Instant Communications – Good or Bad?

One of the biggest changes of technology over the past 25 years is now we have instant communications. 30 years ago instant communications was through the telephone. It may not have mattered where one was, a phone could easily be found. Payphones were everywhere.

If you needed to ask a question of your supervisor, you dropped a dime or a quarter or two into a payphone and called the office, hoping they would be at their desk. If they weren’t, you made the decision yourself and moved along. If you were good you already knew the answer even before asking the question.

As time passed communications got easier and for the roaming employee more like a leash. First there were the one way pager. You received a message to call a telephone number and off you went to find a phone to return the call.

For a short period of time, the same time as mobile communications, the car phone, was developing there were 2 way pagers. You could receive a message, in 2 way paging it was usually a text question and you could returned an answer with one of the pre-programmed messages. 2 way pagers were much cheaper and more reliable than a mobile cell phone.

Mobile phones first were in the car and then in a portable device that resembled a brick. And as we progress in technology, instant communications became easier.

But it seems to me that at times as communications became more instant, people became less able to decide something without having another opinion. It developed not only in the work arena but also at home. Many times I have heard a husband or a wife call the other partner while in a grocery store asking whether a substitution was acceptable.

Decisions are made as a team or by the supervisor. Original thinking by a lower level employee was no longer commendable, but became insubordination even in middle and lower upper management.

One would think that with instant communications issues can be resolved quicker and with a better outcome. However, at times I wonder if with instant communications it takes longer and the decision may not be the correct one. The farther the decision maker is from the situation, the less that person considers the personal customer service aspect of the decision.

So I will ask.

Is Instant Communications Good or Bad?

What is your opinion?

Chapel Hill Takes Lead in Banning Cell Phone Use When Driving

Recently the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina voted to ban all use of cell phones while driving. This includes any task–texting, talking on a hand-held device and hands-free.

The ban goes into effect on June 1, 2012 and is the first complete cell phone ban in the United States.

This follows the recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for national ban on all cell phone use, due to the distraction from the conversation itself.

Talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in 9 states and text messaging is banned for all drivers in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

See www.iihs.org/laws/cellphonelaws.aspx for details of the laws in each state.

Telephones and Customer Service

Sometimes what may look like a nice technology advancement may in reality be a Customer Service nightmare. Whenever we use technology in business we need to relate it back to how we do business and our principles.

Auto Attendant
Many businesses use these. They are without an doubt a cost saver. A business doesn’t have to have a call taking receptionist. Just let the automatic voice answer the telephone and with a short menu of command they are directed to where they need to go.

However many businesses have Auto Attendants that are useless or just confusing to the caller. After listening to the commands was that 1 for John at Sales? Or maybe it was 2. Or I was looking to reach Jane and she’s not mentioned. That’s because she has replaced John, but the Auto Attendant was not updated.

Or after the list of items were given, but none of the options seem to be the one the caller wants.

And then sometimes the problem gets worst when each and every item takes the caller to another menu or a Voice Mail Box.

Voice Mail
It has become an all to common practice for some people to always have Voice Mail answer their calls. Or to give their caller no idea on when they may be receiving the Voice Mail and having their call returned. I’m sure many of us have placed a call to a person, left a message, or two or a dozen only to discover two weeks later that they had just started their two weeks vacation.

Some of these problems can be resolved simply by using common sense. Answer the telephone with a real person who can make a quick decision on the right place to direct the caller. If an Auto Attendant is necessary, check its options and correctness. Always check after any type of office change.

Change the Voice Mail greeting as often as needed. For some people that may only be a few times during the year. An office worker who is at the desk just about every day and the call only rarely goes to Voice Mail and when it does the call is returned within the hours, may only need to change it when they are on leave.

Others may need to change it a few times during the day.

Then again the business can, and really should have a Telephone Usage Policy that is in place and followed by all.

Can I use my cell phone in my car?

Cell phones are a valuable way of conducting business, but at the same time they have raised a lot of issues involving safety. Nine states have passed laws prohibiting talking on a cell phone while driving without using a hands free device (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia.

I reside in Maryland where talking on a hand held cell phone is a secondary offense. This mean you can’t be stopped by law enforcement unless they observe another offense. Perhaps this is the reason why I still see many people talking on their phones. But then again I drive in Delaware, where it’s a primary offense, and I see many people there still talking too. I suppose part of it is that it has become ingrained into the life of many people.

