, they are more likely to be more loyal to the bank that offers the most convenient self-service alternatives. Consumers get the experience they expect and the bank gets an enhanced reputation, as well as a dramatic drop in operating costs.
But, although consumers love self-service when it works for them, they really hate it when it doesn’t. This is especially true for phone interactions. In many cases, consumers calling into most businesses run the risk of encountering the kind of “Dial 1 for Sales” sprawling menu hell that gives automated self-service — and consequently the business providing it — a bad name. As a result, many consumers now have very low expectations for these self-service options. This gives businesses an opportunity to create a truly memorable customer experience by enhancing self-service offerings.
Publish Date: March 30, 2016 5:00 AM
Until recently, businesses looking for the best way to deploy business communications had only two deployment options:
But if you wanted some combination of both options (e.g., you want to put branch offices in the cloud because you don’t have IT staff to devote to them, you want to give your employees access to cloud applications, etc.), you had to cobble together multiple solutions which did not offer a common dial plan or have the same features or user interfaces.
Fortunately, there’s no longer a need to manage multiple solutions. Today’s organizations can have the best of both worlds with a hybrid phone system.
Hybrid Phone Systems Provide the Flexibility Needed for Today’s Market
A hybrid phone system provides a single solution with common dial plan, features and user interface; whatever you select to meet your needs today can also adapt to changing needs in the future. For example, companies looking for more control over their phone systems may want an onsite deployment. On the other hand, cloud deployments make sense when an organization seeks to lower IT costs, has a need to support multiple locations and/or must scale seasonally.
Early hybrid models – Hybrid 1.0 – meant having a combination of a private or virtualized cloud controlled internally for some applications and a public cloud for others. Often, this approach was popular as a migration strategy from an onsite system to totally separate cloud-delivered services. However, in these deployments the interactions between cloud and onsite services were rarely seamless since cloud and onsite systems were on different platforms and had different features, applications, upgrades and equipment.
Still, businesses increasingly favor the hybrid approach. In fact, the hybrid market is expected to more than triple (to $85 billion) between 2014 and 2019, according to IDC as noted in the white paper written by UC Strategies analyst Dave Michels, The Uncommon Common Platform. Little wonder as hybrid deployments allow organizations to benefit from shared services, increased scalability, pay-per-use models and increased agility with new services.
So how to have a seamless cloud and onsite hybrid mix? Introducing Hybrid 2.0 – a single solution that makes integrating and customizing deployments of both simpler.
Foundational Strength to Power Your Business
The ideal, optimized hybrid scenario happens when both cloud and onsite communications infrastructures are deployed from a common source. Using this approach, both services are designed to work together depending on the needs of the organization.
Hybrid 2.0 is the next evolution in cloud communications. It offers the highest degree of flexibility and customization possible so businesses can move to the cloud as they need to, eliminating risk from future changes while protecting existing investments.
For some organizations, a Hybrid 2.0 scenario involves a focus on the infrastructure hybrid model because of facilities in multiple geographic locations. Others may benefit from an application hybrid, which can be more cost effective with applications such as call centers, mobility and conferencing.
Regardless of the model, a single solution offers the best of both cloud-delivered and onsite services as it can ensure that everyone, everywhere, using any device can easily and intuitively communicate.
For organizations that seek greater flexibility and want to future-proof their business, Hybrid 2.0 is a smart and prescient move. To see common scenarios and learn about the business drivers and benefits of such offerings, read The Uncommon Common Platform.
Publish Date: March 29, 2016 5:00 AM
Governments try their best, but they just can’t do everything that needs to be done. That’s why there are so many Non Government Organizations (NGOs), frequently set up by ordinary citizens, committed to tackling pressing social, political and environmental issues.
One characteristic these diverse organizations have in common is their nonprofit status. On the positive side, that means they aren’t held back by short-term financial objectives. That gives them freedom to focus on long-term issues that may take years or decades to address such as alleviating poverty, stamping out endemic diseases or campaigning against environmentally destructive activities such as whaling.
However, nonprofit often goes hand-in-hand with tight budgets. They simply don’t have the disposable income to waste on expensive or inefficient solutions. So expense control and squeezing maximum value out of every penny are a key part of any NGO’s operational philosophy. And in these increasingly digital days, that includes communications.
