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set up UC for holiday

Winter is finally abating and warm days, long holiday weekends, and summer vacations lie ahead. As companies prepare for barbecue season, setting up call forwarding and preparing holiday phone schedules should be on the to-do list. The good news is, a unified communications (UC) platform like UCx can help companies manage all of these needs through complex call routing and collaboration, so your team can enjoy the summer season without impacting productivity or your customers’ experience.

First and foremost, companies can better serve their customers and partners by letting them know when the office or store is closed over long weekends and during summer breaks. Much like an out-of-office responder for email, a holiday greeting means that callers won’t be left wondering why no one has gotten back to them. For example: 

“Thanks for calling Our Amazing Company! Our Main Street office will be closed on Monday, May 27th in observance of the Memorial Day holiday.”

And for some businesses, the doors may be closed for the day, the weekend, or even for the whole week, but callers may need to still get through to you if necessary. In this case, you’ll want to communicate that too:

“To leave us a message, please press 1. If this is urgent, we’re still here to help — please press 2.”

If you’re a UCx user, off-hours greetings and call routing can be set up in the Auto Attendant and Call Forwarding functions, respectively.

For the Auto Attendant, you can set up separate holiday, vacation, and off-hours greetings and save them in the Announcement Repository ahead of time. You could even program a special message for the annual company picnic if you choose.

Companies can also make sure calls are properly routed during off-hours by programming alternate dialing menus in UCx’s Call Forwarding feature.

Call Forwarding allows you to redirect incoming calls to another number you specify, which could be anything from your mobile phone to a colleague’s extension. There are several different types of Call Forwarding to choose from, including options to forward all inbound calls or just calls from certain numbers.

Comprehensive UC systems also make it possible to set up geographic routing, or georouting, to forward incoming calls to their destinations based on their originating location. For example, you might want to have calls from California go to your sales rep Jack in Los Angeles, and have calls from any of the six New England states go to your sales rep Jill in Boston.

When the time comes for being out of the office, it’s a simple click to activate the right greeting and call forwarding pattern for the occasion. You can also automate when these call flows kick in by scheduling your business hours into an automation system.

If you’re a TPx customer, simply log in to the UCx Web Portal and click “Schedules” on the profile home page. By clicking “Add,” you can enter a new Schedule Name (such as “Vacation” or “Memorial Day”) and select a Schedule Type (Holiday or Time), and click “OK.” Once it’s added, you can access it from the Schedules page, click “Edit” and enter starting and ending times.

Regardless of which UC platform and provider you use, it’s a good idea to test your greetings and call flows before you need them – it’ll help reduce some of the stress that comes with getting ready for a holiday or vacation. Enjoy your summer!

 

About the Author

Nicholas Clapper is a Senior Manager of Product at TPx. He has more than 10 years of experience in product management, and in that time he has built up his expertise in hosted voice services, particularly the BroadSoft platform. Nicholas leads a cross-functional project team at TPx that manages the company’s hosted communications products, including the UCx Hosted Unified Communications ServiceSmartVoice SIP Trunking, and Internet access circuits. He is always looking for ways to help businesses communicate more effectively and more efficiently.

 

latency, jitter, and packet loss in plain English

If you’ve read your managed service provider’s SLA (service level agreement) and wondered if you need an advanced degree in engineering to understand it all, don’t worry – you are not alone. Read on to get a plain English definition of these terms, and you’ll be speaking like a networking geek in no time!

Let’s take a look at three important network performance metrics, and learn why they matter to the successful deployment of your VoIP or unified communications service.

Latency

Latency is the time it takes a data packet to travel from point-to-point on the network. Each step your traffic takes through the network will add to its latency. Latency higher than 150 milliseconds (ms) will cause unnatural delays in an audio conversation. On a video call, high latency could create a disconnect between the audio and the video (which I like to call the “badly dubbed movie” effect). If latency becomes too high, you could experience periods of no audio or video at all.

Jitter

You may know jitter as that feeling you get when you drink too much coffee – if so, you might want to consider switching to decaf. The jitter we’re talking about here is an inconsistent arrival of packets between two endpoints. Jitter of more than 20 ms will cause delays in packet arrival which, like high latency, will result in delays in your audio or video.

Packet Loss

Packet loss happens when a packet does not arrive, arrives out of order, or arrives too late. Lost packets don’t go into a “packet lost and found,” though – they’re just discarded. Packet loss over a network will cause choppy, poor-quality audio and video. The good news is that you’d have to have a pretty high level of packet loss for the service to degrade to that state. Even if you lost 3% of all VoIP packets coming in, your audio quality would still be better than what you’d hear on a cell phone.

By the way, the Bandwidth Speed Test on the TPx website will measure the latency (ping) and jitter of your current Internet connection, in addition to your download and upload speeds. Remember, though, that a test like this one is just a snapshot of a moment in time. Try running the test several times, particularly during the times of day when you know your network is busy, and you’ll get a better picture of your network’s VoIP readiness.

