Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Hanging on the telephone

A couple of years ago, I highlighted that the company telephone systems were getting very old – one of the PBX switches was so old that parts were no longer available for it, and support for all of the systems was very limited. On top of that, the systems needed very specific handsets which were getting harder to source if we needed to replace them, and many of those we had were in very poor condition. I also felt that the telephones didn’t really meet our needs as they had limited functionality.

I spent quite a bit of time looking at various options for replacing these and had numerous meetings with potential vendors. I did some comparisons and produced a short list; those were then invited to put together a final presentation. After about 4 months work, I eventually decided to buy a Mitel system through BT.

I have to say that the new system is really good; it has great functionality and I think that it is really easy to use. Mitel provided a couple of trainers, access to an online training system, some documentation and advice – and the engineers were really helpful. I made the documentation available to all staff and took the time to go around every single member of staff to show them how to do the basics, and how to get access to the online training material.

But even though it is such a good system, there are a number of issues. Incoming calls can now be routed between offices, and yet I regularly hear people advising customers that they have dialled the wrong number and they make the caller re-dial instead of just transferring the call. The other day one of the senior managers wanted to have a 3 way conference call, and couldn’t remember how to do it; he had to phone up the IT office from another phone to ask how to do it whilst the customer waited on the other line.

There are still some people that haven’t recorded their voicemail message after almost a year of use; of those that have, many just use it as an answer phone and still don’t appreciate that there is so much more that they can do with it. I really can’t see why it’s such a problem for them.

However, this technophobia didn’t come as a complete surprise to me; when we ordered the system I decided not to take all of the additional functionality as I suspected that most of our staff would struggle to learn just the basic operations. I suggested that once they had become comfortable with the new phones, we could look again at the optional extras.

Last week, I took a couple of people up to the Mitel head office (a big thanks to them for their hospitality) specifically so that they could see some of the additional functionality. Much of this is based around the concept of unified communications and having previously seen this, I’m impressed by the possibilities. The two people that I took with me were equally excited – within a matter of minutes, they were discussing how all of this could be used to provide efficiencies.

Unfortunately though, I am a bit concerned about getting the go ahead for this from the board; I don’t expect the new functions to come cheap, and it is going to be difficult to predict a valid return for the investment. If it is used properly, than there is no doubt that we will see some useful improvements, but I am not certain we can count on people to actually use the new functions properly. (Yes, I am having another go at our technically challenged staff.)

Part of the problem is clearly that people are naturally reluctant to change the way they work. This is especially true if they have been doing things a particular way for some time. Although I’m trying to make things easier for everyone, and make their working life better, they don’t always see it that way. From the user’s point of view, it’s no fun being told to do something a specific way if it makes no sense to you and when you try to do your best, you get made to feel stupid.

But we have to be able to communicate, and the new technology is important in making sure that this is efficient and cost effective. We have to find a way to get everyone to make the best of this – both for their sakes and for that of the company.

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