Simple Ways Touchless Tech Makes Better Connections

For years, consumers have been able to order, pay for and pickup their daily coffee, jump into a prepaid Uber and receive confirmation of their latest Amazon order all from the convenience of their mobile device. Traditionally, touchless technology has been the fast track to ultra-efficiency, enabling brands like Starbucks, Uber, and FedEx to offer instant gratification to busy customers.

In the world of COVID-19, however, worries about contracting the virus from a contaminated surface, along with increased bouts of consumer isolation, have made it necessary for businesses to adjust their transaction methods. And although it could be assumed that touchless transactions put more distance between businesses and their customers, it often has the opposite effect. In fact, post-Covid, the need for more meaningful B2B and B2C interactions are making touchless methods more popular.

Let’s (get on our gloves and) dig in a bit more by looking at some recent examples found in different sectors today.

Touch Less, Communicate More: 4 Real-World Examples

Retail

Even shopaholics now think twice before stepping into physical stores. While online shopping has been popular for a long time now, COVID-19 has transformed it into the only way some people will shop. However, brick-and-mortar stores are battling back, thanks to innovative uses of touchless technology.

Contactless payment options reduce the exchange of paper money while self-checkout kiosks allow customers to remain the sole handlers of their purchase. Some retailers are taking self-checkout a step further through the use of RFID technology and QR codes, which allow customers to check out without even entering their selections. Curbside pickup is another touchless option gaining traction, empowering customers to BOPUS—or buy online, pick up in store.

The touchless customer journey in retail doesn’t end there. Starbucks has announced a new app feature allowing customers to place voice orders via Siri. Other retail outlets are even using Augmented Reality (AR) to enable consumers to virtually try on items or see how furniture will look in their living room.

Adaptations like these are forcing retailers to change their operations. More self-checkout kiosks reduce the demand for cashiers, while BOPUS increases the need for employees to fulfill orders and deliver them efficiently to customers waiting at the curb.

truly touchless experience requires an omnichannel approach that allows customers to move from one channel to the next without interruption. An individual should be able to browse online and use the store app, with all of their actions syncing up. If that same customer calls customer service, they should be able to seamlessly move from voice to chat to text without losing the conversation thread.

At the end of the day, more contactless touch points translate into improved customer communications. Retailers can interact and engage with potential buyers in store, online, through an app, at the curb and everywhere in between. A more connected customer journey promotes brand loyalty and spending at a time when many retailers need both more than ever.

Restaurants

Many restaurants survived the pandemic by offering curbside pickup and contactless delivery. Owners pivoted quickly to make this new business model successful, innovating with new menu selections inspired by lockdown measures and travel needs. “Make your own pizza” kits are a hit among parents struggling to find an outlet for bored kids.

Now as diners venture back to their favorite restaurants they’ll find things look a bit different indoors. At many establishments, easy-to-clean screens have replaced printed menus or even real-time selections that patrons can view on their own device. Automated doors, sinks, soap dispensers, toilets and contactless payment further enhance the hands-free restaurant experience.

In addition, contactless digital options encourage patrons to interact with restaurants in new ways. Before the pandemic, customers primarily walked through physical doors. Now they communicate through an app, on the phone and online. This provides restaurant owners with opportunities to share new menu items and promotions to a larger audience, which may not have used these alternative channels before.

Airports

Aviation has suffered a severe blow from the pandemic. While air travel will never be a touchless experience, there are many ways to reduce touch points during while traveling. Avinor, which operates 44 airports in Norway, implemented an end-to-end touchless travel program across four locations. Cloud-based technology creates a contactless option for check-in, baggage drop, security and boarding.

Of course, other airports around the world are exploring similar ways to use technology to create an experience that makes travelers feel safe and secure— a necessity if the industry hopes to rebound from its recent extreme downturn. A touchless trip through the airport engenders an increased sense of trust that helps rekindle the customer relationship, which the travel industry needs for survival.

Business

Touchless technology is impacting the B2C world primarily in payment transactions and customer communications. For example, contactless digital payments are replacing traditional paper checks in many transactions. While the primary driver is health and safety, there’s another benefit to the business: digital payments are received faster and cost less to process, improving cash flow and reducing costs.

B2B companies, as well as organizations with call centers or large sales teams, have had to quickly figure out how to stay in touch with customers and clients through a largely remote workforce. Unified communications technology came to the rescue, keeping the lines of communication open from any device and any location.

A cloud-based VoIP phone solution, for example, enables employees to communicate and collaborate via voice, text and screen share, making it easy to assist customers even when working from home.

A unified communications contact center empowers businesses to communicate with customers via chat, SMS, voice, email and social media—all with a virtual workforce. Innovative communications technology is not only helping B2B businesses survive, it’s opening new lines of communications, making it easier to exchange ideas and payments.

Adaptation has always been a necessity for survival, but this year businesses had to adapt overnight to stay afloat. Touchless technology in the form of contactless payment, expanded mobile app offerings and remote contact centers is becoming the new normal for businesses across industries. All companies should consider the impact touchless tech will have on how their business is run, and we encourage you to use it as a vehicle to find new avenues of communications with your customers.

How will you use touchless to reach out and connect?

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TOP 10 Hospitality Technology Trends for 2021

Once long ago, hotels, motels and other hospitality businesses occupied a fairly simple space in people’s lives—they were a place for guests to lay their heads away from home. But anyone who’s spent time in the hospitality industry in the last several years knows that the role of technology in hospitality businesses has drastically expanded.

In many cases, they’re becoming hubs of activity unto themselves. Most of this activity relies directly or indirectly on technology, making IT more important to hotel operations and the guest experience than ever before.

So we’re here to share ten of the top communication technology trends in hospitality today. Check them out. Think about which ones make sense for your business. And if you see an opportunity, you can get out in front and begin planning accordingly. After all, in hospitality, every advantage counts.

1. Cloud Migration

It’s not as sexy as some of the other features on our list, but the hospitality industry has started making the migration to cloud technologies. From the benefits of OpEx expenses on the bottom line, to software integration options, and new innovations coming from emerging technology, cloud communications offers hotels opportunities for back office efficiency with low technology acquisition costs. It’s a no-brainer for new, small properties, but even large hotel corporations are investigating how cloud technologies might simplify operations, reduce staffing needs, and provide a better guest experience. The challenge continues to be ensuring reliability and security beyond 99.99% SLA for those who need it.