Are there any other strange networking terms that have you stumped? If so, just let us know – we’re always happy to help.

Mobility with UC

Welcome to today’s office – featuring an increasingly borderless workforce, set free by the rise of smartphones and tablets. Smart mobility has given companies the opportunity to recruit a larger pool of talent unfettered by geography, who can optimize their productivity with anytime, anywhere access to messaging and email. If you want your business to truly capitalize on the benefits of the mobile workplace, however, you need to embrace mobile unified communications (UC).

Getting email on your phone is one thing; having true collaboration and connection tools wherever you are is another.

Put simply, mobile UC applications provide rich communications features and access to company resources to geographically dispersed, traveling and highly mobile workers. These apps seamlessly hook into enterprise UC platforms, giving everyone the ability to use the same full suite of key UC business applications regardless of whether they’re in the office, at home, or on the road.  This untethered UC enables teamwork in dynamic environments and empowers the mobile worker for true collaboration from any location.

Mobile UC ensures a centralized environment for the entire workforce. It’s a good bet that any modern company will find itself with employees working from outside the office perimeter at some point. Rolling out a comprehensive platform means that mobile users, communications platforms and business applications aren’t relegated to a patchwork of fragmented silos that not only hamper collaboration, but also present potential security holes. Mobile UC apps instead ensure that businesses have a level of control over how their sensitive information and services are accessed.

Additionally, Mobile UC allows businesses to offer a greater degree of workplace flexibility to their employees. Work-life balance is more than just a lofty goal: remote working or flexible hours, enabled by solid mobile access, is a crucial piece of the strategy for many companies. They recognize that working 9 to 5 hasn’t been most employees’ reality for many years, so they need to provide ways for employees to take calls and participate in meetings outside of “traditional” business hours and locations.

At TPx we offer three different mobile UC apps, for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. All are designed for versatility, comprehensive feature-richness and ease-of-use. They are full-featured extensions for our UCx platform, which is built on the high-quality VoIP service that TPx is known for. With the UCx mobile apps, users can call, chat, email, and video conference from anywhere.

Beyond UC, companies have the option of bundling in our suite of managed services, including SD-WAN, managed endpoints, managed security, virtual fax and more – which further boosts mobile strategy across the digital enterprise.

Your business doesn’t have to stop when you leave the office. Call your TPx representative today to see how we can help you to support your mobile workers and take full advantage of the modern digital workplace.

 

About the Author

Nicholas Clapper is a Senior Manager of Product at TPx. He has more than 10 years of experience in product management, and in that time he has built up his expertise in hosted voice services, particularly the BroadSoft platform. Nicholas leads a cross-functional project team at TPx that manages the company’s hosted communications products, including the UCx Hosted Unified Communications Service, SmartVoice SIP Trunking, and Internet access circuits. He is always looking for ways to help businesses communicate more effectively and more efficiently.

Unified Communications and Business Continuity

Extreme weather events seem to be the norm these days rather than the exception. Almost every corner of the country has experienced it – whether it’s a powerful hurricane that causes widespread flooding, a wildfire that burns up thousands of acres, or a blizzard that dumps snow that’s measurable in feet. And every time it happens, local businesses are hit hard with lost wages and reduced profits.

This is just one reason why businesses like yours have business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place, or are at least considering implementing them. At its core, the purpose of a business continuity plan is to prevent the interruption of your normal business operations. In the event that an interruption does occur, the plan should ensure that your organization has alternate methods for continuing operations until normal functionality is restored.

Straight “out of the box,” hosted unified communications (UC) addresses both of these aspects of business continuity. Because the service provider takes care of things like server redundancy, geographic diversity, and data backups, your business is in a better position to continue working until normal operations are restored. Also, due to the distributed nature of a cloud-based service, many of the issues that would affect an on-premises system have zero impact.

However, like any other system in your organization, even hosted UC is not completely immune to damage or disruption. If disruptions do happen, they generally fall into one of three categories:

Let’s look at these three types of events in detail, and consider the steps you can take to prepare for them.

Preparing for a Local Event

Inevitably, there will come a day that your office will become inaccessible. With hosted UC, there are many steps you can take to proactively prepare.

Also, be sure you have the details of your service provider’s warranty program so you’ll know what to do in case any of these devices are damaged. To avoid the possibility of having to pay out-of-pocket to replace damaged equipment, you could go for guaranteed replacement (where the provider will replace the equipment regardless of how the damage was caused), or you could choose to purchase insurance to cover non-warrantied repairs and replacements.

Preparing for an Interrupted Connection

The second type of disruption is the interrupted connection – meaning a power outage or disruption to network connectivity.

