Posted on May 19, 2020 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was written by Ecommerce Platforms, a reviewer of online store software.
Lockdown means that speaking online is now the primary method of communication and it comes with its own quirks – it’s not a given that someone who adores speaking face-to-face will enjoy a video call as much.
In today’s post, I’ll cover a number of work from home communications considerations and show you how to get the most out of your communications from contending with training issues to dealing with outside distractions.
While not all of these will be relevant to everyone in your business, each of them will likely concern someone in your company, so I hope you will consider all of them and then apply these lessons to your organization as they fit.
Training Issues to Contend With
Not everyone is tech-savvy – those who are will be surprised at how difficult it can be for a non-techy to set themselves up for online communication.
Take one of my friends.
He’s an operations manager at a call center, one whose staff worked almost exclusively from the office prior to lockdown.
Now, I won’t go into all the details of how that’s affected him, but here’s one example.
A member of his team was being remotely set up to work from home. My friend asked them to hit the spacebar. The reply was “what button is that?” It took 10 minutes for the staff member to establish that it was the “long one.”
That might be an extreme (and extremely painful) example, but its lesson still applies to you – you need to be prepared and plan for all work from home communications considerations because you may need to spend a long time explaining things to people.
Having the Right Equipment in Place to Communicate
I’ll admit that I take for granted that I have the right equipment to work from home and communicate with colleagues and clients. I often work from home, meaning I have up-to-date experience with what I require.
But you shouldn’t take this for granted with your employees because you’d be surprised by how much equipment they might be missing.
There are a number of equipment shortfalls and pitfalls you can expect.
Think your employees have a computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, microphone, camera and all the other communications essentials? It’s important to consider that they might not own all these personal devices. It could be necessary for you to supply a laptop but additional equipment as well.
You might confidently think to yourself, “it’s fine, my employees have a PC and all those other things.” But I’ll toss a curveball at you – data protection.
It’s not enough for them to have their own equipment. They need company equipment that’s secure and will pair well with each other.
Think about, for instance, that you’re like me and you work with two screens. At work you can connect your device to your monitor fairly simply – all you need is a micro USB to HDMI and you’re done. There’s no security risk in connecting your device to a monitor to create a second view for your work.
At home, you might have an all in one PC (I do) that’s not company-supplied. To connect it to workplace servers or equipment might require the installation of special software. It might even be easier to supply employees with company equipment rather than format their personal computers to become more secure.
The level of dedication this requires will vary depending on your security needs. In the most extreme cases, it could require deliveries of the right equipment to employees at their homes. This could take weeks to orchestrate, essentially making setup time one of your most important initial work from home communications consideration.
Deciding on the Communications Platform to Use
You can rest here for a bit. Because while deciding on the communications platform to use is enormously important, it’s actually quite straightforward.
I’ve used the following communications platforms and can offer a few pros and cons I’ve experienced with each:
- Free to use
- Has a nice tile view for seeing call participants
- Participants need to have a Google account
- Needs a high and stable bandwidth
- Up to 250 people per meeting
- Free for 40 minutes of group chat
- Security is a concern
- Multiple reports have shown information security concerns and video chat interruptions
- Great functionality with collaborative tools
- Works well on mobile devices
- Permission settings can be difficult to use
- Can experience lag issues
That gives you an idea of what to expect and some things to consider. However, you will need to try these platforms out yourself and establish if they meet the communications needs of your business.
Outside Distractions Can Impact Communication
When working from home, it can be difficult to remove yourself from distractions. Even if you have lots of experience working from home, chances are that you won’t have experience of doing so while your whole house is at home.
The potential for distraction creates plenty of communications issues. Here are a few specific events you could encounter:
- A Google Hangouts presentation being interrupted by a noisy child
- A cat racing across a laptop and interrupting a Microsoft Teams chat
- Neighbours playing music loudly while you’re having a Zoom call
Basically, you can demand professionalism from your team, employees, and superiors, but you can’t expect that it will always be delivered upon because you’re not in the office – you’re in people’s homes.
