Talking Email on the Go: What’s the Best Option for Telecom Expense Management?

Speech recognition and text to speech applications have had a bad rap in the past because the technology was rushed out the door, before it was really ready. If you’ve been disappointed in the past, fear not: New applications work pretty well. The main challenge now lies in choosing the apps and hardware that work best for you. This is just one example of the everyday issues that telecom expense management professionals like us deal with.

Speech apps are a big deal nowadays because of the convergence of two things: email on smartphones and new restrictions against using your cell phone while driving. Getting on the phone while driving was always a bad idea, but in many jurisdictions it’s now illegal – but now, your phone is a business tool that if anything demands more attention, especially when you’re counting on real time email alerts to keep you posted on company events.

Let’s look at two ways Canadian customers can deal with this. The first is a new piece of hardware: the iLane. It’s a dashboard device that not only verbally alerts you when you have email and reads the email to you, but it can also be fully controlled with voice commands. You can even compose replies with your voice and verbally control other smartphone functions. iLane is currently compatible with the Blackberry OS, but the manufacturer promises support for other mobile email formats in the near future.

The iLane has some notable drawbacks – namely, its $599 price tag and $7.99 per month subscription fee. There are alternatives for more modest budgets, however. Rogers Nuance offers an impressive selection of voice command and text to speech features delivered entirely through software and network resources. Nuance allows you to perform 411 searches, send email add appointments and more with voice commands, and your phone will use its speaker to verbally reply. Like iLane, Nuance is compatible with Blackberry devices.

Nuance has limits; your phone’s speaker, microphone and other performance specs are limits to functionality, but the price wins, hands down. It only costs $6per month. Its service suite is probably not as complete as iLane’s, and you’ll want to play with it a bit to determine its range, volume and whether you want to use a headset for comfortable performance.

Ultimately, your choice would depend on what you need personnel to be able to do, how often, and the social role of the device in your office. Nuance may be the solution for most management staff, for example, while iLane might be the tool for executives on the move, all in the same firm. The choice is yours; the essence of telecom expense management is the ability to make that choice with superior information at your fingertips.

Telecom Expense Management for the Brilliant Phone

I want one box. I want to use it for pictures, phone calls, email, the web and the odd bit of work: writing, spreadsheets – all that stuff. I want to do it anywhere I go, too.

It’s happening in fits and starts, but it looks like I’m going to get what I want. There are still a few barriers. It’ll take a few years for the industry to figure out how to get me fully portable wireless broadband and there will be a painful period where it foolishly tries to charge me a lot of money for it. People still aren’t comfortable with the idea of converging PCs with true mobile devices either, but ultraportables like the Asus Eee are one third of an evolutionary process. The next third is embodied by the iPhone, and represents smartphones with PC-quality apps and an innovative user interfaces. The final third is 4G: packet-based, high speed wireless communications.

Let’s call the result a “brilliant phone,” though in a decade’s time the word “phone” will be an atavism, since voice won’t be anything special, but just one function out of many. It will do all kinds of cool things, but let’s get back down to earth. We’re a telecom expense management company. What will the brilliant phone’s TEM issues be? Here are some educated guesses:

Data Migration: The brilliant phone will be a consumer’s primary data tool. It will have enough flash memory (or a successor format) to take the place of your laptop, leading to the question of how you’ll move this data around when it’s time to backup or upgrade. Carriers currently encourage users to use expensive internet time to send pictures via email and unless you get a smart data plan, charge you by the megabyte for everything else. This method isn’t sustainable. Besides, in a decade’s time you won’t want to run home to a WLAN every time you want to move a substantial amount of data. Ultimately, carriers will provide a solution – and charge for it, too. It will be our job to get you the best deal on their backup and migration services.

Management and Reporting: Telecom management and reporting services will be as relevant as ever in the age of the brilliant phone. In fact, it will be even more important to track usage since everyone will use multiple functions as a matter of course. The era of voice-only usage, already moribund, will be truly dead and buried. While future cell phone plans will be much more generous with data, user management will transform from a straight savings issue to a matter of productivity. You’ll need to know if staff are using the brilliant phone appropriately.

Telecom and Data Billing Errors: Like death and taxes, carrier billing errors are inescapable. They’ll keep overcharging you and we’ll keep correcting them. The brilliant phone will continuously send and receive data from next-generation networks, so outages will be even more of a problem than they are now. You’ll deserve credit for dealing with them; we’ll make sure you get it.

iPhone Madness in Canada!

Well, we got the iPhone in. To use a technical cellular expense management term, it’s getting all crazy in Canada.

