Can Cloud Technology Change a Stupid Policy?

Welcome to my personal crusade to change a senseless and shortsighted policy upheld by an airline otherwise known for rather excellent customer awareness and service.

Let me be real clear on the front end. I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines. Business travel can be exhausting. Constant delays. Long lines. Poor service. Southwest has always risen above the rest and has made business travel bearable. I’ve always just recognized that the Southwest culture is the big difference. Their people have better attitudes, are more friendly, and have created a very different customer experience that has resulted in raving fans across the country … me one of them.

So why am I up in arms now? What is this stupid policy that needs changing? It has to do with Southwest’s Companion Pass.

As I am a frequent flier of Southwest, my wife has been issued a Companion Pass. Very cool thing. Anytime I fly Southwest, my wife can fly for free. This is an awesome benefit that we use all the time. However, Southwest has managed to turn this huge benefit into an enormous source of annoyance and even insult.

Although my wife is my companion, she is not allowed to go through premium security with me. So when there are 100 people in security lines at the airport, yet just three people in the premium security line, my wife is not allowed. So, instead, I join her in the long line. I give up the benefit I earned, because it would be incredibly rude for me to make my wife wait in that long line on her own.

Then we get to the gate. Because of my frequent flyer status, I nearly always load among the first 30 people, which is awesome. I get to pick my seat and have no issues with overhead storage, etc. However, my wife nearly always is in the B or C loading group, as she is prevented from boarding with me, despite being my companion. I board early, and then hold a middle seat for her until she boards later. Ironically, saving seats violates a different Southwest policy.

It seems incredibly silly that my wife can’t go through security with me, and board with me. After all, she is my companion, and by definition she ought to be able to travel with me.

So, there is the policy I’m on a crusade to change. But this is where it gets really interesting to me, an admitted geek and lover of all things Cloud.

I first voiced my opinion about this policy to @Southwest via Twitter. Within two minutes, Southwest replied to me. How does that happen? Well, that’s how much contact centers have advanced in the past few years. Customer Support groups used to just answer phones. They later added email. But think about all the different ways customers communicate with businesses today: voice, chat, SMS, Web. And yes, social media. Companies are now deploying Cloud-based, multi-channel Contact Centers that account for any and every way a customer may reach out to them. Very cool. So, someone at Southwest is using software to monitor their social media feeds, including my complaints about their stupid companion pass policy.

I remain a huge fan of Southwest, but now I’m intrigued to see if they just provide lip service around my complaint, or if they actually change the policy. After all, they’ve always been committed to providing a customer experience that is far superior to other airlines. Lets see if we can’t leverage a little Cloud technology to change one of their few policies that contradicts what they stand for.

Happy traveling.

Andrew Pryfogle, Senior VP, Cloud Transformation, Intelisys 

Driving Sales in a World Without Cold Calls

Sales teams are the engine that keeps businesses running, and sales leads are the engine’s fuel.

What has changed is the way sales team connects with leads. Gone are the days of door-to-door salespeople, cold calling, and relationship selling.

Today, connecting with sales leads is more about the marketing materials and a lot less about the mechanism.

A Paradigm Shift That Keeps the Leads Coming

In the past, sales teams worked hard to generate leads. They went door to door, made cold calls, and used face-to-face relationship-building techniques to connect with prospective customers. This is the way leads were generated because sales leads would be limited without these techniques. It wasn’t every day that a prospective customer stumbled upon a company.

That’s all changed in today’s world, where information about products and services is only the click of the mouse away.

A paradigm shift in how sales teams approach the generation of leads has taken place. Sales teams no longer have to turn over every rock or shake every branch to generate leads. Today, control of the lead-generating process rests firmly in the hands of the consumers.

Most prospective customers don’t want sales professionals calling them. Prospective customers now actively seek the information, research products and services, engage with brands online, and then reach out to sales representatives for more information.

Today, leads come from websites, which means websites need to be up-to-date and impeccable.

Maximizing Messages to Fuel the Funnel

Because consumers are now doing much of the legwork for sales teams and essentially pre-qualifying themselves as leads, it’s important for a company to put the most compelling information in front of as many people as possible.

This means maximizing marketing messages online to be:

  • optimized for search engines
  • properly segmented, so it is relevant to consumers based on geography, language, and culture
  • up-to-date with the latest information about products and services
  • easily accessible
  • ready to facilitate the next step in the sales process, which occurs when today’s prospective customers self-identify themselves as “leads” and proactively reach out to the sales professionals

These are the steps organizations need to take in order to maximize messages and fuel the “sales-lead funnel.” But the work will be futile if not combined with a program to quickly and appropriately fulfill value propositions once customers reach out — and that means working with an experienced, trusted Telecom Sales Partner.

The Secret Weapon: A Telecom Sales Partner

Today’s consumers have high expectations. Not only are companies expected to make high-quality sales and marketing content available online, but also to be readily available via telephone, email, instant messaging, and video conferencing — in an instant, regardless of geography.

If organizations are not able to immediately respond to prospective customers, it is possible that there will never be a sale. Prospective customers quickly move on to the next organization.

