Friday, 8 December 2017

Call Centres - are you GDPR ready?

General Data Protection Regulations.  These words will either strike fear for some or a smug smile for those that are ready and prepared.

Affecting every business and coming into force May 2018, the new regulations are aimed to protect the consumer and give them a variety of "rights."  Non compliance will lead to very hefty penalties - up to 20 million Euros or 4% of annual worldwide turnover for the previous year (whichever is highest).

The Information Commissioner's Office is a good starting place, with a basic 12 step process and a GDPR checklist.

Specific businesses will undoubtedly have more work to do than others, in order to fully comply and those operating a call centre will need to address many considerations such as:-

  • the justification of call recording and gaining customer's consent
  • outsourcing
  • data storage and accessibility for clients
  • PCI DSS compliance
  • staff training 
 A link to a useful article addressing these issues by the Call Centre Helper is below, where a panel of experts assess the situation.

The Merlin Team

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Beware the 070 phone number scammers

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles @freedigitalphotos
Yes, this old chestnut is raising it's ugly head again.

It is seriously NOT the time of seasonal goodwill for everyone and there are many desperate scammers working their hardest to pull the wool over your eyes and rip you off.

The main business types that are targeted are garages, hotels, financial advisors and estate agents. 

Hoping that you will mistake the 070 number for a mobile number, once you dial this personal number, you'll be persuaded to stay on the line for as long as they can keep you there.  You will, of course, be trying your hardest to be helpful to the caller, answering all their questions and repeating information they didn't quite get!  All this leads up to a massive bill (using a mobile just adds to it - up to £1.50 per minute) as the idea is for the perpetrator to make money from the call charges.

Cleverly, the scam has evolved to another level and you may be asked to join in a "conference call."  This means another of their colleagues enters the call and when you have finished and hang up, they don't and therefore call charges are clocking up for as long as possible.  Horrendous in some cases.

At this time of the year, there can be staff changes to cope with additional business and holidays, so it just means you will need to ensure all your staff are aware of this hoax.

Read the full article by In Touch Now

The Merlin Team

Friday, 17 November 2017

Is your CCTV GDPR compliant?

The new  General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)  come into full force in May 2018 and every business will need to be ready.

Here is an overview from the Information Commissioners Office

As providers of CCTV systems,  Merlin would like to draw your attention to the regulations that cover the collection of visual data and remind you of your liability under these regulations and the current Data Protection Act requirements.   

Having a good understanding of these regulations and implementing a GDPR impact assessment will help identify security risks so that these can be addressed.  This will lessen your risk of a breach (and being fined) under GDPR  data protection and privacy requirements.

It is therefore important that you assess your CCTV system now, along with the rest of your company's IT.  Data privacy applies to public and private CCTV so, whether you have a single camera monitoring your home or a larger system monitoring your business, or for any situation, you need to be aware that you could be committing a breach of data protection rules.  

We attach a link to a paper by Andrew Charlesworth - Reader in IT Law, University of Bristol which summarises; the evolution of Data Protection, what the key principles are and how you will be affected under the latest major changes.  

And for guidance, we attach the ICO Data Protection Code of Practice for Surveillance Cameras and Personal Information

The  Merlin Team

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Be shrewd, plan ahead now to protect your business.

Do you expect your phone system to last forever? 

If you do, then take a reality check.

This applies if you still have a traditional PBX with ISDN lines.  Its lifespan will be diminishing on a daily basis and it could well be obsolete now.

Many telecom providers are letting their clients know that they won't be able to service or maintain these older systems in the future. 

You may be thinking "if it ain't broke - no need to fix it" but picture the scenario:- suddenly you can't make or receive calls.  So, you call your provider, they come out and tell you they can't fix the system.

No spare parts. It's dead.  Sorry.

With your business at a total standstill, what are your options?  Well, obviously you'll have to act fast and make the decision to buy a new one. 

Suddenly, you are thrown into a blind panic and no doubt will not have enough time to make a considered purchase.  Budget may not come into it, you need a system up and running NOW.  You will go for the quickest option and quite probably make the wrong decision for your business.

The lesson here is forward planning.

Create some time now, to check your system.  Ask your provider whether you can opt into a maintenance agreement and if so, how long for.   Do some research.  Technology is changing at a phenomenal pace.  Now really is the perfect opportunity to think ahead, and plan to futureproof your business.

Consider all your options, get some impartial advice and weigh up the pros and cons.

