Blog

March 27th, 2017

2017March27VoIP_AOnline video chat turns stiff customer service interactions into a more personal experience. Seeing the person you’re talking to makes for a more substantial conversation. With that in mind, businesses ought to integrate such a function if they want to make significant changes to the way they handle customer inquiries. Despite the obvious advantage, few companies have adopted an online video chat functionality. It’s predicted that by 2018, that will change.

More visuals, better service

Unlike other customer service platforms such as phone, online chat, social media, and email, online video chat is highly personal and markedly interactive. The advantage is obvious: Customers see the person they’re talking to, which lends a greater sense of urgency and professionalism to a conversation. Businesses looking to improve their customer satisfaction rating can also benefit from a video-enhanced customer service capability.

That is not to say that an online chat or other ‘less visual’ modes of communication are insufficient in handling or managing complaints or queries. For some businesses, certain product or service inquiries could benefit from a visual demonstration, such as fixing a malfunctioning electronic equipment or assembling furniture. A video chat can also be massively beneficial to customers seeking help for an extremely technical computer issue.

Not all customers, however, would opt for a video chat to get assistance, but having it as an option is definitely going the extra mile. Having a video option also expands the customers’ options and increases their confidence in your capacity to assist.

Is online video chat really necessary?

Some companies aren’t eager to adopt a video-based customer service functionality due to several factors, such as costs associated mostly with staff training and contact center structure improvements. Despite being the least personal of all customer interactions, interactive voice response systems are still preferred by many because they’re cheaper to implement and maintain.

Other hurdles include inconsistent video chat quality and customer preference. The ubiquity of other platforms such as social media also poses a barrier to adapting video chat. Why spend money hiring extra staff and expend effort adding video capabilities when you can have anyone on the team log on to Twitter -- for free -- and solve complaint tickets?

Despite widely recognizing customer service and experience as a competitive differentiator, many businesses still resist video technology. For small- and medium-sized firms with limited resources that are therefore slow to adjust to new changes, this is understandable. Nevertheless, exploring video chat’s potential can undoubtedly enhance their customers’ experience, and, in time, prove invaluable.

As with many advances in unified communications technology, it wouldn’t be surprising if online video chat decimated other VoIP services and became the new norm rather than a budding trend. Do you want to explore the various features of your existing VoIP systems for your business? Call us for advice today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
March 22nd, 2017

2017March22Security_ARansomware is everywhere. Over the last couple years, dozens of unique versions of the malware have sprung up with a singular purpose: Extorting money from your business. Before you even consider paying for the release of your data, the first thing you must always check is whether your ransomware infection already has a free cure.

The state of ransomware in 2017

It’s been almost 30 years since malware was first created that could encrypt locally-stored data and demand money in exchange for its safe return. Known as ransomware, this type of malware has gone through multiple periods of popularity. 2006 and 2013 saw brief spikes in infections, but they’ve never been as bad as they are now.

In 2015, the FBI estimated that ransomware attacks cost victims $24 million, but in the first three months of 2016 it had already racked up more than $209 million. At the beginning of 2017, more than 10% of all malware infections were some version of ransomware.

Zombie ransomware is easy to defeat

Not every type of infection is targeted to individual organizations. Some infections may happen as a result of self-propagating ransomware strains, while others might come from cyber attackers who are hoping targets are so scared that they pay up before doing any research on how dated the strain is.

No matter what the circumstances of your infection are, always check the following lists to see whether free decryption tools have been released to save you a world of hurt:

Prevention

But even when you can get your data back for free, getting hit with malware is no walk in the park. There are essentially three basic approaches to preventing ransomware. First, train your employees about what they should and shouldn’t be opening when browsing the web and checking email.

Second, back up your data as often as possible to quarantined storage. As long as access to your backed-up data is extremely limited and not directly connected to your network, you should be able to restore everything in case of an infection.

