Monday, 21 December 2015

Get your business phone ready for Christmas - Read our checklist

Image courtesy of stockimages
Cards written, presents wrapped, secret Santa stashed under the tree, what next?

Have you thought about how your clients will reach you over the Christmas period?

We have put together a quick guide, so you can give this a little thought before the holiday begins.

Pretty sure you will have worked out exactly what your opening hours are and either you will close completely or perhaps have a skeleton staff working.   Perhaps some of  your staff  could work from home - they simply need to unplug their Voip phone and plug it in at home and off they go.

 Just need to make sure all your customers are aware of what is going on.  Pop the details on compliment slips and headed paper.  You could change your "on hold message" to relay your opening hours in advance of the break.  You could change your "on hold" music and have some festive carols or tunes playing, to get everyone in the spirit! (just remember you need a licence from the PRS, if it's not royalty free). 

You should look at your call routing; the ring groups and hunt groups as you may only have half your usual staff in. So, you don't want the phone ringing in empty rooms!  Make sure you notify your provider in plenty of time to make the changes you need. 

Have you recorded a suitable message regarding your Christmas hours to be uploaded to your system which will tell all your clients your opening hours and who to ring in an emergency?  Make sure these are activated when you leave for your Christmas break.

Have you got voicemail to e-mail service?  Brilliant function, so you never miss a call and can pick these up without being in the office. Please also don't forget to make sure your voicemail boxes have been emptied to make room for all those new messages.

Lastly, have a relaxing break and a very Happy Christmas!

Tina Bricknell for
The Merlin Team

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Would you rather work from home this Christmas?



image courtesy of jscreationzs



Hoorah, a well earned Christmas break is nearly here!

Well, a break for some that is. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of being able to take the whole week off in between Christmas and New Year and business needs to keep rolling. 

So, if you have to work over the Christmas period and really don't need a physical presence in the office, why not work from home? Sit in your comfy jim-jams; mince pies and "Quality Street" to hand and forget about the expense of travelling and traffic for a few days! 

Joking aside, there are now over 4 million people in the UK working from home, according to the Office of National Statistics and this accounts for 13.9% of the workforce.

Saving money on expensive offices and time on commuting really adds up. Everyone wants a better lifestyle with more balance and more precious time000 so, it really does make perfect sense. 

Telephone technology today allows you to take your office where ever you want. As long as you have a broadband connection and an IP (internet protocol) handset, you can present yourself as being in "the office" whether at home or on holiday. Your phone will be part of the office network and you simply log in your details. The phone remembers all your settings and preferences so the caller has no idea where you are working from!

If you just want to work at home for a couple of days a week, you could have your system set up so it rings in the office and at home at the same time, you just answer it from whichever location you are at. You could also have all calls easily diverted to your mobile for the day. The beauty of this is, that calls will be free between your mobile and all the other extensions in the office, even if your offices are spread across numerous sites.

Conversely, if you have to roam around from office to office to fill in for others, you simply log into your colleagues phone with your details and that phone then instantly becomes your extension. Magic!

Another practical way of making calls from home or alternative location would be to download a softphone for your smartphone, computer or tablet. The software acts just like a phone interface on your device and mimics your extension. So no need to drag a phone around with you! Headset and microphone in place and off you go. Again, calls within your network are free. 

It's plain to see, that changing to a hosted or VoIP telephone system makes for incredible flexible working. A better way of life even - just don't eat too many mince pies!!




Image courtesy of rattikankeawpn




Tina Bricknell for The Merlin Team

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Blowing 7 Myths about VoIP out of the water


There are several myths that we hear time and time again from people who are not sure about hosted telephony.  
We hear a lot of “yeah, but what about……”  so we want to stamp out these myths now once and for all!

Here are the most common myths doing the rounds and this is exactly what we think about them!

Myth 1 - Call quality is not as good as a traditional phone system

By using reputable providers, people should experience a better quality of service and clarity than those provided by the older, traditional PBX.  

Over the years  VoIP has been given a bad name in certain areas, due to some providers putting in cheaper contended services and not using tier one carriers. Tier one carriers, such as Merlin, pass voice traffic using an 80Kbps codec.   Some providers will pass traffic as low as 16Kbps, this potentially causing inferior call quality.  

The quality of VoIP calls can also suffer because of other factors such as bandwidth availability, the number of calls in progress or your own internal network setup.

