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Lessons learned from a lightning storm

Author: ; Published: Aug 20, 2012; Category: Customer Support, Small Business; Tags: ; 4 Comments

Sometimes it takes a lighting storm to remove some old and almost obsolete things as well as thinking. 

Please allow me to share with you some lessons we’ve learned at Dynamic Net, Inc. from a lightning storm that took out our business phone system.

Several weeks ago we had a major power outage after a lightning storm that lasted several hours (depending on your geographic area or power company that might be very short or very long; for us it was long).

By the end of the day, we noticed that our business phone system wasn’t working the way that it should.

We didn’t notice at first because it is our goal to answer every single call — there are no menu prompts during business hours.

Once we hit after hours, we found out calls coming in were not receiving any menu and were going directly to our office manager’s voice mail.

If you are like us where you take every point of customer service seriously, you can understand our dilemma.

Since we do our best to Think Local, we did purchase our business phone system local to our physical place of business.

When we called them, we were told it would require a base fee of $212.00 (that included travel time to our office; they were approximately 30 minutes away) along with one hour of labor. Additional labor would be at $150.00 per hour.

While I felt the fees were on the higher end, I also knew we would be supporting a local business if we went through them; and they did provide value for the rate.

However, I was reminded of the main concerns faced by a lot of my fellow small business stewards — the uncertainty of the project.

The business phone system provider could not provide a ball park estimate so this could be a $212.00 project or a $812.00 project (if the tech was at our office for four hours) or much larger as parts were not included, and there would be the potential of multiple times back and forth to the office.  Each one incurring the $212.00 base price.

While the hourly rates were within industry averages, and I can understand travel time having previously done on-site based work, the uncertainty of the total cost for maintaining a 15 or so year old system was unnerving.

Looking back, what surprises me is that the vendor did not present other options such as buying a new / replacement business phone system where the total cost can be known in advance.

The lesson I was reminded of here is that whenever you working with a customer, do your best to provide a narrow base line picture that caps their investment.  Do give them options, and do cover your bases (you are not in business to lose money).  When possible, give them two to three alternative choices (i.e. this is the cost to fix, this is the cost to replace or cost to fix, and here are two replacements).

The uncertainty of the cost to fix the existing, approximately 15-year old, business phone system encouraged us to look at alternatives including VOIP (voice over Internet protocol).

VOIP has come a long way over the past decade.  Originally, the call quality was extremely poor; and your dial menu plans were extremely limited.  Often times you had to have an expert create the dial plan; and should you need changes to that plan, incur further expenses updating it.

We did our home work in this area; and there were a lot of good choices out there — GetJive, Grasshopper, RingCentral, and many others.

Based on our needs, we settled in GetJive.com.

We paid approximately $260.00 for the IP-based phones (the original system cost approximately $3,000 — and just to fix it was $212.00 base plus uncertainty).  There was no setup fee.  We will save approximately $120.00 per month on our phone bill.  We also have a web-based means for creating and maintaining our dial plan; and since we want to answer calls as we are able (goal is that no customer gets the phone menu), the system allows us to do that.  We can even set up custom dial plans for our VIP customers; all without paying an outside party.

Two lessons learned:

  • Whenever you working with a customer, do your best to provide a narrow base line picture that caps their investment.  Do give them options, and do cover your bases (you are not in business to lose money).  When possible, give them two to three alternative choices (i.e. this is the cost to fix, this is the cost to replace or cost to fix, and here are two replacements).
  • Use any down turn as an opportunity to review options; be open to change and adapt as necessary. 

What lessons have you learned when something bad happened in your business?  Please share them in the comments below.

Peter Abraham
Former CEO of Dynamic Net, Inc. Will be transitioning to a new career in the near future.
Peter Abraham

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Peter Abraham

4 Responses to “Lessons learned from a lightning storm”

  1. Mark Vang says:

    Peter, it sounds like the tech support at your previous phone service provider did a very handy job of talking themselves out of a loyal long-term customer. Converting your 15yr old system to a new sale should have been the first thing that popped into their heads.

    If they were in some indispensible niche market I could see how they could stay in business with that attitude but as you discovered, there are lots of options for business-grade phone systems including VOIP systems.

    I would bet that the new system puts much greater control in your hands so you won’t have pay someone else whenever you want to update menu options, etc. Sure you’ve got a bit of a learning curve ahead of you but you’re in the learning curve business anyway, right?

    With your recent storm experience, perhaps it’s time to review your UPS/Surge Protection systems and make sure none of those were damaged and perhaps upgrade to something that won’t let your critical infrastructure systems get zapped again. (Though I imagine you are already working on that.)

    Good luck with the repairs!

    -Mark

  2. Agreed, Mark; and it surprised me that during three phone calls between our company and there company, there was no attempt to translate this into a good thing. I shared my concerns over not having a lid on the potential cost of repair; and even though they tried to sell us on VOIP when we first became a customer, they didn’t bring up any alternatives to the repair.

    Yes, the new system puts greater control into our hands.

    We were able to set up custom dial plans for our VIP customers so that if they didn’t get us on the phone (our goal during business hours), they would be given the option to try the support cell phone; and, as a backup, a help desk ticket would be created in any event just in case.

    The phone system was on a surge protector; but I guess not one good enough.

    Thank you.

  3. Dawn Mentzer says:

    Great story, Peter! It really demonstrates how important it is for customers to know what they’re getting and paying for. And having choices gives them the confidence that that you’re looking out for what’s best for them.

    Glad to hear the VoIP system is working out well so far! In my previous professional life, I project managed the development of a business VoIP offering. At that time the Nortel hardware/software just wasn’t quite ready for prime time and the product just didn’t provide the functionality or flexibility that business customers really needed. The technology has come a LONG way since then – and it really hasn’t been that terribly long ago! ;)

  4. Hi Dawn:

    Thank you for your kind words of encouragement.

    The sad part is the company for whom we were a customer for approximately 15-years didn’t try to offer any alternatives to the repair or a way to cap the repair cost sin order ot keep us.

    In any event, the resulting system has browser-based controls over dial plans; and while our goal is to answer every incoming call during business hours, we were able to set up VIP based dial plans based on caller ID where critical customers can page us even if we are on the phone (or after hours). As a backup, the system also creates an emergency support ticket for such calls.

    Thank you.

    P.S. On not that “terribly long ago!” on twitter someone linked a blog article talking about the 1st computer they got — similar to mine, a TRS 80 model 1 with a cassette player for storage… and that reminded me of high school with punch cards… and yes… technology has come a long way in a short period of time.

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