Finally, regularly update all your software solutions (operating systems, productivity software, and antivirus). Most big-name vendors are quick to patch vulnerabilities, and you’ll prevent a large portion of infections just by staying up to date.

Whether it’s dealing with an infection or preventing one, the best option is to always seek professional advice from seasoned IT technicians. It’s possible that you could decrypt your data with the tools listed above, but most ransomware strains destroy your data after a set time limit, and you may not be able to beat the clock. If you do, you probably won’t have the expertise to discern where your security was penetrated.

Don’t waste time fighting against a never-ending stream of cyber attacks -- hand it over to us and be done with it. Call today to find out more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 17th, 2017

2017March17Business_AAdding value to your organization is very different than it was a few decades ago. Whereas business owners previously sought more tangible boosts like equipment and staff, cloud technology has totally changed the game. Now, a single piece of software is all it takes to totally revolutionize your fulfillment and shipping process.

First off, we need to clarify that inventory management systems (IMSs) are not the same as order management systems (OMSs). The former is a solution for analyzing your sales history as a means to forecast demand for your product and the materials you will need in the future, while the latter is all about the here and now.

What does an OMS do for you?

One of the toughest things about managing an eCommerce store is juggling a growing number of sales, each at totally different steps in your shipping process. An OMS service is all about organizing your orders into a coherent and manageable workflow. Here are just some of the difficulties it helps you wrangle:
  • Your eCommerce store can be connected to your inventory. If something is out of stock, it can be reflected on your site so customers aren’t misled about the availability of your product.
  • Payment authorizations can be automated and integrated with your shipping services.
  • You can provide reports to your customers about their order's shipping status. From intra-warehouse movements to on-the-truck updates, one page will have all the information they need.
  • Products and materials can be automatically restocked once they dip below a certain threshold.
  • Refund and returns can be automatically processed by your OMS.
And like any industry, there are dozens of OMS platforms with niche functionalities that may be better for your specific business model. The most important thing is that you find a solution that decreases the most tedious organizational tasks for tracking your store’s orders.

The cloud-based OMS

Orders are streaming in at all hours of the day, and you can’t guarantee that you’ll always be in the office when you need to check the status of an order. A cloud-based OMS stores all your information in a centralized location so you can access your information from home, the warehouse floor, or even while waiting for takeoff.

The cloud is generally one of the most reliable ways to add value to your business. There are dozens of platforms, just like OMSs, that require virtually no hardware and allow you to pay for exactly what you use. For advice on which solutions are best for your business, and how to deploy them, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
March 13th, 2017

170px_shutterstock_481869511A growing number of small- and medium-sized businesses are turning to social media to help facilitate growth. The reasons are obvious, social media is easy-to-use and capable of reaching an enormous amount of users. That being said, you might be missing out on one of the fastest growing platforms available: Snapchat.

Over 71 percent of Snapchat users are under 34 years old; as of 2015, the social network boasted over 100 million active users. It’s an ideal marketing option for businesses targeting a millennial audience. If you’re still unsure about Snapchat for your small business, consider these statistics:

    • 58 percent of college students are likely to purchase a product from coupons sent over Snapchat
    • 65 percent of Snapchat users contribute content on a daily basis
    • Only 1 percent of marketers are taking advantage of Snapchat, which means you can be an early adopter and gain a competitive advantage
Snapchat is a social media application that allows users to send pictures and videos - called “Snaps” - to others. The media sent can only be viewed for 10 seconds or less (you can specify the length), after which it disappears for good. You can add a Snap or multiple Snaps to create your own “story” which can be viewed by others for 24 hours.

The reason Snapchat is getting the attention of marketers is that it allows users to personally interact with brands. Instead of regular content, you audience gets a candid, behind-the-scenes look at your business. Also, by using Snapchat regularly, you’ll be able to keep your brand in the forefront of your audience’s mind. Then, when they’re making a purchasing decision between you and your competitors, they’ll choose you because of the relationship you’ve established with them. Now that you know what Snapchat is, the next step is to gain followers.

