How the Hybrid Workforce Has Brought Cloud-Based Phone Systems to the Forefront of Business

Cloud-based phone systems have exponentially grown in popularity over the past few years. Improved ROI, decreased cost, and easy scalability are just a few of the many benefits they offer.

With the recent increase in work-from-home employees, cloud-based business phone systems are now an indispensable part of the hybrid workforce.

Workers can utilize the same phone system tools as their office counterparts, no matter where they are physically located—through their laptop, IP phone, tablet, or cell phone.

Are you like many of our customers and wonder, what is a cloud-based phone system? Read on to learn more about how the hybrid workforce has affected cloud-based phone systems and the value you’ll get from installing one.

What are Cloud-Based Phone Systems?

Traditional phone systems (PBX) require expensive on-site servers and annual software subscriptions. When something goes wrong, it becomes a 911 rush to find a qualified technician to come out and fix the problem.

Cloud-based phone systems, such as UNIVERGE BLUE from NEC, offer a fully-featured phone system with high-definition (HD) audio and a wide range of features, such as:

  • Call Park
  • Call Forwarding
  • Find Me/Follow Me
  • Hold Recordings or Music
  • Conferencing
  • Messaging Applications

The cloud-based phone system provider handles the server and software maintenance. This helps eliminate the huge monthly expense of on-premises servers and software licenses as well as helps reduce on-site maintenance and management labor costs.

We have found that our customers can save an average of 15-25% over the life of the phone system when making the switch from an on-premises system to a cloud-based system.

Benefits of Cloud-Based Phone System

Cloud-based phone systems offer a wide range of benefits, such as:

  1. Reliability—cloud-based phone systems offer a 99.999% uptime backed up by a Service Level Agreement.
  2. They’re easy to scale without a huge investment. When you need to add new lines, simply call the company hosting your system and inform them. They’ll make the changes on their end without any effort on your part.
  3. Reduced hardware and labor costs—you don’t need an on-site control box, and all maintenance is done in the cloud. This means that your equipment is continually updated with the latest security patches/etc. When updates are available, the phone will let you know, and updating is as simple as clicking a button on your phone.
  4. Easier to connect with customers—you can place phone calls and send text messages that appear to come from the company regardless of if the app is installed on an employee’s personal cell phone.
  5. Some systems, such as UNIVERGE BLUE, come with a transcription feature. If someone misses a phone call, they can look at their email and see who left the voicemail, along with a transcript of what they said.
  6. A cloud-based phone system is much more secure than a premises system. For example, an old premises-based phone system can be hacked—attackers will randomly call and recognize the voicemail prompt, and from there, they can tell what system it is.

The hacker can then enter the user’s system, start making international calls, and racking up substantial long-distance bills. With the cloud, that’s eliminated because everything is encrypted, and NEC and their security specialists handle all the security stuff.

Cloud-Based Phone Systems Have Evolved Due to the Hybrid Workforce

According to many sources, the hybrid workforce is not only here to stay—workers and job applicants will start actively seeking companies that offer it. Cloud-based companies have seen the increased demand and are now offering a wide range of additional features and benefits such as:

  1. The ability to connect to the cloud from any internet-connected device. If you’re working in the office in the morning and pack up to go home after lunch—you won’t have to bring any additional equipment to work from home or in the field. When using a cloud-based phone system, you won’t have any concerns on having to take work equipment with you to stay connected.
  2. You can also work from a cell phone signal instead of a traditional home or office internet connection. Workers will still have access to the cloud-based phone system when power outages occur, provided they can receive a cell phone signal.
  3. With UNIVERGE BLUE, employees have a choice when using their personal cell phone. They can choose to take and make calls from the mobile client where the caller ID shows up as coming from the company or they can call directly from their cell phone where their personal caller ID is displayed to the person on the other end. System administration is super easy with the cloud-based phone system’s web-based portal.
  4. Many applications have also been developed to help people in the hybrid work environment. These include messaging, productivity, and collaboration tools such as call flip, SMS text, file sharing, team chat, and web meeting.