2. Service Automation Through AI

Automation continues to be a trend that is changing the way guests are served. With the advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI), hotels are looking at new ways to interact with guests digitally while freeing up hotel staff to work on other tasks. This also improves the travel experience as language differences can be eliminated, ensuring clear communication with travelers wherever they may be from.

Creating a realistic human experience has been a challenge for developers in the past, but it is evolving every day. While many people are put off by the idea of talking to software that can understand language and respond easily, the day is coming where the difference between a real human and a computer will be indistinguishable. As long as room service and clean towels arrive promptly, do we really care who takes the request?

3. Integrated Guest Applications

The vision of the connected guest entails nearly every aspect of the guest experience. Something as complex as that needs a single hub from which to operate—and guest apps for personal mobile devices are the natural place to host all of these functions. A smartly designed application combines everything from deal notifications to hotel services to loyalty programs. If you see a guest used the group rate for a conference, you could use the app to electronically send your guest the event itinerary, complete with an interactive map of meeting spaces where sessions will be held.

Most hotels have some mobile application available already, but they’re adding new features every day. Likewise, innovative developers serving the hospitality industry have are offering interesting capabilities that can be integrate into these hotel applications that grant guests increased ability to engage with hotel staff and other guests at the hotel.

Some of the major flags have already started investigating new ways to create unique, personalized experiences for their guests on their mobile devices. Ultimately, the hotel with a truly connected experience will be full of very happy, very empowered guests.

Check out our range of hospitality applications for staff and guests >

4. Going Touchless

As important as automation and self-service has become, the pandemic has illuminated the need to reconsider how guests can interact with amenities. From motion sensors that turn on lights, to voice-activated control of appliances, advancements in IoT devices and natural language processing (NLP) has given hotels and the developers who serve them, the toolkit to tie these emerging technologies with their integrated guest applications providing futuristic experiences. Even existing features like digital room keys that allow guests to unlock doors using their phones are gaining renewed interest. Reducing contact with commonly touched interfaces allows guests to stay safe and housekeeping staff to sanitize and prepare rooms faster.

All of this can also be integrated into the property’s communication system providing administration staff greater visibility to what’s going on across the hotel. As these devices work in concert to care for guests and accelerate service, new options emerge for staffing, customization, and experiential design.

5. Wireless Mobile Devices For Staff

Already popular in the hospitality space and other industries in Europe, SIP-DECT is a mobility-enabling alternative to VoWLAN and radio-based networks that’s starting to get attention in North America.

Many SIP-DECT setups bring the kind of features usually found on a fixed network to mobile workers all over your hotel or campus without tethering them down to specific locations. Since hotel service staff, like housekeeping, valet, concierge, and event staff are often on the go, SIP-DECT a natural fit for hoteliers.

With relatively low cost compared to the alternatives, ease of deployment and quality, predictable voice quality, is poised to take off in a big way.

6. Location-Based Services

Being able to understand where hotel staff and guests are located at any given time creates all kinds of opportunities to improve the guest experience—from delivering services to guests wherever they are on property to helping event staff operate more efficiently to turning over rooms more quickly and beyond. Some employee location-based features are already available using SIP-DECT technologies, but this is just the beginning. This is a category to keep an eye on.

7. Technology Lounges

Think hotel business centers to the extreme. This is place where guests can get out of their rooms but still have access Wi-Fi to relax or get work done. The use cases for technology in hospitality seem to grow every year, and savvy hospitality businesses are transforming these guest desires into stylish semi-public spaces where guests can engage tech on their terms. Many guests are even beginning to include these kinds of technologies in their online hotel search criteria, so hospitality businesses that lack them may eventually find themselves at a disadvantage.

8. Self-Service Meeting Spaces

The modern meeting space has evolved. No longer is it about tables and chairs and nice serving carts. Modern meetings run on technology. Business people need to make multimedia presentations and videoconference remote attendees—sometimes both simultaneously.

And for the marathon meetings, they’d like access to services like catering with minimal interruptions. Most of all, smart hotels know they need these spaces to be as user-friendly as possible. The A/V rooms of the past that required dedicated engineers are no longer an option.

If you think these kinds of business needs are limited to boardroom-style conference spaces, you’re missing an important part of the picture—business customers are increasingly asking for advanced technology enablement in ballrooms and event halls, as well.

9. Social Listening

Guests have a lot to say about their experiences at hotels, but they don’t always say it directly to you. And in a hospitality world where word of mouth and online reviews have more influence every day, it’s one of the reasons that more and more hotels have started investing in social listening tools. These tools allow hotels to find out about guests’ wants, needs, desires, complaints and more—and jump into the conversation if it makes sense. Some even let you keep an eye on the competition. The Internet is treasure trove of business intelligence if you know how to look.

10. Predictive Analytics

It’s been said that knowledge is power. As more technology is added to improve the guest experience, the software and devices will produce more and more data about how guests interact with staff and the amenities throughout the campus. Based on when lights or the TV turn on, staff can know the average time a guest wakes up. With the mobile app on the devices, and IoT sensors throughout the hotel, staff can know how long it takes to get from any room to the lobby. These profiles can be saved and follow guests as they go from property to property, adapting their experience to be more consistent regardless of where they stay.

The era of big data started years ago, but as more industries learn the insights that can be gathered by collecting and analyzing data, the small tweaks information can provide can be the difference between a guest thinking all hotels are largely the same, to one flag standing out, one property becoming a preferred place to stay, one that gets recommended to others.

As we proceed into the future, it is clear that the broader themes affecting the hospitality industry are communications efficiency and mass customization. From integrated cloud communications to touchless, interactive service, the potential for the hospitality industry to revolutionize the guest experience has never been as imminent as it is today. With limited travel and reduced occupancy caused by the global crisis, these advancements are timely and necessary to the long-term success of these organizations.