The best way to meet the needs of prospective customers — and convert them to actual partners — is to work with the right telecom sales team. A high-quality, experienced Telecom Sales Partner can create a system that allows sales teams to instantly connect with prospects, make successful conversions, and help companies grow.

The Strategic Trifecta of Data Usage for Customer-Centric Marketing

Effectively employing data to create successful customer-centric marketing environments is the goal of marketers everywhere. Accomplishing this requires coordinating outbound communications so that they create a positive customer experience. Further, it’s imperative that all communications are easily distributed via all channels–and via all devices and media that an organization is utilizing.

This is the foundation for any marketing strategy. It creates a unified public appearance and, most importantly, a unified customer experience that reaches all clients and vendors.

However, when it comes to crunching the data required to achieve this goal, things get murky. That’s because the data can come from a wide variety of sources, and it won’t always correlate with and corroborate internally collected information.

What can be done about this? Adopt a three-pronged approach.

The Triple Crown Approach

Businesses that want winning marketing campaigns are well-served to abide by the following trifecta of tips. Each is designed to help a business collect the data, unify it, and deploy marketing strategies that align with what the data reveals.

  1. Centralize information collection and management. It is imperative that data be collected and stored at a single point. All online and offline data should be gathered and stored within one highly protected system that is accessible only to those who need access to it. Further, the data collection parameters should be unified so that the same data is collected in the same way from all sources.
  2. Create a consistent channel-based approach. Consistency is essential to controlling the customer experience within the parameters that an organization sets. Accomplishing this requires creating seamless transitions between the various channels that customers are accessing. From the customer standpoint, it’s a game of connect the dots, and the easier an organization makes it to move from “point A” to “point B,” the greater the level of customer satisfaction.
  3. Personalize the experience. Evolve as the customer evolves. In the military, there’s a saying that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Effectively, it’s a way of saying that to stay alive, one must adapt to changing circumstances. The same is true in business. If a business wants to continue reaching its customers, it must constantly adapt its strategies to meet the clients’ needs. Businesses must continually refine the message and alter delivery strategies as required. More importantly, it means that in order for customers to feel as if a company cares about their business, the message must be honed to resonate with their requirements and expectations.

Companies that follow this three-step approach set themselves on the path toward achieving the triple crown: a win for the marketing team, a win for the customer, and a win for the business’s bottom line.

SMBs Poised to Fuel the Cloud Services Market

If there’s a need for more proof that the cloud services market is here to stay for the foreseeable future, research from Compass Intelligence on small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) demonstrates it.  The cloud services market as a whole is growing, and the SMB sector is one of the fastest-growing areas.

Currently, there are more than 12 million SMBs in the U.S.–and 22 million worldwide–and they’re already spending more than $150 billion on telecom services.  This sector is growing rapidly and has been for the last decade.   As a result, the SMB cloud market currently has a 40 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), and it’s projected to remain so for at least the next five years.

What’s driving the high CAGR?

1 – Lower Barriers to Entry

One of the biggest factors driving SMB cloud adoption is that the Internet is making it far easier for small and medium-sized businesses to get started.  When all someone needs is a website to have a business, that means a lot of hungry SMBs looking to grab customers any way they can.

2 – Reduced Need for Expertise On-Staff

Currently, 70 percent of SMB cloud spending comes from companies with five to 99 employees.  Companies on the low end of that scale simply might not have the budget for an extensive list of contracted experts.  Being able to outsource matters like IT management or CMS (content management system) platforms means companies can focus on their core business without spending their budget on in-house experts.

3 – Increased Data-Handling Regulations

In most of the high-tech countries around the world, more regulations are being implemented concerning the proper handling of data, especially confidential customer information.  Regulations on storage, access, and length-of-retention can change rapidly, but the responsibility is on businesses to be informed of the regulations and to comply with them.

SMBs lacking on-site expertise increasingly need industry partners who can ensure their regulatory compliance.  Otherwise, the financial penalties from even a single data breach can be ruinous.

4 – Simplified Contact Pathways

One area experiencing large booms, even within the cloud industry, is that of telecoms offering direct hosting for computer systems.  Besides allowing SMBs to remain relevant to existing customers, this allows SMBs to pare down the list of contacts handling their services.

Being able to consolidate all telecom-related tech support to a single partner is a major selling point for SMBs who are currently juggling too many vendors.

5 – Predictable Billing

Most SMBs are running on tight month-to-month or even week-to-week budgets, and they cannot afford to have significant spikes in service fees.  Since most cloud vendors offer guaranteed contracted rates and sometimes even include hardware upgrades with their fees, it makes both IT and telecom expenses far more predictable from a budgeting perspective.

If a SMB has had one or two “near misses” with an unexpected service bill that nearly breaks the budget, that SMB will be listening when a cloud provider says it can eliminate that uncertainty.

How to Grow the Cloud Business

The cloud industry is booming among SMBs, who are ready and willing to pay for services that bring convenience and cost savings. Cloud providers that can illustrate these benefits to SMBs will grow their client portfolio, and the SMB clients will be better poised to focus on their core business without unnecessary distractions.