How to grow a following on Snapchat Unlike other social networks like Twitter and Instagram, hashtags don’t suffice when you want to get your audience’s attention. They have to find and add you - not the other way around. Even if you want to add other users so they could add you back, you can’t base the search on vague terms -- you have to know their Snapchat username to add them. Basically, Snapchat has no native discovery features.

In order to gain followers on Snapchat, you’ll need to use your online presence as well as other social media sites to create awareness and entice others to follow you. Here are some easy methods to get the ball rolling:

    • The “Add Me URL” feature - share a custom URL on other social media platforms that allow other users to quickly add you as their Snapchat connections. To do so, replace “yourusername” in the following URL: https://www.snapchat.com/add/yourusername
    • Promote your username in your social media profiles - promote your Snapchat username by posting it in other profiles to encourage people to add you. You can also share your username in email signatures, blog posts, and even your company website.
    • Share relevant content - plan an interesting series of Snaps to share with your followers and post all the details on other social media accounts along with your username and/or QR code image, this gives followers an incentive to connect with your brand.
    • Snapcode image as your profile picture on other social networks - take a screenshot and crop your Snapchat QR code image (Snapcode) and set that as a profile picture on your other social media accounts. Anyone who points their Snapchat camera at the code will automatically add you to their friends list.
Snapchat is one of the newest social media outlets to date. If you start building your brand on it now, you’ll be taking a huge step ahead of your competitors - especially now that Snapchat is catching up to Facebook and other social media giants. If you would like to know more about what Snapchat can do for your small- and medium-sized business, feel free to give us a call!
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
March 9th, 2017

2017March9VoIP_AThe VoIP industry is becoming increasingly hard to define. More and more are voice communications being made over internet connections, and sometimes you may not even realize you’re doing it. WebRTC is a newcomer to the internet-based telephony field. Read on to decide whether it's for you.

What is WebRTC?

At its most basic, WebRTC is a way to make phone calls, video calls, instant messaging, and file transfers with nothing but a web browser.

And in addition to being immensely convenient for end users, WebRTC is relatively easy to configure for administrators and developers. You can create a link on your homepage that will allow customers to initiate a video call without the need to dial a number from their phone, or even open up Skype on their desktop.

The benefits to your customers

This creates a much more connected customer service experience. With WebRTC calls, you’ll never have to ask “Ok, are you looking at our site?” They had to navigate to your site to even make the call, so a certain amount of knowledge can be assumed the moment you pick up the line. This allows customer service representatives to assist customers calling through this medium in a more specific, nuanced way than calls they receive from cellphones and landlines.

What are the drawbacks?

Compatibility is one of the main reasons to avoid jumping on the bandwagon too early. Most notably, Apple has been on the topic of working with this new technology. Developers have noticed nods to WebRTC availability in Apple’s callkit, but no official announcement has been made yet.

It could hurt user experience if an Apple user sees a “Start a video call now!” button but gets an incompatibility message when they click it. If you are still interested in giving it a shot, make sure to work with experienced professionals to test it in the wild before committing wholeheartedly.

The WebRTC critics

Some industry professionals are crying foul. They believe this new technology will diminish the relevance of VoIP and throw internet-based telephony into uncertain territory. In reality, WebRTC is a far cry from a VoIP killer because people who are willing to make calls from their desktop computer are still a small minority.

With a Unified Communications infrastructure, your staff utilize VoIP solutions to make and receive calls from traditional phone numbers in the same place they receive WebRTC calls. At the end of the day, this new technology isn’t about disrupting VoIP, it’s just about partnering together to give your customers new ways to get in touch with you.