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A Bird in the Hand: Upgrade vs. Cloud Considerations

Strategic business thinking is all about leverage. To gain a competitive advantage in the market, successful businesses make strategic decisions about how best to capitalize on their strengths. Market success is contingent on the ability to leverage resources, assets and a workforce to create value for customers. Leveraged properly, these elements deliver a big return on investment.

The same strategic approach can be applied to communications systems. There is an almost infinite number of technology options available on the road to a fully optimized platform that can be leveraged effectively. With so many choices, it’s easy to get dragged into a continuous replacement cycle, especially if the shiny new option is the cloud. Although it may be tempting to toss out an old system for a new cloud-based solution from another vendor, you may get a bigger return for your investment dollar by continuing to leverage your existing system until a move to the cloud makes sense for you.

THINK ABOUT LEVERAGE

The maxim “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is appropriate when thinking about communications systems. The asset you already have may provide more benefits to your business than you even realize.

For that reason, upgrades and updates should be your first consideration when you are thinking about how to leverage your premises-based communications system for a competitive edge. After all, one thing you can be sure of is that communications technology continuously evolves. The technological foundation of the system you installed a few years ago has probably already gone through a few changes, so if you haven’t kept up, it’s unlikely that you’re leveraging the full potential of one of your most critical competitive assets.

Optimizing your communications system means staying current – much like you would do with your mobile phone, laptop or tablet – by installing the latest software releases and activating features and functions that are table stakes for newer communications systems like video, collaboration and mobility. It also means thinking strategically with your technology partner about how emerging technologies and creative uses of integrations can revolutionize the workflows in your organization to improve efficiency and increase productivity. A fully optimized system should provide the communication and collaboration features and functions that will enable your employees to maintain that vital connection with each other, suppliers, partners and customers at any time, from anywhere, on a variety of devices and with any application they choose.

CALCULATE THE TCO

Obviously, when weighing the pros and cons of an upgrade compared to a new system, maximizing value is a prime consideration. After all, you’ve made a significant investment in your current infrastructure, so before you rip it out and go through the trouble and expense of replacing it with a separate cloud option, you should know what you are getting into.

With most new cloud systems there will be the initial hard costs associated with replacing your existing phones and accessories which can’t be avoided. In addition to these obvious expenses, you’ll want to calculate the hidden costs that will be caused by the disruption of daily work processes while the new system is being integrated. You’ll also want to calculate the impact on efficiency and productivity that your business will experience while employees learn the new system and integrate it into their own workflows.

Looking beyond the initial bottom-line impact of a new cloud platform, you may also want to compare the total cost of ownership (TCO) for both options over an extended period. Since you’ll be working with your new system for a few years, you should know what it will cost to operate it over the long term.

For example, if you’re a Mitel MiVoice Business customer with a system configured for 100 employees, you can easily calculate what it would cost to upgrade and operate your system compared to replacing it with a cloud solution from a different vendor (see table below*).

Since you have already paid for your system, there is no additional cost for the hardware and software that runs it. You own it. However, by simply adding Mitel MiCollab to facilitate chat and collaboration or a cloud-based application like MiTeam Meetings to enable video conferencing, you can provide employees with the same features and functions you would get from switching to a new cloud vendor. Most importantly, the updates and upgrades needed to keep your system operating at peak efficiency at all times are covered by the Mitel Software Assurance plan. So, over a one-year period, the

TCO for your on-premises system would be $37,000 and over three years the TCO would be $81,000.

Applying the same model when switching to a different vendor’s cloud solution, we can see that while there may be cost advantages in some areas, they are outweighed by charges in others. And although the TCO costs over one year are comparable, over three years they are 34% higher. That’s a significant difference.

GET STRATEGIC

Now, that’s not to say that a move to the cloud should be pushed from your mind. Eventually, all businesses will end up with some form of a cloud-based solution. However, your communications system requirements should be dictated by how the system is expected to contribute to your daily business operation and your communications strategy should evolve with your business needs

If you can address all your requirements by leveraging your existing on-premises equipment, then that’s probably what you should be thinking about before you consider cloud migration. But chances are, there are incremental updates and upgrades you should be making today that will keep your system as flexible as possible, ready to capture opportunities when they arise and enable you to better support the needs of today’s workforce.

LEVERAGE MITEL

Mitel makes it easy for Mitel MiVoice Business customers to think strategically about how best to leverage their current communications system.

The Mitel Software Assurance program is structured to keep your system current and relevant. Through the program’s ongoing tune-up process, you have access to the technology updates that allow your system to deliver the advanced communication and collaboration tools your employees need to compete today and tomorrow.

Then when a move to the cloud makes sense, you’ll already well-positioned for the migration. In most cases, the transition will be virtually seamless, since you will be able to keep your existing Mitel hardware. And the disruption to your business will be minimal because the application interfaces between MiVoice Business and a Mitel cloud solution like MiCloud Flex are the same, so your employees don’t have to learn new systems.

All of which brings us back to leverage. While a rip and replace approach to cloud migration might look like a great idea at first glance, it may not be the best way to leverage your communications system for a competitive advantage. Take a deeper dive into all your options. You may be surprised to discover that the communications system you already have can provide all the strategic leverage and ROI you really need to achieve your short- and long-term business objectives.

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8 Tips for Making it Over the Holiday Hump

The second wave of COVID-19 has taken hold. In the U.S., the number of daily cases is ticking up, while England and Western Europe reimpose stricter lockdown measures in response. Americans are also recovering from an emotionally draining election, the aftermath of which is still causing stress and contention. It’s no wonder that many workers feel there’s no end in sight to these tough times.

Most of us have adapted to working from home and accept that we’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But, especially after 10 months, that doesn’t keep remote work from feeling long in the tooth. Given the current state of affairs, reports of rising employee distress are no surprise.

Usually, the holidays are a time of increased social activity with friends and family. This year, we’re faced with restrictions and guidelines that are tempering our joy. Given the rampant sense of disappointment that’s growing deeper by the day, we decided we could use a little workplace motivation to get us over the holiday hump.

So take a five-minute break from your to-do list, grab a cup of coffee and discover eight ways to reign victorious during these extended periods of isolation, during the holiday season and beyond. We even have some tips from former astronauts—true experts when it comes to being alone.

