Advantage hails Unified Communications tech move

The decision to use Unified Communications technology by travel agency consortium Advantage is enabling it to offer a better service to its 800 members.

Based a stone’s throw from London’s silicon roundabout technology hub near Old Street Tube station in London, Advantage understands the need to ensure it is exploiting the latest technologies.

Head of IT Perry Weintraub said as a membership organisation Advantage is acutely aware that it must provide the best service to its agents.

A central plank of a recent rebranding has been that the group conducts more face-to-face meetings with members, meaning more of the consortium’s employees being on the road more often.

So it was vital that even though they are not at their desks, members were still able to get through to its employees rather than being met with a voicemail answering service.

The new ShoreTel communications technology was installed in January and Weintraub said it has transformed the way the team works.

“Previously we had a very old Nortel phone system. It did not really do anything, it was just a phone on a desk and that was it.

“Being a membership organisation we have people out on the road a lot and they use Blackberries, but what we found was they were using them in the office because that was the number they were giving people.

“Then we have problems with the signal for our mobile provider so we decided it was time to look at Unified Communications where we have one number which can find you wherever you are.”

Weintraub said Advantage opted for the ShoreTel system from provider Proximity Communications because it offered a flexible approach to implementation.

Modules are individually licenced so bolt-on options can be added as and when the need arises. ShoreTel even offers a free time-limited trial of components.

“We wanted something where you did not have to buy it all straight away, you could look at what bits worked for you and if there was something else you needed you could add it on later,” said Weintraub.

Advantage’s Business Development team are also responsible for its online strategy at the heart of which is its Gateway booking platform which was developed for it by Multicom.

So while employees might be on the road offering individual consultancy to members, other agents are likely to have urgent problems with a booking that could be sorted out within minutes.

Weintraub said being able to respond quickly could mean the difference between losing a booking or an agent having to use an alternative system which offers a reduced earning potential.

The ShoreTel system offers the ability to create ‘hunt groups’ so that if the person being called cannot answer the call does not just get ignored and is passed on to someone else.

It also allows the Advantage employees to use an instant messenger facility to request answers from colleagues while on a call or to patch other people in immediately to a conference call.

“People are always on the phone so with this system if members are trying to get in touch with us and we’re not around, we are reachable.

“It’s not very professional to get a voicemail or messages asking them to redial a mobile number.

“This is making us more productive. People are not using their Blackberries as much in the office and that’s helping with costs.”

Further developments Advantage is considering is using the phone system to reduce overseas roaming charges by switching calls to being made over wifi connections.

However, there are concerns about poor Wi-Fi coverage and hotel charges for access.

A more likely enhancement due to come in next year will be to move from the existing BT ISDN analogue line to SIP which allows communications over a firm’s IP network.

Outgoing calls will remain on ISDN, although if SIPS proves itself to be robust enough, Weintraub said it could eventually turn off ISDN altogether, expect as a back up.

“These days more and more businesses have employees working from home. Rents, particularly in London, are expensive and you just do not need that amount of staff in the office.

“So you need everyone on the same communications system. If I’m working from home and my mobile rings that person has no idea they’re speaking to me on my mobile.

“This might seem a bit stealthy, but it’s very user-friendly and is helping us have more of our staff on the road while maintaining service levels for all the membership.”

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