Unified Communications at the 2014 NADA Convention

nec-uc-automotive-industry-solutionsAs many of you know, the National Automotive Dealers Association (NADA) is holding their annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana this year. The conference is always the automotive industry event of the year, and if you are attending or have looked at the line-up of guest speakers and session topics, you’ll know 2014 is not disappointing.

With attendance topping 21,000 dealers from around the world, this year’s convention is featuring hundreds of exhibitors showcasing their latest equipment, services, and technology. The conference has also offered an additional treat this year, as dealers have been given the rare chance to meet face-to-face with executives from several major auto manufacturers.

The prevailing need to cut costs and increase sales and service productivity is affecting all dealerships right now. Unified Communications (UC) technology offers a unique way to accomplish both tasks while additionally increasing overall customer satisfaction and Customer Service Index (CSI) scores.

One of the top trends at this year’s convention has been improving business processes with technology and software. This theme looks to have trickled down into many of the session discussions. Session topics have covered advanced digital marketing, dealer data protection, customer relationship management, and mobile device integration. All of these sessions have been designed to educate dealers who are not utilizing, or are interested in learning more about these technologies.

What attendees might yet find surprising, is that a good Unified Communications and Collaboration solution can actually help solve many of the challenges facing today’s dealers and salesmen.

The UC technology in question includes contact centers, IP Telephony, collaboration software, and more. UC can easily shorten your response times to customers, increase your revenues, and lower your operating costs, enabling your dealership to become more efficient and productive with one software application.

Customer Engagement

Sales depend on quick and effective communication. When a prospect or existing customer calls your dealership or walks into your showroom, you want to make the best impression that you can and answer any and all questions the customer may have with ease.

Unified Communications Solutions ensure that messages from customers are handled as expediently as possible. UC offers features such as:

  • advanced presence capabilities that allow receptionists to see which sales people are available to meet with a walk-in customer,
  • enhanced mobility that enable personnel to be available from any location and device,
  • and instant messaging that offers a quick way to communicate with colleagues.

Customer Service

Your service department is your main revenue driver (no pun intended). The success of your service department depends on having the right information and the right tools at hand to complete a job. If your service department cannot quickly communicate with salesmen on the floor, with other dealerships, or with customers, then one of your businesses biggest assets becomes inefficient and unprofitable.

Unified Communications technology provides auto dealers with collaborative tools that can keep customers, service, and other dealership personnel in communication with each other easily. Customer service features include:

  • appointment reminders that reduce any missed sales appointments or last-minute cancellations resulting in increased revenue,
  • integrated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) capabilities that provide self-service options to callers, giving them alternatives to waiting or hanging up,
  • one number reachability that enables you to contact your co-workers using their main extensions,
  • and real-time snapshots of the contact center delivered via dashboards to service managers.

Staff Productivity

Whether you work on the show floor or in the front office, achieving customer service success means you have to be an efficient communicator. NEC’s Staff Productivity solutions provide you and your staff with efficient communication and automation of routine management tasks, thereby improving your dealerships’ responsiveness to customers’ needs. Some of the staff productivity features include:

  • management and operation of a desktop telephone from your PC for easy speed dialing, call management, contact lookup, and seamless CRM integration,
  • unified messaging allowing all faxes, e-mails and voice messages to be accessible from one inbox, anywhere,
  • a fully-integrated directory system that provides real-time customer information to receptionists and other personnel, enabling them to deliver enhanced and personalized services,
  • and intuitive, modular-designed telephones that can be tailored to each individual role.

To learn more about how Unified Communications, contact center, and mobility can help your dealership increase efficiency, productivity and revenue, visit us at booth number 5246 at the New Orleans Convention Center this weekend.  If you can’t make it to the NADA conference, you can read more about NEC’s solutions for the automotive industry here.

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Get the Best of All Worlds with In-Store Mobile

Consumers demand great experiences and desire instant gratification. Whether it’s online or in-store, consumers want information to be fast, accurate and focused on their needs. If done correctly, online retail experiences can meet all those desires. But what about in-store, where you have to access data via a computer that may be a considerable distance from the customer’s current location in your store? There is a simple answer – empower sales associates with in-store mobile devices.

In-store mobility is the most efficient and accurate way to create the type of retail experience a consumer expects. Plus, it supports associates in providing a rapid response to a shopper’s needs, ensuring that the sale goes to your retail establishment. To understand the power of in-store mobile, first let’s understand the current consumer shopping behavior.

Consumers are Mobile-Centric

Mobile Centric Consumer
Consumers have no issue grabbing their smart device to look up a competitor’s product while also shopping in your store. Online discounts, offers and coupons, and competitor pricing and products now are at a consumer’s fingertips, challenging retailers to deliver the same or better experience.