8 Tips For WFH Isolation During The Holidays

1. Take Advantage Of Employer Resources

Many employers are doing their part to provide to help employees deal with WFH burnout and social isolation. Our suggestion: use them. Counseling services can help you learn how to cope with feelings of depression or anxiety that may feel seeping in.

2. Schedule A Self-Care Day

While you may not want to take a staycation, using some personal time off gives you the opportunity to spend time on personal interests and hobbies, or to schedule quality time with family members in your household. A self-care day every once in a while can recharge your batteries and even make you more productive once you return to work. Some companies have gifted employees extra personal days to help them strike a better balance between work and personal life—a big help since working from home has blurred the line for many of us.

3. Stay Connected With Video

Former NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly relied heavily on videoconferencing to stay connected with friends and family on Earth. The rest of us can do the same, even if our feet haven’t left the ground. Videoconferencing may not be as good as a physical hug, but the ability to see our loved ones’ faces and have a real conversation can provide a genuine mental and emotional boost. Be sure to schedule regular video calls to keep the emotional connection strong.

4. Vent With Co-Workers

While we don’t often encourage complaining about your job, sometimes it’s therapeutic to commiserate about the struggles of long-term remote work. Managers can create an environment where employees openly discuss WFH challenges and how they’re tackling them. A regular videoconference discussion dedicated to the topic can provide employees with a place to vent and exchange ideas on how to stay motivated. A shared workspace where employees can post motivational pictures, mantras and tips is another great way to let employees help each other and feel less alone.

5. Make A Detailed (And We Mean Detailed) Schedule

Former Astronaut Kjell Lindgren spent 141 days in space, so he knows a thing or two about working in a remote environment with little social contact. On the International Space Station, the daily schedule was broken down into five-minute increments. While this may seem like overkill, it kept the astronauts busy and made time go by quickly. At-home employees may not need a schedule that covers every minute of the day, but a detailed breakdown of meaningful activities, both work and personal, can help them stay focused and balanced. Example items to include are daily meetings, routine tasks or maintenance, working out, breaks for meals and quality time with family.

6. Debrief

If a weekly debrief worked for the astronauts, it can certainly work for us. Reflecting on the week can be especially helpful for people working from home, along with their spouse and children attending virtual school. Tensions can run high when everyone’s in tight quarters, sharing bandwidth and trying to churn out quality work. An open forum where household members can discuss what’s working (and what’s not) provides a place for brainstorming better ways to co-exist peacefully and productively. Jocelyn Dunn, who spent eight months living inside a dome habitat with five other volunteers, said her crew used such weekly sessions as a safe place to raise frustrations. Also, these sessions become more important as employees begin entering what researchers call the “third-quarter phenomenon” in which people involved in a challenging mission begin to lose morale. COVID-19’s second wave and impending socially distanced holidays are certainly creating a drop in motivation and hope among the workforce.

7. Make Time For Frivolous Fun

As important as work is, “play” time is just as important. Working from home makes it harder to turn off the job, so we find ourselves working longer hours. The astronauts can teach us a thing or two about carving out time for fun. Faced with immense pressures and stress, they found time to binge watch their favorite TV shows—twice. Activities done for pure enjoyment and relaxation are crucial to staying positive and avoiding burnout.

8. Look For A “Higher Purpose”

Let’s face it: it’s pretty simple for astronauts to focus on a higher purpose when they’re feeling lonely or frustrated. However, we all have an important role to play. As NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson so eloquently said, “COVID-19 gives us a higher purpose much like being in space does because we are saving lives by quarantining. It is important to understand that bigger purpose and to embrace that purpose to give you reason and rationale for continuing to put up with the situation.”

Times may seem desperate, and you may feel as though you’re destined to work in isolation forever. But this will pass. The team at Mitel is proud to provide communications technology that can help employees strike the right balance between work and personal life and keep communication open before, during and after the workday. We encourage everyone to use the resources they have available to stay motivated, and to reach out for support. Together, we’ll get over this holiday hump!

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Seize the Day: How to Lead Through Great Change

We’re living in tumultuous times. Every day, numbers bombard us—about the pandemic, the economy, politics. On both an individual and organizational level, we’re forced to continually respond and adapt to major changes that impact every aspect of our lives.

But remember: this is isn’t the first time we’ve lived with uncertainty. And throughout the years, leaders from Winston Churchill to Warren Buffett have managed to chart a course through rough waters. Like them, today’s leaders must motivate and inspire their people through challenging times.

Living With VUCA

During the 1980s, the collapse of the Soviet Union created a period of great uncertainty and ambiguity. The Cold War was over. But what would follow? In 1987, the U.S. Army War College coined the acronym VUCA, standing for “Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.” VUCA both described the geopolitical climate and provided a framework for managing the new environment.

The pandemic has all the elements of VUCA. For instance, there’s a volatile economic environment impacted by rising COVID-19 cases. Uncertainty about when a vaccine will be widely distributed. A complex interplay of public health, economic and political issues. And, a lot of ambiguity because we have no clear, tried and true path to follow.

Leading During VUCA Times

While there may not be a textbook solution to leading during such times, years of research and experience point to the key behaviors of successful leaders. With those in mind, here’s a new interpretation of VUCA, one that can help leaders succeed in this uncertain world.

Vision

When things ahead are steeped in uncertainty, people need clarity and guidance. Great leaders of the past have developed strong followings because they were able to communicate a vision for a future that no one had demonstrated before. American scholar and pioneer of leadership studies Warren G. Bennis said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Good leaders shine a spotlight on opportunity, possibility and a better future. It’s that vision, that new articulation of core purpose, which gives people something to strive towards.

Understanding

Uncertainty presents the opportunity to step back and gain greater understanding. U.S. President John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Good leaders ask a lot of questions. What does the new landscape look like? How has the market changed? When faced with risk, it’s time to reexamine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. What do stakeholders want from the organization, be they customers, investors, employees, business partners or the community at large?

