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What to Look for When Selecting a Communications Provider

PULL QUOTE:

“Small business owners have less time to monitor changes in the industry and need to rely on their vendors to proactively provide updates on new products and services.”

While communications traditionally has been regarded as a utility, many smart companies now view it as a business-building tool. Small businesses should look for a communications provider that can equip them with a competitive edge, helping them become more productive by offering a unique blend of flexible communications services, simple flat-rate pricing and proactive customer service.

As the telecommunications market place becomes increasingly competitive, providers are being challenged to continually monitor the needs of the market and respond appropriately. Companies willing to invest a small amount of time to identify their communications needs with the help of their communications provider can actually enhance their businesses’ performance and customer relationships while watching overhead expenses.

Here are some key questions to ask and suggestions to keep in mind when selecting a communications provider:

1) Does the carrier offer any special calling plans or any additional value to their service over their regular rates?

– Small businesses should take advantage of special calling programs offered by long-distance carriers. A long-distance carrier should be able to provide a special calling program to fit the particular business’ needs and help increase their business performance. For example, Sprint offers a “Fridays Free” program that helps small businesses become more productive with free domestic long distance services each Friday. Using Fridays Free, some small businesses focus their customer prospecting calls, distribute broadcast faxes to their customers or schedule important conference calls for Friday, in order to boost their productivity through the use of the program. Program benefits include free domestic long distance calling, faxes, incoming toll-free calls, calling card calls, and wireless long distance and local toll calls (where available) on Fridays.

2) Does the carrier offer simplified billing to help me track expenses?

– Small businesses should take advantage of accounting codes and call control options provided by the telecommunication carriers. Even small businesses can take advantage of PC-based call management software. This active tool can simplify your accounting, provide comprehensive billing analysis and help use your staff’s time more efficiently by allowing them to focus on your business, not billing procedures. In the best case scenarios, all charges should be billed on one monthly invoice.

3) Does the carrier’s regular rates involve flat rates (no peak/off-peak), and six-second increments?

– Watch the bottom line. Look at how you’re being billed. Are you getting a flat-rate service for both voice and switched data service, inbound and outbound, domestic and international? Sprint bills customers in six-second increments. Sprint’s Business Sense program is an easy-to-understand long-distance service that allows businesses to pay one competitive rate for all calls, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Sprint was the first to develop such a program for small businesses.

4) Does the carrier offer “risk free” programs to small businesses to try new services?

– Small businesses must take advantage of the technology available to them in order to stay competitive — and the challenge in staying competitive includes limited resources available to small business owners. A “risk free” offer could help ease the fear of adding the expense of an additional service. Good telecommunications providers will offer & #283;risk-free” programs which encourage small businesses which have never established a toll-free number to test the service for a substantial period of time. Toll-free numbers give customers another avenue other than traditional mail to obtain a small business’ products or services. Toll-free numbers also create satisfied customers by opening a channel for them to call with questions or concerns. These satisfied customers often lead to repeat buyers. In addition, small businesses can advertise their inbound toll-free numbers in local media in order to drive calls to the number.

5 ) What kind of customer service programs does the carrier offer small business? Does the carrier have a service that will review the small business’ usage and will proactively suggest enhancements to their service that will help as their business grows and has new telecommunications needs?

– Small business owners have less time to monitor changes in the industry and need to rely on their vendors to proactively provide updates on new products and services. Try to select a telecommunications company that provides small businesses with proactive consulting on communication technologies. The best providers establish and maintain close, long-term working relationships between individual small business customers and their own account managers.

6) Does the carrier have a frequent user or rewards program available for small businesses to use to obtain free products and services to increase their business’ productivity?

– Sprint’s “Callers’ Plus” program is a unique rewards and benefits program in the telecom industry. Callers’ Plus awards points based on a small-business customer’s monthly telecom billing, which then can be redeemed for productivity-enhancing business tools, such as office equipment and supplies, and can be used in incentive programs such as sales contests. Callers’ Plus differs from other frequency programs, however, in its focus on encouraging users to redeem their points, rather than banking them in the way business travelers accumulate airline mileage points. Sprint has found that this program has increased their customer loyalty.

The key to selecting the best communications provider is to make sure that, as a small business, you are getting the right package for your needs. Small businesses should evaluate their current provider to ensure they are attentive to their needs and provide proactive consultation that can help maximize their services. Utilizing the simple, but powerful tools that telecommunications technology offers is one of the ways successful companies gain their advantage. The right telecommunications provider can enhance a business & #237; productivity and enable them to market more effectively.

Greg Banks is Senior Director of Small Business and Brand Marketing Communications for Sprint Business.

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