Your provider should ensure that you have sufficient bandwidth to handle the calls required and also have a good understanding of your business needs and set up, so that your calls are crystal clear.  

Myth 2 - VoIP is not secure

Many people perceive VoIP as unsecure because it relies on an internet connection instead of copper telephone wires.  

Well, the internet has been transferring secure information (which includes banking details etc) on a daily basis.  

Any telephone system  is hackable, yes even old analogue ones!  

You only have to think back to the hacking scandals involving well known newspapers.  Merlin limits access to their systems strictly to the devices connected.   We lock down connections to the fixed IP addresses (where available) and monitor live call patterns ensuring that if any client were to have their network hacked, any exposure to their phone system will be minimal.   You should ensure that your provider does the same.

Myth 3 - VoIP is unreliable

VoIP has been around for a few decades now and yes, in the early days call quality was not always the best.  However, technology advances have really eliminated these issues.  Over 95% of all new phone systems are now VoIP/SIP based services.

Myth 4 - VoIP is only for the largest companies

VoIP is not just a sophisticated system for large enterprises.  As VoIP is so versatile and scalable it makes it a very powerful option for even the tiniest of companies.  Low start up costs and having the ability to add extensions and services effortlessly to your system as needed, makes this a very attractive solution for any size business.

Myth 5 - VoIP is hard to install

Well really nothing could be easier.  All you need is a broadband connection and an IP telephone, plug it in and off you go.

Your provider should always configure your phones and router for you beforehand (make sure you check to see whether they charge an additional fee) and this means there is minimal disruption.  It really is that easy!

Myth 6 - VoIP won’t save me money

Well quite the opposite, there are many savings to be made:-

  • No PBX in your office to install or maintain
  • Cheaper call costs
  • No additional fees for adding or moving phone lines
  • Free support on the system
  • Free upgrades as they become available

And best still, less missed calls due to the outstanding functionality of the system, giving you more flexibility and capacity to answer more calls and therefore, boost your profit margins.
   
Myth 7 - VoIP technology is too new

VoIP technology has actually been around since the 90’s.  Stop to think how far mobile phone technology has come since the “brick” you clamped to your ear, to the sleek, multi function item it has become now.  Well, the same goes for VoIP.  Uptake percentages are now far outstripping sales of traditional phone systems. The prediction is that VoIP systems are here to stay and therefore ISDN lines  will eventually be phased out just like video tape!

So hopefully we have knocked these myths on the head for you.

In fact, investing in VoIP is the smartest thing you can do now to future proof your business and avoid being strung up by outdated and costly technology.  

The Merlin Team

Friday, 6 November 2015

Caution! Bring your Own Device? Grasp the fundamentals first

Are you running a business and employing staff? 

If so,  have you considered all the implications of letting your employees bring their own technology into the workplace?

Allowing employees to bring in their own mobile devices i.e. tablets, laptops, USB sticks and smart phones to work to use, or indeed have access to your business network to work from at home, means that you must have a clear policy in place to protect yourself, your company and your clients. 

To comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, you will need to have appropriate security in place to prevent any personal data held, being accidentally or deliberately compromised.

As the "data controller" you have to take appropriate technical and organisational measures against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against loss or destruction of the personal data you hold.

Clearly, there are tremendous benefits of allowing employees to use their own devices, but with this brings huge responsibilty to ensure their access to data is not compromised.

The risk to each organisation is unique, but being aware of the risks and the areas you have to consider will help you produce your policy and keep your data and employees devices as secure as can be.

 The Information Commissioner's Office have produced a very handy publication to guide you through this potentially hazardous area

click here for full PDF

The Merlin Team
08008778810 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Are you PCI compliant?

Many of our clients use a PDQ (Process Data Quickly) machine to take a payment from a customer or client using their debit or credit card or take payments directly over the phone or through their website. 

Anyway, we thought this would serve as a useful reminder of the strict compliance requirements surrounding credit/debit card payments that have been in place since September 2006.

PCI DSS or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (to give the full title) apply to anyone who stores, processes or transmits credit/debit card data.

It matters not the size of company or the size of payments or amount of payment.

So, if your staff take a call and scribble down the details on a scrap piece of paper, or you record telephone calls that have this data on,  just make sure it is all stored in a secure environment and in accordance with the Standards.

Potentially any breach pointed at you, means you face loss of Merchant ID and PDQ Machine (ergo loss of business) and steep fines.

To learn more Click here for FAQ's

The Merlin Team
 


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Is your router reliable and as secure as it could be?