Is a Cloud-Based Phone System Right for You?

The value and benefits offered by cloud-based phone systems have far-surpassed traditional PBX on-premises phone systems. You and your employees will experience increased productivity, flexibility, and productivity, while employers will save money by being able to effortlessly scale up or down as needed.

UNIVERGE BLUE CONNECT is an easy-to-use cloud-based communications platform that helps employees to be more productive and collaborative. It includes a full-featured phone system combined with chat, web/video conferencing, basic contact center functionality, and file sync, share, and backup capabilities.

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How Self-Service is Elevating Customer Experience

For decades, customer service and support operations have held an important role in the way organizations operated their businesses. However, this labor driven operation was looked upon as an expense—just a cost of doing business. Organizations often sought ways to lower customer service / support costs by moving this function offshore or outsourcing, limiting ways customers could communicate with them and thus reducing contact center budgets or deploying technology to deflect and/or eliminate in some cases, the “human” contact.

The attitude that customer service / support is an expense began to change as companies put more focus on the actual customer experience and realized that there were opportunities being overlooked. According to research by Deloitte Digital, customer service interactions—especially those with human interaction—are the ones that were “most likely to build or break customer trust and loyalty.”1

BizReport recently reported that customer service and customer experience are now closely linked, which affects the way consumers regard a company brand. Among the findings reported, 73% of consumers want the ability to solve product and service issues on their own. For millennials, customer service expectations have increased since 2012 with 56% indicating that they’ll switch brands if they experience poor customer service.2

Benefits of Self Service

A trend toward self-service by consumers has also emerged and likely will continue to rise. More and more consumers purchase products online and experience delivery methods such as curbside pickup and at-home deliveries. These “touchless” ways of shopping often result in customers increasingly reaching out to businesses through email or phone with questions and requests for assistance. Providing additional options for self-service can improve the customer experience and cut down on frustration, long wait times and inability to reach a business after hours.

Looking a little deeper, it’s apparent that consumers increasingly want to troubleshoot problems on their own rather than waiting to interact with companies online or by phone. Often companies will become too preoccupied in handling common questions from consumers—What are your business hours? When is my next appointment? Did my direct deposit process? How do I drive to your location? — which can negatively impact customer service overall.

To jumpstart self-service options, businesses can provide access to information via intuitive website design and automation, knowledge bases, Interactive Virtual Agent (IVA) chatbots and back-office integrated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to their customers. For example, an IVR can be an option for handling common mundane inquiries. Doing so enables organizations to better manage their contact center agents’ time to more effectively manage incoming calls that directly affect the bottom line. Seamlessly resolving issues through the most-efficient channels equals a better customer experience, more customer loyalty and ultimately more revenue for the company.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, one of NEC’s customers was inundated with frequent calls related to common questions like those mentioned above. The company leveraged IVR to support customers who called after business hours, allowing them to press “2” and the company would text a link to their business hour webpage automatically. After implementing self-service, our customer deflected more than 800,000 calls.

A Solution for Customer Self-Service

NEC UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is an automated telephony system that interacts with callers, back-end data sources, gathers information and routes calls to the appropriate representative, with insights to that specific customer. When customers have straight-forward questions (checking an account balance or paying a bill), the IVR enables self-serve for customers without using up the time of a live agent. When a customer’s problem extends beyond the dynamic menu, the IVR system quickly leads the caller to the most relevant agent available.

When implemented and configured correctly, IVRs can help boost sales and reduce churn. IVRs can increase customer satisfaction by enabling customer interactions to be handled and routed quickly and efficiently and reported upon afterwards.

IVR gives customers options on how to be assisted and leads them to the right information or agent for more personalized service. It also provides access during off-hours to information such as account balances.

UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE IVR makes configuration and deployment extremely simple, including adding prompts, such as:

  • Initial Greeting/Welcome
  • Language Preferences
  • Authentication
  • Tailored Self-Service Menu that offers informational prompts providing answers to common questions
  • Access to the customer’s own personal account data
  • Choices for accomplishing tasks such as making or canceling an appointment, placing an order, accessing their account or speaking to someone in customer service or a particular department

Easy IVR

ENGAGE has a user-friendly intuitive wizard to streamline the set-up, for common IVR needs. Referred to as Easy-IVR, companies can quickly configure and build a simple step-by-step customized IVR that drive business and improve customer experience. Now, in as little as five minutes, non-programmers can either build an IVR or enhance an existing one quickly and easily.

IVR Studio

ENGAGE offers a Development Studio for creating robust self-service / self-help and to integrate to external applications and data sources. Referred to as the IVR Studio, this component of the Admin Portal is leveraged by trained/certified users (partners and/or end user customers).

UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE is a cloud-based contact center solution that is fully equipped with Interactive Voice Response to improve the customer experience with seamless self-serve and customized service options.

Discover more and schedule a demo.

Sources:

  1. Elevating Customer Service: From Cost Center to Experience Hub,” Deloitte Digital
  2. Report: Poor customer service pushes consumers away,” BizReport

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Missed Appointments = Missed Revenue

How to improve customer ‘show rates’

When customers miss appointments, it can be annoying and inconvenient. But those “no shows” also can end up costing your company in other ways.

No shows can have a negative impact on revenue by:

  • Using up employee availability – Staff must work around a missed appointment and divert resources to maintain high levels of service for other customers.
  • Increasing employee costs – Businesses that require employees to travel onsite (appliance delivery, HVAC, real estate) incur additional costs such as gas, wear and tear on vehicles and hourly employee rates.
  • Slowing response time – Inability to provide prompt service could mean losing one-on-one time to nurture customer relationships, as well as lost sales opportunities.
  • Affecting professionalism and reputation – Last-minute cancelations can really mess up a day’s schedule, which in turn makes an organization look less professional or inefficient. The other “waiting” customers feel frustrated about wasted time. Even worse, customers unable to schedule an appointment or who have a bad customer experience because of a full schedule may turn to a competitor and never return.
  • Harming staff productivity – Staff that is frustrated from having to constantly juggle resources and reschedule appointments may become less engaged and not as productive in the long run.

Consider a healthcare organization. A recent study found that even a small number of no shows can significantly affect patient retention rates.1 Someone who has missed an appointment is less likely to reschedule another one later.

Here’s another way to calculate the potential revenue loss from a missed appointment. Consider that one “no show” per day costs your business $200. If you are not able to backfill that missed appointment, that $200 is lost forever. If you are unable to reschedule that no-show appointment to a new time, that’s another $200 in potential future revenue.

A Fix for the No-show Problem

Addressing the no-show problem head-on helps reduce the chance of occurrences before they happen. Dynamic notifications provide a solution that combines phone, email and SMS to maximize an organization’s potential revenue and ensure a customer or patient experience that generates future referrals.

NEC’s UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE Dynamic Notifications solution has several advantages:

  • Incorporates a cadence that includes interval, messaging frequency and message content and leverages phone, email and SMS
  • Provides customers or patients with an option to easily “confirm” or “cancel” an appointment
  • If “cancel” is the response, redirects the customer to an agent to reschedule right then and prevent future revenue loss
  • Enables backfilling canceled appointments to maintain or increase revenue
  • Reduces downtime and costs associated with idle staff

The reminder capabilities enable an organization to send outbound voice, SMS or email notifications set to customers’ preferred method of communication, adding to their convenience and satisfaction.

Also, businesses that use UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE Dynamic Notifications are able to offload routine or trivial tasks from their staff. This enables them to reduce cost per outbound call (no staff involved), increase staff productivity, enhance scheduling efficiency and maximize revenue opportunities.

Flexible Industry-related Options

Deploying dynamic notifications not only benefits health organizations and service call companies, but can also be effectively used in a variety of other industries.

