Category Archives: Business

Superior Customer Service

Along with enduring root canals and eliminating malware, dealing with customer service call centers probably ranks near the top of the “most painful experiences in life” list for many people.

Causes for the discomfort include: complex telephone trees that require a preposterous number of key presses to get anywhere; interminable hold times; agents who lack all but the most child-like expertise; and, most maddening: when a customer finally connects with someone who might actually help — they are frequently disconnected.

There has to be a better way. And, there is… in the cloud.

Cloud-based services and applications are making headway into reducing this customer service mess, allowing small business owners to affordably improve the customer experience with cool features that people love, including social media and mobile device interfaces.

 

The importance of customer service management (CSM)

According to a ClickFox survey

  • More than 50 percent of disgruntled customers will spread negative information to others in their social circles.
  • More than one-third of unhappy customers will completely stop doing business with a company that has wronged them.
  • Even worse, 60 percent of those people exposed to these negative comments in social media are influenced by them, meaning most people will avoid you if their friends say you stink.

Not only does this represent lost revenue from these particular customers, but it can wreak havoc on SMB marketing efforts (and budgets) that now have to overcome not just their competitors’ advertising messages but also the negative perceptions and bad word-of-mouth caused by these unpleasant customer service experiences.

 

Cloud solutions

Placing your customer service in the cloud better meets the expectations of customers who are increasingly connected to the web via mobile devices and, therefore, expect instant answers. Rather than deal with a call center, many even prefer self-service answers for their support issues, searching online to bypass traditional help desks altogether.

Businesses can enable this migration of customer service functions with an ever-increasing list of services, including Zendesk, Service Cloud, Desk.com, Parature, and Zoho. Most provide not only traditional phone, email and chat functions, but also integrate with social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to offer robust self-service options.

Mobile-specific CSM apps include Gripe, available for both iPhone and Android, which enables consumers to vote positively for a company with a “cheer” or complain with a “gripe,” both of which get posted to their Twitter and Facebook accounts while also messaging the company’s customer service department for quick resolution.

 

Tangible benefits

According to a Frost & Sullivan report, one 500-seat cloud-based implementation provides up to twice the cost savings of a 100-seat dedicated center over a five-year period. Imagine the impact on your business and customer retention to have five times the customer service agents at half the cost!

There are other advantages of cloud CSM, such as:

  • Eliminating server equipment and maintenance costs
  • Improving agent productivity and first contact resolution rates (Solutions are moved from spreadsheets and other arcane local systems to easily searchable online databases.)
  • Achieving scalability by adjusting agent numbers as required (Some solutions offer instant additional part-time agent rentals for as little as $1 per hour.)
  • Reducing call volume, thanks to social media and self-service elements

BYOD Enterprise Program

The corporate workforce is changing: Employees used to stay chained to their cubicles, plugging away on company-issued PCs. Today, remote workers perform the same tasks on their own high-tech tablet or laptop while soaking up the atmosphere at their local coffee shop.

Employees are increasingly using their own devices as the mobile workforce grows in importance. A Computing Technology Industry Association study found that 84 percent of professionals surveyed use their smartphones for work, but only 22 percent of their companies had a formal mobility policy. The upshot of this mobile shift is that corporate networks will be increasingly vulnerable, unless these devices are reined in with a BYOD enterprise program.

If your company lacks a mobility policy, consider incorporating the following five elements into your BYOD program to save time and money.

 

1. Include clear, written rules

Eliminating risky end user behavior through clear BYOD policies saves IT expenses right off the bat. Some of the most salient points to cover in writing include:

  • Prohibited devices, such as jailbroken phones
  • Blacklisted applications
  • Procedures for lost or stolen devices, including the possibility of wiping out all data on a device
  • Privacy disclosures, such as what personal information the enterprise has access to on a device

Some of these issues, like whether the company can legally wipe out data on a device they do not own, should be cleared with your human resources and legal departments to minimize the risk of lawsuits.

 

2. Make sure it’s formally presented

It is not enough to have employees sign off that they have read the policies – formal classroom or online training is recommended to ensure comprehension and compliance – especially for less tech-savvy workers who might not understand that seemingly innocent actions can expose the company to risks.

