Management Consulting and Customer Service: VoIP Business Telecommunications

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The most important factor in the success of a management consultant company isn’t necessarily results-based. Customer service, and the manner in which client calls are handled, can make up for a great deal of shortcomings, and conversely, can expose a great deal of shortcomings. Consultants typically spend a great deal of time and money investing in analytics software, databases, and other process-based tools. They scour data and understand how to recognize patterns and solve problems. They typically even consult with clients on improving their communications systems and customer experience.

But what about a consulting company’s own communications systems and customer experience?

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Efficient communication is critical to the success of any professional consulting firm. Clients are often scattered across the country and around the globe and consultants typically spend a great deal of time on the road. The ability to receive phone calls and messages is critical. One missed call can mean walking into a meeting with incomplete data or can lead to a fractured client relationship.  Old and outdated communications and collaboration systems can chip away at a consulting firm’s productivity and affect its ability to remain competitive.

The Traditional Communications Model

A Private Branch Exchange (PBX) is the traditional approach to business telephony.  This is the standard phone system model that delivers inbound calls to individual extensions.  Unfortunately, this type of system has become outdated and expensive.

With a traditional PBX setup, firms must operate one system per office. If you have locations in New York and Los Angeles, each location will have its own, traditional phone system. Employees who must interact by phone have to place long distances telephone calls to reach their colleagues.

Traditional PBX systems also have limited support for telecommuting and traveling staff members.  These workers must locate and operate separate phone, mobile, fax, and data lines. If a consultant is on-site with a client, she must use the client’s phone system or her own mobile phone to place a long distance call back to the office.

This model can get costly.  Firms must pay up front for the phone system, then pay monthly maintenance costs in addition to the cost of calls and network services. There is no way to predict the expense from month to month, and there is no way to expand your consulting business without incurring increased hardware and maintenances costs.

Online Communications Systems

Online phone systems overcome the limitations of the traditional model and give consulting firms far greater scalability and flexibility. Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP sends calls over the internet rather than over traditional phone lines.  These systems require less hardware than traditional phone systems and actually allow phone numbers to travel wherever you direct them, as long as there is an internet connection on the other end.

This technology has created more efficient PBX systems for business. With a hosted PBX system, calls are switched and routed not with a bulky switchboard, but through the VoIP system. Hosted PBX works with traditional and online phone systems, either in tandem with or in replacement of your current system.  With hosted PBX, a call comes in through your external telephone line, travels over the internet, and is routed to any endpoint you determine. That may be a desk extension, a mobile phone, or even a computer.

Online phone systems give management consulting firms far greater flexibility to conduct business through:

  • Advanced routing features: As individual consultants travel to visit clients and prospects, they can remain connected to the home office. VoIP systems allow users to route calls to any destination they choose. Through simultaneous and sequential ringing, they can send calls from their desk to their mobile phone, a client’s office, or even their laptop or tablet.

  • Every call to colleagues is in-network: Consultants visiting clients on-site will no longer have to place long distance calls from the client’s office or their own mobile phone in order to reach their colleagues at the home office. Instead, they can place calls directly from their laptop or tablet, and the call remains in network.

  • Connecting multiple locations: In the same way, colleagues working in different locations can reach one another by phone through a simple extension, rather than by placing an outbound call.

  • Voice and data integration: Traveling employees can receive voice messages and faxes in their email inbox, improving response time and eliminating missed client communications.

  • Resiliency: If the phone lines go down due to a power outage or natural disasters, calls can be routed to other phones with the click of a mouse, eliminating downtime.

  • Scalability: When the firm has to add phone lines or develops a need for advanced services, online phone systems can be instantly expanded to meet those needs without adding additional hardware.

Efficient Systems, Improved Service

Management consultants must be flexible and they must be mobile. And a firm’s communications system should be just as flexible and mobile as its consultants.  By adopting online systems, consulting firms can improve their response time and reduce costs. Key team members will always be “plugged in,” even if they are visiting a client halfway around the globe.  Traditional phone systems limited workflow and stymied collaboration. But online systems are scalable, adapting to the needs of the organization as well as the needs of the individual user. They provide unprecedented flexibility and mobility, and improve the way consultants deliver customer service.

VoIP and Hosted PBX: Pros and Cons of Consolidating Expenses

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As the mobility, flexibility and cost effectiveness of VoIP technology gains familiarity, more and more chief communications officers and small-business owners alike are opting to make the switch from traditional telephony. VoIP — especially VoIP networks built on increasingly popular hosted PBX systems — is carving out a greater chunk of the telecom pie each year across several industries with no slowdown in sight.

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Voice Over Internet Protocol

Commonly called “Internet phone” or “Internet calling”, VoIP is defined by the FCC as a system that allows calls to be made over a broadband Internet connection, as opposed to over an analog phone line. It operates by converting the user’s voice into “packets” that contain digital signals, which travel over the Internet before being converted back to a regular telephone signal. Although rudimentary versions of the technology had been tinkered with for years leading up, companies such as Skype made VoIP familiar not just to businesses, but to the general public in the early- to mid-2000s.

VoIP Pros

There are good reasons that the popularity of VoIP escalates each year among both individuals and businesses. Virtually all upgrades are handled through simple software uploads rather than through buying, installing and maintaining phone lines and expensive, complicated hardware. VoIP requires less than one-sixth the bandwidth to transmit (10 kbps one way for VoIP vs 64 kbps for phones) and many VoIP providers offer extra services like call waiting and call forwarding at no extra charge. The biggest and most obvious incentive, however, is cost. VoIP-to-VoIP calling doesn’t cost anything, and fees for calling landlines or cellphones are minimal and charged by the minute. Standard lines, on the other hand, come with expensive contracts that require monthly payments, often with roaming or long-distance charges and international rates that vary by company and country.