Despite my initial skepticism from a telecom expense management perspective it looks like it’s a hit on both the corporate and consumer side of things. Certainly, the iPhone’s capabilities mean the right plan will let it do your Blackberry’s job and give you a bunch of stylish tools, but I was curious to see whether corporate users in particular would tolerate the drawbacks of Rogers’ monopoly. It probably helped that last month, consumer outrage drove Rogers to change its iPhone plans. It looks like the company successfully headed off objections and tapped into the runaway hype.

As you can probably guess, demand is one of the chief issues right now. It’s just plain hard to get an iPhone – estimates put sales at over 90 units per Apple store, per day, leading to chronically low stock. Thanks to our cellular customer service and procurement focus we were able to get them but many others haven’t been so lucky. I have to admit though: Once you see it up close it’s very, very pretty.

Now as I did predict, cellular expense management for the iPhone is tricky business. Rogers has a “one size fits all” philosophy that makes migrating services difficult, though not impossible. You can negotiate plenty of changes if you want to pay $700 per unit, but most customers are in it for the subsidy. If you’re willing to pay for the whole phone though, you can simply add a $30 per month data plan – if you order before August 31st. If you want to pay $199 ($299 for the 16 GB) for the unit you’ll have to get a bundled voice and data plan that costs $60 and up. The bundles include unlimited WiFi access at Fido hotspots, too. When it comes to data usage, that definitely softens the blow.

This is a very general overview of iPhone pricing. The devil really is in the details here, and they include all kinds of fiddly bits around activation, rebates and service migration – but that’s what we do, so we’ll deal with it. The iPhone isn’t the only smartphone game in town by any means, but sure is the most stylish one.

A Customer Service Snapshot

Let me tell you what I do all day! While I do work in direct telecom expense management by providing no-risk introductory telecom cost audits, that’s only part of what we do here at GILL Technologies. Ongoing client care is a major focus for us. We aim to save people money and hassle. This business is about long-term client satisfaction. We earn it by providing a level of support that even large business clients can’t get for themselves.

Service interruptions are the most common support calls we get. It’s pretty simple: The client’s phones are down! This spells paralysis for most businesses, so it’s an issue people want to take care of right away. Unfortunately, if you don’t have any help, the phone company’s probably going to make you wait. One of your employees is going to get on the phone, wait through the support queue and listen to a first tier agent from the phone company go through his script. By the end of it you might get a vague promise that someone will fix it – sooner or later.

The reality is that in this situation, even a big company isn’t much better off than an individual when it comes to getting fast, effective service, so even if you’ve never had to get a hold of the phone company for your business, you’ve probably done it at home. The conditions are pretty much the same: They suck.

The great thing about having GILL Technologies – and me! – on your side is that you never have to waste time on hold again. The other day, a client called me about the kind of service interruption I’m talking about. I’m not at the other end of a queue, so he didn’t have to wait. (He didn’t have to deal with the phone company at all) He explained the problem and I got to work. I usually start by calling a front line agent myself, but since I have more experience with them I can usually direct service a bit more effectively than the average office worker.

It doesn’t end there, though. I give standard support 90 minutes to resolve this kind of issue. After that, I call on our own connections. We have dealer level access to all major carriers, so when I make my next call (or email, through our contacts list), I’ll escalate my support ticket immediately. Up at the next tier, things get done a lot faster. Experience helps here, too. The Tier 2 (or higher) agent and I both have experience with common service issues. That means I can describe the problem a little more clearly than by just saying, “The phone’s not working!” and he knows I’m not going to sit around and wait until it’s convenient for them.

That way, a problem that might spell an overnight outage or longer with anyone else turns into a momentary interruption. Any downtime is too much, but from my perspective, more than an hour is ludicrous. Too many customer service systems try to teach clients to lower their expectations, but since I want to keep my clients happy for years on end, I beg to differ.

About the Author: Tara Hind is Telecom Client Care customer service representative at GILL Technologies.

GILL Technologies Unveils Its New Web Presence

Website emphasizes Visibility, Accountability and Simplicity in Communications Management

Peterborough, Canada, Tampa, FL and Auburn, CA: GILL Technologies’ new website went live today. The site significantly expands and reorganizes information to help current and potential clients explore the company’s services.

The new site sorts information according to GILL Technologies’ overall mission. The “Visibility” browsing stream explores the company’s telecommunications expense management and auditing services, explaining how the company saves clients up to 50% on their telecom, cellular and IT expenses. The “Accountability” category presents GILL Technologies’ proprietary Communications Management software, which allows clients to trace telecommunications expenses through a simple, web-based interface. The “Simplicity” stream takes browsers through the company’s Customer Service program. They can learn how GILL Technologies provides client care and procurement services for every major brand and carrier.

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