 

3. Ensure that it’s scalable and flexible

Make sure your security software can be painlessly installed on new devices. Cloud-based services do this particularly well and are typically available on a per-user subscription model, which saves money by protecting only what is needed at any given time.

Also, consider exceptions to rules, such as allowing peer-to-peer networking programs for certain users who might benefit from these tools. Otherwise, employees may risk bypassing your security protocols in order to use forbidden applications.

 

4. Secure against the greatest number of threats possible

Risky behavior such as opening email attachments from strangers or visiting dubious sites on BYOD devices should be addressed in the written policies and further safeguarded via antivirus software.

There are other exploits to be aware of, which might not be as obvious, such as fake antivirus scanners that users might innocently install, and social engineering (or phishing) threats. A good endpoint protection program will keep employees up-to-date on these lesser-known attack vectors and continually inform them on how to best protect their devices. This does not require much expense but does involve staying abreast of threats and implementing a solid communication plan.

 

5. Allow for remote monitoring and control

You have to have a degree of oversight over which BYOD devices are accessing your corporate systems. This is where a third-party mobile device management tool (MDM) can pay valuable dividends. MDM services provide benefits such as malware blocking, policy enforcement, logging, encryption and remote wiping, all from a single, centralized platform.

How to Secure Mobile Workforce Devices

Bluetooth is best known as the wireless technology that powers hands-free earpieces. Depending on your point of view, people who wear them either:

a) Look ridiculous (especially if shining a bright blue LED from their ear);
b) Appear mad (when apparently talking to themselves); or
c) Are sensible, law-abiding, safety-conscious drivers.

 

Whichever letter you pick, insidious security issues remain around Bluetooth attacks and mobile devices. While most of the problems identified five to 10 years ago have been straightened out by now, some still remain. And there’s also good reason to be cautious about new, undiscovered problems.

 

Here are a few examples of the mobile security threats in which Bluetooth makes us vulnerable, along with tips to secure your mobile workforce devices.

 

General software vulnerabilities

Software in Bluetooth devices – especially those using the newer Bluetooth 4.0 specification – will not be perfect. It’s unheard of to find software that has zero security vulnerabilities.

As Finnish security researchers Tommi Mäkilä, Jukka Taimisto and Miia Vuontisjärvi demonstrated in 2011, it’s easy for attackers to discover new, previously unknown vulnerabilities in Bluetooth devices. Potential impacts could include charges for expensive premium-rate or international calls, theft of sensitive data or drive-by malware downloads.

To combat this threat: Switch off your Bluetooth when you’re not using it.

 

Eavesdropping

Bluetooth – named after the Viking king, Harald Bluetooth Gormsson, thanks to his abilities to make 10th-century European factions communicate – is all about wireless communication. Just like with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth encryption is supposed to stop criminals listening in to your data or phone calls.

In other words, eavesdropping shouldn’t be a problem. However, older Bluetooth devices use versions of the Bluetooth protocol that have more security holes than a tasty slice of Swiss. Even the latest specification (4.0) has a similar problem with its low-energy (LE) variant.

To combat this threat: Ban devices that use Bluetooth 1.x, 2.0 or 4.0-LE.

 

Denial of service

Malicious attckers can crash your devices, block them from receiving phone calls and drain your battery.

To combat this threat: Again, switch off your Bluetooth when you’re not using it.

 

Bluetooth range is greater than you think

Bluetooth is designed to be a “personal area network.” That is to say, devices that are more than a few feet away should not be accessible via Bluetooth.

School network caught underpaying

The hugely popular Paul Sadler Swimland, which provides 30,000 swimming lessons a week to children across Australia, has been caught underpaying hundreds of young instructors over six years.

A Fairfax Media investigation can reveal that the franchise network, which operates more than 15 swimming schools in Australia and overseas, underpaid staff hundreds of thousands of dollars by breaching conditions and entitlements in the company’s enterprise agreement.

Staff say the original enterprise agreement – which includes no penalty rates for weekend work and has staff classified as seasonal part-time instead of casual – has left some workers worse off than they would have been under the award.