  • Retailers alert customers of deliveries, surveys, promotions and collections.
  • A real estate agent can let potential buyers know about open houses and visits.
  • Hospitality businesses remind guests about travel dates, reservations, orders or delays.
  • Banks provide account balances and payment reminders.
  • Utilities communicate with customers about installations in their neighborhood, outages, emergency and weather alerts.
  • Small and medium businesses send promotional offers, upsell new products or launch marketing campaigns.
  • Transportation services provide pick-up reminders and offer scheduling options.

The ENGAGE Dynamic Notifications setup is simple, data-driven and contains customizable options:

  • Phrase Manager, with a buildable library of message templates
  • Highly scalable to fit the size of any organization
  • Tightly integrates with ENGAGE Contact Center features
  • Reports campaign status through a Live Dashboard
  • Provides reports on completed calls
  • Incorporates Text-to-Speech voice notifications in multiple voice options and dialects

UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE is a cloud-based contact center solution that is fully equipped with Dynamic Notifications to help improve no-show rates and potentially increase revenue. Regardless of company size or industry, it is flexible enough to help you reduce those pesky no shows.

Discover more and schedule a demo.

Source:

  1. No-show effect: Even one missed appointment risks retention,” Athena Health

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You Have Choices . . . In How To Improve Your Contact Center

With our world increasingly becoming multi-channeled, companies – especially larger organizations with call centers – must come to terms with this.  Whether by text, chat, email, social or phone, support agents must be empowered to engage with customers in the way the customer wants and do it seamlessly regardless of contact choice.

Such agility doesn’t come easy, especially for contact centers managed in-house or at large enterprises where the complexity of on-site, remote and even overseas operations can impede highly integrated and consistent experiences.

So what can be done …

The most obvious choice is to concentrate on the customer experience. Smart companies are doing this by unburdening themselves from the technical aspect of contact center management by moving to the cloud.  Cloud Contact Center as a Service solutions – such as those provided by NEC UNIVERGE BLUE® – deliver relevant multi-channeled environments that integrate telephony, collaboration, responsiveness, security and transparency into a single, fully managed and interconnected ecosystem.UNIVERGE BLUE CONNECT

Some of the value we bring includes:

  • Interactive voice response wizards, voice prompts, customized call journeys and self-serve call management that make the customer experience crazily simple to implement, change and maintain
  • AI interactive analysis with sentiment tagging and automated phrase alerts for insight into trending customer requests and reactive agent amendments
  • Automatic call distribution synchronized to specific functions, regions, time of day and organization or industry-specific criteria for faster and more direct handling
  • Multi-channel options like chat, email and text to take the conversation beyond voice easily
  • Customizable desktop and browser agent clients that effortlessly integrate with standard CRM platforms and critical business apps for broad and intuitive access to vital information and resources
  • Call monitoring to help assess agent performance so reps are always ready to meet incoming requests and service gaps are quickly filled
  • Status alerts for heighten visibility into call center performance to improve staffing levels, conditions and availability

Hesitant or unable to totally transform …

Cloud adoption doesn’t have to be an all or nothing business directive.  Take for instance NEC’s partnership with T-Metrics and our ability to deliver an advanced blended omni-channel contact center solution – with comprehensive cloud-based services – that sits on top of existing infrastructure.
UNIVERGE BLUE CONNECT

By integrating with most unified communications systems, cloud contact center adoption and expansion is easy to achieve and without having to replace existing or still valued tech stacks.

This is ideal for organizations with current contact centers or those  looking to build highly responsive, productive and cost efficient call centers but without having to contend with a major overhaul.

There’s even disaster recovery from the cloud …

Imagine the ability to move 1-800 and contact center numbers from one carrier to another instantaneously during an outage, ensuring inbound call continuity. This way customers can access agents and support without disruption.