That’s very different from the situation at a commercial enterprise. They are geared up to make money, so they can afford to spend it on support services. And quite a few do just that, especially on communications, where the ROI isn't always justified.
According to a Forbes story entitled “How Mobile Communications Costs Can Cripple Your Company,” an audit of an infrastructure company found that four phones in Saudi Arabia were racking up charges of more than US$12,000 a month. That’s almost US$150,000 a year for – and let me say it again – just four phones!
Unified Communications Joins the Army
NGOs can’t afford that sort of expenditure – not without seriously compromising the ability to do their real job. But thanks to unified communications solutions from ShoreTel, a growing number of them don’t have to compromise at all.
Looking at Australia, where huge distances between cities can drive telephone costs sky high, a sizeable number of NGOs are using brilliantly simple ShoreTel solutions to keep their communications under tight control.
One example is The Salvation Army, whose existing hosted IP telephony contract was expiring. The organization was also relocating to a new territorial headquarters in Sydney and consolidating up to 10 current offices to provide additional space for future expansion.
With almost “military precision”, it viewed the challenge as an opportunity to implement a new unified communications and contact center solution. Its key criteria – the new solution would integrate with IBM Notes, The Salvation Army’s global standard collaboration platform.
After a stringent tender process and careful consideration, The Salvation Army decided on a ShoreTel solution proposed by HP to deploy more than 1,700 IP telephony handsets to over 60 sites in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.
It seems to be working. According to The Salvation Army’s IT Manager, Wayne Bajema, the new ShoreTel environment is fresh, easy-to-use and intuitive, and will provide the best foundation for the organization’s future communications needs.
He also believes that telephony integration with the organization’s messaging and applications environment will actually improve how The Salvation Army does business. In practice, that means giving staff the ability to work anywhere and stay connected to the office, when travelling or out in the field.
Reaching for the Stars
Another not-for-profit NGO, the Starlight Children’s Foundation Australia, is saving money on communications after it replaced an ageing telephone system with a communications-as-a-service (CaaS) solution from NSC called Breeze, based on ShoreTel technology.
The foundation runs programs designed to support the well-being and resilience of seriously ill children and their families. Breeze is a subscription-style offering, so Starlight didn’t need to buy any equipment; rather, just pay the service subscription on a month-by-month basis.
NSC installed 165 ShoreTel handsets, agent workgroups, operator services, UC desktop clients and the ShoreTel System Management Application. Some 30 Starlight employees were provided with softphone capabilities, allowing them to have all the functionality of an office phone on their laptop computers – a boon to staff who frequently need to work away from the foundation’s offices.
As well as realizing major cost savings, Starlight is also enjoying new functionality and agreed service levels. The money it saved by switching carriers was more than sufficient to cover the cost of the new phone system.
Lessons for the Private Sector
Today there seems to be more NGOs than ever, and the pressure on budgets is also increasing. So, it’s no wonder that organizations like The Salvation Army, Starlight and many others are looking very seriously at unified communications technology as a way to stretch what they have as far as possible.
Although not driven by profit, these organizations are applying best practices and tight financial management that the private sector could learn from.
Frederic Gillant joined ShoreTel in 2014 as vice president and managing director for Asia Pacific. Based in Singapore, Gillant leads ShoreTel’s go-to-market strategy across Asia Pacific managing the sales, channels, marketing and sales operations for the region.
Publish Date: March 28, 2016 5:00 AM
Successful technology deployments always start with good upfront planning.
When it comes to planning for your hybrid unified communications (UC) deployment, start by deciding what you need to achieve, what your company’s strategy is for the cloud and how you want to handle the costs – all of which can have a direct impact on choosing which hybrid UC solution is right for you.
Hybrid UC systems allow businesses to mix and match phone system deployments in ways that best meet their needs. They can be set up either as an onsite phone system with cloud-based branches, an onsite system with cloud-based apps, or both.
