Don’t Believe the Lies

There are many telecoms companies who will have you believe that BT are turning off their ISDN service and that means BT are turning off all phone numbers that run over their copper imminently.

THIS IS A LIE

BT Openreach’s Public Switched Telephone Network (PTSN) will reach end of life by 2025 and that is what supports products such as ISDN2 and ISDN30. They are currently planning to phase out their ISDN service from 2025. There is no rush for you to make the change, from ISDN. BT is not going to cut you off. However, there are 16 million lines that need to move by that point.

There are, however, a range a reasons why migrating from ISDN solutions to others would be beneficial for your business. Let’s look at them now.

1. Flexibility

When your phone calls go over ISDN, they can only go to one location; where your phone system is. With a VoIP or SIP solution, your calls go to wherever you are.

  • To another office
  • To your mobile
  • To your laptop
  • To your home – if you really want them to

If your teams need to be highly mobile, but also need to be contactable, an ISDN solution will not meet your needs. Imagine how much more productive your teams can be if they can communicate quickly and easily from wherever they are.

2. Cost management

ISDN contracts are based on a fixed number of lines for a fixed period of time. If your business is growing, this is less of an issue. You may get to the point where some calls cannot get through (you don’t need an ISDN line per person, it’s per concurrent call per line that’s important). You simply add more lines at that point. However, if the number of people working from a specific location gets smaller, you will be wasting more and more money on lines you don’t need. That can be renegotiated at the end of the contract, but not at any point before that.

3. Improved business continuity

If something happens that means you cannot use your office, you want to be able to work productively from another location. This may be a serviced office (if the closure is expected to be for some time), from client locations, from home or even coffee shops (for an hour or two…). Without a solution that allows you to divert calls accordingly, your clients, prospects and suppliers will be calling your office and becoming increasingly frustrated because they cannot reach you.

4. Scalability

Is your business trading pattern the same throughout the year? Or does it have peaks and troughs that mean staff numbers expand and contract? SIP and VoIP solutions can be adjusted on a monthly basis, adapting precisely to your business needs.

5. Opening/closing new locations

If you’re opening a new location, you will need to plan ahead if you have a ISDN solution. Lead times are at least 20 working days, whereas an internet-based solution can be turned on almost instantly. If you then need to close that location, you are still paying for ISDN lines because of the contract.

 

If you do get companies telling you that BT are turning off their ISDN service, simply tell them you know they are lying. Whilst they are trying to get you to think about alternative solutions, that come with a range of benefits, a lie is never the best way to start a relationship.

If you are getting calls from companies lying to you in this way, and want a more accurate conversation, give us a call: 020 8912 0845

 

Five Questions to ask your Telecoms Supplier

Making Sure you get the right telecoms contract for your business

You may have read our previous blog about charities being ripped off – Click here to read that!

We have noticed that the same thing has been happening with Telecoms Suppliers recently.

We have a list of questions that it is important to ask your Telecoms supplier:

How long a contract would we have to enter?

There are lots of tricks out there around contract length. Look out for things like:

  1. Long notice periods, often over a year, otherwise you’re locked in for another period of time
  2. No notifications, so that they auto-renewal date slips by and you’re stuck again
  3. Every invoice payment is classified as a contract renewal (!) – seen a few of these recently

We recommend you always get a specific time period stated in the contract, usually no more than three years. If contracts are much longer than this, you are highly likely to be paying more than you should.  The high level of competition in the market means that prices are constantly changing, usually downwards, so you can miss out on savings if you sign for more than three years. Make sure the notice period is reasonable too.  There is absolutely no reason why it should be any more than three months.

What would our line rentals and call costs actually be?

As we alluded to above, prices can change quickly, so you need to be sure what you are paying for.  Line rentals and call charges can vary significantly, dependent on the volume of calls made and the length of the call.

If you make lots of very short calls, you are likely to be better off on a per-minute, or even per-second, call costs basis.  If your calls are longer and can vary in length, you should consider charges per call.  We frequently see these the other way around so that the telecoms company makes more money.

Something that is frequently promised is a guarantee that you will always be on the lowest call charges. This is a great line for getting the contract signature, but it is rarely delivered upon as many providers don’t regularly review the market and pass these savings on to you.

Would we own the system outright at the end of the contract?

