Open Source Voip
What comes after a Unified Communications system? More unification of course! We are entering another phase in the evolution of the business phone system, where it is becoming an overall business communications system. And we’ll continue to see computing advances have a huge impact.
Let’s explore this a bit. From an architecture perspective, it’s not a big leap to continue an evolution towards adding more communications to the business communications system. Other outside networks, such as may be required for IoT interaction can be added to the mix. Other devices, that may have nothing to do with voice, such as building access control, cameras and sensors can be added. And the rules system and message broker brains also can get updated so that “voice” becomes just another type of communication method, not the method it was originally designed for years ago. As such, the Business Communications System is born.
And with all of this data coming from all of the business interactions, patterns and learning can be had and put to use in a positive way. The advances in compute power and the ability to analyze huge amounts of data swiftly and efficiently have given rise to elements of Artificial Intelligence entering the business phone system. In other words, the “rules.” And thus the Message Broker can get smarter. So the advent of Artificial Intelligence functionality with the PBX/UC platform has already started to occur.
The last mile to this Business Communications System will also likely be augmented. With 5G comes the ability to “network slice” or carve a portion of the network to be dedicated to an enterprise. In other words, a 5G wireless trunk.
The PBX has already undergone incredible evolution in the past 25 years. With much more to come. The office environment has also evolved from a single brick and morter facility to be a virtual, accessible at all times, and from anywhere environment. The PBX/UC platform branching out to become a more complete business communications system for the Evolved Office is a natural evolution for the PBX, and Sangoma is leading the way.
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Few things are more important to a SMB (small-medium business) than its reputation. Building rapport with your customers doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a relationship that builds over many years of dedicated service or quality products. One place where some businesses fall short is maintaining a basic, open communication channel with their customers. When customers call to see what your weekend hours are or if you have a certain item in stock, it should not turn into a long hold or a busy signal. A hosted phone system can ensure a “lack of communication” is never an issue. Here’s why:
RCF (remote call forwarding) is a business revenue saver and ensures that your customers always reach someone. If you set up notifications and call forwarding rules the call will cascade to the device of your choice, making that dreaded voicemail box less visited. You can leave to run to the post office or go grab lunch and calls can be forwarded to your mobile phone. The customers will have no idea you aren’t in the office, keeping them happy and content while you answer their questions. Need to take a break? Simply change your status to “away” and you can set up a call rule that will forward those calls to another co-worker or even a call queue, so you can take a much needed break.
Your business phone number is the face of your company. Think of all the commercials where people have made up jingles centering around their main phone number. Moving to a new hosted phone system doesn’t mean you should lose something that helps to identify your business. Keep your identity and port your number. Make sure to set up a number port with your current vendor before you cancel services and set up a paper trail with emails. Working hand-in-hand with your new provider will help ensure a smooth transition.
The Cloud is the way of the future, there is no denying that. Gartner predicts that by 2021, 90% of IT leaders will not purchase any new premise based UC infrastructure. Not only can hardware take up valuable space around the office or in server closets, but for many small businesses, having your IT person focusing on your phone system as well as day-to-day operations can be overwhelming and perhaps lead to burn-out. Not having a physical phone system in the office is ideal for businesses in areas where tornadoes, hurricanes, or other natural disasters are a threat. Everything is in the cloud, so less equipment to be damaged and replaced. With less equipment to worry about and maintain, you can focus on running your business and keeping your customers happy. Leave the phone system maintenance to your hosted phone service provider.
Switchvox Cloud is here for the long haul. We have all features included at one, low monthly rate. That’s your phone system and phone service rolled up into one bill. All you need is an internet connection, set up a few call rules, and you are ready to go. You can add extensions as needed, making Switchvox Cloud a flexible solution that is perfect for businesses that have busy and slow seasons. Updates come automatically, there is no bulky hardware in the server closet or around the office, and 24/7 support is there for you when you need it most. Contact our sales team today and see how Switchvox Cloud can help your business bring in more revenue, scale to your intended growth, and secure your business’s reputation.
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Last week, I described the basic architecture of a PBX system. But these systems have evolved into Unified Communication systems that handle more than voice – they handle messaging, texting, chat, video and others. This is where most business phone systems are today.
But how did they evolve so quickly? The basic architecture stays the same, so if you have a good architecture upon which to build, features can be added quickly. When doing an instant message for example, there still needs to be a database of users and rules that go with it, there needs to a message broker between the two people involved, and there needs to be trunks and an end user device. The basic architecture is there – just the type of media involved changes. The UC system simply had to handle different media beyond voice. The convergence of voice with IT (VoIP) proved to be monumental since voice became just a type of media- just another type of data to be moved. And once that happened, other media could be moved with the same constructs as voice. Hence, UC implementations became de rigeur.
