How Can a VA Help Your Business?

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Both online and offline businesses can make use of a Virtual Assistant. If you’ve never used a Virtual Assistant, however, you may not realize just how much of a help one could be to you. There are many ways both small and large, only a few of which are covered here.

The first thing you should know is exactly what a Virtual Assistant is. Knowing this will assist you in determining what one could help you with. According to

“A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a highly-trained independent entrepreneur who provides a myriad of business support services virtually via phone, fax and/or internet based technology to support and meet the growing needs of businesses worldwide. Partnering with a VA reduces stress, protects cash flow, eliminates administrative hassles, and enables business people to find the success they originally set out to achieve.” Some VAs specialize in certain tasks, such as Writing, Website Management, Blog Management, Transcription or Secretarial Services. Others choose to offer a wide range of services to their clients, such as general administrative tasks or general Internet Marketing.

For the online business, there are a many ways a VA could assist you. You could get help with all methods of marketing your business, handling your emails, writing the copy for your website or blog and/or managing your online store. There are even VAs that can assist you with running your business (Online Business Managers) or handling all aspects of your projects (Project Managers).

Even if you run a completely offline business, you can find Virtual Assistants who specialize in that. In this case, your VA could help you with phone customer service, following up on leads, bookkeeping and sending postal mail-outs. A Virtual Assistant could even login remotely to your computer and complete your data entry for you, as well as helping you keep track of contacts.Regardless of what type of business you have, decide if you want to work with a single VA that can help you with everything or several VAs, each of which specializes in a particular task. There are benefits to either method and you’ll have to decide which is best for you and your business. No matter what you need help with, there is a Virtual Assistant out there for you.

Hosted IVR Systems And Unified Communication (UC) Technologies: A Complete Guide

Call centers have relied on hosted interactive voice response IVRs and other off-premise cloud solutions for quite some time. More recently however, a wider range of businesses – especially those tailored to customer experience management – are adopting them. All this is due to a growing interest in unified communication (UC) technologies. Read on to learn more about UC, the many uses of hosted IVR systems, and a primer on collaborating in the cloud.

What is unified communication?

UC technologies are all about integrating the customer experience. More specifically, this technology looks to unify real-time and non-real time channels of communication. For example, a business might pair a phone call (real-time) with an e-mail or voicemail (non-real time). Unified communications in other words, are not a single technology. Rather, it is a strategy to unify the entire customer experience as it relates to communications.

Uses of hosted IVR systems

IVR hosting has given rise to a wide spectrum of e-commerce applications. These off-site solutions enable unified service improvements and quality performance that were impossible with earlier in-house services. Several pilot applications and customer projects that illustrate this versatility include:

  • Real-time sales continuity – a feature that pairs a company’s customer relationship management (CRM) database with incoming calls to prevent order cancellations. Callers can receive text or e-mail confirmations in real-time.
  • Order tracking – callers can request order tracking from multiple vendors.
  • Bill pay – allows callers to pay by phone and receive notifications by text, e-mail, or phone.
  • Phone donations – credit card information, basic details from donors can be collected with a simple outbound call or text message. Cloud collaboration is going global. In fact, a number of countries are now looking at it as an important way to both create new jobs and help bring in much-needed revenue. However, there is no sector that benefits from current technologies more than cloud solution providers. These businesses and firms can outsource non-core activities and have them accomplished at massively low costs.These businesses also get the opportunity to concentrate on core processes for enhanced returns. They get more time and spare more internal skilled labor to core functions and therefore take the ultimate control over the progress of their businesses. Yet, caution must be exercised when selecting hosted IVR outsourcing options. If a business lands on the wrong vendors it may suffer unprecedented setbacks. The success or failure of an outsourcing program depends on the working methodologies, punctuality, efficiency and capabilities of the vendor that a business gives its non-core functions.What are the most essential considerations to make during the selection of an UC provider?Experience is a key component to partnership! Make sure that the chosen partner is greatly experienced because even non-core activities are still so critical for the overall performance and productivity of the business. Experienced partners can offer well-proven and high quality outputs because they understand what it takes to be at the top. The already accumulated knowledge over the long period of time helps them to craft quality IVR systems. The chosen partner should also be offering all the crucial offshore services because your business requirements may change or increase with time.

    Does the vendor have the necessary infrastructure?

    Well-organized and professional vendors should have state-of-the-art infrastructure, latest technologies, and modern equipments in their working areas. It is prudent to seek out for service providers that have CISCO-based IP networks and communication systems that suits your business needs. For inbound call centers, solutions should consist of the best equipment and communication technologies since callers never appreciate noise distortions. Check if the vendor has industry standard and open billing processes. Some vendors will hide their billing procedures and processes and may only bring up issues later on in the engagement. Ensure that the billing process is sufficiently discussed, clearly understood, and has no pending issues and technicalities. The vendor should clearly convey all the costs that you should settle before you conclude any deal. Wise business executives will research out the prevailing market prices and establish normal industry standards to make sure that vendors comply with industry terms and conditions. Deal with a service provider who has a flexible billing process.

    What is the quality of the service provider’s calling agents?

    The manners, courtesy, and capabilities of these agents form the picture that will be projected to the global market about your business. If the calling agents at the call center services offer poor quality services, you’re your reputation will be hampered and the business will be hit badly. The business executive needs to personally assess the agent quality before hiring them for the services.

