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Making the Switch to VoIP

their technology before you buy? Wainbee was able to download software before making a commitment.
Wainbee’s Rodger also recommends finding a vendor that will ensure consistency in the set-up of the network. The same person set up the network at all of Wainbee’s branches and offices, except for one and Rodger says that was the only branch the company had problems with.


Glodowski recommends finding a partner who can help. And as with any emerging technology, be careful who you choose. Not all IT providers and consultants have the right experience.


“Sometimes a company will pick a partner who claims to have the right experience but doesn’t,” he says. “Proper planning and implementation is very important whether you do it yourself or have help.”





Bottom Line: Better Service
At the same time CH Briggs brought VoIP online, the hardware distributor implemented another change in its call center by using User Interface Technology to improve order-taking efficiencies.


“I believe that most people don’t have issues with systems,” says COO Kevin Hollinger. “Most people have issues with how they interface with the systems.”


CH Briggs used User Interface Technology, purchased from a company in Australia, to cut the number of tabs on the screen of its order-entry system from seven to three, and get rid of information that representatives didn’t use. Along with being able to view traditional customer information, reps can now:



  • see product information from the manufacturer’s Web site, 

  • view digital images of the product and email them immediately to a customer and

  • access any other necessary data on the company network.

“We had the service reps tell us the most efficient way to take an order,” Hollinger says. “Our whole objective was speed and accuracy.”



Results
CH Briggs order-entry process has dropped from an average of 3 minutes to 45 seconds.

they try to run VoIP on their existing network,” Hollinger says. But data networks many times are not equipped to handle voice, and may fail or result in inconsistent quality. “You have a business where your call center is your lifeline. If you’re down for two hours, you’re done,” Hollinger says.


That’s why CH Briggs spared no dime on installing a new network. Hollinger says the risk of downtime was too high. Downtime equals lost revenues.


One distributor, Giant Plumbing & Heating Supply Co., Hazel Park, MI, had such a bad experience with downtime in the first three months of its VoIP usage that it gave up on the technology altogether. On at least three occasions, the company had a full day without phone service and occasionally the distributor had outages ranging from a couple of minutes to an hour. When that happened, the company was “essentially out of business,” says Peter Shillingford, the distributor’s vice president.


VoIP may not work during power outages, as well, and the service provider may or may not provide backup power.


CH Briggs has had no issues with outages, however, which Hollinger attributes to its thorough investment in setting up a network that could handle voice. “We’ve had it for a year, and, knock on wood, we haven’t had any problems,” he says.



Outside Advice
Hollinger says the cost of retaining an IT consultant to help install the new system was high, but worth it. Vodis Partners helped CH Briggs design a network to manage voice, and helped the distributor manage how it wanted its calls routed.


For example, you can design your system so that someone outside the call center will answer the phone if no one picks up in 10 seconds. CH Briggs set up its inside sales group to receive “spill-over” calls. And if those phones are busy, the calls can go to the product specialist group. The technology does this instantaneously. In addition, call center reps can be anywhere the phone system is indiscriminate to location.


CH Briggs almost did not use a consultant it thought it could handle the transition to VoIP itself. But because of the complexity of the technology, other distributors who had done it themselves recommended to Hollinger that he bring in outside help.


Wainbee, a motion and control distributor in Mississauga, Ontario, did not bring in outside help; instead it depended on its service providers to guide its installation.


Wainbee implemented VoIP about two years ago in an effort to improve productivity at its 12 remote branches spread across about 3,000 miles in Canada. Those branches report to their three respective regional centers.


Many of those offices have just one or two workers. The company found that sometimes those workers could not handle the volume of calls they were receiving, and other times, workers did not have enough to do. The virtual network lets Wainbee connect those offices to the main call center. So just as CH Briggs was able to route calls to other areas, Wainbee can route calls to its branches, no matter the location.


The distributor’s branches can also route calls to the right division as if they were in the same building so customers no longer have to hang up and dial a different number. Also, 195 employees throughout the network are accessible with four-digit numbers, which is convenient and more cost-effective.


Wainbee recovered its investment in the system within 10 months, says Craig Rodger, Wainbee’s corporate operations manager.



What to Look For
The most important things to consider when searching for a provider include:



  • The ability to deliver the bandwidth capacity your company needs
  • The geographic reach of the company Can the carrier provide the service in the locations you need it?
  • What is the Quality of Service the vendor provides?
  • Is the vendor willing to let you try out
    Replacing traditional phone lines with Voice over Internet Protocol technology is a risk, but distributors have found success with careful planning and implementation. Because VoIP is a new technology, the difference between success and failure may be linked to the level of service and knowledge of VoIP providers and advisors. Read how two distributors used VoIP to revamp call centers and increase service.


    Voice over Internet Protocol can dramatically cut your phone bills. The technology, which at its most basic lets you use the Internet to make a call, especially saves on long-distance charges useful when you have branches in other cities and suppliers in other countries.


    But CH Briggs Hardware Co., Reading, PA, which implemented VoIP a year ago, is also cashing in on improved customer service. VoIP technology has allowed the company to create a virtual network connecting all of its offices and warehouses. Now, when a customer calls CH Briggs, it takes just under 25 seconds for a call center representative to answer. Before VoIP, customers were on hold for as long as 90 seconds.


    What’s more, CH Briggs has seen dramatic improvement in its abandonment rate, or the percentage of callers who hang up before the call center has a chance to answer. Before VoIP, 17 percent of callers to CH Briggs would hang up. Now that number is under 5 percent.


    If you have a call center, and your customers are hanging up, you’re losing business,” says Kevin Hollinger, CH Briggs’ chief operating officer. The virtual network routes calls to the next available operator, even if that operator is not in the main call center. So every call is answered, rescuing customers from, as Hollinger puts it, “voice jail.” “The software manages that in nanoseconds,” Hollinger says.



    How It Works
    VoIP technology converts a voice signal from a telephone into a digital signal that travels over the Internet or private network. If you are calling a regular phone number, the system converts the voice signal back on the other end. VoIP lets you call from a computer using a microphone, a VoIP phone or a traditional phone with an adapter. VoIP can also be used wirelessly if you are in a “hot spot” at an airport, coffee shop or hotel. The people you are calling do not need special equipment.


    With this technology, businesses can build a single virtual phone system that links all company locations. Briggs has two warehouses and a headquarters and used to have three different phone systems. The company’s phone system now runs on a single private network, and it is free to call between locations.


    The difference between business-level VoIP and residential VoIP is this: Business-class VoIP runs on private networks built for specific companies. Residential VoIP runs over the Internet, which provides “best-effort” service and quality, which is usually “pretty good,” but not all the time, says Tom Glodowski, managing partner for Vodis Partners, the IT consultancy firm that helped CH Briggs with its VoIP implementation.


    “The reason you buy a business-class IP network is to make sure it is great all the time,” Glodowski says.


    VoIP carries other benefits as well. Workers on the road can download a softphone, or software for their laptops that allows them to tap into the company’s network anywhere there is a high-speed Internet connection.


    Investment
    Depending on the level of upgrade needed for your network, implementation of VoIP can require a steep capital investment. You may need to invest in new LAN switches (Local Area Network), new data routers, new servers and new phones, as well as software, for example.


    More than a third of CH Briggs’ investment was in designing its network to handle voice as a priority over data. Voice files are different and larger than data files, and more complex. “Where a lot of companies make a mistake is when

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