By now you are probably all aware of the weirdos who use their PCs as a telephone via the Internet. Gleefully proclaiming that they are avoiding long distance phone charges, these clowns have never worked out just how many IDD calls you can make for the price of a monster multimedia PC and Internet connection fees.
Well, that's not what computer-telephony integration (CTI) is all about. It's about using the PCs you already need to run your business to enhance the use of the humble telephone. Most vendors in the CTI market are not trying to replace your phone handset - if it ain't broke, don't fix it - they are trying to improve its usefulness. Granted, some CTI vendors are definitely out to replace your PABX, using your server to control all the telephone handsets, but primarily CTI is about improving the existing phone experience.
What happens now when someone rings your company? They probably have to explain who they are and why they are ringing and then the operator tries to remember who they spoke to last, and tries to find them. With a product like CallWare or HEAT Telephony Manager installed, using automatic number identification, the customer's record is retrieved and thrown up on the PC screen of the right person in your company. At the same time the phone rings on their desk and they can begin the conversation knowing whom they are speaking to and having the details in front of them.
These products also solve a common problem of fancy new PABX systems. How many of your staff actually know how to transfer a call or set up a conference call? How many of them can remember your extension number even if they know how to transfer the calls? Using CTI software, staff can use their PCs to do these tricks by clicking on menus with their mouses. The software also allows staff to automatically dial phone numbers from their PCs and perform call conferencing when multiple reps need to collaborate on problems.
And while they're on the phone, an incoming call can be shown on the PC screen identifying just who is waiting. It might be that the vendor is on hold desperate to tell you that the widgets have been shipped, while you are busy lying to the client about the delay in his large widget order. You won't know that until you hang up and then you have to call the customer and recant your excuses. With a CTI system you would know that it was the vendor who was hanging on the other line and you could put your customer on hold while you got the shipping advice. All with a few mouse clicks.
CTI systems usually include voice mail systems as part of the package. CTI voice mail usually includes such features as paging you or calling your mobile and playing your important messages, and finding someone else to hear the message if you refuse to come back from lunch.
More than meets the eye
These systems also let you grab the voice message and forward it via e-mail to others in your company. Instead of having to transcribe the message you can send the actual voice mail to the sales team so they can all hear for themselves what the customer thinks of their service.
Sphere Communications is offering Sphericall, a system that really is intended to replace your PABX. The idea is that you install 25Mbit/sec ATM as your LAN topology and plug your phone lines into the back of your server. Each PC has a network connection and a telephone handset plugged into the back of the PC. The smart server software then allows you to use the cabling for your normal network needs, at a slick 25Mbit/sec speed, and simultaneously routes phone calls to the right desks. This system may be particularly appealing if you are about to occupy brand new premises.
Rather than installing a new PABX you just use ATM instead of ethernet cards, and keep your existing phones. Sphere is confident that the cost will be lower and the functionality better.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that a lot of this kit is going to be too expensive for anyone but large corporates. However, there are junior versions of CTI just as there are mini-CAD packages and the like. Phonetastic comes from the CallWare stable, but is designed for the workgroup.
It's distributed in Australia by Duplex Telecommunications. You still get intelligent call and message routing and links to desktop applications and databases, as well as being able to control your phone from your PC screen. Phonetastic is also available for the one-person office so you can seem like an army of organised staff without actually hiring anyone.
A small business dream come true, although you'll ruin the small-business-led recovery that Mr Howard is waiting for.
Tel (02) 9917 9300ÊFax (02) 9917 9350
Tel (02) 9436 0855ÊFax (02) 9436 0823
When all you have is a phone line
Genuine SOHO people don't have a PABX. Often they just have two phone lines, one for the business and another for the home. To their rescue comes a local developer, National Communications.
Designed and built right here in Australia, National Communications offers an unbelievable range of gadgets that you can plug into your existing phone line to make it more useful.
Its basic line-sharing family, sold under the name Easy-Connect, is designed to allow you to use a fax and modem, as well as your telephone, without installing a separate phone line. From there things get more sophisticated, with its Interphone which allows multiple phones connected to a single line to communicate with each other as though you had a Commander system. Further up the range is its Easy-Transfer product that turns normal handsets into a mini-PABX for the small office.
It also provides music-on-hold, which simply works by plugging your boom-box into one port and your phone into the other, and a terrific gadget called Door Station that plugs into your phone and your front door. When someone presses the doorbell the phones ring, and you can pick up the phone and talk to the person waiting at the door, then press a key on your phone to let them in. Very tricky.
Tel (02) 9905 6670ÊFax (02) 9905 1037