Be prepared and considerate of circumstances. Diplomacy is key when something unexpected happens.
How People Cope With Online Communications
It’s easy to assume that online communications are the same as face-to-face interaction. You can still see people’s faces and take clues from body language.
The thing is, though, online communications really aren’t the same as speaking in person. The most personal of these work from home communications considerations is that people cope with this challenge in different ways.
You might be the sort of person who speaks confidently when standing in front of a room of people. However, when you’re on set with dozens of squares of people’s faces on a screen you may shrink into yourself a little.
Some people will experience communicating from home differently than communicating in the office. Managers should be aware of and accommodating to this possibility. A few informal test runs can ease everyone into the new way of communicating, and it can give you the chance, as a company, to test-run several video chat platforms before committing to one.
Make Your Communications Smooth
Business communication during lockdown is quite different to what you’ve experienced prior to COVID-19. Not everyone in your company will have had experience working from home. Even among those who have, regular video conferences and remote work can require adjustments as a new normal develops.
Take my pieces of advice to heart as your company makes the move to working from home. You will be better off when you’re aware of the benefits and challenges this type of work environment will create. And the more you know, the smoother your daily communication will be.
Posted on December 12, 2019 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was written by TechWarn, a digital safety advocate and news site.
Data is not what it used to be, especially to brands and businesses. Of course, data has always been important in the business setting, but the rate at which data is being coveted these days brings a new twist to the whole game.
That makes it necessary for brands to protect their data better. By extension, there is an increased need for secure file transfer channels so that a data breach doesn’t affect the data in motion.
Importance of Secure File Transfers
Businesses have a thousand-and-one reasons to invest heavily in the security and safety of their file-sharing protocols.
For one, it costs way more to recover from a data breach than it does to prevent one from happening at all. Speaking of costs, companies also get a lot of negative publicity when a data breach is found out.
This was the case with Yahoo when the brand was found to have lost the details of a stunning 3 billion accounts to hackers. Besides the negative press that this brought Yahoo, it also slashed the worth of the brand so much that it was acquired for an arguably lower price than would have been expected without the data breach fallout.
All that, and we have not mentioned the loss of customer trust that comes with such instances.
These are huge costs which no business should pay – especially when they could have prevented something of the sort from happening in the first place.
How Companies Can Protect Their Data Transfers
There are various methods of data transfer that companies can use. The methods they employ will inform the type of protocol that should be established around the data in question. Getting into the specifics of each type of transfer and each type of security protocol available is outside the scope of this piece.
Speaking generally, however, there are measures that businesses can put in place to ensure sensitive files and proprietary documents do not get into the wrong hands.
Some of these include, but are not limited to:
- Ensuring End-to-End Encryption – Most businesses can secure the data on their servers by encrypting it. Proper use of encryption can make files unreadable to anyone that obtains the data.
Data encryption begins the process of data protection. It protects data in place but does not protect access to the server itself.
An insecure connection could serve as the entry for the data breach. This is why businesses should be as aware of the encryption of their target destination as they should be concerned about their encryption protocol.
- Encrypting Connections – Businesses need to make sure that encrypted connections between servers and devices are available. They also need to make sure individual employees actually use those connections. End-to-end encryption is only effective when it becomes standard practice for employees to use it.
IT departments carry a heavy weight here by creating those connections and by needing to educate non-IT employees about how to use encrypted connections. A common use case for connection encryption is the virtual private network (VPN). Installing a VPN can make it easy for individuals to complete secure file transfers.
Maintenance of that type of encryption practice is essential and will include customizing VPN logs to not store sensitive data about your data transfer activity.
- Educating the staff – It bears repeating that, no matter how great your internal file transfer protocol is, human error could be the one thing to ruin everything.