To ensure a successful hybrid deployment, first work through the three steps below. The outcomes will allow you to deploy hybrid UC more quickly, while avoiding mistakes that could derail the implementation:
1. Align Department Needs. It’s impossible to determine the best solution without a clear understanding of your organization’s needs. Yet, many companies miss this basic step. Gather information about what users in each department require and ensure alignment across all functions. Rolling out every function to every employee may not be necessary and proceeding without this knowledge can lead to inefficiency, poor employee adoption rates and higher costs.
Sit down with each group within your organization and probe for information about how they handle their work and what improvements would streamline their processes. Be sure to ask about apps that would help them work more efficiently. Prioritize your IT goals according to group need and consider pilot projects to learn more before broader deployments. Also consider the organization’s growth plans. For example, can your business benefit by having the ability to easily expand the phone system with cloud-based branches? Once you have all this knowledge in hand, you can map out which apps would work best residing in the cloud and which should be kept onsite, allowing you to avoid performance issues.
2. Remove Unnecessary Complexities. Companies often fear that adding cloud-based branches to their onsite phone system will increase its complexity, causing major headaches for IT. In fact, hybrid UC can actually reduce complexity because, if it’s like ShoreTel Connect, it’s vertically integrated, uses a single software code base and offers a single solution for cloud and onsite components. This eliminates the complications that arise when you’re patching together disparate solutions. It also ensures the parity of cloud and onsite features and makes it easy to deploy the latest updates and innovations.
3. Don’t Neglect the Cloud. Cloud phone systems are growing in popularity. Here’s why:
As you prepare to make the switch to a hybrid UC system, be sure to cover these areas in your plan. By addressing these common issues upfront, you can be sure of delivering the right mix of onsite phone system and cloud apps to meet the needs of your business today as well as be well prepared for where the company’s growth may take you in the future.
Learn more about ShoreTel Connect HYBRID Sites here.
Publish Date: March 25, 2016 5:00 AM
In the past, many smaller contact centers, typically in small to medium businesses (SMB), looked enviously at their larger counterparts who were able to use customer experience technology that helped them optimize the customer journey. Fortunately, customers of all sizes have been able to deploy innovative features like intelligent routing and media blending to drive up those ‘first call resolution’ rates that we all know can increase customer satisfaction dramatically.
Some SMB contact centers need more advanced call routing than their PBXs offer. For businesses like these, advanced call routing may be able to help automatically route client interactions to the appropriate department or individual within the company. It can probably even be linked to the company's customer relationship management (CRM) database in order to identify the most appropriate destination for each incoming call.
By routing media to the right person at the right time, you can dramatically improve first-call resolution rates, saving both time for both your customers and your employees. Advanced call routing also enables more efficient and automated call handling decisions, and improves the level of service offered to customers through the CRM integration.
By utilizing selectable events, managers can create unique ‘if-then’ routing rules that define an action that should be initiated when a selected condition occurs. In fact, routing rules can even contain multiple conditions and actions, allowing for unlimited event-action combinations. Think of this functionality as a ‘virtual supervisor.'
For example, an organization might want to create a rule to automatically route calls to a different group when the clock hits a certain time, or automatically log in additional agents when there are too many calls waiting.
Here are some other features your might find in advanced call routing:
See how Intelling put advanced call routing to work for their contact center >
Today, customers often want to reach a company in ways beyond a traditional phone call. If you want to ensure your business can serve these customers well, then you might want media blending capabilities.
With advanced call routing and media blending functionality, your business can easily route different media streams to agents within a queue, just as easily as you would voice calls, allowing both your and your customer to make the most efficient and effective use of everyone’s time.
For example, when you implement media blending, customers are able to contact your business in the way that works best for them and their busy schedules, and the system doesn't route additional interactions to your your agents until they have finished the interaction that they are currently involved with. This makes it an invaluable application for those contact centers (or any general business) that are looking for an easy, cost-effective way of providing customers with a choice of how they will interact with agents or individuals within the business.
With media blending capabilities, your business can create a single or multiple queues to handle common forms of other interaction media. This includes emails, faxes, voicemail and mobile text messages (SMS).
In fact, media like fax may be automatically converted to a more convenient format, like email, so that agents can receive multiple streams of media in a single inbox. Different streams of media can automatically be distributed among agents within the queue using desired service levels, agent current work load, agent skill set, and time of day, ensuring optimum group efficiency and staff utilization.
