Telephony in your organisation
We learn to use the telephone at a very early age and it becomes almost as natural as speaking to our best friend. But do we really get the best out of it for our organisations and is there something we could do about communication skills?
"Research conducted by the Telephone Helplines Association in 2006 (Making Connections report – see Resources below) found that VCOs faced several challenges when it comes to telephony. Most had an ad-hoc, rather than a strategic approach. The cost of setting up and maintaining telephone systems was a hurdle for the majority of VCOs, whilst the availability of in-house or external advice was patchy, with half of VCOs relying on suppliers or staff/trustees who happened to have some ICT knowledge." - THA
What to do – identifying your requirements
Decide how telephony and voice communications impact your organisation, your team and your customers. Could you do more for less? Think about a telephony strategy/plan or at least a telephony component of your ICT strategy.
Like any element of ICT, it's easy to think of 'products' (five phones and a maintenance contract) when you should be thinking of what services you provide, the activities you undertake and what you need to support those both now and in the future. Your business plan will indicate these things and is your key starting point.
The type of work you do and the nature of your stakeholders will also impact your needs.
- Are you likely to take bursts of calls at a particular time?
- Will you mostly receive calls or do you make a lot of them?
- Do you need to get in touch with people on the move or abroad (in which case minimising mobile and international call costs will be a priority)?
- Do your staff need to work from outside the office (call routing can support this)?
- Do staff use mobiles a lot and will these be needed for email (smartphone or blackberry)?
- Do you even need a lot of fixed lines if you have a very mobile workforce doing mostly outreach work?
Making a plan – making telephony work for you
It's no use buying a telephone system off the shelf in the same way it's unwise to simply buy anew PC from the local shop without thinking about the wider plan.
- Be clear what your organisation does and the impact of all projects on telephony needs
- Clearly outline what you need from telephony in terms of functions not products
- Check this against your ICT plans and ICT infrastructure – how could the ICT and telephony linkup?
- Look at your current costs and expenditure – where could you save or improve?
- Look at the costs and benefits of different options and solutions and what you need in themedium term (e.g. over the next three years). Telephone systems can be costly and you don't want toreplace things too often.
- Look at current and emerging technologies and what they could do for you. Are you ready forVOIP?
- Develop a business case to discuss with colleagues and trustees and agree the plan. Read a Business Case for Telephony www.ictknowledgebase.org.uk/telephonybusinesscase for more support on this issue
- Apply for funding to support your new system (are any of your plans 'hot topics' for funders?)
- Implement the system
Costs and budgeting
Setting up a new telephone system isn't cheap. There are:
- Costs of selecting and appointing a supplier
- Costs of legal disposal of existing equipment
- Capital cost of new equipment, including installation, cabling and accessories
- Cost of disruption caused by the installation
- Training for staff
In addition, there will be ongoing costs for:
- billing options (including call costs)
- number ranges
Maintenance can also be substantial
All these are essential core costs which need to be met but some strategic planning might well save you money, if not directly than at least in indirect expenditure. Agree a budget and invest to save. Spending additional money on telephone infrastructure could save considerable sums year on year.
Finding the funding
Funders are often reluctant to support spending on infrastructure which doesn't directly impact their project yet inefficient telephony costs money across all projects. Work with your funders and also look at what reserves you can apply to the issue. Most funders are interested in organisations improving their effectiveness and some may have 'hot topics' of interest which fit your telephony needs. This is an important consideration in your business and you need to invest.
Choosing and Working with Telecoms Suppliers
Telecoms Suppliers are no different to any other ICT or infrastructure provider. You need to select a supplier(s) from a trusted source, go through a formal process (depending on size this might be a detailed invitation to tender and multiple interviews) take up references to confirm their competence and experience, be clear about what you want to achieve and establish that they are interesting in helping you achieve it. You can find more detailed help and advice about working with Telecoms Suppliers at www.ictknowledgebase.org.uk/choosingtelecomsuppliers
Pricing and discounts
Never be afraid to negotiate for a good deal and be prepared to walk away if you can't get a satisfactory response. Any decision you make on telephony will have long term cost implications for your organisation and you need to get the best deal you can, both in up front costs and longer term running costs. Make sure your supplier (and line provider) can be clear exactly what the implications of your decisions are and see what charity discounts can apply.
You should also examine your existing deals – you could be paying far more than necessary. Check out both the Top 10 Ways to Save on Telephone Costs and Top 10 Pricing Traps in Telephony to see how you could save.
No discussion of telephony would be complete without reference to people skills. We've all had bad experiences with call centres and despite the fact most of us grow up with the telephone, call-handling skills can still be poor.
Think about supporting your staff in better call management – how to answer calls, how to terminate calls politely once the business has been done and how to manage irate callers. If voice is a key part of your services, you'll save time, money, increase staff morale and deliver a better and more efficient service for your stakeholders.
Call to action
"When new projects are being established and the telephony (and other ICT) implications are not considered as part of a bigger picture, then you could end up with a plethora of expensive and overlapping products, services and suppliers." - THA
It's time for action. If you don't already have a telephony strategy and plan, make some time at your next staff, SMT and trustees meetings to consider the following:
- What can you do in your organisation to make better use of telephony and what difference will it make?
- How can you improve communication skills in your staff and volunteers?
- How can you save money on call costs, infrastructure and integrated packages (e.g. voice, mobile, broadband)
- How are you going to fund it?
- And what are you going to do about it?
This might make all the difference to you, your organisation and your clients, so go do it!
- Business Case for Telephony
- Choosing and working with Telecoms Suppliers
- Conference calls www.voicemeeting.co.uk (pay for calls by the minute)
- Good Telephony Guide
- Identifying your telephony requirements
- Phone Coop - www.thephone.coop
- Top 10 Ways to Save on Telephone Costs
- Top 10 Pricing Traps in Telephony
- Phone calls over the internet
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