If the employees of the business aren’t aware of the proper file transfer practices, they could end up being the weak link in what could have been an otherwise strong chain. Thus, ensure every member of staff, especially the ones handling sensitive data, receives adequate training on proper data handling.
Data privacy and security should not be an afterthought for any company, but a cause of constant consideration. Investing in a firewall and leaving it to chance is not enough.
With the growing threat of data breach and security – as well as clever ways through which hackers are perpetrating their attacks – it is important to always be in the loop with new and improved models of keeping sensitive data safe and secure.
Businesses can get started by doing their research about how services like VirtualPBX support encryption. From there, encrypting data at rest, establishing a VPN for secure file transfer, and committing to data security education and practiced usage of these structures is essential.
Posted on December 5, 2019 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was written by IntelliTicks — developer of an AI-powered chatbot for sales teams.
As you observe the rise of apps like Uber, Netflix, Amazon, and Airbnb, you will realize that people love the convenience these brands provide in the form of swift resolution of their queries and problems through chatbot customer service.
Any delay in service would cause customers leave one business for another. This is why businesses all over the world strive to move lightning fast when handling customer concerns. Brands don’t want customers to switch to a competitor, so brand provide users with quick, frictionless interactions that promptly resolve their problems.
The question for businesses is how to improve customer service without over-extending their budgets.
Phone Support and Chatbots
There are plenty of benefits for deploying a chatbot in conjunction with phone support through a Business Phone System.
Both allow businesses to answer customer queries quickly at any hour. Both also support each other by providing unique benefits to the businesses and customers that use them. What follows is a quick look at the overall picture of phone support and chatbot benefits for businesses.
VoIP phone systems are affordable. Phone support delivered through a VoIP telephone system can be much more affordable than using a conventional phone system. Softphones can be used on any existing device, so hardware costs are initially kept low. Per-minute costs for inbound and outbound calls are also easy on the budget.
Phone support builds brand loyalty. Customers who prefer to get their queries answered in a short time can call up the phone support. With a well-staffed Support department, a business can help customers with issues quickly and to the customers’ satisfaction, generating loyalty for the brand through such thorough expediency.
VoIP systems easily route calls. VoIP phone systems provide built-in functions for routing calls to individuals and groups. If a call isn’t answered, it can be forwarded to another device for the same user or to a different Support rep. Smartphones, desk phones, and laptops are all within reach.
Why To Use It
Phone support is a great way to make the customer feel valued as the customer gets empathetic answers from the customer service representatives.
Customers love it when a human agent listens attentively to their queries and gives great support to them in the matter of minutes. It’s a personal method of turning a dissatisfied customer into a happy one.
Phone support gives a customer a feel of investment and attention from the businesses that help in retaining customers. Real-time interaction is also helpful in getting feedback about products and services because customer service reps can hear the tone in customers voices when they talk about interacting with the product. These same calls also give representatives a chance to ask customers what they can do to create an improved product.
Chatbot Customer Service
Chatbots — chat robots — communicate with customers online in the form of personalized conversations. This communication can take place through voice and text, and customers can find this type of support on mobile apps, websites, and on popular chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger and Slack.
These services are often free to use with a trial or limited plan, including brands like IntelliTicks, which offers paid plans for businesses that need to scale upward. This makes chatbots flexible enough to grow with businesses at a moment’s notice.
Chatbots have the capability to help customers at every stage of their journey in the sales funnel.
They can provide quick access to product information and answer routine consumers questions in the language customer speaks. Customers write their queries as if they’re speaking to another person; then the chatbot interprets the text to accurately respond in real-time.
Chatbots can run 24/7 and handle multiple customers at one time. This gives businesses a constant online presence so possible prospects are not lost.
Why to Use It
Chatbot customer service is great for businesses that have a lot of website traffic and don’t want to spend money on hiring and training human resources to engage with visitors. They can answer repeated queries without delay and can generate leads by just being there for customers at any hour.