So, to sum up.  Don't think your system will last forever - have some foresight and get planning for the future. 

For advice
Call The Merlin Team

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Are you ready for the new General Data Protection Regulation rules?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
The 25th of May 2018 seems a long way off.  One year and one month to be fair.

However, this is when the new stricter Data Protection regulations come into force, so best start to get ready now!

Of course, you must all be aware of the rules under the existing Data Protection Act 1998 and already have basic data protection measures in place - don't you? 

Well, the new regulations are even more stringent and if you aren't fully up to speed then this could be a great opportunity to consider the requirements and put a plan in place, so that you are fully covered for the future.

As a starting point the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) have published a guide of 12 steps to take now. 

Click here for the link

You may well need to put new procedures in place, so be prepared!

The Merlin Team

Thursday, 23 February 2017

If you're on a Marketing Mission, you need Merlin!

One of our clients, Gungho Marketing, based in deepest Dorset, are a company on a mission. 

Gungho Marketing LtdAdopting a thoughtful strategy for the business growth of companies over the last 10 years, they have worked with many prestigious global companies generating £14.3million in new business in the last twelve months alone. 

Certainly very impressive. 

Using a different approach to other telesales and telemarketers, Gungho have a formula that really works and the link below gives insight into their success.

Having a full call reporting capability annexed to their phone system really assists in so many ways.

Recording and monitoring calls the agents make, really helps with quality control.  Consistently monitoring call recordings, ensures that training needs are met, in order to maximise every prospect called.

Collecting call data from the system and publishing this on a daily basis helps to keep everyone on track with call volumes.

We are enormously pleased to be part of Gungho Marketing's success.  

The Merlin Team

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

TOP TIPS - when thinking about a new phone system

How confusing can buying a phone system be?  It's all relatively simple isn't it?  The whole experience might look incredibly complex with talk of cloud v premises based systems, internet or copper wire and then there are all those acronyms to puzzle over; ISDN, ADSL, LAN, WAN, QoS, PBX  just to name a few!

Doing the right research is crucial if you want the best solution to suit you and your business.  So we thought it a great idea to list some of the fundamental questions you might want to ask yourself and a supplier before you step into the breach.

1.  Traditional phone system or VoIP phone system?

The very first thing you need to think about is whether to opt for a traditional premises based system or for the more technologically advanced, hosted voice over internet (VoIP = Voice over Internet Protocol).

There are many advantages of choosing a hosted VoIP system over a  legacy/premises based system and perhaps one main consideration, to take into account is that BT are now pushing forward to move customers over to IP telephony by 2025, which is rapidly approaching! 

With a hosted VoIP system the initial cost of ownership is cheaper as you don't have to purchase a (PBX) switch system or enter into a maintenance agreement that could cost up to 20% of the system value each year.  With a hosted VoIP phone system there is no additional cost to you, as the servers are cloud based.

Hosted Voip  based servers are  monitored constantly by your service provider, so the risk  to you is minimised and any updates to the system are carried out automatically instead of being manually added at each location, as with a premises based system.
Call capacity is far superior with VoIP systems as you can have multiple calls per extension whereas you are limited to a number of shared lines with a legacy system. This means that further capacity requirements could cost a lot of money, as well as the increase in monthly charges for additional line rentals.

Installation is incredibly quick and simple with hosted VoIP phone systems, simply plug and play instead of the complex and labour intensive setting up of a premises based systems.

Overall, VoIP systems really do come out on top - providing  small and medium sized businesses with new and better calling features, more flexibility and functionality and best of all, far lower pricing.

2.  What features will I need for my business?

Once you have made your mind up to embrace a hosted VoIP system you will need to find out exactly what calling features your company will benefit from the most.  You should think about call recording and reporting features which will help you evaluate trends and employee activity as well as help with training and compliance requirements.  You should think about business continuity needs as part of your disaster recovery plan. Can calls be diverted to other lines or mobiles as part of the standard service? If they can, how quickly can they be diverted and to how many users?  Hosted VoIP can be set up to call multiple mobiles or additional landlines should a problem arise. Totally brilliant.  Your supplier should carry out an audit or ask pertinent questions about your business so they can provide you with a bespoke system to enable your business to operate to maximum efficiency.