Then again whether it’s legal or not, doesn’t it really depends on you on whether you use the phone while driving or not?

Do you feel comfortable driving while talking?

If it diverts your attention from driving, the best action would be to pull to the side of the road and bring your conversation to an end before continuing your travels. This also may be best if you are traveling in areas where cellphone coverage may not be at it’s best.

Then again there may be liability issues. If an employee has an auto accident and harms someone while making a work-related cell phone call, the employer as well as the employee may be found liable. Lawsuits have been filed around the nation and companies have settled before going to court.

Then there’s texting.

Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

My suggestion and recommendation is that it is never a good idea to be texting or text messaging while driving. This is especially true to sending text messages, but also includes reading an incoming text. While you are reading the text your attention is being diverted from the main focus of driving and as we have seen in insurance companies ads lately, they come unexpectedly.

If you are one that feels as if it’s Ok to use cell phone while in their car the following safety guidelines may help:
• Use a hands-free phone.
• Never have stressful conversations while driving.
• Keep your eyes on the road while on the phone.
• Get to know your phone and its features, such as speed dial and redial.
• Always dial while the car isn’t moving.
• Use speed dialing as much as possible.
• Never use the phone in heavy traffic or bad weather.
• Never look up phone numbers while driving.
• Do not take notes while driving.

Five Technology Habits to have!

1) Backup your data files and store the back up at a separate location. Multiple backups at multiple locations should be considered.

2) Use virus detection software and keep the software up to date.

3) Scan computer for hidden spyware and adware. These can and will cripple computer performance.

4) Secure the data that has been placed on removal devices.

5) Remove/Erase information from systems before disposing, especially on portable devices such as cell phones, PDAs and memory cards.

Bad Technology Habits

Talking on the cell phone at inappropriate places
It seems that sometimes when people talking they forget where they are. Or they get so engrossed in the conversation that they don’t realize who may be near. Not only does the guy next to you in the grocery line, or sitting in front of you in a theater don’t want to hear your end of the conversation, you may not want them to hear it either.

Interrupting a conversation to answer you cellphone.
If you are talking with a client, is the caller more important than the client? Probably not. Not only is it rude, it is insulting. I don’t think that I would want to do business with someone who isn’t giving me their full attention.

Don’t use unusual ringtones
A ringing phone at the wrong time is embarrassing, but one in a business meeting that plays your favorite rock song may be worst. Also before going into a meeting set the phone on vibrate or better turn the ringer off or even the phone. See above tip.

Hiding behind Voice mail
Many people seem to hide behind voice mail. They wait for the a question to be asked in the message and then call back with the answer. Too quick on a call back makes it obvious that you hid behind the call, and too late may have lost you business. In reality this wastes everyone’s time.

Calling back a number on CallerID when a message wasn’t left in voice mail
It could have been a incorrect dialed number or the caller needed the answer at that point in time and your return call is now unwanted. It’s even possible through another means that you may have already talked with that person that called.

Constantly checking email
More time is wasted when you stop what you are doing to check your email when you hear the notification that a new message has been received and then to find that it’s an unimportant message or worst a piece of Spam. It’s better to check them in batches than when each mail is delivered. Turn off notification and build into your schedule email time. You will be more productive.

Common Telephony Terms

Telecommunications is full of acronyms. If you don’t know what they mean not only will you be lost, you may end up making a decision based on a misunderstanding. Some acronyms just knowing what letters means explain the meaning others may need some additional explanation.

Here are some common ones as they relate to your telephone system and telephone carrier.

MLTS – Multi-line Telephone systems.
This is any type of telephone system where a user has access to more than one line or one line may have many different users. These would be PBX’s, Key Systems and services provided by carriers that mimic these type of systems. It’s estimated that as many as half of the population is living, working or studying in locations that use a Multi-line system, since most banks, schools, business and libraries have this type of telephone system.

LEC – Local Exchange Carrier
This is the company that supplies service to your local location. On top of this there are CLEC and the lesser used ILEC. CLEC is Competitive Local Exchange carrier. Most locations in the US have their local service by one of the original Bell Operating companies. These companies are also call RBOC or Regional Bell Operation Company. These are also known as ILEC or Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier. The RBOC that served your area when the divestiture of ATT in the 1980’s is your ILEC. Any company that supplies service but is not the ILEC is considered a CLEC. They compete with the Incumbent.