The value of telephone system hardware is minimal after a few years, even without the depreciation you use within your accounting. Even so, many companies will add clauses into contracts that spread the cost of the hardware over a much longer period than the contract length.  This means you either face a big invoice to get out of the contract or, much more likely, you simply renew and stay with them.

This is especially true when companies offer you a “free telephone system” as part of the deal.  It is never free!

What make and model of system would you offer and with which handsets?

Make sure you are getting up to date hardware when buying a new telephone system. One phone system box looks like another to non-techies and some companies will talk about the latest from Ericsson or Avaya, but then actually supply a much older unit. At a point you then want increased functionality, there are high costs involved because that unit doesn’t support the functionality you want.

Would the line rental and call costs be fixed until the end of the contract?

Mid-term price rises are becoming more and more frequent, so make sure that your contract fixes the costs. Alternatively, you have a 30-day window of opportunity to cancel your contract after any price rise.  Many telecoms providers will fail to remind you of this, but it is a legal requirement.  If they haven’t told you of your right to cancel at this point, then give us a call and we can help resolve the matter.

Finally, please ensure you read the contract all the way through. We have seen contract where clauses are placed in very strange places. They rely on people reading certain parts (the beginning, the end and the notice period bit) and not much else.

Let’s be clear. We are not saying that all telecoms providers are trying to catch you out.  The vast majority are decent, honest businesses looking to help you, but there are a number of companies who will resort to various dirty tricks to either make more money or to keep you tied into a contract for much longer. We hope these  five questions to ask your telecoms supplier help you get the telecoms contracts you need for your business. Of course, if you think we can help, please get in touch.

 

What does GDPR really mean for you?

Firstly GPDR stands for General Data Protection Regulation and comes into force on 25th May.  The recent stories about the use of Facebook data has brought into focus why these rules are being introduced.  The trouble is that for the smaller business they are, potentially, an admin nightmare.

The key issues you need to understand and demonstrate capability for, it seems, are:

  1. Why are you holding this data, is it still justified?  If not it should be deleted.  So holding ongoing customer data is ok but a customer that left you a year ago probably not.
  2. Consent to hold data must be explicitly given and not as a result of not opting out. You must also store how consent was given.
  3. Online identifiers such as IP addresses now qualify as well as personal data – so wifi logins are impacted
  4. People can ask for access to their data at “reasonable intervals”, and you must generally respond within one month
  5. Any data breaches must be notified within 72 hours of you becoming aware to the Information Commissioner’s Office

We are going to talk penalties here. The numbers are, potentially, big but remember that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has already stated that penalties are a last resort. They want you to be compliant and so will ok with you, rather than starting with fines and going from there.

  • Failing to meet the 72-hour deadline could mean a penalty of up to 2% of annual worldwide revenue, or €10 million, whichever is higher.
  • Failure to follow the basic principles for processing data, such as having a legal basis for doing so, ignore individuals’ rights over their data, or transfer data to another country, the fines are even worse.    This could be a penalty of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover, whichever is greater.

For those that recall the issues TalkTalk had with breaches of its web site and loss of data in 2016 for which they fined £400,000 under these rules the fines could have been as high as £59 million.

If you’d like to know more about the key issues involved with GDPR, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Six ways Mobile Operators sting Businesses

Whilst it’s good news that roaming charges in Europe have fallen dramatically, there is no need to feel sorry for the mobile industry as there are plenty of little tricks that ensure it remains highly profitable at your expense. There are six ways mobile operators still sting businesses:

1) Roaming away from Europe

Many countries outside Europe have no data or cost cap, and prices have gone up to counter the reduction in Europe. Most smartphones are data hungry so download an app that will compress your data, thus reducing the cost. Consider buying local pay as you go sims – providing your phone is unlocked. Plus always look for free wifi. For heavy users a business grade VoIP app or other free apps that act as automated calling cards will significantly reduce call costs.

2) Locking phones

Many networks will lock phones to themselves. The cost and time of unlocking should be factored into purchase decisions. Doing it officially via the networks can take up to four weeks and can be, proportionately, very expensive if you are a low user.

3) Inflating handset funds

A favourite trick is for the provider to start inflating the hardware fund they will give you. In many cases it is a false figure. We regularly see handset prices inflated by 25% at least. Therefore the buying power of the handset fund is much less than you think. Always ask if you can have the hardware fund as cash so that you can buy your own phones sim free.