Automated online chatbots are also much less expensive than traditional support structures. The setup for a call center can be extensive; its training time long; its overall cost expensive. Chatbots can begin operation in a matter of minutes.
Businesses can also easily customize their chatbots with preferred response phrases and direction. As an example, linking customers to an FAQ page can help businesses take advantage of support docs they already have in place. Chatbots can also take the lead by answering simple questions and engaging customers with discounts/offers/new products/services information.
Convergence Between Chatbot Customer Service and Phone Support
Chatbots are immense technology innovation, but they can’t currently replace person-to-person interaction.
Phone support is crucial for it offers an empathetic response to the customers who always seek someone to listen to and hear their problems. It offers an engaging way for customers who prefer a more personalized contact with a brand to troubleshoot their issues.
Chatbots, on the other hand, can help in engaging customers who prefer the online service. Chatbots also don’t have to be impersonal. They can easily offer a phone number for voice support for any customer who’s interested.
Both are important for businesses in delivering excellent customer service, increasing brand loyalty, and catering to a worldwide audience.
Posted on November 7, 2019 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was provided by TelephoneVox – a company that specializes in the production of professional audio for telephone switchboards.
Today, the brand is considered a fundamental element for the company, a pillar on which most of the business performance is based, even more than the product itself. Building a positive brand reputation, therefore, is of the highest importance.
A telephone switchboard, also referred to as an Automated Attendant or interactive voice response (IVR) system, can help build that reputation by assisting customers in a friendly and efficient manner. The benefit of using an automated call processing service can be found in both hardware switchboards and through hosted phone services like those offered by VirtualPBX.
Why is the Brand so Important?
Several prominent marketing experts have spoken publicly about the role that brand reputation plays with respect to consumer loyalty and integrity.
Bruce McColl, head of marketing at Mars, has noted the limits of the brand-consumer relationship. He remarked in an interview with The Drum that expecting consumers to love a brand is “one step too far.” He said the challenge is to resonate with consumers on a personal level while keeping in mind that “nobody wakes up and thinks ‘what does Snickers have to say today?’”
Likewise, Byron Sharp, a marketing expert at the University of South Australia, has stated that, if the product is readily available and if the experience offered by that brand is top-quality, it will be easier for the consumer to become fond of the brand and remain loyal in the future. “Familiarity breeds contentment,” he said in a post on his personal blog.
Product purchase is affected by many new offers that come up daily, so brand recognition becomes more important as a differentiating factor that lies beyond what individuals might outwardly consider (like price or availability).
Building Positive Brand Reputation Through the Telephone Switchboard
It is essential for brands to maintain and build reputation, and the audio messages played by their telephone switchboards can be one of the best methods to use. A switchboard, automated attendant, or IVR is typically simple to configure and is consistent in its contact with inbound callers.
Why is a good audio message the key to a brand reputation?
An individual’s call frequency to any company often depends on the amount of information or support they require. When they’re in need, they will reach out. Otherwise, they’re probably happy with their service and will keep to themselves.
Although the latter situation is generally positive, it doesn’t afford your company many opportunities to build your brand reputation with the customer.
With those limited contacts, however, come powerful opportunities to root the concept of a brand by taking advantage of a genuine voice recording. An person’s voice can show the customer that, despite the limited information in a switchboard greeting — an initial greeting and a layout of touch-tone options — the brand wants to make a personal connection with the caller.
In direct contast, many companies use social networks, chatbots, and instant messaging to build their brand image. They rely on text-driven messages that, although convenient, may lack the personal touch that an audio-based message can convey.
What Is Your Best Brand Experience?
Think about the best experience you had with a brand’s automated attendant.
You were probably greeted by a clear, professional voice that guided you through the company directory. If there was a wait, it was likely enlivened by music that made the wait for a live employee less taxing.
This type of experience can turn into a positive memory which, ultimately, helps gain trust in the brand. Your follow-up interaction with the company from your ‘best brand experience’ likely also moved more smoothly. It would have taken you less time to process the transaction since you didn’t have to consider the trustworthiness or good/bad feelings about a brand in addition to product price and availability.