Messaging via chat, or playback of a voice or video mail on your email are everyday examples of such communications in the office beyond a simple voice call. Different devices could be enabled for different kinds of interaction beyond voice, adding text, chat, and video for example.
The advances in the networks and the ability for applications to utilize these advances in network technology also played a huge role in enabling the PBX to evolve to truly become “Unified Communications”. Once such network was the emergence of 3G and 4G, which ushered in the world of mobile enterprise applications. Your office becomes mobile, because you have office apps such as your office phone, your instant messaging system, etc. on your smartphone or your laptop or tablet. Effectively, your offices move to wherever you are. And many of us reading this blog have experienced that.
But what is next? Next week I’ll explore some ideas.
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Organizations use conference calling as a means to communicate with remote employees, partners, vendors and customers. It can also help cut down on travel expenses and even enable you to connect multiple office locations.
As helpful as conference calling can be for a business, some people would describe the experience as boring and unproductive. Often the experience isn’t as good as it could be because people aren’t properly prepared. Here are some steps to take to ensure you have a productive conference call for everyone involved:Properly Prepare
Unpreparedness is the main reason conference calling take longer than they need to. To avoid this, create an agenda for the meeting. The agenda should contain the following information:
- Date & time of conference call, as well as dial-in number and access code (which should also be in the meeting invite)
- Topic of discussion & goals of the conversation
- Participants, job titles, and their role in the project or topic being discussed
- Detailed list of items to be discussed
- Attachments or links to documents relating to the discussion
Note: Make sure the items on the agenda can be discussed in the amount of time allotted. Employees are busy and have other responsibilities throughout their day. Running overtime while conference calling can throw a kink in the entire work day.Know the Conference Calling Technology
Nothing is more embarrassing than thinking you’re are on mute and saying things no one was intended to hear. Understanding the platform and technology you are using is an important step in conducting or participating in a conference call. Make sure your employees are trained on the conference calling platform your business uses, and prior to conducting your first conference call, run a test call and play around with all of the available features. It’s always helpful to have an employee who is technical and can help if an issue with the platform arises during the call. If you don’t have a tech-savy employee on the call, have a backup option for the meeting, or reschedule. (Even if you are familiar with the technology, make sure you pay attention to whether or not phones are muted, for example, to avoid awkward situations.)
Note: For remote and mobile employees, make sure they can easily access the conference call-in number and access code from their smartphone. Some platforms are not mobile-friendly and these numbers are not easily accessible from the emails the platform sends out, so including the dial-in number and access code in the agenda is key.Keep it Productive
Follow the agenda you created ahead of time, and steer the conversation back on track if it derails. Of course, if discussions of the weather or other topical issues come up, go ahead and share as a quick ice-breaker, but then get back on track and stay focused on your agenda. It’s helpful to have someone on your team keep track of action items discussed during the call, including who is responsible for specific action items, and when those items are due. It’s also helpful to use a call recording feature so that anything missed during the conversation can be referred back to or shared with those team members who were unable to join. Finally, it’s good practice to check to see if anyone has any questions about a line item before moving onto the next.Follow-Up
Following the conference call, you or someone on your team should send out an email to all participants recapping the conversation and action items discussed. Employee to-do’s should be very clear and include due dates if possible. If you have the capability, send the recorded conference call to participants for reference.
Conducting a productive conference call depends on how thoroughly you prepare ahead of time. A detailed agenda will not only keep your team on schedule but will also help achieve the goals of the conversation.
Sangoma Meet is an advanced video conferencing platform that seamlessly operates from a Firefox or Chrome browser. And right now, you can have access to this powerful tool capable of providing private, secure video calls for up to 50 participants – completely free.
The business phone system has evolved. If you didn’t know that before work from home, you know it now. If you have been on a Unified Communication system, you have been able to communicate in a variety of ways. And you found out while voice is an important element of the business phone system, voice is simply one of the ways you communicate with other people in a business environment today, and that is all supported within a UC business phone system. Voice is essential, but no longer unique. We communicate with other employees or customers via instant and group messaging, email, social media and the like.
When viewing the architecture diagram of a basic PBX office phone system, one can see four important elements. There are interfaces that connect to the “outside world” networks via “trunks” that come into the building. In “the old days”, which is only a few years ago really, this was simply a PSTN trunk to the wired and wireless PSTN, internet or wireless networks. Today this also includes SIP trunks connected to these same networks.