Very few providers will tell you at the end of the contract if there is any hardware fund left and even fewer will give it back to you. Make sure you agree this prior to signing the contract. It is very profitable for providers to keep all the unused hardware funds

4) No such thing as a free phone

The phone is not free – you are actually paying for it in every monthly payment. What the mobile companies find very useful is that when the contract is up the same payment continues after the phone has been paid for. A recent report estimated that in the UK alone £1 billion was being wasted on payments for phones that had already been “bought”. That is a lot of money for the mobile operators to share.

5) Keeping you perpetually in a contract

The operators have multiple ways of keeping you in a contract or denying your organisation the opportunity to review, in full, your options. The first is the mid-term renewal. Suppliers often go back to customers half way through their 24 month contract and get them to sign for another 24 months. In return the customer is given a hardware fund or handset upgrades. But this means you never gets to a contract end when you can genuinely compare your tariff to the marketplace.

The second trick is; when adding new handsets, each handset starts their own two year contract so that the organisation never reaches a situation where all the phones are out of contract. The way round it is to ensure you get a Co-terminus Contract from the outset so that all the phones share a common contract end date whenever they are added.

The other option is to go sim only. It can even help you avoid a contract altogether as there are now business focussed one month rolling contracts. These can give a lot of flexibility – particularly to growing or changing organisations.

6) Are unlimited deals the best value?

The industry heavily promotes the unlimited calls and texts model of packages. Sounds attractive but in reality you are almost always going to be paying ‘over-the-odds’. This is because the pricing of the bundle is set at a level that about 80% of people/organisations will never reach. Businesses often overestimate the volume of calls they actually make, therefore buying a service with usage corresponding to their actual usage can often save money.

By watching out for some of these tricks, and taking steps to mitigate their impact, you can ensure the money stays on your pocket, and not in that of the telecoms provider.

If you are worried that you are being affected by any of these six points please call us on 020 8912 0845 and we can help you!

How Brexit makes calling Scotland very expensive

calling scotland could become expensiveThe EU referendum is rapidly approaching. June 23rd will be a very important day in the history of the UK, no matter which way the vote goes. In telecoms terms the most significant impact would most likely be if the UK population votes to leave the European Union. Let me explain my thoughts…

Roaming

On April 30th 2016, the EU applies further charging caps on what the mobile operators can charge for roaming calls and data. If you are in Europe and either make mobile calls or use data on your smartphone, they will be much cheaper from that date. In 2017, they will be abolished altogether and you will simply use your contract bundle wherever you are in the EU. The most obvious change, if the UK left the EU, could be that this was no longer the case. A new agreement would be required. However, the precedent is there as other countries outside the EU such have Norway have signed up to the deal. The impact may be longer term if the EU starts to promote common tariffs to people visiting from outside the EU. Again as with other trade elements does that mean the UK could set lower costs or be left out?

Now back to the title of this blog. How could calling Scotland become more expensive? Everyone knows that Nicola Sturgeon is planning to hold another Scottish Referendum and if the UK were to leave the EU, this would leave the way for Scotland to have another referendum. If they did and voted to leave that would impact businesses with operations or customers across the two countries.

Calls from London to Edinburgh would then be international calls. If you were in Scotland with an English SIM card, you would be making roaming calls. If you check your LinkedIn status, you would be using roaming data and just how much would that cost you? If Scotland leaves the UK, it doesn’t mean it will be part of Europe and so you could incur Rest of World roaming data charges. For some mobile operators that is up to £8 per MB! Billshock could return!

There would also need an Ofcom for each country and potentially different pricing for lines and internet.

Still, this is all conjecture, so let’s see what we wake up to on the 24th June and go from there.

Five Telecoms Issues you must consider when Moving Office

 

If you’re planning to move offices then it is essential you consider your telecoms options early in the process. Far too often they get left to the last minute. At best this can lead to added stress, or at worst long delays and increased costs.

Don’t Leave It Until too Late

BT Openreach has a monopoly on all line installs regardless of who they are ordered through. This means there is a minimum wait of at around 10 working days – but it can vary from town to town. For example, in some areas of Surrey the lead time is currently six weeks.