To address a power outage, ensure you have a backup power source (such as a UPS or a generator) available for your firewall, routers, and switches. Remember that even if these backups eventually run out and cause your devices to lose power, a hosted UC system’s features will either continue to work as programmed or automatically fail over to an alternate setting.

To address network connectivity, install at least one redundant connection to be used as a failover if the primary network connection is interrupted. For true network diversity, you could even install a 4G LTE connection as the failover, reducing your reliance on the wired connections into your building. You can also consider implementing SD-WAN to manage these failover options automatically.

When the UC system fails over to a backup connection, the IP connection switches to its backup and all lines re-register with the alternate ISP’s IP addresses; all voice traffic is then routed through that ISP and across the Internet to the hosted provider. When the primary connection is back online, the lines re-register directly to the hosted provider and normal operation is restored.

To cover yourself in either a power outage or a network connectivity loss, enable voice failover features that will allow operations to continue if the service is not available. For example, call forwarding not reachable will forward inbound calls to backup phone lines, another location, or users’ cell phones in the event that a location cannot connect to the hosted service.

Preparing for a Network Issue

Finally, it is possible there could be problems with the provider’s network. However, this type of problem is quite rare.  Any hosted provider worth their while (like TPx!) will be working on robust infrastructure with multiple layers of security and redundancy built in. Usually, if there are any problems, they occur in the “last mile” of connectivity.

The best thing you can do to prepare here is to follow all of the steps we’ve previously talked about. Most notably, you should enable features that will allow operations to continue if standard voice service is not available, such as auto attendants, call forwarding not available, and hosted voicemail.

If you are using PRI or SIP trunks, you can also enable Direct Trunk Overflow (DTO) or Trunk Group Call Forwarding. These services automatically redirect incoming calls to an alternate number if there is a service impairment or if all trunk channels are busy. Enterprise Trunking is another alternative that supports multiple inbound routing options if you have multiple locations.

 

In the end, the best thing you can do for your business is to prepare as much as you can. It’s not enough to just be aware of the potential for a problem. By proactively developing and implementing plans to manage those potential interruptions wherever they may occur, you’ll further ensure that your hosted UC service continues to function when your business needs it most.

My wish for you is that you’ll never have to actually use your business continuity plans.

 

About the Author

Stacey Kendall is a Product Marketing Manager at TPx Communications. Her role is focused on marketing for TPx’s suite of Communications & Collaboration offerings, including the UCx Hosted Unified Communications Service and SmartVoice SIP Trunking. Stacey holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing with a specialization in Information Technology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She resides in the greater Boston area.

UC Call Centers Drive Better Customer Experience

Customer satisfaction is so… yesterday. Today, it’s all about the customer experience, or overall journey with your company. Customers that have good overall experiences (including satisfaction at all of their touchpoints) buy more and refer more customers. And the key to it all is seamless communications throughout that journey.

That’s why forward-thinking organizations are deploying call center solutions as key components in their integrated communications strategies. After all, in today’s world of always-on, anywhere and anytime contact, your customers have many options to reach you with feedback, questions, and, with any luck, interest in making new purchases.

To gain a serious advantage on this front, businesses are enabling seamless conversations across the call center and other parts of the company, thanks to unified communications (UC).

Breaking Down Barriers Improves Customer Experience

For most companies, customer engagement remains a siloed experience. Call center agents may not have easy access to a customer’s sales history, or even a unified view of previous customer service interactions – let alone granular information about products, tech support or other contextual data.

UC can break down those walls, supporting digital transformation initiatives that can turn call centers into modern, interactive hubs for customer service. For one, a unified dashboard allows customer service representatives to reach subject matter experts within the business in real time. UC’s core functionality – presence and all-in-one communications channels – means that reps can see who’s available, and they can reach them in the way that makes the most sense. A simple detail about a product or service might be gleaned with an IM to a marketing guru – while a screen sharing session with the sales manager may make the most sense to review the documents necessary to get a new sale moving along. At any point, these interactions can be escalated to a phone call if necessary – giving reps a hugely improved capacity for first-call resolution and garnering customer loyalty.

With UC, Your Contact Center is Always On

The interactive call center is also always-on. Thanks to UC, reps can answer calls in the queue from branch locations or even from home, and management can leverage alternate off-hours routing. The UC call center can also deliver entrance messages and comfort messages to queued calls, which increases customer satisfaction when volume surges.

All in, it’s never been easier to deliver responsive sales and service support to customers than it is today, provided your call center is powered by rich UC features. At TPx we paired our hosted call center platform with our industry-leading, award-winning UC features, including fully-featured instant messaging and presence. Our solutions come in two call center packages, both of which are completely customizable to meet your organization’s unique requirements. Whether you have five seats or 5,000, we can help you turn your call center into a hub for superior customer experience. And best of all, it’s affordable and instantly scalable. Contact your TPx representative today, or reach out to us here, to request a live demo of our call center in action.