The positive brand reputation had already been created, and it carried into the future transaction.
Customers are the lifeblood of every company. Managing your brand through a switchboard can offer rewards that other forms of brand-customer interaction cannot replicate. The way you invest in your own automated attendant will determine the improvement of your own brand reputation.
Posted on October 2, 2019 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Dmitrii B., the CEO and founder of GRIN tech – a full service digital agency in design, marketing, and web development alongside white-label agency & media outreach.
IDC research suggests that, worldwide, business will spend $553 billion cloud tech by 2021.
Public clouds have become easier to access and cheaper to use, so they’re becoming attractive to businesses of all sizes. This growth to $554 billion, which about doubles spending from 2016, highlights the demand for simple-to-use cloud services that benefit various business operations.
To understand the application of cloud services to software and infrastructure, we can take a deeper look at the key concepts of SaaS, PaaS, IaaS. You can link to any of the sections below by following this navigation:
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
The Essence of Cloud Solutions
Clouds have appeared as a reflection of the general trend of the shared consumption economy, which is focused on use instead of ownership. This has already given us the exchange of housing, car sharing, and even wedding dresses for rent.
There are more and more things and services that can be used and paid for only by their actual use, without large capital expenditures for the purchase.
In the case of IT infrastructure, capital costs can be significant. Paying for this expensive infrastructure can unnecessarily weigh down business, so adoption of a rental model (the cloud model) is often justified.
In addition to potential savings in capital costs, there are other significant advantages:
- Speed: Leading suppliers can get a cloud in minutes/hours.
- Flexibility: Visualization technologies allow you to get as many computing resources as you need here and now. Missing and buying too slow a server is not a problem.
- Saving on associated costs: Including uninterrupted power supply to the server
- In certain cases, savings on maintenance personnel (more details below)
Sounds promising, huh? Just keep in mind the drawbacks:
- Connection Dependency. You need a stable internet connection for cloud services to work.
- Limited Features & Lack of Control. Say you implement a cloud-based CRM system. It’s all good, but then you need just this one new feature… but you don’t own the product to make the decision.
- Security. For businesses that desire strong security practices they control, it can be worthwhile to hire an in-house team rather than leave security detail to a third party.
- Technical Issues. You cannot fix your cloud computing problems in-house, and some providers do not offer around-the-clock technical support.
There are three main formats of cloud solutions by the service model to explore: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
Software as a Service – SaaS
The most user-friendly clouds. You just work in the necessary programs via the internet (without installing them on your device).
- Technical details are completely hidden. You connect through the internet to the ready-made program.
- Update, performance, and other technical issues and problems are handled by the service provider.
- Lightning-fast onboarding (mostly). It is enough to order a service and you can use it in a few minutes.
- Limited selection because some software is provided only as native to Windows/Mac/Linux/Android
- You have no control over customization of how the programs operate.
- The SaaS service provider must be trusted to provide a high quality of work.
- This route of program use can be expensive, especially when its spread across hundreds of employees.
Examples of SaaS
As a rule, SaaS is provided by the developers of these very applications. There’s often a need for businesses to adopt multiple vendors to see all their needs met for cloud software use.
- Microsoft Office 365
- VirtualPBX providing “best in VoIP services”
- Various CRM systems, which are often cloud-only
- Google Analytics, etc
Platform as a Service – PaaS
You rent a certain computing platform consisting of virtual computing services (analog of the central processor and server RAM), data storage services (analog of the server hard disk), data transmission services (traffic consumption), etc.
You can design arbitrary virtual computers with a variety of system and user software. Suppliers – the leading IT companies with a worldwide reputation – provide stable operation of these computers and programs. Solutions in this area are popular with corporate customers and developers.
- Amazing flexibility – you can build a computer of any capacity (from a micro server comparable in power to a smartphone to a cluster of hundreds of thousands of servers), and install on it a variety of applications.