Research from comScore confirms that smartphones and tablets are an integral part of the retail shopping experience. In the third quarter of 2013, desktop-based retail e-Commerce sales reached $47.5 billion, a 13% increase over the same period in 2012. Total mobile spending added $5.8 billion to online sales results, a 26% year-over-year increase. This means consumers are very comfortable reaching for a laptop, smart phone or tablet to make a purchase.

Mobile devices also are influencing in-store buying decisions. Research from Deloitte Consulting reported that smartphones will drive 19% of brick-and-mortar transactions — or $689 billion — by 2016. Through a survey of 1,041 random consumers, Deloitte Consulting reported that 48% of smartphone users said their devices, in some way, encouraged them to purchase an item in a store. Moreover, 61% of smartphone subscribers who have used their devices to shop have done so in a store aisle.

Retailers Must Become Mobile-Centric

The linear process in many retail environments today must be better aligned to a consumer’s desired shopping experience. Today, many retail shopping experiences require the consumer to find the product, hope it’s in stock, maybe decide on a replacement (or leave if they cannot find it), or if in stock, choose the product, take it to check out and leave. If the consumer has any question about the product, they must find a sales associate, who most likely will not know the answer. Then the sales associate must traipse across the store to find the computer in order to provide an answer. This is inefficient and frustrating for a consumer who can punch a few buttons and find the answer online.

By unlocking the power of mobile technology, retailers can closely replicate an online experience for their shoppers and empower sales associates to better provide positive customer experiences. Think about the scenario outlined above. If that sales associate had a tablet, he could simply look up the information right there, provide the customer with all the answers and ensure a sale.

Retailers that embrace in-store mobility will reap many benefits, including:

1.  Increase engagement and sales: Associates can access a wealth of information on products and customers. Simply entering a customer’s name or loyalty card account number will provide instant access to past purchases and browsing behaviors. As a result, associates can offer relevant product recommendations, and in turn, increase cross-sell and up-sell results.

2.  Improve customer experiences: Mobile technology that includes barcode scanning and credit card technology will enable employees to complete transactions from anywhere within a store, leading to shorter wait times. Employees can collaborate throughout the store, requesting items from the stockroom or specialized support at the click of a button.

3.  Retain the sale: If a shopper is looking for a product that is out of stock, she will most likely visit a competitor, or purchase the item online. Using mobile technology, sales associates can quickly access the company e-Commerce site, order the desired item, and have it delivered to the store or directly to the shopper’s home, thereby saving a sale that was headed elsewhere.

4.  Employees that are better informed:With real-time access to inventory data on the selling floor, associates can be equipped with the information they need to sell effectively. This translates to a much better customer experience.

Consumers still have a desire to shop in-store so they can see the product first-hand. Online shopping will not fulfill this need, requiring shoppers to rely on recommendations from others rather than their own judgment. By improving in-store customer experiences, retailers continue to have an edge.

Choosing to meet mobile consumer demands will make or break the in-store shopping experience moving forward. NEC’s Retail Mobility solutions provide these major benefits to the shopping experience, as well as enabling store managers and staff to have greater access to data, improve communications and increase productivity.

To get more insight into retail mobility as our team prepares for National Retail Federation’s annual convention, check out Microsoft’s blog and http://www.necretaildirection.necam.com/WellConnected. Also, visit us at Booth # 351at NRF’s Big Show Jan. 12-15, in New York. Make in-store mobility part of your 2014 success strategy!

The Smart Enterprise: IT and Communications Trends for 2014

Part One: Advanced Mobility, Software Defined Tools, and High Availability

nec-smart-enterprise-2014-mobilityWith the start of the new calendar year fast approaching and businesses making plans to find new software and technology solutions for employees, now seems to be the perfect time to share the trends and technologies that we believe will drive productivity and build more flexible work environments for our customers in the coming year.

Many IT and Communications Trends from 2013 will be as prevalent this year as last. This portion of our two part blog series on The Smart Enterprise in 2014 covers returning IT and Communications trends that will help you maintain your competitive edge and keep current with the rapidly evolving Unified Communications technologies in today’s marketplace.

Advanced Mobility

As technology has progressed, employee presence in the workplace has evolved. In 2014, employees are going to continue to be mobile, and will be traveling or telecommuting even more than the previous year. These employees will continue to need access to data and applications in non-stationary locales.

As long as this trend continues, your employees will continue to require a fully-functional mobile work environment.  To today’s employee, location is unimportant, but presence and status remain crucial.

Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) capabilities offer communication services independent of access technique. FMC supports smartphones as an integrated extension of the company network, meaning it can be accessed from any location at any time via a WiFi connection. Mobile devices can then be used in conjunction with enterprise security credentials—thus simultaneously securing enterprise information and supporting ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) policies.