The average time for larger business needing ISDN lines is 6-8 weeks, and larger data connections, such as EFM, can take 40 working days, with some leased lines taking over 60 days.

Property Search

Most companies want fast broadband, and it is relatively easy to find out what is available in terms of speed and providers.   For example, a location that has fibre broadband will enable you to have very fast speeds without the need for expensive dedicated circuits.

However, there are plenty of places where there is a lack of availability. For example, one company moved into premises in September 2012 as the BT website said fibre would be available at the end of the month – they are still waiting.

Your Existing Numbers

Companies often underestimate the costs of changing phone numbers: how many people have your current brochures and business cards; are there websites and blogs you don’t control that have your current number on them; you can tell current customers and suppliers but how do you let potential customers know?

Check to see whether your new offices are on the same BT exchange. Crossing an exchange boundary can mean different telephone numbers and the loss of fibre broadband.

If you are moving to a different exchange there are ways around the potential problems, for example, moving numbers to virtual inbound – though this can be expensive and you bear the cost of incoming calls.  Alternatively you could consider installing SIP instead of, or as well as, ISDNs, which means you can take your numbers anywhere. However in some parts of the country this can be very expensive, especially if you need to provide additional data connectivity.

Move the System or Replace it?

Moving to cloud based (VOIP) solutions allow you to take a number anywhere.  However, if you have recently invested in a phone system then your accountant might not be happy to write that cost off.

Ask yourself; how old is the existing phone system?  Is there life or money left in it?  What is the cost of removal and reinstallation?

If you are thinking of going to SIP check whether your existing ‘phone system will support it. You may be able to reuse the handsets, which often account for a third of the cost.

Our Tip: If you are considering VOIP ask a Telecoms broker – Click Here!

Watch out for Serviced Office Charges

Before you decide on serviced offices check whether you have flexibility to bring in your own phone and data solution, if not at the beginning, then later on.  Also can they add your existing numbers to their system? If they give you new numbers – will you be able to take them with you when you leave? Finally, what are the detailed charges? We often see mark ups of 200%.

In conclusion, it’s essential to start planning early; all too often telecoms and data get left until last and yet they are often the factor that determines the earliest moving date. Leaving it too late means a lack of time to evaluate all the options and possibly ending up either in premises with no phones or, even worse, where the lack of broadband will have a long-term detrimental impact on the business.

Free Phone System! Really?

greed In 2011 three directors of a telecoms company in Norfolk were sent to jail for fraud.  They enticed companies and charities with the promise of free phones. Those who took up the offer then found themselves stuck in expensive, long-term contracts far out-weighing the ‘free’ phones. Like many scams they keep resurfacing – and companies are still being caught-out. The scam usually starts with the promise of a brand new phone system for less than your current outgoings.  It is supported with a proposal that purports to compare current and future costs. It implies there are savings but it is very short on detail and obscures the fact that you’re signing a lease hire agreement. The deal also involves a long term commitment to lines and calls.

Question 1: What are the actual prices for the lines and calls? Compare the prices to what you are currently paying to confirm the claims. Are those prices guaranteed or only for the first year. Do you have the right to cancel if they raise prices?

Question 2: Have they quoted for all the services you currently have? If you’re currently paying for an alarm line or lines for PDQs they often get included in the current costs but excluded from the proposed costs.

Question 3: When they present back your existing costs – check them against your actual bills. Go through your recent bills and check that they are accurately reflected in the current cost column of the comparison.

Question 4: Specifically ask if the system is being provided on a lease hire or lease purchase. If the latter what are the options at the end of the contract? Is there a cost for the transfer of title so you actually own it?  If so, is that reflected in the savings? If it is a lease hire, what happens at the end of the agreement? What happens if you need to expand the system during the lease? Will any equipment that’s added link to the same end date as the original agreement?

Question 5: Ask for a separate quote for outright purchase of the equipment. Then verify that by asking other suppliers of that solution for a purchase price – so you can compare. Ask them to break out the elements of the costs, not just give a total figure. Ask them to confirm the rate of interest being charged.

Question 6: What equipment is actually being supplied? Ask for make and models of all elements. Visit the  manufacturer’s websites and see if they are current – and the prices quoted are indicatively right.

Question 7: Ask if there are any charges that will be levied that are not identified in the proposals.