The main reason to partner with a managed services provider is to ensure you’re always getting the best technology available. Although WebRTC might not be for everyone, it’s important for you to know what your options are. If you’re interested in becoming an early adopter of this technology, don’t wait another minute to call us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
March 3rd, 2017

2017March3Security_AThere have been some truly horrifying cyber-security headlines popping up over the last month. If you’ve been reading about “fileless” malware attacking banks and other big-name institutions around the world, we’re here to set the record straight: Your business isn’t in direct danger. But even if you’re not, staying abreast of all the details is still worthwhile.

What is this new threat?

To oversimplify the matter, fileless malware is stored somewhere other than a hard drive. For example, with some incredibly talented programming, a piece of malware could be stored in your Random Access Memory (RAM).

RAM is a type of temporary memory used only by applications that are running, which means antivirus software never scans it on account of its temporary nature. This makes fileless malware incredibly hard to detect.

This isn’t the first time it’s been detected

Industry-leading cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab first discovered a type of fileless malware on its very own network almost two years ago. The final verdict was that it originated from the Stuxnet strain of state-sponsored cyber warfare. The high level of sophistication and government funding meant fileless malware was virtually nonexistent until the beginning of 2017.

Where is it now?

Apparently being infected by this strain of malware makes you an expert because Kaspersky Lab was the group that uncovered over 140 infections across 40 different countries. Almost every instance of the fileless malware was found in financial institutions and worked towards obtaining login credentials. In the worst cases, infections had already gleaned enough information to allow cyber attackers to withdraw undisclosed sums of cash from ATMs.

Am I at risk?

It is extremely unlikely your business would have been targeted in the earliest stages of this particular strain of malware. Whoever created this program is after cold hard cash. Not ransoms, not valuable data, and not destruction. Unless your network directly handles the transfer of cash assets, you’re fine.

If you want to be extra careful, employ solutions that analyze trends in behavior. When hackers acquire login information, they usually test it out at odd hours and any intrusion prevention system should be able to recognize the attempt as dubious.

Should I worry about the future?

The answer is a bit of a mixed bag. Cybersecurity requires constant attention and education, but it’s not something you can just jump into. What you should do is hire a managed services provider that promises 24/7 network monitoring and up-to-the-minute patches and software updates -- like us. Call today to get started.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
February 28th, 2017

2017February28_Business_AWe can write about disaster recovery planning (DRP) until our fingers bleed, but if we never discuss real-world scenarios it’s all just fumbling in the dark. Examining these successes and failures is the best way to improve your business continuity solutions, and the recent audit of a state government office is rich with valuable takeaways.

Hosting certain types of data, or managing a government network, legally binds you to maintain DRPs. After an audit of the Michigan Department of Technology and Budget, several failures lead to a trove of helpful tips for small- and medium-sized businesses attempting to create a bulletproof disaster recovery plan.

Update and test your plan frequently

One of the first and most obvious failures of the department’s DRP was that it didn’t include plans to restore an essential piece of their infrastructure. The plan didn’t include steps to restore the department’s intranet, which would leave employees unable to complete even the most basic of tasks.

The reason for the oversight? The last time the plan was updated was in 2011 -- leaving out more than six years of IT advancements. If annual revisions sounds like too much work, just consider all of the IT upgrades and improvements you’ve made in this year alone. If they’re not accounted for in your plan, you’re destined to fail.

Keep your DRP in an easy-to-find location

It may seem a bit ironic that the best way to store your top-of-the-line business continuity solution is in a binder, but the Michigan Department of Technology and Budget learned the hard way that the alternatives don’t work. Auditors found the DRP stored on the same network it was meant to restore. Which means if something had happened to the network, the plan would be totally inaccessible.

Your company would do well to store electronic copies on more than one network in addition to physical copies around the office and off-site.

Always prepare for a doomsday scenario

The government office made suitable plans for restoring the local area network, but beyond that, there was no way for employees to get back to work within the 24-hour recovery time objective.

Your organization needs to be prepared for the possibility that there may not be a local area network to go back to. Cloud backups and software are the best way to keep everything up and running when your office is flooded or crushed beneath a pile of rubble.