VoIP Cons

As VoIP steams forward, however, there are contrarians who remain committed to the traditional public switched telephone network, or PSTN. A commonly cited reason for landline loyalty is connectivity. By the nature of how VoIP providers connect — converting analog waves or vibrations into digital “packets” — VoIP is open to issues with reception, clarity and stability. For enterprise businesses, this is, of course, unacceptable. Corrupted or missing packets, bandwidth limitations and digital compression used to limit bandwidth, can all result in echoes, delays, choppy or stuttered reception and even dropped calls. Advocates of PSTN extoll the virtues of the technology for a reason. Traditional wired telephones are incredibly reliable and provide unrivaled clarity and reception. A VoIP system reliable enough for businesses can require a significant investment in bandwidth, software and infrastructure.

VoIP Built on Hosted PBX

Private branch exchange, or PBX, was developed to allow companies to save money on internal phone calls by switching the circuits themselves locally at a time when human operators still ran switchboards by hand. Even though data networks and packet switching traveling over the Internet has replaced manual systems, the familiar acronym is still used — even when the branches aren’t private and nothing is being exchanged. Through hosted PBX, businesses can still handle internal calls locally, but take the onus off of themselves by outsourcing the systems management to a third-party “host.” The host owns, operates, secures and maintains the hardware, which is expensive and complicated. Instead of constructing their own PBX, businesses rent someone else’s so they can focus on their core competency.

Many businesses are realizing that by shedding the hardware requirements of both PSTN and PBX infrastructure at the same time, they can save money and dramatically dwindle their IT requirements. With a cheaper, more customizable VoIP network built on the framework of a hosted PBX system, voicemail, conference calling, touchtone menus, automated greetings, call waiting and call forwarding are all much cheaper or free. Both have very low startup costs and more than one person can be reached through a single number as PBX routes, holds and transfers VoIP calls.

 

VoIP: Helping Health Clinics Adapt to a Changing Market

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Sweeping changes to healthcare laws and regulations over the last several years have left consumers with a virtually unlimited number of questions. 48 Million uninsured Americans now have access to healthcare plans. These formerly uninsured patients – many who haven’t visited a physician in years – are scrambling to make appointments and understand the scope and limitations of their new coverage. And insured patients are caught up in shopping around for new plans and understating new coverage regulations. In order to get these questions answered and secure important appointments, they are taking to the phone to get answers to those questions.

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Healthcare providers and clinics all over the country may suddenly find themselves flooded with inbound calls. And this influx of calls can expose limitations in both customer service processes and hardline phone systems. In order to accommodate these calls and inquiries while serving patients, health clinics should consider moving from traditional to online phone systems.

Differences Between Hardline and Online Phone Systems

By now, most people have at least casually heard of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems.  Rather than using hardline phone lines, these systems transmit calls over the internet, giving businesses almost unlimited flexibility in phone system design. These systems also markedly reduce telephony costs and provide more options in terms of customer service interaction.

With a VoIP system, healthcare providers can reduce the need for multiple telephone lines. Many clinics have to advertise several numbers in order to route inbound calls and not jam the lines. With each of these numbers comes a separate phone bill.  But with online systems, health clinics can consolidate numbers, or conversely, add multiple lines, without an exponential increase to the monthly telecommunications bill.

Landlines provide limited accessibility and mobility. Even with cordless phone and headsets, users can’t move to far from the base unit without losing the signal. Online systems utilize web applications, which means users don’t even need a handset to place or receive a call – they can use mobile devices and computers. As long as there is an internet connections, users can  place and receive calls. VoIP systems can also be integrated with email, text-based messaging, and web applications, giving users and administrators the flexibility to connect with callers in a variety of ways.

But how do these differences benefit a busy healthcare clinic?

Manage Call Response During Peak Hours

VoIP systems give health clinics the ability to route calls to ensure timely response. During periods of high volume, calls can be routed away from the front desk to dedicated customer service agents, freeing up onsite personnel to attend to their office duties. Patients still dial the published clinic number, but those inbound calls are sent to on or off-site agents. Clinics can reroute the calls back to the office during slower times.

In order to plan call routing, administrators can utilize call reports to determine the days and times that experience highest volume. But even when planning is close to perfect, there will be moments of unforeseen chaos. In those cases, administrators can reroute calls with one click, instantly lightening the load for clinic employees.

Customize Your VoIP System to Meet the Needs of the Clinic

Health clinics may find that a VoIP Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems, also known as IP PBX,can provide the usability and flexibility needed to operate busy practices with multiple locations.  A PBX system is a private telephone network for business. Users share outside lines without requiring an individual line for each desk phone.

VoIP PBX allows administrators to customize communications systems based on the needs of the organization, and online phone systems are scalable, growing and adapting as the size and needs of the clinic change. VoIP PBX systems are also able to be designed to meet the constantly changing regulatory requirements of the healthcare industry.

VoIP PBX can unite clinics with multiple locations. On a traditional phone system, Inbound callers who may have dialed the wrong location, or who may require a call transfer, would have to hang up and dial again. But when all offices are on the same online system, calls can be seamlessly transferred between offices, improving customer satisfaction.

The Right Phone System Can Improve Patient Relations

As more consumers purchase new health insurance policies, providers may find themselves with a continuous onslaught of inbound calls. In order to accommodate this volume while maintaining customer service, clinics may find themselves outgrowing their current traditional phone systems. Scalable VoIP and VoIP PBX systems can help administrators plan for and manage this new workload while maintaining a high level of patient service and care.