VoIP Brings Big Benefits to Any Business

After over a century of relying on copper wire telephone communications, something better has finally come along.

VoIP systems, which send voice communications over the Internet rather than through the telephone companies, are currently taking over business communication practically unimpeded. Adoption is growing steadily and, once a company embraces VoIP, most don’t go back to the old ways.

Why are so many companies making the switch to VoIP? There are plenty of great reasons.


4 Ways VoIP Brings Major Improvements to Any Organization

1. Vastly Lower Prices

For many companies, the infrastructure or technical superiorities of VoIP are simply a side benefit, and the choice to convert is purely financial. Many find that VoIP has the ability to slash a company’s monthly communications budget.

Most copper wire and cell phone communications require users to pay by the minute. On the other hand, VoIP pricing typically includes unlimited use and is usually contracted on a per-user basis. It’s even possible to eliminate the need for an external phone provider entirely by installing PBX translation systems in-house.

In this scenario, the business would be paying nothing for their ongoing communications besides raw bandwidth fees, and bandwidth is cheap.

2. Unified Communications

When a company moves its phone services to VoIP, it is putting all their communications onto the same data network. In turn, this means voice services can be freely mixed-and-matched with other communications options, such as videoconferencing.

Format-shifting also becomes simplified. Phone conversations can be recorded as data and then encoded to MP3 for emailing or automatically transcribed to text. This can bring company-wide benefits, including improving customer service efficiency and making it easier for HR to sort through job applicants.

3. Improved Telecommuting

Many businesses are facing issues with employee work-life balance. In a globally minded organization, employees need to be available at any time of the day to respond to worldwide market shifts in real time. However, many employees also desire to have a personal life, and it can make it difficult to retain those who feel overly burdened by these shifts.

VoIP opens up a true world of telecommuting options and can make remote collaboration just as efficient as in-person work. For a workforce already stressed by 24/7 business cycle demands, this can offer a huge morale boost.

4. Per-Employee Customization Options

VoIP also decentralizes some aspects of a phone network and puts them within reach of everyday employees. For example, a company using a copper wire system has to use a centralized Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system with the same basic menu servicing all employees.

In a VoIP environment, employees can set up their own IVR with customized menu options that fit their jobs and responsibilities. They could even add their own personalized hold music.

Other options include custom message routing, “Find Me / Follow Me” employee-location services, and even XML-based scripting for handling complex system automation.

The Future of Business Telecom Is VoIP

While the old phone companies are sure to be in business for some time yet, a shift toward VoIP is clear: IP-based communications offer easier access, lower prices, and more customization options than copper could ever provide.

It truly is the next-generation voice system and is likely to become the new foundation for online business communications for years to come.

6 Reasons Why Independent Telecom Agents Make More Sense

Businesses have more options in telecommunications and Telecom Partners than ever before. What was once a straightforward process of picking a telephone service has expanded into a world full of competing services and Agents looking for the best deal.

Why should a company choose an Independent Telecom Agent rather than going directly to providers? There are a number of reasons why this makes the most sense for a company looking to maximize the benefits of their communications investment.

1. The widest variety of custom options

Telecom Agents, especially those with years of experience, are familiar with dozens of players in the market, including plenty of niche services catering to specific needs. These are often very hard for a business to uncover on their own when sifting through all of the available choices. Telecom Agents will know how to match up businesses to the right services.

2. A single point of contact

It’s extremely rare for a company to receive all communications services from a single provider. Utilizing an Independent Telecom Agent means they can select from all the services available, without creating a maze of conflicting support contacts. The Independent Agent acts a sole point of contact and handles all the details.

3. Personalized strategy and solutions

An Independent Agent has far more time to work directly with a business and analyze future business plans. Few, if any, direct providers will be willing to offer that sort of personalized service. An Independent Agent can develop true long-term strategies for telecommunications growth, while helping clients stay on track throughout the years.

4. No quotas

Telecom Agents make money by successfully matching businesses to services and then keeping those businesses as customers for months or years. They’re not under quota or pressured to sell specific bundles of services. There’s more incentive to find custom solutions for clients, rather than pushing “one-size-fits-all” bundles.

5. Fewer merger concerns

Another potential issue when working directly with providers is the high rate of mergers and acquisitions in the industry. Businesses and consumers can have issues maintaining service plans when one provider is purchased by another. In some cases, users end up in contracts with providers they never wanted. Businesses can largely avoid this problem when using an Independent Agent.

6. Exclusive deals and offers

It’s counterintuitive, but in many cases Independent Agents will have access to special deals or bargains that even the provider sales representatives cannot offer. Many Independent Agents have special relationships with providers, and they can pass those savings onto their clients. This just adds to the overall value they can offer businesses.

Businesses don’t have to navigate telecom alone

In the current telecom market, there are very few good reasons to go directly to a service provider. Independent Agents can provide better deals and planning than most providers. This certainly creates a compelling argument for using Independent Agents when buying telecommunications services.