As agents respond back to the various interactions, statistics should be captured by your contact center software. If you really want to get a clear picture of how your media blending is working, combine it with monitoring/reporting software functions to monitor media both historically and in real-time—giving your business a complete picture of your customer activity.
Discover how Intelling put media blending to work for their contact center >
Publish Date: March 25, 2016 5:00 AM
Each spring thousands of agents, VARs, MSPs, distributors, integrators and service providers gather at the annual Channel Partners Conference & Expo to share ideas and drive discussion on the topics shaping our industry. This year’s event, which took place March 16-18 in Las Vegas, was no different in that regard. But what has changed over time are the conversations taking place among the attendees.
For the past 15 years, I’ve been among those attendees and have watched this particular show grow into a premier industry event. For instance, over time I have seen more VARs coming into this channel to connect with partners and drive MMR. But beyond the types of participants in attendance, the Channel Partners show of even a decade ago was a much different experience than it is today. Back then, it was all about the network, selling long distance, bandwidth, etc. Today, it’s all about delivering the customer experience and how channel partners can help businesses make that experience exceptional.
It’s truly a transformative time in the communications industry. With all the changes afoot, now more than ever, the end customer views their channel partner as a trusted advisor who can not only help them to navigate change, but also leverage new technologies to the benefit of their business.
Case in point, the new technologies listed below. No matter who I spoke with at last week’s conference, these three topics in particular kept surfacing again and again:
This year’s Channel Partners conference was truly an affirmation that it’s an exciting time to be a part of this business. While it is indeed a time of great change, it is also a time of great opportunity. To take full advantage of the demand, make sure you partner with a provider who not only ‘gets’ the business landscape, but who also has a true understanding of various offerings along with the expertise to deliver them.
Jon Heaps is responsible for all of ShoreTel's distribution channels, which includes cloud service distributors and value added distributors. Jon brings more than 20 years of experience in sales, distribution channels, marketing and business management with leading software technology and telecommunications providers, including inContact, CarrierSales, Touch America and Qwest Communications.
Note: ShoreTel's Phil Chandler (pictured in photo above at left) speaks with attendees at the 2016 Channel Partners Conference & Expo held March 16-18 in Las Vegas.
Publish Date: March 24, 2016 5:00 AM
It’s payback time for anyone who’s ever had to sit through an unproductive business meeting.
Leverage those past bad meeting experiences to come up with the winning caption for the cartoon below and you could win a $100 Amazon gift card!
It’s all part of a new social media contest that kicked off earlier today. The ShoreTel “Build a Better Meeting” Cartoon Caption Contest officially started at 11:00 a.m. (PT) on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 and will run through 12 a.m. (PT) Thursday, April 7, 2016.
You can enter to win the contest in one of two ways:
The winning caption – and $100 gift card winner – will be announced no later than April 15, 2016 via our Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook pages.
The contest is open to any individual 18 years or older. You can enter as many times as you like. Read more about the official contest rules in our Cartoon Caption Contest Terms & Conditions.
So, come on! Put those past frustrations and common complaints about poorly run meetings to good use by coming up with a winning caption that will bring a smile to the faces of anyone who reads it… especially if they happen to see it while sitting in a boring business meeting.
Publish Date: March 23, 2016 5:00 AM
An increasing number of CIOs are considering a hybrid pproach to their IT infrastructures, especially as they become more comfortable with cloud deployments. Among large enterprises, for example, Gartner found that nearly 75% plan to implement a mixed, hybrid-based solution by the end of this year.
Hybrid environments are enticing because they enable companies to have the best of both worlds: the flexibility and functionality of the cloud, while maintaining the hardware of their current onsite investment. Yet, many IT managers worry that pairing these two environments will make it more difficult to manage an IT infrastructure that combines and connects an onsite system with cloud-based functions.
Below are five ways CIOs can reduce complexity and still reap the advantages of a hybrid communications cloud solution:
1. Develop a Holistic Strategy. With perhaps dozens of systems and hundreds of requirements across an organization, it may seem more manageable to address each system individually. But when CIOs put each into the context of their broader IT vision, it enables them to make more strategic decisions about deployment. Seek solutions that simplify communications deployment and management by integrating applications and data onsite and in the cloud, resulting in reduced complexity and cost and increased efficiency.