DRPs are more than just an annoying legal requirement, they’re the insurance plan that will keep you in business when disaster strikes. Our professionals know the importance of combining both academic and real-world resources to make your plan airtight when either auditors or blizzards strike. Message us today about bringing that expertise to your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
February 24th, 2017

170px_shutterstock_231341854Social media marketing is tricky, to say the least. It’s difficult to allocate the resources that create the desired effect, especially when so many platforms are available. Facebook might be the biggest name in the industry, but that doesn’t mean it will suit your organization. Instead, business owners should familiarize themselves with all the available options.

Facebook According to the 2017 Wasp Barcode State of Small Business Report, Facebook is the most utilized social media of all the options. Out of the survey’s 1,100+ respondents, 68 percent used Facebook as an integral part of their marketing strategy, with LinkedIn coming in second at 39 percent.

One of the contributing factors to Facebook’s popularity is the fact that it’s currently approaching a total of 2 billion personal users, making it the first place companies go to when they want to increase their brand awareness. Other marketing-specific reasons businesses choose Facebook are social media referral traffic, terrific conversion rates for e-commerce traffic, and a huge impact on user purchasing decisions.

YouTube YouTube is considered an undervalued social media resource for two main reasons. Firstly, although it’s the second-largest search engine on the internet, it still looms in the giant shadow of its rival Google Search. But when properly utilized, YouTube allows you to create channels for your products or services to be discovered by users, with little more than search optimizations.

Secondly, Google actually owns YouTube, and videos are reportedly 50 times more likely to appear on the first page of search results than other organic content. Keep in mind that video production quality is more important than ever, so your content needs to be well-produced in order to make an impact.

Google+ Engagement and content on sharing might pale in comparison to Facebook, but an active Google+ page measurably contributes to the Google search ranking of your website -- just another way you can ensure your site’s position on the first page of Google results should be done. Also, Google+ has hundreds of millions of users and some of the platform’s features -- such as live Hangouts -- can be utilized to share content across all Google channels, including YouTube.

Snapchat and Instagram If your target audience is on the younger end of the scale, Snapchat is the way to go. The important thing to keep in mind when you want to connect with 18-24 year olds is to always be fun and creative. Your content doesn’t need to be overly-polished or corporate. Currently, there are over 100 million active users on Snapchat.

As for Instagram, it boasts over 400 million monthly users as well as a more well-rounded user base in terms of age and geography. The content on Instagram should look more professional and more artistic, and there’s an added benefit of direct integration with Facebook every time you post a new picture or video.

Yelp Review sites might not be the purest form of social media, but Yelp is another great way to connect with users and respond to (hopefully positive) feedback. If you’re concerned about the controversy and negativity that have arisen from Yelp reviews, the Yelp team is known for helping businesses improve their online status and rise above the harsh comments.

If you still have questions about social media platforms and how to utilize them to your advantage, feel free to contact us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
February 20th, 2017

2017February20_VoIP_A“Follow-me” features from VoIP vendors have revolutionized modern business telecommunications. Because internet-based phone solutions allow office workers to answer one phone number from multiple devices, companies can reduce costs and increase efficiency. But for all its certainties, VoIP may have you questioning one thing: Do you even need office phones any more?

Question #1: How often would employees answer work numbers from their mobile devices if you purchased desktop phones?

We’ve all been there, you see a great new feature and automatically jump to the conclusion that you don’t need legacy technology. Just because call-forwarding and follow-me features are convenient, doesn’t mean you should use them exclusively. If employees would use desktop phones for more than half of their calls, you probably don’t want to skimp on handsets.

Question #2: Do your employees ever take calls from their personal numbers?

If employees are already handing out personal numbers to customers and clients, the transition to taking work calls on their mobile device is far more likely to go smoothly. If not, you need to clarify what’s expected of employees during off hours before making the decision to go 100% mobile.

