Five Steps for Managing your Telephone System

In light of the blizzard hitting the east coast right now, I thought it was a good time to discuss post-installation phone system management.

While blizzards and Nor’Easters are not too common in sunny Los Angeles where we are based, we see our customers’ phone systems go into deep freeze all the time. All too often, organizations spend months and years picking out a manufacturer, collecting proposals interviewing vendors, then days, weeks or months implementing the system and then…

Payphone encased in snow

Most telephone systems are frozen the day of installation… don’t let this happen to you!

The deep freeze. Your telephone system becomes a time capsule of your company on the day of the cut-over to your new gear, instead of a dynamic part of your business.

These five tips will help you keep your phone system up to date and make sure you are getting the most out of what for many is a significant investment in capital and time.

1. Track your phone bills

Write down, in a spreadsheet, what you are spending each month, so that you have monthly comparisons. Do not be shy about calling your account rep to ask about inexplicable charges. With the advent of autopay and QuickBooks, we see telephone spending go on autopilot and costs spiral upward right under our customers’ noses.

2. Diagram your call routing

This is easier than it sounds! Call into your phone system and just sketch out the phone tree – you don’t need to go crazy and purchase software. Your goal is to find annoying things in your call routing to correct.  Note the options available at each step. Is it hard to figure out where you want to go? Do options make sense? Does your music on hold sound terrible? Are the most popular options presented first? Can you escape ‘voicemail jail’ by hitting “0” or are you stuck in a holding pattern? This is the easiest way to understand your user experience.

3. Practice a fail over

Everyone with experience in IT knows the story about the backup that was never tested and so failed when it was needed. Backups and disaster recovery plans should be tested. If your failover plan is just a call forward to a cell phone, test it after hours – unplug the PRI circuit or phone lines, or ask your vendor to safely power down the phone system. Test your battery backups and replace them every 2-3 years. Then call your number. You do not want to test your recovery plan during a disaster. To quote Warren Buffett, “you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”

4. Offering Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) support

Mobile workforces are here to stay, along with our new best friends: smartphones, tablets, phablets, smart watches and intelligent homes, glasses, cars… the list goes on. In short, your phone system needs to be integrating office communications with the devices attached to your employees, giving them the ability to multi-task, work while away from their desk, juggle work and home, and use the tools we rely on today. Review what you are offering your employees for connectivity and provide trial software to some key influencers.

5. Watch a customer interaction over the phone

Wait what? How do I watch a phone call? Is that like tasting a color? No, what I mean observe what it looks like for a customer call to be dispatched. Watch what your employees do on their computer while on a call. Write down how many steps it takes for them to handle a customer call and time them. Typically there is a lot of productivity waiting to be unlocked by applying simple, cost-effective software and call routing changes. Saving a full-time employee making $20 an hour just 5 minutes a day saves the  company $416.67 a year in time. Aggregated over whole departments, small changes can make big differences to your spending, your employee job satisfaction, and your customers’ experiences calling your company.

Hope this helps you keep your telephone system alive and well.

Top 5 Tips for Avoiding Phone System Hacking

Phone system hacker jerkface

The NY Times ran a scary article on phone system hacking, which led to a flurry of press about a growing problem in our industry (cell phone hacking, voicemail hacking, voip hacking). The most expensive form of phone system hacking involves people making calls from your phone system overseas to the equivalent of 900 & 976 numbers in a sophisticated kickback scheme, or routing calls on illicit calling cards and services through your phone system. This leaves you stuck with massive international calling charges that you are ultimately responsible for. The NY Times profiled a 6-person company hit with $166,000 of charges in a single month.

Phone system hacker jerkface

It gets so hot, hacking in a ski mask

You can always reach out to us to schedule a security audit if you are concerned about your phone system. Just email cs@teamextenda.com.

However, there are some simple tips that can protect you, and that follow general IT security principles.

1) Restrict international calling. Call your carrier and have them turn it off completely. Most international business people are comfortable with Skype, Google Hangouts, and the like anyway.

2) Require account codes. If you must make international calls, require an account code to connect the call. Call your carrier and request this simple change – calls will not connect until the code has been entered following dialing.

3) Enable alerts. Most carriers will send you a text or email if your usage exceeds a certain threshold, so you know to get involved.

4) Firewall should be on a need to connect basis. Only allow known IP addresses to connect to your phone system. If you have teleworkers connecting from home, enable hot desking to require a PIN to enable the phone or phone app.

5) ‘1234’ is a terrible PIN. Stop doing that. Don’t use default PINs, don’t use 1111, 0000, 1234. Ask your system administrator or Extenda to move to 5 digits or more. Hackers can access your phone system by hacking into your voicemail or conference bridge, so please, use sophisticated passwords. Our systems will lock them out after a number of bad guesses.