2. Require Cohesive Management. Of course, complexity increases with the number of cloud deployments and onsite locations that are often served by a multitude of UC and IP telephony platforms. But it becomes really significant when IT managers must log into disparate communications systems in order to troubleshoot problems. When evaluating services, look for a solution that can provide a comprehensive view of the whole system. For example, a common, integrated and service-centric communications solution like ShoreTel Connect gives IT managers a single-screen view of system administration across cloud and onsite communications, or any hybrid mix of the two deployments. This greatly simplifies IT management and enables faster troubleshooting should problems arise.
3. Lean on Vendor Expertise. In large companies, IT teams have a diversity of experts. But CIOs in smaller businesses don’t always have the same luxury. They need to operate with greater efficiency, without necessarily having in-house help. By prioritizing internal expertise and mapping it to company initiatives, CIOs can determine which applications are best maintained in-house and which should be managed in the cloud by a services provider. For example, efficiency is created when a company can rely on ShoreTel expertise to manage the phone system in the cloud, thus freeing up the IT team to focus on other corporate priorities that require local control, such as overseeing private data security.
4. Automate Routine IT Tasks. It’s not unusual for IT teams to manage routine tasks manually, but doing so should be the exception. With a hybrid communications solution, the CIO can take advantage of the cloud services provider’s ability to automate processes and provide the latest innovative updates quickly and easily, thus reducing the burden on internal resources.
5. Build in Greater Flexibility. A strategic deployment of cloud assets can also create efficiencies when developing new initiatives. By providing flexible access to cloud applications as they are needed in hybrid communications, IT can enable teams to become more agile, streamlining the development process and enabling faster time to market and revenue.
As CIOs look to deploy hybrid communications solutions, complexity doesn’t have to be an obstacle. The key to success is maintaining a strong vision for an end-to-end cloud and onsite communications deployment strategy that is integrated and seamless.
To learn more about ShoreTel’s hybrid communications solution, visit ShoreTel Connect HYBRID Sites.
Publish Date: March 22, 2016 5:00 AM
Most small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs)—commonly defined by industry analysts as companies with fewer than 1000 employees—don’t have the deep pockets of larger enterprises. But thanks to cloud technologies, they can now better compete on a global basis with larger enterprises.
One new technology currently moving to the cloud that can help is Unified Communications (UC). It can boost an organization’s productivity and collaboration while enhancing communications and optimizing results among employees, partners and customers.
Below are three strategic components to consider when evaluating a UC solution:
1. Not All Clouds Are Equal
Cloud computing is the great equalizer as it can provide advanced enterprise functionality to companies of all sizes. The number of cloud communications solutions offered today has increased, but not all deliver the same benefits. Hence, it is important to carefully evaluate which cloud option is the best choice based on the needs of the company.
There are three categories of cloud communications:
Private cloud communications enable flexible, software-based UC applications that are hosted internally, within a company’s ‘private cloud’ (think intranet vs. Internet). While the company has to maintain the virtualized infrastructure that supports cloud UC applications, it can easily deploy them across multiple offices. Many SMBs leverage the private cloud to deliver a single, common communications solution across the entire organization in support of all locations globally. Private cloud solutions reduce some capital expenditures and ongoing maintenance costs, but do not provide the cost savings of a public cloud solution. Some companies and industries favor a private cloud in order to maintain control over the software and to safeguard sensitive customer data.
Public cloud communications refers to a third-party service provider that delivers communications services via the Internet, or public cloud. This can be a Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) offering with pay-per-use pricing. This option is especially attractive to companies that may need to suddenly scale services up or down due to seasonal spikes in business. Public cloud virtually eliminates hardware costs and is seen as the most cost effective option for many businesses.