Question 8: Finally ask who is providing the finance. If it is a third party finance contract then be wary as it will make it harder if you want to challenge the contract at a later date. If the finance is provided by the supplier or the equipment manufacturer then you have a greater chance of disputes being resolved. Reputable suppliers who have a genuine offer should willing answer these questions and agree responses are part of the contract.

Once you have all the answers rework their before and after pricing. Does it still show a saving or has it swung to a point where it is costing you money. What if you have already signed one of these deals? There is still hope. If there was a false inducement to purchase – the deal could be struck down by a court. Trading Standards is another option. If you are a company of fewer than 10 people check to see if the supplier is registered with the Ombudsman scheme as they offer free binding arbitration. There are some genuinely good deals being offered but there are also far too many dodgy ones. The old adage ‘if something looks too good to be true’ holds here – if it looks too good, it’s probably dodgy.

How To Annoy Your Customers Before You Even Talk to Them

Customer satisfaction is the key to the long-term success of any business. But far too many companies annoy and frustrate their customers before they even speak to them! They do this by making it difficult and/or expensive for their customers to contact them.  

Here are some of the classic mistakes:

  1. Despite the growth of the web, text chat and email most research shows people still prefer to speak to someone if they have a question or, even more so, if they want to make a complaint.   Yet it is amazing that some companies don’t even provide a contact number on their web sites.  They may offer the ability to request a contact via a form or email.  This is usually done to avoid having to staff a help desk or contact centre.   It’s all about saving money and that says a lot about their commitment to their customers.  It also says they don’t have much foresight for their business. So make sure you have a phone number clearly available on your website.
  2. Even those that do offer a telephone number are still capable of making their callers’ life hell and, even worse, in some cases making them pay for the privilege.  Assuming you do provide a number, is it the right one for your customers?  Do they call  you regularly from their mobiles or landlines?  If so using 0800 or 0845 numbers can deter mobile callers from making the call as these numbers are expensive.  Mobile companies now give warnings as to the cost of the call.  Surveys show that almost a third of mobile callers to an 0800 number abandon it when they get that message. Most phone companies also charge more to call an 0845 number than a geographic number e.g. 020 so why have one? Is it to disguise where they are actually calling?
  3. Even worse, do you profiteer by using 0844 or 0871 numbers?  Any company using these numbers for sales or services should be avoided.  They make a profit on every call they receive – even a sales call.  There are limitations on using these numbers for consumer post sales support but in other areas these numbers still exist.   There is a useful website http://www.saynoto0870.com/ which lists many alternative numbers for companies that use 0500, 0800, 0808, 0842, 0843, 0844, 0845, 0870, 0871, 0872 and 0873 numbers.
  4. Once your customer has made the call, how easy do you make it for them to talk to someone?  Do you use options such as ‘press 1’, ‘press 2’ etc. to route calls to various departments?  If so, did you know that this will cause some customers to abandon the call?  At best they’ll get irritated at having to listen to a number of options only to end up being told to go to the web site.  It is interesting to note that First Direct, which always scores highly on customer service surveys, does not use this method. Instead it routes every call to a real person.  You can do the maths; if your announcement had three levels of choice and each level has five choices that means there are you are asking customers to effectively make 125 choices.  Four levels and it is 625 choices and five levels makes it 3,125 choices.  How much simpler to speak to someone and say “can I talk to someone about…”
  5. Equally frustrating are those companies that install systems that prompt users, before they talk to anyone, to enter their account code/customer number etc. and then, having eventually got through to someone, the first thing you are asked is “can I have your account number?”.   You have to ask who advised them on this – suppliers wanting to sell more software?
  6. Do you even know how many customers abandon their calls because of long answer times?  Many companies don’t even measure it.  As a general rule, people start to get irritated after only 10 seconds or four rings.  That could result in losing a customer forever. In fact the rise of the Internet has made people even less tolerant – if a page doesn’t load immediately it gets abandoned.   Similarly people expect the phone answered quickly.
  7. Businesses spend a lot of money playing comforting messages – stressing how important their call is to you.  If it were that important why not hire more people to ensure there are enough to answer the calls.  Customers are not fooled!
  8. Some companies have in the past resorted to moving support centres overseas – most notably certain telecoms companies and financial institutions.  However the trend is changing and they are moving back to the UK.  Customers have voted with their business; the companies that have focused on ‘how do we make servicing our customers cheaper rather than better’ are losing out.
  9. Smaller companies face a similar choice; do I use an answering service or let a call go to voicemail?  It depends. Does the answering service just take a message and pass it on or do they add value?  Can they solve or answer some queries?  If they are just passing on a call back message how does that help?
  10. Finally do you have a plan to enable your customers get in touch if you cannot get to your office or shop due to bad weather or transport problems?  Can you reroute calls to someone else without going to the office?   How can your staff carry on working?  There are plenty of solutions which are not expensive. But without planning for these eventualities you can end up with frustrated customers and lost orders.