Asking these questions will help you meet everyone’s needs as well as inform your short-term and long-term decisions. For example, people working from home need robust communications tools to connect to customers, colleagues and business partners. When the pandemic began, perhaps your organization jumped on upgrading its systems (short-term decision). But are those solutions strong enough to meet your needs going forward (long-term decision)? Understanding what your stakeholders want in the new environment is the beginning of meeting their long-term needs.

Connection

Communication becomes critical during times of upheaval. Because conditions change so quickly, leaders must pass on information as soon as they can. While this may sometimes feel like overcommunication, it’s important to strike the right balance for your organization and your stakeholders. As former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.”

Communicate your vision and core values. Show empathy for others. Be visible and available. Use telecommunications tools to hold town hall meetings or daily check-ins with staff. Bring vendors and business partners into the loop, explaining how new strategies will impact them and getting their buy-in. Be proactive. Reach out to stakeholders before they come to you. It inspires confidence and assures them you have their concerns in mind.

Adaptability

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew a thing or two about acting in a VUCA world, having led during the Great Depression and World War II. “Take a method and try it,” he said. “If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But, by all means, try something.” At the core of FDR’s thinking was the need to adapt and act. It’s about being resilient, or able to respond thoughtfully to change.

However, adaptability is needed throughout the organization, not just in decisions made at the top. Not only do teams need to be nimble, they need a clear mandate, driven by the organization’s vision and core purpose.

A good example of adaptability and effective communications is occurring in hospitals all over the world today. Administrators, doctors, nurses and other stakeholders meet daily, sometimes several times, to triage. Who needs more PPEs? What patients must be moved? What equipment is needed and where?

A reliable and flexible communications system enables them to share files easily, use visuals in their discussions and make decisions in real time. Presence technology allows people to easily locate colleagues, whether they’re on-site or on-call. With web-based communications, staff can connect on any device – phone, laptop, tablet – from any location. All they need is an Internet connection.

To make good decisions quickly in times of rapid change, leaders also need to work closely with external stakeholders like vendors, suppliers and community leaders. For example, a business may decide to shift part of its supply chain to using local suppliers, which results in faster deliveries to customers while simultaneously supporting local employment.

We’ve Been Here Before

“You know, people talk about this being an uncertain time,” said Warren Buffett. “[But] all time is uncertain. I mean, it was uncertain back in 2007, we just didn’t know it was uncertain. It was uncertain on September 10th, 2001. It was uncertain on October 18th, 1987, you just didn’t know it. We always live in an uncertain world.

This isn’t the first time our world has been rocked by crisis. It may feel different because it’s our present, not someone else’s past. But today we have the communications tools to manage volatility more effectively. Imagine what working from home would look like without web-based communications.

As the “new normal” changes almost every day, leaders can rely on the basics: a strong, clear vision; understanding changes in the market and with your stakeholders; connecting and communicating quickly and with purpose; and adapting and acting.

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Holiday Specials: How to Create a Superior Online Shopping Experience

For retailers, online sales have become a major portion of holiday revenue. And not surprisingly, industry experts predict that proportion will grow as more people shop online because of the pandemic. In a recent Accenture survey of 1,500 American consumers, three-quarters said they plan to “do at least some of their holiday shopping online this year.” That’s a jump of 10 points from 2019. A significant number, 43%, plan to do all their holiday shopping online.

This isn’t only about being uncomfortable with the physical proximity to other customers. People are concerned about the safety of front-line workers, as well. Accenture said that 61% of consumers plan to limit in-person shopping in order to reduce the risk to retail employees. They’ll also start shopping earlier out of fear that products won’t be available or shipped in time to reach the space under the tree.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses have ramped up their e-commerce capabilities. But as the holiday season approaches, there’ll be even greater pressure to provide excellent customer experience. The competition in retail is fierce, and businesses that want to succeed, and not just survive, need to make sure consumers get what they want.

The Elements Of A Positive Online Shopping Experience

A lot goes into providing a superior online retail experience, from the technical back end to the front-line contact center. Use this list to rate how your organization is performing and determine what you can do to improve.

Appealing And Mobile-Friendly Website

In the brick-and-mortar world, windows entice shoppers into the store. Online, your home page is the “window”. Ask yourself: Is it visually exciting? Does it encourage shoppers to explore the site? Is it easy to navigate, and does it load quickly? If you haven’t already, invest in a strong e-commerce platform

The site must also be mobile-friendly. Many retailers go a step further and offer apps to make shopping via mobile devices even simpler. Whatever you do, the experience must be smoothly integrated across all digital channels so that when switching devices, customers find their information is in place and they don’t need to start over.

Responsive Communications 24/7

Today’s consumer won’t tolerate slow service. Shoppers want answers quickly—in minutes, not hours and certainly not days. They’ve come to expect 24/7 service, where someone, somewhere in the world, is available to resolve any issues they encounter. And while they expect and use self-service options, consumers’ patience runs thin if they can’t find the answers they need quickly. When that happens, they expect a live person to step in and help.

All this is a pretty tall order, which not every company can fill. Online retailers must pay attention to every consumer touch point and develop ways to communicate on every channel. Tools like chatbots, live chat, email and, of course, phones can help.

For example, customer service reps can help several customers at once by using online chat to answer queries about shipping, product information and technical issues. Chatbots, driven by artificial intelligence, can provide answers to common questions without the need for human intervention. A shared inbox enables customer service teams to field issues more quickly. Monitoring social media also helps head off consumer complaints.

Communications must encompass everything that happens after checkout. Automated emails keep customers updated on order status and package tracking. Contacting the customer after delivery is also impactful.

Personalized Service

Consumers expect service reps to know everything about their communications with the company, as well as key personal information and history. Successful online retailers use CRM tools to capture all customer data, across all channels, to create a seamless experience. By using the cloud and integrating with other internal systems—like supply chain and logistics platforms—service professionals can have all the information needed to meet customer demand at their fingertips.

Easy, Safe Online Check Out

According to Nielsen’s recent COVID-19 Shopper survey, 60% of households expect their routines to remain altered for at least the next four months. The desire to limit exposure to the virus will continue to shape their shopping behavior. Thus, enhancing the online shopping experience becomes even more vital, particularly as a tool for attracting and retaining customers. That can mean offering a variety of elements, from the ability to save items in the cart to offering a range of payment and shipping choices. Shops that aren’t properly set up for online transactions tend to lose nervous customers.