Hybrid communications offer the best of all worlds by combining onsite hardware, private and/or public cloud services. The hybrid model, particularly when delivered as a single solution that seamlessly integrates the same features and functionality across onsite and cloud deployments, allows a company to keep sensitive applications or data on-premises in a central location for security while also leveraging the private cloud and even incorporating public cloud applications as part of an encrypted end-to-end communications solution. This is an especially attractive solution for those SMBs that are migrating to the cloud, but looking to make a smooth and gradual transition. A common solution that provides onsite and cloud communication deployments in a mix-and-match hybrid environment allows a company to dial into cloud functionality at its own pace, whether the ultimate goal is an all-cloud solution or, for business reasons, will always remain a mixed deployment. SMBs should work with vendors that offer a full range of options and a parity of features as well as a single user experience.
2. Mobility Boosts Productivity
Just as the cloud can stretch the benefits of UC across geographic boundaries, UC mobile solutions can boost productivity for employees when they are not in the office.
Mobility is a top driver for many SMB technology decisions these days. SMB Group in its recent "Top Ten SMB Technology Trends for 2015" report found that 60% of small to medium-sized companies now view mobile solutions as critical to their business. An estimated 71% believe mobile applications will replace some traditional solutions entirely. The report also shows an upward trend in spending on mobile solutions.
The key consideration for SMBs is the ability for users to access the desk phone’s rich set of features from any device. Whether it is a salesperson on the road, an employee away from the desk or even a worker who strongly prefers a personal mobile device, the UC solution should provide a single user experience no matter the device and regardless of whether he or she is being served communications from the cloud or onsite.
“Dual persona” is another consideration. In other words, does the solution allow an employee to use a personal mobile device for business without giving out a personal number? By separating the two with calls that follow a worker from desk to field, employees will be more willing to answer the call during a lunch break or even after hours.
3. An Understanding of the SMB Market
While most UC providers have cloud, onsite and mobility offerings, it’s crucial that they understand the needs of an SMB company. While SMBs want enterprise capabilities, they don’t need a bloated enterprise solution designed for 1,000 users or more that may require an IT staff to support every office in the company or equipment associated costs.
This is especially important as several UC vendors have refocused their businesses on large enterprise customers over the past few years, with some no longer even offering SMB product lines. If the whole point of UC is to increase productivity and enable better collaboration, then SMBs should narrow in on those solutions that best fit their needs and will optimize results.
Competing with large, well-financed enterprises has always been a challenge for SMBs. But by working with a vendor that understands the SMB market and that can deliver flexible cloud, onsite, hybrid and mobility options from a single user experience, SMBs can now go toe-to-toe with larger enterprises.
ShoreTel and its partners have been meeting the needs of SMBs for more than two decades. ShoreTel offers solutions that can be deployed in a variety of ways – in the cloud, onsite or a hybrid combination of the two. Learn more about our offerings here.
Publish Date: March 18, 2016 5:00 AM
Meetings that involve workers participating from remote locations present special challenges. It's extra difficult to keep everyone on track and engaged when some attendees aren't physically present in the room with you.
If you're looking to improve the effectiveness of your meetings with remote workers, look no further than the infographic below. It provides quick tips and smart ideas to improve the meeting experience--and outcomes-- for every participant, no matter their location.
Are you a Meeting Maverick, Meeting Multitasker, or Meeting Maximizer? Find out by taking the ShoreTel Business Meeting Challenge.
Publish Date: March 17, 2016 5:00 AM
Confidence in deploying unified communications (UC) in the cloud is growing as communications follow other applications to the cloud. While 75% of company data today lives in either public or private clouds, the amount in hybrid clouds or private, virtualized clouds kept onsite with public or Internet cloud services provided by third-parties is set to double in the next two years, according to the 2015 Future of Cloud Computing Survey conducted by North Bridge Venture Partners.
Analyst IDC underscores this momentum. A recent report predicts that more than “65% of enterprise IT organizations will commit to hybrid cloud technologies by the end of 2016, vastly driving the rate and pace of change in IT organizations.”
This rush to hybrid environments isn’t surprising. Among other things, hybrid solutions offer lower costs, less complexity and increased flexibility. Taken together, these strengths can make hybrid cloud deployments a means of differentiation for many businesses.
As the name suggests, hybrid environments offer the best of two worlds. Such solutions give organizations the ability to maintain local control over sensitive data and applications, even as they provide the flexibility to explore cloud services.