- Major suppliers have huge geographically distributed networks, which allows you to easily deploy fast, mass and fault-tolerant applications.
- There is an opportunity to additionally connect advanced services, in which Oracle, Microsoft, Google have unique competencies – the use of artificial intelligence, analysis of large amounts of information, etc.
- You can often pay only for consumed resources rather than a block of allowed resources
- To use it, it is necessary to “assemble” the system of virtual components. This requires specific knowledge and skills.
- Each platform imposes its own restrictions on implementation, there is no complete freedom in implementation.
- There is a high base cost.
Examples of PaaS
This table notes a number of major PaaS providers and their product offerings in a range of capacities such as web hosting and database hosting:
|Google Cloud Platform||Amazon Web Services||Microsoft Azure||Oracle Cloud|
|Computing Power||Google Compute Engine||Amazon EC2||Azure Virtual Machines||Oracle Cloud Infra OCI|
|Web & App Hosting||Google App Engine||AWS Elastic Beanstalk||Azure Cloud Services||Oracle Application Container|
|Container Application Hosting||Google Kubernetes Engine||Amazon EC2 Container Service||Azure Container Service||Oracle Kubernetes Service|
|Serverless Computing||Google Cloud Functions||AWS Lambda||Azure Functions||Oracle Cloud Fn|
|SQL Databases||Google BigQuery||Amazon Redshift||Microsoft Azure SQL Database||Oracle Autonomous DataWarehouse|
|NoSQL Databases||Google Cloud Bigtable|
Google Cloud Datastore
|Amazon DynamoDB||Azure Cosmos DB||Autonomous NoSQL|
|Data Storage||Google Cloud Storage||Amazon S3||Azure Blob Storage||Oracle Cloud Storage OCI|
The total cost of PaaS use considers the consumed computing resources, space in storage, and the amount of data transferred over the network. Idle servers are cheap whereas often-used servers can become expensive. This Amazon Web Services calculator lets you input these considerations to get an idea of the costs you might incur.
Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS
You rent a server/computing resources. The service provider is guaranteed to work at the server level (electronic filling of the server, internet, power supply, etc.) / virtualization technology (see below).
There are three formats for providing the service:
- Dedicated server: Renting a separate physical server that can be used only by you. It has a relatively high cost but guarantees that all the computing resources of the server are fully at your disposal. The provider provides full administrative access to the server, and your specialist sets it up the way you want it.
- IaaS for a pure virtual data center: The provider installs special virtualization programs on one or more servers and then passes access to the management interface of these programs to you. This approach is very flexible, as you can create and configure any number of virtual servers for yourself.
- VPS/VDS as a virtual private/dedicated server: This is when the IaaS from the previous point is configured by the vendor for you and only transfers access to virtual servers that you cannot change. Important differences are the virtualization technology used (e.g. KVM / XEN / OpenVZ / Hyper-V / VMware) and the guaranteed performance. VPS/VDS can offer low cost but may also show low/unstable performance due to overselling.
- The purchase of the server is not always reasonable, as it becomes obsolete over time. By renting a server, you can always change or update it with minimal costs.
- It is possible to choose and manage the performance and parameters of the server as you want.
- Complete freedom to install any operating systems or programs you need.
- It requires an engineer to set up and maintain.
- Often, there is a specific server/virtualization specification that is tied to the characteristics of the server/virtualization technology. This may lessen the flexibility of server use.
Examples of IaaS
The market is saturated with vendors. Our personal experience at GRIN tech is with a 32GB RAM monster from Hetzner that costs us around $55 per month. It hosts approximately 15 projects and still has a lot of room left for company expansion.
From my experience on client projects and what I see in the industry, I’d say for pretty much every need small and medium businesses are facing there already exists some sort of cloud solution.
Even when a company decides to build something with in-house devs – the infrastructure itself can easily rely on cloud infrastructure from a 3rd party vendor.