It is possible with NEC NETWORK CONNECT Toll-Free Dynamic Protection – our cloud-managed disaster recovery solution for toll-free connectivity. Our service provides inbound call continuity by programmatically moving 1-800 numbers from a nonworking carrier to a working one. Our built-in inbound failover provides optimal toll-free and contact center resiliency by circumventing issues that are the root cause of downtime and outages and protecting against poor service quality.

This innovative toll-free protection service is easy to deploy, cloud-managed, and comes with no or minimal upfront cost and five-nines reliability. It also provides operational cost efficiency due to our carrier plan’s wholesale pricing.

Want to learn more …

Let us show you what’s possible and would work best for your organization with a no-obligation demo of our cloud contact center services and a free gap analysis of your current contact center environment.

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Using Cloud Contact Center Technology to Improve the Customer Experience

A positive Customer Experience depends upon a few critical elements. Having a streamlined Customer Journey process in place to effectively segment and route customer inquiries, to staff members (agents) that are best skilled and equipped to render the appropriate service or support, the first time. This results in an outcome (resolution) that should require little Customer Effort.

Sounds easy enough, yet businesses continue to struggle in making it easy for customers to conduct business with their organization.

The belief that having someone… anyone… partially skilled to answer a customer call was sufficient enough, is the new recipe for churn.

Today, 89% of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience – up from just 36% in 2010. But while 80% of companies believe they deliver “super experiences,” only 8% of customers agree. In other words, companies have a long way to go. And, that means there is tremendous opportunity to disrupt a competitor or gain market share in an industry. Shep Hyken – Forbes

For customers, the reasons really don’t matter. If it is deemed cumbersome and the Customer Effort is HIGH, the Customer Experience will be low, which of course can easily erode Loyalty and your revenue suffers. Customers want answers fast and in the most efficient way. That’s the American Way!

What’s driving the rate of change with respect to incorporating a Cloud Contact Center with an emphasis on Customer Experience (CX) within organizations today?

Some of the most common responses from speaking with Customers and channel partners over the past 3 years include: Business Growth by means of Customer Retention, Growth (Upselling/Cross-Selling), Referrals. Reduction of Staff (Agent) Turnover, Leveraging Data Insights to Handle More with effectively Less. Customers are seeking to Monitor/Manage by way of Business Outcomes and not legacy only Metrics.

Some Customer Experience (CX) observations that I think you’ll relate to/with:

A few interesting things.

  • It started with the early adopters, before Digital Transformation was a thing.
  • Cloud Contact Center initiatives propagated from being a Future IT Project Consideration to a Business Sponsor’s Speed to Market Weapon of Choice
  • Digital Transformation continued to surge as top planning initiative amongst executive leadership (CEO/CIO/COO/CFO/RO)
  • Speaking of surge, the pandemic (COVID I & II) accelerated the Cloud adoption model and gave most businesses a taste of WFH (Work from Home)
  • Schools and Parents learn about Distant / Online Learning really fast!
  • A frenzy of UCaaS/CCaaS acquisitions and strategic alliances emerge in the market
  • Some of the remaining blue chip hardware centric manufacturers of communication systems (PBX) exited the scene. A few limiting procurement through a subscription-based only model to further attempt to isolate them from future churn
  • We witnessed an additional wave or two of acquisitions and strategic alliances amongst Cloud Contact Center Technology (CCaaS) and UCaaS providers. Primary focus to balance and strengthen their portfolio and GTM strategies centered around single-pane of glass (unified applications)
  • Work from Home (WFH) adoption continues to grow, as employment of skilled “Available” staff (agents) become harder to source (hire). We’ve learned that Talent demands Tools.
  • Logistic Challenges to Supply Pent Up Demand compounded by Inflation makes for some interesting Customer Reviews. The Power of Online Reviews and the Suggested Customer Experiences of others (Good or Bad) impacts the bottom line
  • The Battlefield for Customer Loyalty affects ALL Businesses

CX Cliff Notes

Every Business wants Happy Customers and Profitable Growth
Loyalty of these Happy Customers is what drives Profitable Growth
Customer Experience drives Customer Loyalty

So… What Drives the Customer Experience?