A recent article by Chris Baranuik brought home the seriousness of flaws in routers and we reiterate what you should do to ensure your security is up to date.

We cannot stress the importance of this piece of equipment within your business.

Your router is your window to the world, so it makes perfect sense that you buy a really good quality business grade router in the first place and don’t skimp with your money buying a cheap home grade product. They simply do not cut it when running a business.   You spend money on an expensive i-phone for your business? Well, if you are prepared to spend this sort of money on a phone, then do the same for your router. Your business is worth it don’t you think?  Our mantra is “you get what you pay for”, as with most things in life.

It is also essential that the firmware is upgraded on a regular basis, which means you set regular monthly updates in your diary so this is not missed.  This way any exploits by hackers or faults that are found, are remedied with the upgrade so diminishes the risks of being hacked.  The upgrades are down to you, they cannot be done automatically for you!

Just remember if anyone does get into your router, they can alter settings, track exactly what you are looking at and direct traffic to malicious sites.  Not a pleasant thought.  

And while we are on the subject of routers for business, (especially if you have a hosted phone system) also consider keeping a spare router on your office shelf.  If your router fails, just stop to consider the cost to your business whilst you source a replacement.  Take into account the lost custom and lost man hours, if there are no phones or internet. With a spare, you can be back up and running within minutes, not a day or so.

Your business is your lifeline, after all, so look after it!

For the full article mentioned above click here












Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Well, just who do I complain too?


We are a nation of complainers.  There, a bold statement.  


So what really gets your goat when it comes to telephones?

Plenty -
  • bad customer service
  • mis-selling/slamming for fixed lines and mobile telephone services
  • early termination fees
  • abandoned and silent calls
  • unwanted marketing calls - to name a few

Well, Ofcom or Office of Communications (Government approved regulatory and competition authority for telecommunications and broadcasting) have published a report which makes interesting reading.  

We all complain about telecom providers, but do we actually do anything about it?  It appears we do, but perhaps not nearly enough.  

This report is great as it also includes links and telephone numbers to the appropriate and relevant bodies to whom you can complain.  

So, the next time you get a call asking if you’ve had a recent car accident or some one tries to convince you to make a claim for PPI,or you receive totally shoddy customer service, then just complain to the relevant body.  If you don’t complain, then appropriate action won’t be taken.

Interesting to see that the level of customer complaints to the Telephone Preference Service have dropped since June 2014.  Now, is this because we are not complaining, or have less to complain about?!!  

Friday, 18 September 2015

Moving? New Premises? Urgent, read these tips first!

The time has come to expand and you've just found the perfect premises!  

Great, so what to do first?  Speak to your Solicitor and Estate Agent? Secure finance with your bank?  Make an offer immediately?

Wrong!!

If your business is dependant on broadband and a telephone system (and let's face it what business isn't?) then reading this article ought to be your number 1 priority.

Firstly, check to see what the speed of the broadband is in the area and establish whether Fibre to the Cabinet is available.  You can use this website-
https://www.samknows.com/broadband/ to establish speeds and potential fibre connection.
If faster broadband speeds are essential to you and obtainable, you might consider applying for up to £3,000 of vouchers towards the installation under the Government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) Scheme - for further details check this link https://www.connectionvouchers.co.uk. Enter your postcode and you may be in an eligible area. In which case, Merlin (as a registered supplier) can help you with your application.

Needless to say, if the speeds aren't great and the cost of alternative solutions are too expensive, then just walk away, before wasting anymore time or money!

Moving premises is a great time to consider not only upgrading your broadband, but also thinking about your whole communications system.

Technology is moving at an incredible pace and we in the industry know that ISDN lines are going to be phased out as evidenced by the link below:-

Essential, therefore that you start to future proof your business right now and to get sound advice following an audit of your current system and future needs. 

Did you know that the UK lead Europe in embracing new technology* ?  So, to ensure your business retains an edge over your competition, it’s definitely worth making sure what is available to you and how the latest technology can boost your profitability.

If you don't know already, hosted telecom systems are brilliant for scalability and flexibility and offer great functionality, as well as saving you money too. Great as part of business continuity planning if a disaster hits. You can still keep your business moving.

Next check your existing telecoms and data connection contracts.  Often these run for a minimum of one year and anything up to five or seven years!  We have just spoken to a client who has signed contracts on new premises, but completely forgotten the year long Fibre to the Cabinet contract which he still has to pay, or pay an early termination charge for!