SMB Technology Trends for 2013

Many of the trends we discussed in 2011, and saw in 2012, were pretty much spot on. Technology like mobility, tablet style endpoints, cloud computing, big data, and virtualization were big in 2012. Even with the languishing U.S. economy, IT spending among the SMB subsector was slightly up for the bulk of 2012. That being said, what IT solutions will the typical SMB entity be putting hard-earned capital into for the next 12 months? For that we’ll turn to the leader on all things IT, Gartner Inc.

In early November, Research Vice President Robert P. Anderson discussed upcoming technology trends with a specific focus on the SMB space and revealed several interesting statistics. According to Anderson, “of all global IT spend, 44% is in the SMB category.” (Anderson, 2012) I must point out that Gartner classifies organizations with 1,000 or less employees as small or mid-sized; a further break down groups companies with 100 or less employees as small business and 101-999 as mid-market businesses. Unfortunately, there is no standardization on what really comprises a small or mid-sized business and the definitions vary across the board. Anderson listed the top three business drivers in the SMB space as “increasing growth, attracting and retaining customers, and creating new products and services.” (Anderson, 2012) Not too dissimilar with the trends for 2012, right? Anderson goes on, “the top five predicted technology items on the SMB purchase radar include mobile technologies, analytics and business intelligence, cloud computing, desktop server and storage virtualization, and collaboration technologies.” (Anderson, 2012) Other technology trends in the mix include modernization of legacy systems and applications, upgraded security hardware and software systems, and customer relationship management (CRM) applications.

Upon closer look, mobility is essential for all the micro businesses that are springing up as a result of several iterations of this recession. For many of these entities, technology as a consumable resource is vital because these organizations don’t have cash on hand to procure expensive office space and all the accompanying utility requirements. These small businesses need to be agile to gain market share and acceptance, so mobile technologies are critical to making this happen. With the increased deployment of mobile devices comes the surge of headaches with managing it especially as you look at the companies with more than 20-30 employees. This is where rapid growth in something called mobile device management (MDM) is making major inroads and will continue to do so in 2013.Increasingly, employees want to bring their own devices into company operated network environments, so additional considerations are necessary. Generally speaking, MDM systems allow for the management of worker-owned endpoints such as an iPhone, iPad, or Galaxy Tab. As workers use their personal devices for work functions, additional concerns arise as these devices are not controlled, company-owned equipment. What happens if an employee leaves the organization? What if someone gets their hands on the device with malicious intent? What if the device is lost? What happens to all the company data on the device? Some of these issues are similar in regard to company issued laptops and other mobile devices, but it gets more complicated when equipment is not in the organization’s inventory. MDM enables organizations to manage employee owned and/or company owned devices. Functionality includes but is not limited to GPS tracking, remote locking, and remote wiping of corporate data from the endpoint without disturbing private data such as photos. MDM will continue to make large inroads in 2013; however, price and support could remain a concern.

Business Intelligence and analytics have been staples of the enterprise space for a long time. What exacerbates this issue is something called “big data” which is essentially massive amounts of data (structured and unstructured), and is difficult to organize and report on through either standard spreadsheets or database software. This has not been an issue for the majority of SMB organizations, but there is a need for those larger SMB entities that use up to a petabyte of data or over 1,000 terabytes.

Other trends that are here to stay are cloud computing and virtualization. In some ways, the cloud will be the method of choice for application delivery and access for many SMBs. The ability to take advantage of these once enterprise only technologies, without building out redundant data centers or acquiring expensive hardware and software, makes the cloud a very attractive option. Virtualization will accelerate with this shift making shared resources in a colocation space possible. While much of the virtualization work in the SMB space, to this point, has been on the server side, 2013 will usher in the new age of the virtual desktop.

This subset of the virtualization platform allows for a simple, easy to control user experience regardless of the chosen endpoint. An organization can customize the desktop experience for each user therefore lessening the need for full PC clients to run company applications. Lower cost options such as thin client terminals with no onboard storage or operating system can be used to do everything an end-user may need. This configuration also lends well to security functionality as less corporate information sits on individual, and sometimes vulnerable, computers.

Finally, collaboration becomes a concern as mobility is added to the mix. When multiple employees work remotely, it can be difficult to synchronize documents, workflows, or other application outputs. Thus, collaboration applications make sense as a growth area for the SMB. Take for example a group I’ve recently spoken to that produces conferences all across the country. They have no formal office space, and are often in different cities on any particular day. Sure, making a phone call is one way to communicate, but if you are trying to share documents and other information with a colleague across the country, it can be a challenge. At the very least, the ability to “check out” materials and create versions that are stored centrally would be invaluable to this organization, and Microsoft’s SharePoint application is built to do just that. Microsoft’s SharePoint application also has a cloud-based option for small business which makes it both user friendly and budget friendly. As you can see, there is a great many solutions in the hopper for the SMB market space in 2013. According to Anderson, predictions for the coming year include “that tablet computing in the SMB market will outpace that of the enterprise space, desktop virtualization will finally take off, and mobile connectivity to business applications will rise about 25% from 2012 in the SMB toolkit.” (Anderson, 2012) There is a thought that the flagging economy and unyielding unemployment numbers in the US will lead to an explosion of a micro-SMB marketplace; entrepreneurs who strike out on their own or form small organizations of between two and five people. This fact would further push the adoption of cloud applications which are rising much faster in the micro-SMB market than in any other segment. In this day and age, being the trusted technology partner is a win-win for everyone concerned, so focusing on this relationship will go a long way towards enhancing the recovery for all parties in the future.