Multiple Delivery Options

Along with increasing their demands on customer support, consumers have come to expect flexibility when it comes to shipping and delivery. Due to the pandemic, 22% more Americans use delivery services today, according to McKinsey. That’s why the cafe chain Panera moved quickly to create a grocery-delivery service after lockdown, something that wasn’t previously part of its core business. Today, customers can order entrees from Panera’s regular menu, then add groceries to their cart as well.

Customer Reviews

An essential part of today’s online shopping experience is the ability to read credible product reviews. That means not just publishing your customers’ thoughts about their purchases, but responding to any concerns they might have in the review section. Businesses that demonstrate that they’re listening to, and doing something about, complaints develop greater respect from both current and potential customers. Encourage shoppers to leave both visual and text reviews endorsing your products on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Remote Teams

The pandemic has moved more employees into a virtual work environment, which can actually improve customer service. For instance, staff in different time zones can process orders and even ship locally when they have product in stock. Call centers don’t need a physical location when reps can connect to the network from home. With the right telecommunications tools, businesses can be more responsive and nimble.

The pandemic has simply hastened the change from brick-and-mortar to online retail. That’s put great pressure on businesses, but also presented great opportunities. Retailers can expand their consumer base from local to national or even international. Just-in-time inventory can reduce costs. And it’s an opportunity to deepen relationships with your customers. All with the right tools to create a superior online shopping experience.

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4 Steps to Cloud Migration

It’s difficult to discuss business communications systems these days without discussing cloud-based options. No matter where the conversation starts, eventually, it leads to the cloud. Someone will tell you that the answer to all your business communications requirements is a cloud-based solution. “You should be in the cloud,” they’ll say. At which point you will ask yourself whether or not you should be.

And the answer? Well, maybe. Maybe not. Or, more to the point, maybe not yet.

The reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. All businesses evolve at their own pace. They go through different stages and require different types of communications capabilities at each stage. Although it’s true that, eventually, every business will migrate to a cloud-based communications system, timing should be determined by business need. Until that time, there are capabilities you can add to your on-site system that will address a majority of your communications requirements while preparing you for a migration to the cloud when you are ready.

GETTING CLOUD READY

Your communications system requirements should be dictated by how your system is expected to contribute to your daily business operation. If you can address all your requirements with updates and upgrades to your existing on-premises equipment, then that’s probably what you should be thinking about before you consider cloud migration. The key is to know where you are and where you want to be in the short and long term. And that really comes down to having a communications strategy that will support your business strategy and take you from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible.

A planned and methodical approach to your communications system evolution is important because the technology behind the system you purchased a few years ago has evolved. New features and capabilities have probably been added that can improve efficiency and increase productivity. Staying current with the latest updates and upgrades will provide your business with the flexibility it needs to capitalize on new market opportunities as they arise.

This means activating capabilities that are table stakes for the way your employees work today, such as video, collaboration and customer experience tools that make mobile and remote working more efficient. It also means thinking strategically with your technology partner about how emerging technologies and creative uses of integrations can revolutionize the workflows in your organization and enhance the efficiency and speed of your employees’ work.

MOVING THROUGH THE HIERARCHY OF TELECOM NEEDS

Think of this approach as a progression through a technological hierarchy that is similar to Maslow’s theory of how human needs evolve. Maslow theorized that humans progress through a five-step process that takes them from physiological needs to self-actualization based on when they feel they have sufficiently addressed the previous need.

Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Mitel suggests that getting cloud ready is a journey. By taking incremental, low-cost steps to enhance and optimize existing communication systems, organizations can fortify their short- and long-term communication strategy. They can elevate their capabilities by moving up the hierarchy pyramid strategically until they eventually actualize communications in the cloud.

At the beginning of their journey, organizations start with voice service anchored around a phone system that provides table stakes voice communications features and functions, such as dial tone and call handling capabilities. Since today’s phone systems are built on software, forward-thinking organizations will add a software assurance program that provides ongoing access to software concurrency updates, standards compliance updates, security fixes, online training and proactive performance monitoring.

As the business evolves and more efficient interactions between employees and partners become more important, collaboration features can be added that simplify the way employees talk, meet and share information by bringing together communications and collaboration tools into a single solution. This makes it easier for employees to connect, communicate and collaborate, from anyplace and at any time. Video capabilities can be integrated, if required, to enhance team communication with seamless transitions between voice, video and chat capabilities and enable a true, real-time collaboration experience when it is needed.

Eventually, customer service interactions will have to be optimized to enhance that vital connection with current customers and to attract new customers. At this point, existing systems can be improved with contact center enhancements that offer customers the flexibility to engage with the business with their preferred media and from any device. This requires omnichannel capabilities that enable customers and employees to move between phone, email, SMS, web chat and social media communications tools as needed to create a personalized customer experience.

Finally, when all the pieces are in place and the business has evolved to the point that it needs more flexibility and scalability from its communication system, migration to a purpose-built cloud solution makes sense. The right solution will provide unified and scalable communications to anyone, anywhere and on any device. It will take communications capabilities to the next level by enabling more mobility, rich enterprise and team collaboration and exceptional customer experiences, without the cost and complexity of scaling traditional, premises-based communications systems to meet evolving business needs.

SKIPPING ALL THE STEPS

Of course, not every business has to follow this step-by-step approach in exactly the same way. Market realities, sales and customer growth all have an impact on how a business evolves. That evolution will determine what the business needs from its communications system at every stage. And those needs will dictate how and when the business will move to the next level in the hierarchy.

As with Maslow’s theory, businesses can progress to the next stage in the hierarchy even if they have not fully capitalized on the technology available to them in their current stage. So, it wouldn’t be unusual for a business to leapfrog to the cloud from any one of the lower stages, if its business reality required an immediate shift to a cloud-based communications solution.

FACING REALITY

The key point, however, is that there’s no sense moving to the cloud just because it’s what everyone else is doing. Take a hard look at your current communications system and make that connection between what it is providing and what your employees need to determine where you should be in the hierarchy of telecom needs.

