“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Just like this famous quote, often attributed to Henry Ford, when IT leaders ask their people whether they want a telephone on their desk, of course most people respond with “no, we are happy just to use a mobile phone that our organisation pays for”.
The home landline is dead …
We’ve all heard about the consumerisation of IT, but should every technology trend we see happening at home be adopted in the workplace?
In just six years, the number of Australians who have ditched their home landlines and are mobile only for voice calls has doubled. As of June 2020, 60% are mobile only. Based on the trend line, that’s probably closer to 70% now.
Being mobile only at home makes perfect sense for most of us. Who calls you on your home phone today anyway? Why would you make a call from a landline when your mobile plan probably includes enough monthly minutes to make the call for free. (If you aren’t already using an Internet-based voice or video service.) So why pay for a home phone line that you barely use?
Unfortunately, a lot of the executives and IT leaders I talk to are thinking the same thing about their own organisation’s extension numbers: “Why pay for a landline service when all my staff already have mobile phones? Even if they do have an extension number, most of them have it permanently forwarded to their mobile.”
For IT, this is an easy way out. You can give everyone a mobile phone and pay for their plans, and you don’t have to manage the service anymore. You don’t have the cost and responsibility of a PABX and you’re no longer responsible for the extensions and the handsets on people’s desks.
The problem is, (respectfully) you are looking at it from the wrong angle.
If you ask your employees whether they want or need an extension number, most of them will say no. To them, an extension number means a physical, featureless phone on the desk that offers them no benefit over the mobile phone they always have with them anyway.
But what happens to all those work calls that your people are making and receiving directly using their mobile phone number?
These are business transactions over which your organisation has no ownership, governance or control. The mobile phone is an island at a time when the business is desperately trying to remove organisational silos and shadow IT.
Your contact centre agent, receptionist or colleague won’t know if you pick up the call. You can’t influence the productivity or effectiveness of these calls or adjust business processes to respond to changing needs and expectations. Who are my customers calling and when are they calling? How can I validate my customers’ complaints made over a mobile device?
Your staff member can’t easily transfer the call to a colleague. What if that person is on leave, unavailable, the battery has run out or they are just on another call? Those calls can’t be picked up by another team member, which can have a significant impact on customer experience.
If you issue everyone with a mobile phone and a calling plan, how much is this costing your business per user per month?
Is it worth paying for a service where you have little influence on reducing the TCO (total cost of ownership)? Apart from shopping around for a better deal or negotiating a better rate with your mobile service provider, there’s not much else you can do to influence cost or productivity.
What’s the ongoing cost of lost or damaged devices, as well as excess calling minutes and data charges? What happens to that mobile number if your employee leaves? Do you really want them taking it with them?
Are there more cost-effective options than issuing mobile devices and paying carriers for calling plans?
From your employee’s perspective there are some significant disadvantages too.
Most people don’t want to carry around two mobile devices – one for work and one for personal use. Also, it’s not great for employee welfare when the boundary between work and leisure time has blurred, because the concept of ‘after hours’ is lost when you always have your mobile phone with you.
The office extension is no longer bound to your desk. The office phone can go anywhere with you – as an app on your computer and your smart phone, so you don’t need to carry around a second mobile. You can even set up ‘after hours’ rules through the system so that when you finish work for the day, so do your calls.
How do you maintain visibility on employee productivity, particularly in a hybrid working environment?
There has been a rise in the use of intrusive surveillance software to monitor employee productivity, but why not draw on the unobtrusive, in-built data analytics and reporting of a cloud-based enterprise unified communications platform? And, if this is integrated with your CRM or service management software, the data you can analyse and report on is even richer, enhancing the “single view of the customer” and ongoing customer engagement.
Some of the responses I’ve had from organisations who have implemented RingCentral include: “I didn’t know I was losing so many customer calls to reps on their mobile phones until I brought telephony back into the enterprise and integrated it with my CRM.” And “I didn’t know my employees weren’t fully utilised until I started reviewing reports on their calls.”
… Long live the office extension!
(In the form of a cost-effective, cloud-based service that dynamically scales with your business and integrates with your core applications while helping measure and efficiently manage your customer communications.)
Mobile communications have made an incredible difference to how we work and live, but they can be a blunt and costly instrument if we operate them in our businesses as islands, without any proper integration and connection with our colleagues, systems and the overall organisation.
The next time you are weighing up whether or not your office extensions should go the same way as the home phone, it’s best to rephrase the questions you ask your audience and think about the impact it will have on customer service, the employee experience, and overall productivity and efficiency.
That should give you a totally different perspective on the alternatives available.
Originally published 22 Oct, 2021