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PBX Tips and Tricks to Optimize your Business Phone System- Part 1

August 21, 2009

For those of us around in the mid-1970’s, the idea of a telephone switchboard may be forever tainted by the Saturday Night Live skit where Lily Tomlin, as a switchboard operator, randomly disconnects calls and infamously declares, “We don’t care, we don’t have to…we’re the phone company.”

Thankfully, the last 30 years have brought switchboards into the electronic age, and through PBX technology, many businesses no longer rely on telephone companies (or their operators) to complete many of their internal calls. Instead, today, many companies use internal telephone switchboards, known as IP PBX systems, a development on Private Branch exchange (PBX) which now incorporates both IP technology and VoIP networks.

PBX started out as an internal company switchboard that required operators to manually direct calls from one person to the next. By the 1980’s, manual switchboards had largely been done away with, replaced by automated switchboards, which worked in the same fashion, but did not require an operator to manually route the call.

Today, PBX technology is taking on a whole new realm, the Internet world. Instead of routing calls through old circuits, modern PBX solutions use the Internet protocol to exchange information. The integration of the IP interface has greatly expanded the functionality of PBX systems. Instead of being restricted to the office, users are now able to work from virtually every corner of the globe, and still experience the full variety of their network’s PBX features.

This article serves as the first step to maximizing your company’s productivity with PBX. These tips and tricks will help PBX beginners optimize their business phone setup as well as make users familiar with some PBX functionalities they might have overlooked or underutilized.

Standard PBX Features

Are you getting the most out of your PBX system? Almost 100 percent of modern PBX systems come with the features mentioned in the following section. Surprisingly, however, many PBX system owners are not even aware they exist, not to mention know how to best use these very basic features.

Automated Attendant: Perhaps the most critical feature to any PBX system is the automated attendant. The automated attendant serves as a virtual receptionist directing calls to the different departments, voice mailboxes and extensions on your PBX network. A well programmed automated attendant gives your business the power to manage a high volume of calls without a high volume of personnel dedicated to answering phones.

When designing your automated attendant system, keep in mind users do not want to go through 2 minutes worth of call directing menus only to have a 15 second conversation with customer service, or even worse be connected to a voicemail. Try to avoid redundancy and direct the caller as quickly as possible. In addition, conduct surveys of usability with strangers, not just internal employees, in order to get an accurate picture of diverse user experiences.

Call Forwarding: Every efficient PBX system MUST be able to automatically forward calls to various destinations within the PBX network. If a user can’t get to his or her phone, the system should forward calls to their co-worker, supervisor, voice mailbox or any other destination based upon the most efficient solution for your company. Too often, companies fail to consider other call forwarding options beyond voicemail, and thus, lose company efficiency, employee and consumer satisfaction, and may ultimately lose business as a result.

PBX systems that lack the capacity to forward calls to the correct destination in a timely manner can cripple a company’s incoming communications. So make sure to compare forwarding capabilities before purchasing a PBX system.

Call Accounting: If you’re serious about keeping a tab on your company’s telephone usage, a call accounting system is a must for you. Call accounting software records various call information including “calling party, date, time, duration, destination party and authorization or account code.”

With accurate call accounting records, you can accurately bill customers for support calls, gauge which employees are spending too much time on the phone, determine if any section in your automated attendant is creating a bottleneck and compare your records to the PBX server or telecommunications company for any payment discrepancies.

Conference Calling: Conference calling is one of the more powerful features of PBX. Instead of exchanging a series of emails with your co-workers to debate an important topic, conference calling gives you the ability to communicate with a large number of people in real time over the phone. You’ve already made the investment in a PBX system, so if your employees don’t know how to setup their own conference calls, you are just wasting a valuable resource, your staff’s time.

Voicemail: The seamless transition from user to voicemail is a vital component of every PBX system. When the PBX system is busy (or no one is at the office), voicemail takes over logging calls and messages from both clients and co-workers.

Sometimes you’ll be extremely tied up at the office, or will be fielding a lengthy important phone call and just can’t get to any other customers. Instead of losing that customer’s business, or having a receptionist take a message and forget to give it to you, voicemail allows that customer to record a message that you can check at a later time from any remote location. When setting up your system, however, it is important to consider whether the same voicemail message is appropriate for every caller. Would it serve your company better for customers and co-workers to receive different voicemail messages? If so, have you set up your PBX to make that happen?

Call Holding: We have all been placed on hold at one time or another, only to be sitting in silence or have our call dropped after more than 20 minutes of idle time. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects when dealing with other businesses. Thankfully, almost every modern PBX system provides the company with the ability to play music, advertisements and estimated wait times to its customers while they’re on hold. When configuring your call holding, have both internal and external callers test the system to make sure that the user experience is as customer friendly and reassuring as possible when callers are placed on hold.

In addition to reassuring callers with music or real-time queue updates, a fully functional PBX call hold system places users on hold in a priority queue and distributes calls accordingly without dropping them or losing customers due to excessive wait times. Consider whether your company would benefit from implementing priority criteria for wait times from particular callers. For example, if your biggest clients call in, you may want to bump them ahead of smaller clients. These questions require a difficult balance, but if you aren’t asking them at all, you aren’t using your PBX optimally.

Configurability: What good is a PBX system if you cannot customize it to your company’s profile and customer needs? You should be able to configure call attendant menus, scheduled events, on-hold messaging, etc. When a customer calls your company they should be greeted with a unique welcome message, not a preprogrammed generic PBX one. An important first step is to make a list of all the potential callers; include categories of co-workers and customers. Then create relative priorities between these callers and create a list of the particular needs of each caller. Only once you have this master map of callers, should you begin to configure your PBX system, ensuring that your setup will be compatible with all callers, not just those that come to mind during the setup process.

All of these customizations play an important role in making the customer feel significant, and provide more information about your company to the customer. In addition, they serve an important role in the productivity of your company. Streamlining the internal call process can shave seconds off each call, and with thousands of calls made per employee per year, those seconds translate into very significant productivity gains.

To be continued…

The Voip News Staff

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