3.  How much can I save?

Well less hardware costs to start with!  A good quality I P phone can be purchased relatively cheaply starting from £70.00 upwards (Feb 2017.) Find out if your provider is selling you phones or are they happy for you to purchase your own.  You will need to find out how much per month each extension will cost and whether there are any initial set up costs.  Also ask if there are any other recurring monthly charges, particularly  for any special features you require.  Ask about international calling rates and mobile rates too.  Ask about entering into a contract.  Merlin certainly do not believe in tying people into lengthy contracts (we operate on 30 days only) so do take this into account and don't forget to ask about exit fees. If you are not happy with the system or support 6 months down the line, it could be incredibly expensive to swap your provider.

4.  What about support?

Check the level of service on offer as this may vary wildly.  Some providers will point you to self help tools on a website so you are more self sufficient, but would you prefer to be able to pick up the phone and speak to a technician?   Will you have to  pay separately for your support if you have any issues that cannot be resolved quickly? Checking any service level agreements carefully should be a priority.

5.  What about initial stages and training?

You need to ensure that your provider will deal with the porting of your number, once you have given written permission to do so. Ask about user guides and any virtual or on site training and whether there is any additional cost for this. Is there a self management platform available so you can make certain changes to your system yourself.  This will ultimately put you in control to make changes as and when you need them.

6.  How long will it take to set up?

Find out how long it will take to set up your new system and establish exactly what equipment you need.  Some suppliers will add on a high percentage to the cost of hardware, which is readily available to purchase on the internet.   If you are able to buy the IP phones yourself, ask if the provider will make a charge to configure these or any old IP phones you may have. Find out which phones, routers and modems will offer best reliability.  As always, you get what you pay for!

7.  What about security?

You will want to know what protocols are in place to offer you total security.  It is usual for most hosted VoIP systems to be even more secure than traditional copper wire systems.  

8.  How reliable will the system be?

Hosted VoIP systems beat legacy systems hands down in terms of reliability when disaster strikes, as cloud data systems operate redundant power and cooling so continue when your premises are unusable.  With Merlin, our servers consistently show an uptime of 99.99%.  So do ask that question.

9.  What happens if my business grows?

A traditional premises based system is certainly inflexible in the sense you would need to organise and pay for a technician to upgrade the system or add additional  phone lines. It may not even be possible to upgrade at all.  With hosted VoIP systems, extensions and features can be added virtually and very quickly, saving time and money.  A total necessity for a growing company, so ask this question too.

10.  What happens if I work away from the office?

A great feature of hosted VoIP is the total flexibility it allows -  from  presenting your office number on a mobile phone via an app or plugging in a phone at home so that you can work. Another brilliant feature is voicemail to e-mail, so you can pick up any missed messages on the go.

Hopefully these questions will help you choose the best system and provider for you.  

If you need any impartial guidance, please ring our friendly team on 08008778810 - we are here to help you get the most out of your business.
The Merlin Team 

Monday, 16 January 2017

New Year - Switch and make those savings!

Just thought we would share and reiterate the musings in MoneyWeek last week - 13.1.17

MoneyWeek, The UK’s best-selling financial magazine

If you are using one of the UK's dominant suppliers i.e.  BT, Sky, Virgin etc for your business telecoms, you can undoubtedly make savings by switching to a smaller telecoms provider.

In a report almost a third of small firms surveyed complained that the large providers offer poor service and only 42% happy with their provider!  By contrast, those with smaller telecom companies show 55% are happy with their service.

Smaller companies (such as Merlin) undercut the big companies and generallly, really do offer far better customer service levels.

Some words of warning and pointers for you:-
  •  If you are entertaining a switch over, get your itemised bills audited and compare like for like.  
  • Don't get tied into packages (the only winner is the telecoms company!) 
  • Ask the new company if they are totally independent or are selling telecom products on a telecoms platform that the big boys use.  
  • Also ensure that the handsets you are sold (you can of course buy your own) are not locked down by the new provider and that you can take them with you if you wish to switch again, to get a better deal.  
  • Don't get tied into lengthy contracts either.  If you are not happy with your customer service or can get a better deal then you do need the flexibility to move when you want.

Telecoms are an important element to your business and you need great service when faults crop up, so why put up with bad service? 

You don't need to be tied to the same  provider for long periods of time or think there aren't better alternatives out there. 

We analyse phone bills constantly and are generally horrified by the tariffs we see from the larger telecoms companies.

So, take some time to shop around and get yourself some savings and better service to boot.

The Merlin Team