Comparing Hybrid Offerings: Past & Present
The issue with hybrid deployments in the past has been how to manage and deploy them since multiple solutions, interfaces and updates from different vendors are difficult to manage. The challenges are compounded for those companies looking to deploy their unified communications and collaboration applications in a mixed onsite and cloud environment begging such questions as:
Let’s take a closer look at four ways a single hybrid UC solution available today addresses these challenges:
Capabilities such as these enable businesses to move fast, take advantage of growth opportunities and profit from increased productivity—while lowering costs, protecting existing investments and lowering risk associated with the uncertainty of what is needed for the future. As a result, your company can be both more resilient and more flexible in vibrant markets.
It’s no wonder more organizations are taking a hard look hybrid UC. Take a look at Shortel Connect HYBRID here.
Publish Date: March 15, 2016 5:00 AM
There’s plenty of great news to report regarding ShoreTel’s partnership with Aruba.
Just today, ShoreTel announced that Aruba Network solutions are now certified worldwide with ShoreTel Connect. These certifications extend the long-standing relationship ShoreTel has had with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), which Aruba is now a fully integrated part of. Read more about today’s announcement here.
The announcement comes on the heels of last week’s Atmosphere 2016 gathering, Aruba's annual customer and partner event that was held March 7-10 in Las Vegas. ShoreTel was a first-time sponsor of the event which was attended by more than 2,000 participants seeking to learn more about new and updated Aruba and HPE technology, Aruba partners’ technology and hear how the integration of Aruba within the larger HPE organization has come along.
This years’ conference was Aruba’s biggest yet in terms of attendance; the conference was sold out and may have to move it to a larger venue next year.
ShoreTel’s presence included our branded booth, which highlighted ShoreTel technology-- including Connect, our newly certified Aruba products, our UCaaS offerings with HPE, Ingram Micro and ScanSource. The ShoreTel exhibit was perfectly positioned next to the entrance and exit to the exhibit hall, which resulted in quite a bit of booth traffic. ShoreTel partners and customers, as well as prospective partners and customers, were among our many visitors. We talked to many CTOs, presidents, and IT directors. All of the Aruba partners we spoke with were interested in the partnership and wanted more information about Cloud Connect.
There was a large contingent of Education/GOV/Finance in attendance which it made extremely valuable for members of our vertical team to attend. In addition, we were able to have dedicated meetings with Aruba Sales and Channel leadership as well as meetings with leaders from ScanSource and Ingram Micro, with follow-up meetings being scheduled. These meetings will help us further strengthen our alliance with Aruba.
Aruba will hold similar conferences in EMEA and AP later this year and ShoreTel looks foward to participating in those as well.
If you have any questions regarding the conference or our alliance with Aruba/HPE, please contact Paul Foucher at email@example.com.
Pictured above: Paul Foucher (in orange shirt) staffs the ShoreTel booth at Aruba Atmosphere 2016 with ShoreTel teammates Monica Frace, Partner Business Manager, and Rod Davis, Director - Solutions Architect West.
Publish Date: March 14, 2016 5:00 AM
As a human living in the 21st century, chances are you have your favorite businesses that make customer service a breeze or go above and beyond the call of duty.
As a professional with influence over the customer experience your business provides to your customers, you likely have a sense of which organizations are getting it right, whether they're your direct competitors or sources of inspiration in another line of business. While you can try to mimic, replicate or establish your own benchmarks to measure against based on these success stories, there's nothing more valuable than hearing how it's done directly from the pros.
That’s why we’ve released a new ebook that examines exactly how six companies in varying industries (including healthcare, transportation, and ecommerce) revamped their customer experience strategies and saw measurable results.
Here are some of the top tips you can steal today:
An engaged customer buys 90% more frequently, spends 60% more per transaction, and is five times more likely to stay exclusively loyal to your business, according to Rosetta. Ultimately, your customer experience strategy needs to be designed based on the preferences of your target customers – not legacy systems, budget restrictions, organizational structure or internal politics.
Kansas-based Centrinex, a national leader in contact center services, credits its tremendous growth in part to staying conscious of shifts in the market and new ways customers want to communicate. With clients in varying areas of business, such as customer service, government, and financial services, Centrinex recognizes that letting consumer habits influence the customer experience adds maximum value.