The underpayments, which date back to 2010, are the result of some employees not having their rates increased as their age went up and the incorrect application of grades for more experienced teachers.

Many also did not receive pay for long-service leave despite working at the company for more than seven years.

As well as underpaying staff, the enterprise agreement required them to renew their contracts every 10 to 12 weeks and included a flexibility agreement which reduced the minimum shift rate to 1½hours from three hours under the award.

Snaps up Woolworths

Control of the country’s multi-billion dollar petrol market is set to be turned upside down with UK oil major BP plunging $1.8 billion to buy the Woolworths nationwide chain of petrol stations which will catapult it to the position of market leader, and triggering immediate concerns over the level of competition within the industry.

Embattled retailer Woolworths has been in talks to sell its petrol stations for several months, with Caltex the underbidder. Caltex already supplies the Woolworths network of petrol stations, and it will see its share of the market shrink with the sale.

At present, Woolworths and Coles each hold an estimated 24 per cent of the national market, with Caltex holding 18 per cent in its own name, ahead of BP’s 15 per cent. The purchase of the Woolworths outlets will give BP a dominant 39 per cent share of the national market, sparking concerns that its share of the market could dampen competition.

As a result, the competition watchdog the ACCC, said it is to review the deal, with motorist organisations pushing to ensure any deal does not lessen industry wide competition.

BP’s purchase comes in the wake of the exit of Shell Oil from petrol retailing. It sold its Victorian refinery and 870 branded petrol stations to international oil trader Vitol in 2014, while another global trader, Trafigura, with an African partner of the Gull, CCG, Matilda and Neumann Petroleum outlets in recent years, giving it a spread of 270 outlets under the Puma Energy brand.

“The ACCC has been formally advised of the proposed transaction,” the competition watchdog said in a statement. “We will commence a public review once we receive a submission from the parties.”

The highest level on business

The S&P/ASX 200 Index closed at the highest level since August 2015 in its first trading session since Christmas on fresh interest in the mining giants.

Low volumes typical of the post-holiday period did not hold back a strong open to trading, boosting the ASX higher for the fifth gain in four sessions.

Taking its lead from Wall Street where the Dow Jones again tested the historic 20,000 point mark, a bump in oil and iron ore saw resources stocks lead the local market higher. The benchmark consolidated early gains to close up 57.1 points or 1 per cent to 5,685 points.

The price of iron ore, Australia’s largest export, added 1.6 per cent to $US79.42 a tonne lifting BHP Billiton, up 3.3 per cent to $25.44, and Rio Tinto, up 2.4 per cent to $60.17. Fortescue Metals advanced 3.5 per cent to $5.97. South 32 jumped 3 per cent to $2.81.

Banks were flat with Commonwealth Bank posting the strongest gain of 1 per cent to $83.31.

The price of brent crude oil fell 0.3 per cent to $US55.94 a barrel on Wednesday ahead of production cuts linked to the OPEC deal.

Woolworths will sell its petrol station portfolio to BP in a $1.8 billion deal that will help the retail giant fund its ongoing fight to regain market share in the grocery sector. Shares in Woolworths were 1.9 per cent higher to $24.31. The deal ends months of speculation around the future of Woolworths’ service station business. “The sale proceeds will be used to strengthen the Woolworths balance sheet and reinvest in its core businesses,” the retailer said. Woolworths committed to retaining its fuel discount for shoppers for a further 10 years.

Caltex Australia, which is a supplier of 3.5 billion litres of fuel a year to the Woolworths service stations, fell 2 per cent to $29.99. Caltex was an underbidder in the auction process. “Whilst we are naturally disappointed that the successful fuel alliance will come to an end, it is important that we exercise financial discipline in pursuing growth,” Caltex boss Julian Segal said.

Rival Wesfarmer, owner of Coles, added 1 per cent to $42.53.

Shares in retailer Myer slumped 1.4 per cent to $1.37; the company was served with legal proceedings over its Chadstone store lease last week.

The Australian dollar reversed some of its losses over the past few days and was up 0.3 per cent against the US dollar fetching US72.05¢. Most commodity currencies have fallen against the dollar this past week. The Australian dollar is the sixth worst performing major currency over five days.