If you’re a Mitel MiVoice customer, there may be updates and upgrades that you can apply to get current with the latest technologies. Or there may be ways to optimize your current system by investing in your infrastructure to do more with what you already have. We offer collaboration and customer experience solutions that integrate seamlessly with the technology you already rely on, such as our MiCollab collaboration solution, our MiTeam Meetings multi-party video solution and MiContact Center Business for personal, omnichannel customer experiences.

When you are ready to make the move, Mitel can help you choose the right cloud technology options to make the most of your migration strategy. And we can help you integrate your existing solutions in innovative ways, unlocking all the capabilities cloud communications has to offer.

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In Healthcare Fewer Devices Means Better Collaboration

Even before healthcare professionals began grappling with the COVID-19 virus, hospital systems had started to evaluate how best to modernize their communications. In the UK, for instance, the government’s Health Secretary set a goal of eliminating all pagers used by the National Health Service (NHS) by 2021.

With all the challenges healthcare workers face today, communicating with colleagues and patients shouldn’t be one of them. Yet, hospital staff still rely on outdated equipment that doesn’t meet the unique challenges of today’s healthcare environment. With strict privacy laws in place, doctors who need to share patient information must also have tools that ensure data is kept private. Medical teams need the ability to send group messages to expedite care.

However, the reality is that many medical staff walk around with multiple devices. For instance, staff physicians could be carrying two mobile phones—one for work and one for personal use. They’re also likely to tote multiple pagers so that colleagues in different units and offices can quickly contact them.

A unified communications solution can reduce the need for healthcare professionals to carry multiple devices. Steven Lawrence, Mitel’s Head of Healthcare in the UK, shared a few of the ways that cloud communications enables medical teams to collaborate faster and with greater efficiency in a secure environment.

One Device, Multiple Channels, Easy Collaboration

A distinct advantage of a secure, cloud communications system is that collaboration via multiple channels is possible from a single device. Whether healthcare professionals are sitting at a desktop, working on a laptop or tablet, or checking their mobile, they have access to a secure, personal dashboard via the web.

Within this environment, they’re able to discuss cases securely with staff or patients using voice, email, chat, SMS and video conferencing. They can share files with colleagues and access patient records. Information once stored in separate areas of the organization is now accessible from one central location.

Communication is much more streamlined with capabilities such as presence. MiCollab, Mitel’s collaboration software platform, for example, allows medical staff to see at a glance which colleagues are available at the moment and contact them using multiple methods.

Further, physicians and staff can create hunt and ring groups to ensure no call goes unanswered and colleagues can reach each other easily. For example, in a ring group, all phone numbers, extensions or physical telephones ring simultaneously when a call comes in. Any medical staff member who is part of that ring group can answer, making this an efficient way to reach specific areas or locations. By contrast, hunt groups route incoming calls to a group of users until someone answers. This feature is especially useful for on-call physicians, who are able to change their status directly from their personal dashboard.

How does it work? Let’s say a doctor who has been gone for the day returns. On her personal dashboard, she switches her status from “Absent” to “Present”. Her mobile then becomes her primary calling device. The doctor also retains her unique phone number that enables external callers to contact her directly.

Single Point Of Access Means Better Collaboration

There’s another benefit to a single point of access for communications: Less to carry. “You can access multiple ring groups and hunt groups from one device, which replaces all of your devices and pagers,” said Lawrence.

Healthcare organizations are under incredible pressure to serve patients during this pandemic. MiCollab helps healthcare professionals easily, efficiently and quickly communicate with each other.

“We often think that the technology we provide has no bearing on the outcomes of staff and patients, but it does,” said Lawrence. One hospital once told him”using Mitel’s softphone has saved lives.”

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Top Cybersecurity Threats When Working From Home

As the adjustment to working from home continues for many, it is important to keep in mind the potential security pitfalls that come along with that. Your home WiFi network can open you and your company up to specific types of cybersecurity threats. Here are the types of threats to be on the lookout for, and how you can help prevent them as a member of the mobile workforce.

Risk Of Malware Infection

You’ve likely been using your personal computer at home for a long time and had security software pre-installed on it from the time of purchase. However, when you bring your work computer home for a remote work setup, it is even more important to protect it from malware. This will help protect sensitive organizational documents, passwords and processes.

When you are using your work computer at home, you are more likely to use it for personal use in down time and on the weekends. This kind of activity invites more occasions for malware to be installed onto the computer without your knowledge. This can happen when you download a file or click a link from a suspicious site (that may be a clone of a site you are familiar with) or opening emails from unknown persons.

Once you have downloaded this malware onto your computer, scammers now have access to any of the information you have on your computer. This includes passwords, phone numbers, bank account information and sensitive documents. They can then use this information to make nefarious purchases, or to sell to a third party for illegal use down the line.

Using Your Personal Computer For Work

Your employer likely spends a great deal of money on security software for every company issued laptop, as well as in collaboration and organizational tools that have built in security as part of the cost. When you start using your personal computer for work activities, you lose all of that protection that the company has provided.

If you must use your personal computer while you work from home, be sure you use a VPN (virtual private network) that is provided by your employer. VPNs have built-in safeguards that can better protect your data. Also be sure you are using the same approved tools that your organization has provided for day-to-day tasks.

Weak WiFi Security

Your home WiFi connection may be strong, but is it safe? Once someone has access to your network, they also potentially have access to every device connected to that network. You need to ensure that you make it as difficult as possible for someone to access your WiFi outside of your home. You can do this by ensuring that your password is long and complicated, implementing a firewall, enabling network encryption, disabling remote access and keeping any firmware associated with your router up to date.

How To Know If Your Computer Has Been Compromised

Unfortunately, even with strict guidelines in place, some users will still unwittingly be hit with malware or some kind of malicious cyber scam. Here are a few signs that your computer has been compromised and requires action from you:

  • Your computer begins running slowly.
  • Sudden crashes to your system.
  • New pop-ups even when they haven’t been enabled.
  • Unusual messages in your inbox (always check that the return email matches the name of the person who sent it to you)
  • Being locked out of certain files and programs unexpectedly.