In summary, it should be easy for customers to reach you at zero or little cost to them and without waiting forever to talk to someone. A great test is to pretend to be your own customer and call your own company – was it a good experience for you?  If not that is what your customers have to deal with everyday.   So put some thought into how you can improve the experience – if you don’t then your customers could end up calling your competitors. 

What does Your Phone Number Say about Your Business?

What does Your Phone Number Say about Your Business?
Many companies underestimate the importance of having the right phone number for their business and don’t consider what this says about their company and their brand.  Here is a simple guide to the options.

Many start-ups think they can save money by just using a mobile number on business cards and websites.   Yet research shows that 30% of people will not call a company that does not have a landline. The perception is that a landline number offers a guarantee of permanence and trust.

To get round this some people running their business from home start using the home phone line for business.  This can cause problems in determining who is calling – what might be an important business call is actually mum calling for a chat.  Equally, as most people move house regularly it can mean having to change the company phone number when you do so.

A simple way round both the situations is to have a virtual landline number, which can point at any number, you wish. It can even whisper an announcement so you know which number was actually called. Alternatively you can use a VOIP app on your mobile to make calls and present that number.

A second area of debate is whether to use 0800, 0845 , 030 or Geographic numbers to front your business.   A lot depends on where your clients are calling from and what type of phone they are using.  If they are calling from mobiles then the cost of making calls to 08 numbers can be very expensive. Also most networks warn callers of the cost, at which point a lot hang up.  08 numbers can be an advantage if you want to hide a location or want people calling from landlines to get through for free.  But note that a call to an 0845 number usually costs more than a call to a normal landline number. The rules around calls from mobiles to 0800 numbers change next year and it will be more expensive for companies using them as the cost of the call will shift from the caller to them.

It is easy to achieve a virtual presence both in the UK and overseas. The advance of technologies such as SIP mean it can look as if you have many offices around the country.  International, city and freephone numbers can be ordered over the web.

Finally, using 0844 and 0871 numbers sends a very bad message particularly when used for customer service and sales lines.   These numbers are expensive to call, especially from mobiles.  Also when people are calling to place orders it creates a bad impression if they can see that you are trying to make a few pence a minute on their call.  The law changed in 2014 preventing companies using these number for post sales support to residential suppliers.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23590778

For more information on inbound numbers go to https://www.equinox.uat.3mil.co.ukservice-solutions/tester/

Contact us on 020 8912 0845 for advice on what is the best number for your organisation.

Should You Pay for Customer Service

Yesterday EE announced that if you want to jump the inevitable queues in their customer service you can do so but it will cost you 50p http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28790807

This to me is wrong on so many levels. Firstly it says they cannot be bothered to just have enough staff to deal with the enquiries they are getting and provide a reasonable level of service to everyone.

Secondly it suggests that they have many issues with processes, billing, faults etc that they have not fixed that are generating the calls in the first place. Again rather than address the cause they will make customers pay for something that is not their fault.

Finally it is creating a two tier service between those that can pay and those that can’t. Whilst I would want to draw too many parallels with the NHS and private health care as at least in that case people have a choice in how they spend their disposal income. What EE have done is introduce something that was not in their contract at the beginning and until that contract ends they cannot move to another provider that treats all customers equally.

What would happen if everyone in the queue opted to pay the 50p then they would all stay where they are, maybe then they would introduce a super premium service

That is to say I don’t have a problem with companies that often different tier products eg the various coloured American Express cards that come with different costs and different features bit.ly/1sWJXzT

What do other people think – is paying for basic customer acceptable?