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Manufacturers can benefit from a unified communications system

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

It has been said that some things are not appreciated until they are gone. For many manufacturers, this holds true for their phone systems. Telecommunications, if they are thought of at all, are often not seen as critical and, in fact, are poorly maintained. Many manufacturers have legacy systems that have been in place for decades. Any thought of replacing them is seen as prohibitively expensive. 

Do you need a new phone system?

Following are some questions that management should address as it assesses the current state of the company communications system. While there is no specific threshold to cross that dictates when a company should update its phone system, these questions are designed to generate conversations about the extent to which any of the issues raised find their cause in an outdated system.

1. Does your current telecommunications technology meet your business demands now and in the future?
Are clients or vendors satisfied with your system? Are management and sales personnel pleased with all the phone system has to offer? Are you losing business to competitors because of the level of customer service they can provide? A carrier spend assessment can help ensure that your communications capabilities are properly scaled to your business, and that you get the most out of your investments.

2. Has your telecommunications system been updated or upgraded in the last 12 months (or ever)?
Aging systems can be one of the biggest expenses for a business. Benchmarking your costs with industry averages can provide insight into your investment. If company personnel are creating workarounds because the right skills or resources may not exist to keep the system functioning properly, it may be time to consider a new system.

3. Has there been a decrease in customer satisfaction regarding responsiveness to calls and inquiries?
Quantitative and qualitative results from satisfaction surveys can provide some awareness of how well the current phone system is functioning for the company. Are customers and employees able to reach sales staff or remote staff in a timely manner? Is voicemail easily accessible when away from office or desk? Are phone calls from customers sometimes dropped or routed to the wrong person?

4. Has planning for a merger or acquisition included the telecommunications infrastructure?
Combining platforms can provide an opportunity to assess what may be needed to bring the company’s system up to date.

Other manufacturers, however, are finding that their phone systems—kept up to date and properly maintained—help them reduce costs, streamline operations and improve service. More than providing a network for talking to colleagues and coworkers, these business communications systems are a convergence of data, voice and video that provides a competitive advantage. 

Key takeaways 

  • Kept up to date and properly maintained, phone systems can help reduce costs, streamline operations and improve service.

  • Manufacturers who are not taking advantage of all their phone systems have to offer risk losing an opportunity for a competitive advantage.

  • Implementing new or upgraded systems need not be cost prohibitive and can be done incrementally.

Benefits of a unified communications system

Most manufacturers understand at least some of the advantages to be gained from an updated phone system. In the 2016 RSM Monitor survey of manufacturers, 65 percent of participants claim to have implemented mobile technologies and 19 percent have plans to do so. 

Yet 17 percent have no plans to implement mobile communications and this could be a strategic miscalculation. Sales and marketing investments, for example, can be inhibited by an older phone system that cannot connect potential customers or vendors with the right personnel. Customer service can be constrained if systems are not integrated and cannot transfer accurate account information. Mobile technology can be of limited value if it is superimposed onto outdated systems. 

A truly unified communications system can offer a number of opportunities for manufacturers seeking to benefit from the latest technology:

  • Enhanced connectivity: Businesses cannot assume that people will be found at their desks. Increased mobility is the expectation of everyone from clients to vendors, management to shop floor personnel. For example, the right phone system can seamlessly route customers to anyone on the road. Foremen can be reached without being anchored to a landline mounted to a post on the shop floor. Contractors can be connected with managers at any location.

  • Improved reporting and customer relationships: Systems can be set up to allow sales people to view a customer’s data when that customer calls. Alternatively, the system can serve as part of the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system: Customers can be routed to a familiar salesperson so they do not have to repeat themselves every time they contact the company. If that salesperson is not available, or if the company prefers, calls can be routed based on skills-oriented criteria. 

  • Expanded customer service: Response time to customer requests can be improved through instant messaging suites and by routing voicemail messages to email. Clients and vendors can call one number rather than spend time going through a series of calls to track an individual down. Company personnel can maintain their privacy when they no longer have to provide customers with their personal mobile phone number. 

  • Increased savings: Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) allows calls to be made over the internet, substantially reducing charges for long-distance calls. Softphones—the software programs that allow users to make these calls through their computers—can also control costs by directing purchases primarily to software licenses and away from more expensive hardware charges. 

One Midwest manufacturer, for example, found that its outdated phone system was becoming increasingly unreliable and provided little insight regarding the performance of its call center. With an upgrade to its phone system, the company was able to improve customer service through its real-time and historical reporting on data points such as agent idle time, call duration, abandoned call rates and customer hold times. Additional information enabled the company to make more informed decisions on staffing as well. 

Implementation and maintenance 

For manufacturers who have not upgraded their phone systems in some time, implementation of a new system can be a significant undertaking. But it need not be cost prohibitive and can be done incrementally:

  1. Identify the appropriate platform: Management should evaluate platforms based on a company’s current and future needs. A reputable vendor—one that is supported by more than one vendor—should provide a basic system with limited but useful features such as VoIP.

  2. Add on new features as needed: As the company and its needs grow, features such as call system routing and reporting can be added. The system can be integrated with other systems (such as CRM) to auto-generate data based on a phone number.

  3. Update and maintain: Set up a regular schedule to review, maintain and, as necessary, update the system. Maintenance should include keeping the security of the system up to date. 

Manufacturers who are not taking full advantage of all their phone systems have to offer risk being overrun by companies that are leveraging their systems to improve customer service, cut costs and enhance operational efficiency.  

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