You can’t please everyone, and no business is immune to the occasional customer experience mishap. But you should know what could go wrong and take whatever steps you can to protect your customers. Evaluate issues that negatively impact your customers’ satisfaction and, if they’re unavoidable (such as weather conditions, emergency situations, unforeseen delays, etc.), determine ways to minimize the inconvenience and frustration they cause.
When revamping its customer engagement strategy, Red Funnel Ferries looked at proactive ways to contact its ferry riders in the event of a delay or timetable change. Employees can now easily communicate service disruptions directly on customers’ preferred platforms: social media and SMS. As a bonus, this approach reduces the inbound call volumes and pressure on the contact center when these inevitable instances do arise.
Company purse strings tight? While there are areas of the customer experience strategy that can be improved with low financial impact, often a larger investment (such as upgrading your technology or working with a consultant) can yield the highest returns.
Consider where your major roadblocks and inefficiencies lie, and do an honest analysis of the potential ROI from every big spend. For Aerial Capital Group, a transport logistics company operating Canberra’s largest fleet of taxis and hire cars, investing in automation meant interactive voice response (IVR) would handle 42 percent of all calls. This significantly dropped the number of required call center agents and created annual budget savings of $1.2 million—all from letting the numbers speak for themselves.
Today’s mobile consumer demands the freedom to communicate with your business when and how it’s convenient for them, as evidenced by the ever-rising usage of web self-service and SMS. Luckily, this means constant availability no longer requires human capital.
In fact, La Citadelle Regional Hospital saw a dramatic decrease in missed appointments – a serious problem consistently plaguing the healthcare provider – after implementing online booking and a text messaging service to remind patients of upcoming visits and allow them to respond via SMS in order to confirm or postpone. The lesson? Letting your customers take their experience into their own hands can truly be win-win.
Customers are selfish when it comes to customer experience—and why shouldn’t they be? They have instant access to your competitors and the ability to jump to whichever business is easiest to deal with. They don’t care what your infrastructure looks like on the back end or the fact that you have disparate teams handling the different steps of the customer journey. They want quality service, period.
With over 45,000 hotels in 147 countries and 6,000 employees worldwide, online accommodation wholesaler Hotelbeds knew it required a solid communications network that guaranteed capacity, fluidity and scalability of its platforms and applications in order to provide a consistent customer experience from any geographical location. Explains Juan Luis Pujol, IT Logistics Services Manager, “Each contact center provides different services to different customers, but the technology is the same for all of them.”
Publish Date: March 11, 2016 5:00 AM
Successful businesses challenge IT managers in more ways than one. The more successful the company, the greater the need for IT to adapt to meet growth requirements and help the business differentiate competitively.
As opportunities emerge, mid-market and enterprise organizations must add offices (often in new geographies), hire new employees, manage seasonal spikes and improve communications not only for employees, but for partners and customers as well. How they address these changing dynamics and where they choose to deploy and manage the necessary underlying communications technology impacts productivity and, ultimately, the success of the business itself.
For those still operating traditional systems, outdated and inflexible technology can present enormous physical and financial obstacles to growth. Even organizations using more up-to-date on-premises phone systems can find their expansion plans limited due to expensive hardware upgrades and long depreciation cycles.
Planning for success and every eventuality is easier when companies select a hybrid phone system platform that offers a flexible deployment model for applications and services in a mixed onsite and cloud model. A hybrid unified communications (UC) platform lets you scale for the business, deploy the latest technology innovations quickly and easily, and provides the same features across any device whether you are serving your applications from the cloud or onsite.
Hybrid UC: A Growing Company’s Best Asset
By offering greater flexibility and ease of use, hybrid systems enable businesses to adapt to new opportunities quickly and strategically, without sacrificing security or consuming valuable IT resources. They provide:
When new opportunities arise, the ability to deploy sites and applications in a hybrid deployment provides cost-conscious CIOs, COOs and business managers with confidence. They can scale easily and limit the risk involved in testing emerging markets and fresh ideas – all while staying in charge of key locations and critical infrastructure. When growth presents itself, a hybrid phone system makes complete financial and business sense.
Learn more about ShoreTel Connect HYBRID Sites here.
Publish Date: March 11, 2016 5:00 AM