Software Defined Tools

Software-Defined tools are the definition of new improved standards for infrastructure programmability and data center interoperability. Driven by automation and cloud computing, software defined technologies provide you with simple, cost-effective tools that are built on collaboration.

Software-Defined Networking (SDN), for example, provides technology to extract network architecture and make network devices programmable.

The goal of SDN is to allow network engineers and administrators to respond quickly to changing enterprise conditions. In a software-defined network, a network administrator can shape traffic from a centralized control console without having to touch individual switches. The administrator can change any network switch’s rules when necessary — prioritizing, de-prioritizing, or even blocking specific types of packets with a very granular level of control.

This is especially helpful in a cloud computing multi-tenant architecture because it allows the administrator to manage traffic loads in fast, flexible, and efficient means.


High Availability

Numerous organizations depend on generic or specific IT applications in their day to day operation and services, which is why providing these businesses with solutions that provide continuous operation of essential systems is vital for us.

IT has become a matter of providing services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year across countries. As a result, IT systems need to be extremely reliable, and, the application of High Availability in IT systems becomes one of the most important implementations in IT strategies.

IT managers need to protect data and applications, from sudden hardware, OS and application failures to sudden natural disasters. To achieve a high level of operational uptime, infrastructure components must be fault tolerant with the ability to recover from complex failures. This is all the more important in mission-critical environments, such as healthcare, banking, insurance, e-commerce or web services.

A virtualized infrastructure improves business continuity. A clustering solution can be key to continuing the workflow on standby systems without stopping business operations when failure strikes. This can be clustering software or fault tolerant server solutions delivering exceptional uptime through dual modular hardware redundancy. These servers provide continuous availability through hardware redundancy in all components: processors, memory, motherboards, I/O, hard disk drives, and cooling fans for optimal data integrity.

While some of these trends will accelerate, others likely won’t. NEC experts, however, expect all of these technologies and developments to help organizations drive productivity and bring new, powerful solutions to businesses everywhere.

Wondering what else NEC experts predict for next year? We’ll continue to uncover what IT and Communications will look like in 2014 in part two of our blog series on The Smart Enterprise.

To learn more about these technologies, download our eBook: Smart Trends Enterprise Trends 2014: 10 Strategic Drivers that Will Empower the Smart Enterprise.


Trends in Hospitality: HITEC 2013 Preview

nec-hospitality-unified-communications-hitecHITEC begins today, and our NEC hospitality team is looking forward to the trends that we will be seeing on the show floor. Here are some of our predictions:

Customer Compatibility
In my November blog post BYOD: Expanding to Hospitality, I referenced a Pew Research report that noted that more than half of all mobile phone users rely on their portable device to search for information on hotels. With mobility, you can get everything you want, where you want, plus gain positive benefits in revenue, guest experience and marketing. With the steadily increasing volume of mobile network users, what better time for a hospitality business to embrace the guest BYOD trend and get them more connected to your business than ever before.

Guest Experience
The bottom line of any investment decision is guest experience. Does it improve guest experience? Will this be guests’ expectations moving forward? Will this keep my guest satisfied? And will this help their decision to return? The right services, staff training and communications systems are essential in order to maximize guest satisfaction and return stays. When you see new and existing technologies on the show floor, think about what the trickle-down effect is. If, in the end, it does not improve the guest experience, you may want to reconsider your investments.

Unified Communications
Small to mid-sized properties make up the majority of all hotels in North America. NEC recognizes that hotel operators have increased pressure, in today’s tough economic times, to maintain superior guest services while improving staff efficiency and lowering overall operating costs. At HITEC, NEC will be demonstrating UNIVERGE 3C for Hospitality – an innovative, affordable unified communications solution specifically tailored for the burgeoning mid-sized hotel market and built on the proven, award winning UNIVERGE 3C software platform – a flexible, scalable, reliable and cost effective IP PBX.

During HITEC 2013, NEC will also demonstrate how its solutions help organizations provide the best guest experience possible by being and staying connected. It will showcase its latest UNIVERGE® UC&C and Cloud technologies, which are designed to help organizations be more mobile, connected, collaborative and productive. Additionally, NEC will be introducing biometrics solutions to help hospitality organizations improve customer engagement.

Stop by booth #907 to experience all of these solutions. Not going to HITEC 2013? Follow us on the floor at @NEC and use the official hashtag #HITEC. Check out the video below to see how NEC has helped hotels around the world recover missed revenue opportunities, increase customer service, and enhance the overall guest experience.