You also need to establish whether you can take your existing numbers with you when you move.

A complete survey of the new premises is essential.  Use a network cabling specialist to survey existing network cabling to ensure that it is up to scratch. Old or poorly installed cabling is going to impact on your business.  If you don’t then any problems are yours and could be very expensive to put right after your office move has taken place.

Your project plan for the move must take into account the longest lead time to instal the services you require.  For instance, installation of leased lines can take up to 90 days, so get dates and times for a go-live on your mission critical infrastructure and do not sign any contracts until you have a firm timetable to work to.

Putting your technology plans to the forefront of any move is very smart.  So really think where your business is heading and make sure your new premises are geared to embrace the future.

Good luck with your move!
The Merlin Team







*according to a survey carried out by Exact, an online business software firm







Monday, 17 August 2015

You want privacy? Grab yourself a VPN connection


Do you ever wonder who is checking to see exactly what you are surfing on the net?

Have you ever thought about your privacy when logging on to public Wi-Fi or free internet facilities in your hotel?

Well, maybe you should give your privacy a second thought and create a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Encrypting your connection is simply a very smart and easy thing to do.  

A VPN will encrypt your e-mail, streaming, browser and also file sharing requests, so that your identity remains invisible. If privacy and security are of paramount importance to you then spending a few pounds a month with a reputable and reliable VPN provider is the way forward.

There are many reasons why you might want to put a "cloak" around your activity and make sure that you cannot be found or heard by others.

  • You might be travelling abroad and wish to gain access to your favorite streaming TV programmes etc. By using a VPN tunnel connection, you can force your connection to access the UK in so it looks as though you are actually in the UK.
  • You want to use hotel or public Wi-Fi, which offers no security whatsoever.  It is very easy for anyone to gain control of your connection.  You definitely need to encrypt your connection making your online activity illegible to an eavesdropper, so that all your data and passwords are safe.
  • There may be “acceptable use” policies in place in your workplace or school and there are many countries that control internet use with censorship, so being able to tunnel out of the restrictions may be useful to you.  
  • If you really don’t want every web page monitored and stored by Google or any other search engine then use a VPN to “cloak” your computer’s IP address.
  • You might simply take the view that whatever you do on the internet is your business and you really don’t want to be monitored by anyone, including any Government!  

You must be aware that  embracing the benefits of a VPN will undoubtedly slow up your connection speeds, sometimes by up to 50%, but we are sure you will agree it is worth it. 

The Merlin Team


Friday, 17 July 2015

What does 2FA mean? Read all about it..

Well, it stands for Two Factor Authentication and we posted an blog about the security benefits back in December of last year.

Being totally paranoid about security and knowing the amount of scams, hacking and identity theft that takes place on a daily basis, we thought another reminder of this useful tool would be well received.

Adding a second rotating password will effectively make your personal online accounts far less susceptible to hackers.  

We share a couple of links with some great tips and useful advice from Robert Siciliano when interviewed by "about tech" .

This link below is the start of the interview explaining just how massive password theft is now
http://abt.cm/1wP36Ha

and the link below gives all the practical advice you need to put 2FA - Two Factor Authentication in place.  Robert helpfully guides you through how to set up 2FA on your accounts, just follow the directions for major platforms -
  • Google,
  • Yahoo
  • Apple, 
  • Micrsoft,
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • PayPal
  • Facebook
http://abt.cm/1fahOnO

Personally, we use a great app called "Keypass" - A free open source (OSI certified) password manager which helps manage your passwords in a secure way.  Basically, you put all your passwords in one database and this is locked with a master key or a key file, therefore you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the database.  The databases are encrypted using the best and most secure encryption algorithms (AES and Twofish). 

So now you have no excuses.  It just takes minutes to set up and best of all, it's free.  Don't wait until you've been hacked JUST DO IT!!!!

The Merlin Team


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

ISDN is dead and your phone system could be joining it!


Do you still have an onsite PBX ? Are you worried that your current system will become extinct in the next 10 years or so?

WIthin the industry it is common knowledge that all voice services will be delivered over IP (VoIP) within the next ten years. In actual fact, BT are asking Ofcom to consent to the dismantling of the UK’s fixed landline network:-


So, perhaps now is the perfect time to consider making the switch over to a hosted IP telephone system and reap all the rewards that are on offer.
Making the switch to new technology can be daunting and this may be what is putting you off making the change, but in reality the migration is seamless and very much a speedy process, thus giving you a  totally managed, scalable solution which will fit any business size from SME to large enterprise.