Making it EASY and EFFORTLESS for Customers to Conduct Business with You (Customer Effort)

Through Effective Planning to Optimize the Customer Journey

By Enabling Staff / Agents with Appropriate Tools and Relevant Customer Information, that support Personalized Customer Interactions

Via Trained Staff / Agents that can easily Collaborate with Co-workers to Quickly Address Customer Inquires, the First Time.

Customer Effort Score (CES) is a single-item metric that measures how much

effort a customer has to exert to get an issue resolved, a request fulfilled, a product

purchased/returned or a question answered.

So where do customers go to find CX enabled solutions that better meet customer expectations while making their operations more efficient.

Customers typically have several channels when contacting organizations—email, chat, phone and even social media. Despite the choices, research shows that the phone call is still the preferred method of communication.1

A positive customer experience depends on having a streamlined process in place to handle incoming calls. Customers want answers fast and in the most efficient way.

Several common reasons cause a business to either mishandle calls or fail to answer calls altogether. Unexpected or seasonal volume can mean there’s not enough staff to handle the calls. Live agents might not be available after hours. Or perhaps the areas of responsibility of “who handles what” are not clearly defined.

For customers, the reasons really don’t matter. The customer experience suffers if they hear an annoying busy signal, get put on a long hold, or worst of all, get disconnected before their questions can be answered. Luckily, new technology is available to help organizations manage these and other issues while also enabling a more improved and often a more personalized customer experience.

Setting Up Call Queues

Call queues offer a way to handle incoming calls more efficiently. As part of a Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solution, call queues give the contact center a means to segment and route incoming calls based on information provided, such as reason for the call or priority level.

Specific queue segments can be configured to offer callback options or enable callers to leave messages on a specific voicemail box for after-hours inquiries. Pre-recorded messages can provide general information, including business hours, current outages or promotions. These multiple call queue options help organizations better meet customer expectations while making their operations more efficient.

Self-service Options

Intelligent call routing (ICR) is another way of effectively handling incoming calls. These options ensure the right agent answers a customer’s call. Using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, contact centers can optimize the flow of customer interactions. When configured correctly, these systems help boost sales, reduce churn and increase customer satisfaction by making sure interactions are quickly and efficiently routed, handled and reported.

The automated IVRs interact with callers to gather information and route calls to the appropriate recipient. Examples of self-service prompts include:

  • Initial greetings and welcome messages
  • Options for language preference
  • Answers to common questions (hours of operation, location, access to personal account data)
  • Choices for customer actions (cancel an appointment, place an order, speak to someone in a specific department)

Giving customers a straight-forward way to address tasks, such as checking an account balance or paying a bill, enables customer self-service without using a live agent. It can also provide customer access to information during off hours, such as personal account data. If a problem or question goes beyond the offered menu options, an IVR system quickly leads the caller to the most relevant agent available, providing more personalized service.

Benefits of Contact Center Automation

Automated contact center systems benefit companies as well as their customers. Improving customer interactions through call queues and IVR, creates more efficient contact center operations, saving time for customers and contact center agents alike. Self-service options help eliminate the frustration of long hold times and enable a company to serve customers after hours and on holidays. Companies won’t miss a customer call, which ultimately help sales and creates a better customer experience benefitting your company as well as your customers.

NEC offers UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE, our cloud-based contact center solution. ENGAGE uses IVR to give your customers options on how they want issues to be resolved and enables them to obtain the right information or to engage with the right agent for a personalized experience. What makes UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE different from other offerings is that configuration and deployment is simple. Using the user-friendly and intuitive wizard, Easy-IVR gives organizations the power to build highly customized IVRs that drive business and improve customer interactions. Non-programmers can either build an IVR or enhance an existing one through simple, easy steps.

To learn more about NEC’s contact center offerings, fill out the Contact Us form below or visit our website .

Source:
40 Customer Service Stats to Know in 2021,” Swetha Amaresan, HubSpot, 6/9/21

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