5 Essential UC Tools for Schools

nec-uc-educationUnified Communications (UC) solutions are not a single product or component, but an integrated set of features. Wikipedia defines UC as the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence, IP telephony, video conferencing, data sharing (including Interactive White Boards), and call control with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax), but there are dozens of additional features available, and it seems like more are being added every day.
How can your school district sort through the myriad of options and know which ones are the most essential, process-changing features they should focus on? Working with districts around the country, we’ve identified the 5 essential tools for schools that every UC implementation should include:

1) Enhanced 911 (E911)
By law, school districts are required to provide location information to their Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) when a 911 call is placed. Providing that information is indeed essential, but it only scratches the surface of what your UC E911 service should provide. In addition to automatically updating the PSAP, E911 should also provide your emergency response team and internal designees with capabilities that allow your staff to assist first responders and address potential emergencies in real time.

  • Instant screen-pop notifications: Whenever a 911 call is placed, notification messages should “pop up” on the appropriate administration or resource officer screens. These messages can identify the exact time, location, current duration of the call, and offer additional options for response.
  • Listen and Barge-in: After being alerted of an in-progress 911 call, this feature allows designated District staff to listen to the call and can even choose to “barge in” and assist the conversation directly. 

2) Voice Recording
Recording of incoming lines is another important part of a school district’s complete UC solution. Recording can be implemented in a variety of ways across schools for administration and support staff usage. The most flexible systems use concurrent licensing to allow for more economical and easier configuration, and these recording features can be applied to entire trunks, individual lines, or across the entire system for on-demand recording and playback. The two major impacts to your district are in security and internal management.

  • Security: With recording of all district and school office incoming calls either by default or on-demand, any threats or incidents that occur utilizing the phone system will be captured and available for incident management and post-incident review. Combining recording features with your E911 functionality to automatically record every 911 call adds another layer of emergency response capability to your system.
  • Staff and Parent Management: Allowing for on-demand or constant recording for staff and district offices means that any situations involving a parent, student, or staff members can be quickly evaluated and shared internally with appropriate individuals. Dealing with angry parents, addressing staff learning and management issues can all be easier when you have the actual conversations recorded and available.

3) Conferencing
While there’s a lot of talk about integrating video and web conferencing for distance learning, asynchronous teaching and other pedagogy and matriculation related situations, even a basic audio conference bridge included now in most UC systems has tremendous potential to impact your school’s communications and security. Districts’ Emergency Response Teams (ERT’s) are using simple conference bridges to set up non-public DID numbers specifically for incident communication. Those numbers are shared only with the ERT, designated staff, and local first responders as part of their school emergency preparedness policies and manuals. When an incident occurs, no one is left scrambling to get the right people on the phone or calling out to individuals such as the Chief of Police or Fire Marshall; they are ready and available on a custom and secure conference bridge to keep everyone up-to-date. Adding web and video capabilities means that physical plant information, floor plans, and even live video feed can be shared instantly and easily as well.

4) Single Number Reach
“User-centric communication” sounds like just another buzzword phrase, until you start thinking about the implications within your school. Trying to get an important call through to a specific teacher or staff member can be an exercise in frustration when you must consider schedules, room assignments, time of day, and other factors. With single number reach, the control of contact management is put into the system and the user’s hands; electronic staff directories with a single phone number per user will connect regardless of the class schedule using cell phones, desk phones, softphone on the PC or tablet, and can even ring home or other numbers – whatever the staff member and your telecom department allow for configuration. Adjusting contact endpoints based on time of day, room schedules, vacations, or even who it is that is calling is all possible with current UC technology, as is ringing several lines simultaneously. This can be combined with presence (allowing others to see scheduled status and location) and unified messaging (delivering voicemails to your email or other messaging software) for even more productivity and process gains.

5) Call Reporting
A component of UC that is often overlooked or minimized is the ability to generate call reports. Having an easy to use tool that allows comprehensive call management can make reporting an essential part of managing your telecom system. Call occurrence, quality, duration, full path (was it forwarded or transferred?) and other key metrics can all be used to reduce costs and manage usage. Reporting can provide detail about the operation of your system, can be organized and sorted by location or staff function, and can be a great way to manage expenses. Identifying over-usage of 411 calls, reporting on extended or repeat number dials, and highlighting long distance usage can all be used to assist in makeing administrative decisions. In one recent case, a faulty fax machine was found to be making repeat dials at all hours, costing the district thousands of dollars a year (and presumably untold frustration to the unlucky recipients)!

We understand that the number of available features and functions in modern Unified Communications (UC) systems can be daunting, but we hope this list can be of help when it comes time to make a decision about which system is best for you. In the meantime, an Education Subject Matter Expert is available to answer questions, perform webinars and consult directly with your team. If you’d like to explore more ways your district can enhance or extend communications and security in schools, email michael.kastler@necam.com to schedule a call.