IXC – IntereXchange Carrier
This is your toll-calling (long distance) provider.

LATA – Local Access and Transport Area
Part of the ATT divestiture created these area. It refers to a geographic region assigned to one or more telephone companies for providing communication services. Under the terms the Bell Operating Companies are generally not allowed to provide services that originate in one LATA and terminate in another.

The following terms may not be used as often any more as they once were. They were the basis of pricing on Long Distance costs.

IntraLATA
Refer to calls that originate and terminate in the same LATA.

InterLATA
Refer to calls that originate in one LATA and terminate in another. This term is seldom used if the calls cross state lines.

IntraState
Refers to calls that originate and terminate in the same state but in different LATA’s.

InterState
Refers to calls that originate in one state and terminate in another.

International
Calls to another country.

I’m sure you are aware that countries have country codes associated with them. Have you ever wonder what the US country code is? It’s amazing how many don’t realize it, but use it all of the time.

It’s ‘1’.

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Spring Ahead, to Fall back!

Once again, as it does every year just like Christmas and Tax day, Daylight Saving Time begins. For those who don’t know the rhyme we spring ahead, in other words set the clock forward one hour, in the spring and fall backward, set the clock time back one hour, in the fall.

In 2005 President Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act of 2005. With this law the dates of the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time were changed. The new dates for DST begin on the second Sunday of March and end the first Sunday of November.

Additional information about Daylight Saving Time can be found at;

http://webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/b.html

Also as a Public Service Announcement, fire departments recommends that you change the battery in the smoke detector when you change the clock. It’s said that a working smoke detector more than doubles a person’s chances of surviving a home fire, but it’s estimated that 1/3 of the homes with smoke detectors have dead or missing batteries.

Things to Know About Web Sites

Have one.
It’s been said here as well as many other places, every business should have some type of Web presence. For some they may not want or need a full featured site but just a listing with the basic Who you are, What items or services you provide, Where you operate and How to contact.

Content is the most important element in a website.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is an ever changing environment and no one other than those developing the Search Engines know the formula for getting to the top. There are basic steps to making a Web site friendly to search engines such as adding description and some key words to meta tags and giving each page an accurate title based on its content. Content is key. Content is text since Search Engines do not see text within graphics.

Keep your website up-to-date.
Nothing will turn off a viewer more than a Web site that has old and out dated information. Making changes to your Web site not only gives returning visitors a reason to come back, it gives Search Engines a reason review your pages.

Expensive doesn’t make it good.
Every Web site developer has their own idea of what makes a good site. Some think that the flasher the better while others may think a plain black on white site is good enough. Your Web site is part of your company image and should relate your image to the visitors.

A Web site is part of the Marketing Plan.

Do you have marketing materials? It’s not a bad idea to base a site on these materials so that you have a common visual element to your customers. If a potential client has a piece of printed advertising and the Web site is vastly different than the printed material, that possible customer may think they’ve gone to some one else. When printed materials have a drastic change it could also time to change the Web site.

They will not come unless they know about it.

Too many times businesses will create a Web site and then let it sit idle. Place the Web address in all marketing materials including the business card, invoices, letter head and envelopes.

Do you have a Disaster Recovery plan?

It doesn’t matter the size of a business, if a disaster happens it’s going to hurt. Having a plan may help alleviate the pain.

The IT and Telecom infrastructures are a couple of the major items to consider in disaster recovery. If you lose your Internet connection or your telephones how critical is this to getting your job done. With a sales based organization, these could be the most critical parts of the organization.

A plan is needed.

One of the best ways to prevent downtime of these services is to have redundancy. If everything is on one circuit coming into the building then it’s just like the old adage having all your eggs in the same basket. If you drop the basket all of the eggs may break. If your voice and Internet is all on the same circuit when that’s lost all communications is lost.

With redundancy, you may not be at full operation. But at least it’s not at “no” operation. Redundancy can and usually does have an added cost. But just as paying for other types of insurance, it can be considered a necessity and just another item in the ‘cost to do business’. It may seem like a waste when paying it, but when needed it more than pays for itself.

Just as important as having a recovery plan it needs to cover all items within the network. Both data or voice. Not just the carrier circuits entering the building, but also the instrument at the desk (the computer or phone), the wiring to the desk, and any common equipment such as data server or master unit for the telephone system.

© 2006-2009 Steven G. Atkinson – All Rights Reserved