Question #3: How much texting, emailing, and messaging do employees do from their personal mobile devices?

Similar to question #2, how much business is already taking place on mobile devices will play a big factor in transitioning to a mobile environment. If your team is taking calls at their desk, but sending the majority of their text-based correspondence from mobile devices, getting rid of desktop phones may actually be a more streamlined approach.

Question #4: Do you want employees to focus on desktop integrations during calls?

Don’t forget about the profitable ways you can integrate a desktop phone with customer relationship management software, productivity tools, and call tracking. Most of these won’t be nearly as effective when 100% of calls are taken from a mobile device.

Question #5: Does your company have a mobile device management system in place?

Unless your organization already has a full-fledged BYOD plan, it’s not prepared for the onslaught of security risks associated with connecting your business data to your employees’ personal devices. In an all-mobile environment, every single employee device would need to be set up with a personal profile and a work profile to keep the two data streams separate and secure.

Question #6: What are employee experiences with call quality on mobile devices?

Preconceived notions from employees about VoIP call quality can play a tremendous part in a mobile device transition. If employee devices are older, run-down devices, there may be problems with getting the most out of your VoIP solution. And even if your organization is providing the mobile devices, employees may still be looking to complain to colleagues, and even customers, about the “reduction” in call quality -- even if there’s none to speak of.

The sexiest answer isn’t always the right one when it comes to technology. Going all-in on a mobile call strategy may sound great as a headline, but it’s not a project to be taken lightly. However, if it still sounds worth it you, we’re the team to make it happen. Contact us today to get started.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
February 15th, 2017

2017February15_Security_AThere has been a movement among technology providers to promise “proactive” cyber security consulting. Small- and medium-sized businesses love the idea of preventing cyber-attacks and data breaches before they happen, and service providers would much rather brainstorm safeguards than troubleshoot time-sensitive downtime events. But it’s not always clear what proactive cyber-security means, so let’s take a minute to go over it.

Understand the threats you’re facing

Before any small- or medium-sized business can work toward preventing cyber-attacks, everyone involved needs to know exactly what they’re fighting against. Whether you’re working with in-house IT staff or an outsourced provider, you should review what types of attack vectors are most common in your industry. Ideally, your team would do this a few times a year.

Reevaluate what it is you’re protecting

Now that you have a list of the biggest threats to your organization, you need to take stock of how each one threatens the various cogs of your network. Map out every device that connects to the internet, what services are currently protecting those devices, and what type of data they have access to (regulated, mission-critical, low-importance, etc.).

Create a baseline of protection

By reviewing current trends in the cyber-security field, alongside an audit of your current technology framework, you can begin to get a clearer picture of how you want to prioritize your preventative measure versus your reactive measures.

Before you can start improving your cyber-security approach, you need to know where the baseline is. Create a handful of real-life scenarios and simulate them on your network. Network penetration testing from trustworthy IT professionals will help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in your current framework.

Finalize a plan

All these pieces will complete the puzzle of what your new strategies need to be. With an experienced technology consultant onboard for the entire process, you can easily parse the results of your simulation into a multi-pronged approach to becoming more proactive:
  • Security awareness seminars that coach everyone -- from receptionists to CEOs -- about password management and mobile device usage.
  • “Front-line” defenses like intrusion prevention systems and hardware firewalls that scrutinize everything trying to sneak its way in through the front door or your network.
  • Routine checkups for software updates, licenses, and patches to minimize the chance of leaving a backdoor to your network open.
  • Web-filtering services that blacklist dangerous and inappropriate sites for anyone on your network.
  • Antivirus software that specializes in the threats most common to your industry.
As soon as you focus on preventing downtime events instead of reacting to them, your technology will begin to increase your productivity and efficiency to levels you’ve never dreamed of. Start enhancing your cyber-security by giving us a call for a demonstration.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security