If you are experiencing any of these signs when working from home, contact your company’s IT department immediately for next steps. Do not continue working until the threat has been mitigated, as you could unwittingly compromise more people within your company and/or their sensitive documents and login information.

Other Ways To Protect Yourself With Working Remotely

Aside from items we have already discussed, there are many ways that you can help mitigate cybersecurity threats while you work from home.

  • You can use two-factor authentication for logins. This takes longer, but is an added layer of security.
  • Make sure all of your software is up-to-date and you’re using a secure, updated browser. If you need to share passwords or sensitive files, do so on a secure platform such as DropBox rather than through email.
  • Stay logged into your VPN when doing anything work-related. It’s smart to use the protections that your company has put in place for you in case of accidental loss.

No one wants to be the victim of a cybersecurity breach when working from home. Make sure you are vigilant, keep all of your work on your work computer and know the signs of a breach. These things will help ensure your remote work remains secure!

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Why Employees are Avoiding Your Collaboration Tool

It may be hard to believe, but at one point in the evolution of business communications, email was a novelty. Even though it’s an integral part of everyone’s day now, it once started out as the new kid on the block in the business communications toolbox. Voice was the go-to option for business interactions. So, while some people adopted email immediately, it took others a little longer to embrace it. Gradually, more people saw the value of email and it is now the default communications tool for most business interactions.

Collaboration tools are going through a similar adoption process. For a long time, businesses opted not to invest. Later, they chose a free, off-the-shelf option that came bundled with other software. Now that collaboration tools are essential for distributed workforces, many businesses are trying to do more by adding robust collaboration tools to their systems.

But adding collaboration tools to work processes is not the same as adding email was way back when. For many employees, these tools will continue to be a novelty until they become a necessity. To do more with your communications system and fortify your communications strategy, collaboration should be an intentional investment and an integral part of daily workflows.

VOICE AND EMAIL ARE COMFORT TOOLS

Regardless of which industry you’re in, phone and email will always be the natural first choice for business communication. Whether your employees are communicating with colleagues, suppliers, partners or customers, they will continue to consider their phone and email as the go-to options for communication. As a result, these tools are table stakes for any organization looking to succeed in a competitive market. Employees expect to have them.

For organizations looking to enhance their communications strategy to increase productivity, these tools are still important.

As a synchronous communications tool, voice is ideal when face-to-face meetings are not possible, but clarity is needed and some degree of cooperation, collaboration or discussion are key to reaching a decision in a timely manner. As an asynchronous communication tool, email is indispensable for the one-way distribution of report style communication, documentation or other forms of information that cannot be shared with other communication tools.

Beyond these situations, however, the strategic value of voice and email is limited. Organizations need other tools to ensure their employees are efficient and effective in their daily business interactions. That’s where instant messaging (IM), short message service (SMS), multimedia message service (MMS) and video come into play. Integrated into the mix, these tools can significantly improve communications processes and enhance efficiency. Employees will use them when the need them, but voice and email will continue to be the default options. So, true collaboration is still not possible.

JUST BECAUSE YOU BUILD IT, DOESN’T MEAN THEY’LL USE IT

To truly increase productivity among a group of two or more people, employees need a team collaboration tool that incorporates multiple forms of communication, like IM, voice and video, into one integrated package that also enables file and task sharing. But even though you and your employees may acknowledge the need for a collaboration tool, simply having it is not enough. Collaboration will stay a novelty until it becomes a necessity.

Why? Because comfort and habit are difficult to overcome.

As we experienced with the introduction of email, just because a tool is available doesn’t mean employees will use it. Chances are some employees will opt for it, but many won’t. From their perspective, they’ve gone all this time without it, so why would they start using it now?

Likewise, although training employees on how to use a new collaboration tool is important, the training itself will not guarantee widespread adoption. Employees might use it for a while, but once things get stressful, they’ll revert back to the tried and true methods of communication that they are comfortable with.

And although you could establish a company policy that insists employees use a collaboration tool, this would probably cause a backlash. Employees might use it begrudgingly at first, but they will find a way to avoid being forced down a path they are not comfortable with. Eventually, they will probably choose to use their personal mobile devices and cellular plans to thwart IT policy, or they will simply revert to using email and voice.

A COLLABORATION CULTURE IS DEVELOPED, NOT FORCED

Making collaboration essential requires more of an investment in changing corporate culture and daily workflows to incorporate the tool into regular workday activities.

Start by building a solid foundation for the change. Hold focus groups to let employees contribute to the change process. Give employees the opportunity to talk about what they like and don’t like about the existing or proposed collaboration tool. Share lessons learned about communication processes across the organization and commit to improvements that everyone can agree will make workflows more efficient and effective.

Use the feedback from focus groups to create a nexus strategy that leverages what you already have and integrates collaboration tools fully with your phone system, your contact center, your workforce tools and your back office tools. Plan the integration carefully to ensure it enables all your employees to work the way they want to work from anywhere, at any time and on any device. And since new tools require new workflows, design workflows to complement a collaboration mindset.

Most importantly, lead by example. Be an evangelist for the tool by using it for everything whenever you can to show the value of the change you are implementing. Track employee usage across the organization and use the data to inform your decisions about adjustments, enhancements or changes you have to make to increase adoption rates and ensure the success of the integration process.

EVOLUTION NOT REVOLUTION

Integrating collaboration tools into your daily operation as part of a well-crafted communications strategy makes good business sense. With the right tools, your employees can be more efficient and effective in all their business interactions. And the productivity gains can make a positive impact on your bottom line. But to ensure those tools are adopted, the process should be an evolution rather than a revolution.

If you’re a Mitel MiVoice Business customer and your systems are current with the latest updates and upgrades, that evolution can be seamless. You can do more with the system you have by adding full featured collaboration tools your employees can use today.

MiCollab simplifies the way employees talk, meet and share information by bringing together communications and collaboration tools into a single solution that makes it easier for them to connect, communicate and collaborate, from anyplace at any time. And MiTeam Meetings offers a true collaboration experience. It’s a multi-party video solution designed for those who want to work more efficiently and enhance workplace communication with seamless transitions between voice, video and chat capabilities.

So, start thinking strategically about your communications system by looking beyond voice and email. Your employees and your business will be glad you did.

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