There are also interfaces that connect to whatever device one talks on. Again, in “the old days” that was simply a phone on your desk, or maybe a paging system, conference phone or intercom to the front door. Today, there are all kinds of softphones, or clients connected to your various mobile devices, including your watch.
The business phone system also has a database of users (phone numbers, etc.) and rules on how to route calls. Finally, there is a message broker which manages the interaction between internal and external devices and follows the rules set out by the system itself and the administrator of the business phone system.
Next week we’ll take a look at how the architecture has evolved to easily add Unified Communication features.
While there is a time and a place for the desk phone (and they aren’t going away any time soon), more and more companies are jumping on the softphone bandwagon. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a softphone is essentially a software version of a telephone that can be deployed on desktop computers or mobile devices. Calls are made via the Internet, using bandwidth (you may known this as Voice over IP, or VoIP), and many have similar functionality as their desk phone counterparts.
Here are four reasons businesses of all sizes are adopting softphones into their tech stack:Brand Consistency
Presenting a consistent brand message is central to maintaining professionalism and gaining customer trust. A softphone makes it possible for employees to provide their customers one phone number to reach them wherever they are located- in the office, at home, or on the road. From your customer’s perspective, they will feel like they’re calling your corporate office regardless of where you are located or which device you are using.Convenience & Privacy
With softphones, every employee extension is tied to the company’s phone system, so customers don’t have (or need) access to their personal cell numbers; only the business’s caller ID information is shown. This is ideal for two specific situations. First, when an employee leaves a company, this privacy layer eliminates the possibility of the employee poaching customers and taking their business along with them. Second, it is for the safety of the employees that customers don’t have their personal mobile numbers, as after-hours calling abuse (especially from an angry customer) is not uncommon. Also, softphones provide additional features that are useful when customer interactions go south, such as call recording and voicemail to email. Call logs are also useful to show the time each employee spends on the phone with customers. If Steve spent 3 hours talking to a customer at 3AM, that may be worth having a conversation about.Visual Voicemail / Voicemail to Email
Let’s face it- no one likes checking their voicemail. In fact, conglomerates Coca-Cola and JPMorgan both completely eliminated corporate voicemail due to lack of use by employees. While saving money obviously wasn’t a main motivator for Coca-Cola, the company estimated it would save about $100,000 a year by cutting the service.
While some companies have no need for voicemail, others rely on it. Either way, companies should make it easier for employees to access and handle voicemails if they want the service they pay for to be utilized. Some softphone apps, like those offered by Sangoma, include a visual voicemail feature, which is very similar to the iPhone’s voicemail layout. If a customer details an issue they are having in the voicemail and the employee needs a manager to hear it, it can easily forward the voicemail as a .wav or mp3 file via email. If a generic voicemail is left on a receptionist voicemail, he or she can forward the voicemail by email to the appropriate department or person to handle. Important voicemails concerning personal information, issues, or anything else worth keeping, can be filed in a customer’s CRM profile for future reference.Cost
As an extension to VoIP, softphones take advantage of its low-cost nature and eliminate the need to invest in desk phone hardware for every employee. Companies can save hundreds to thousands on communication expenses by offering their mobile employees a softphone pre-loaded with the same functionality their in-office coworkers have access to.
I was asked to contribute an article in FastMode about how we are responding, and helping our customers respond, to the pandemic. If you want to read the complete article, click here.
My thesis has been that the companies that utilize Unified Communications systems as their basic phone system, with its ability to offer softphones with the same business number, conferencing, collaboration, presence, and mobile phones that also utilize your business phone number, are at the forefront for enabling this new remote work and work from home environment we’re all experiencing right now. They were prepared.
And businesses will either want to continue to be prepared for the next ‘work from home’ emergency, or they will see that this WFH thing wasn’t so bad, and they’ll be OK with enabling this in some form full time going forward. It’s just good business.
This is why I see this whole pandemic as a tipping point for businesses and the use of Unified Communication systems. While UC systems were ‘nice’ before, they are now essential. And they’ll continue to be.
But the part of UC that has really exploded has been video. Video helps enable a sense of community, camaraderie, and really just necessary human interaction that comes with chit-chat, just like at a water cooler, coffee station, or lunch room. I’m seeing our employees get on Sangoma Meet video calls a little early so they can just talk for 5 minutes. The need to be connected is more significant than ever now.
Given what is going on out there around the world, we’ve decided to make our Sangoma Meet™ video conferencing and collaboration service available for free. We’re simply asking for feedback during this time via filling out a form when the call is over.
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