A quick comparison guide to show you the differences between ISDN and SIP lines


SIP
ISDN
Flexibility
You are in control - Add or take away lines as required
Can’t be done
Savings
Substantial savings on both calls and line rentals
More costly
Business  Continuity
Calls can be re-routed easily when disaster strikes
Calls certainly cannot be diverted quickly
Future
The way forward - convergence for voice and data
Becoming extinct
Control
Move your phones around from location to location as long as you have a data connection you just plug in and go!
Changes take months depending on your supplier






 You can see from the above the distinct advantages of VoIP.  Once installed, you should never have to buy another phone system again.

According to a survey underwritten by Cloud Industry Forum by Insight Brief
" 69% of companies who adopted cloud services made use of a trial before purchase" 

With this in mind, we would always recommend that you ask for a test phone for a period of at least a month, so you can check the call quality and play with the features to your hearts content.  It really is a simple case of plug in and off you go.

We are more than happy to organise a trial phone for you - just contact us on 08008778810
The Merlin Team


Monday, 22 June 2015

Exploited? Remarkable what customers put up with!


We all have stories to tell about double glazing salesmen, estate agents and of course telecom companies!  Some of these businesses are notorious for bad press, whether it be awful customer service or using unscrupulous methods to rip their customers off.

There are of course, good guys and bad guys in every business and it can be a minefield trying to judge who will actually give you the service you are after and who will  really look after your best interests.

The problem is, a few bad eggs spoil it for the rest and it is easy to then become tarred with the same brush, so to speak.

We have come across some rather extraordinary scenarios recently that  we would like to share with you.  

These situations have made us very angry and although we would love to “name and shame” we won’t, but would like to draw your attention to some of the antics some of our fellow competitors and support companies get up to.

First off, a firm of Lawyers who wanted to move a second office over to us were advised by their existing telecoms provider that they were in a contract for three years and if they wanted to leave they had to pay an exit penalty equivalent of  three years up front.  As their typical spend was something in the region of £500 per month it would equate to a fee of approximately £15,000 - £18,000.

It transpired on investigation, there was no written contract, only a verbal one. A dispute ensued and eventually the phones were moved over to us, three years later. During this period, the law firm were plagued with calls and at one point were told they may lose connectivity on the day of the switchover.  The telecoms company would never speak to the Director of the law firm, only the office manager and the calls were so frequent and with a tone of harassment, Merlin  were asked to put call recording on the line (we held) that they rang.  Strangely, the calls stopped soon after!

Another recent instance.  A veterinary firm were paying a large sum of money for a support contract from their telecoms provider,  but did not receive any support whatsoever!   When the firm withheld payment to their telecoms provider it appears they now get support, although it can take up to four weeks to get feedback or a result.  

A small firm of Financial Advisors have also been told they will need to pay an exit fee of £8,000 before they can move to us.  Again, they have been tied into a long term contract with two years remaining.

Another veterinary practice were moving their broadband over to us.  Their Practice Management Software company advised them they would have to send out an engineer to re-configure the router that is owned by the practice.  Their fee to do this was £200, literally for a ten minute job that could have been  carried out remotely and without any charge.  They would not give out the username and password to the client and after a week of calls going to and fro they organised an engineer to go on site on the Friday, although the broadband was moving over on the Wednesday.  After a productive call from us, the router was configured by them remotely and the broadband went live on the correct day.  Imagine the stress caused for the poor practice owner believing that they would have no phones or broadband/internet access for a couple of days!

These “sharp” practice methods leave a very nasty taste in the mouth.  Merlin was conceived with total honesty and transparency in mind.  We have always been fed up with customers being ripped off by the big brands’ pricing and service.  We do not want to tie anyone into a contract or have any hidden charges.  We want our clients to stay with us because they are totally happy with our services and if anyone wants to move, we will help them do so quickly and without going through any painful process.  

So the moral is, to check your contract (if there is one) very carefully to see what the service level agreement is and what the exit fees are, should you decide to leave.  Speak to some  other users and read testimonials.  Carry out an in depth analysis of any call tariffs you are given, to see whether you really are getting a good deal or not.  Often, you will lose out with a bundle or capped call tariff in the long run.  

We are more than happy to analyse bills and rates for you, we really don’t mind.  Remember we are here to help your business run better.

The Merlin Team