Category Archives: Business

Squander your budget on business

Trojans, worms and spyware sound like elements straight from a summer blockbuster, but the kind of action/adventure they provide on your PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets make them more like a horror movie.

By deploying effective endpoint security, you can help prevent attacks and keep your users safe from viruses and other malware, such as spear phishing and advanced persistent threats. Today’s  state-of-the-art endpoint security has come a long way from its early roots in “antivirus” and has morphed into a complex suite of sophisticated protections against modern threats.

 

But good protection isn’t free; so, how can you save money, while still protecting your computers? Here’s how to reduce your investment….

 

Keeping users safe

In an ideal world, users would be perfectly security conscious. These mythical users wouldn’t:

  • Click on suspicious links.
  • Open file attachments emailed by criminals pretending to be their friends.
  • Respond to phishing messages that appear to be from a bank.
  • Disable software updates because warnings and reboots are annoying.
  • Disable a security product because it slows down their PC.
  • Install free software from an untrustworthy developer, because their friend liked it on Facebook.

Sadly, our world is less than ideal. Much, much less: A recent report said that 86 percent of U.S. businesses surveyed had lost sensitive data during the previous year.

User awareness training helps, but it isn’t sufficient. That’s why your endpoints need securing. Doing so helps prevent your users from accidentally exposing sensitive business information, such as your  banking credentials, secret-sauce recipes or future product plans.

 

Save time and money on endpoint security

Your challenge is to protect your users while minimizing costs: How do you save time and money, while keeping your company safe?

Look for a modern endpoint security solution – not one thrown together from an old antivirus program and a fresh coat of paint.

 

How can you tell?

A start-of-the-art solution does the following:

  • Works intelligently in the background, without bogging down the user’s computer
  • Scans for malware in seconds, not hours
  • Uses a reliable, built-from-the-ground-up cloud security service to identify malware, not a huge signature file that’s quickly out-of-date
  • Works intelligently while offline, reconnecting with the cloud service to check changes made while disconnected
  • Fixes infected PCs, if necessary, by rolling back the computer’s state to a known-good point
  • Automatically monitors untrusted software executions to prevent infection
  • Allows you to enforce certain policy settings, such as use of USB ports, and prevents users from disabling security features
  • Doesn’t fight with competing installed products, to allow you to test it safely

 

How does it reduce your investment?

A modern solution will reduce costs by being integrable, controllable and reliable. That means your operating costs are lower, and you won’t lose money from malware infections that only waste IT workers’ time and squander end-user productivity.

Purchase cost is, of course, a factor. However, in most analyses of total cost of ownership (TCO), operations and end-user productivity losses dwarf all other costs.

SMBs Faster and Lighter

The Apple iPad and its many Android “sincere flatterers” have comprehensively shaken up the market for mobile computing; in fact, the late Steve Jobs coined the phrase “post-PC for just this situation.

The days of the traditional laptop computer may not be totally over, but is a hinged screen-keyboard combo the only tool for serious mobile work? Nope. Here are five reasons why….

 

1. For content creation, just add keyboard

Tablets are great for content consumption. Hit the button, and you’re immediately scrolling through Web pages, YouTube videos, annoyed avians and the like. This can lead to the impression that tablets are only good for passively consuming; that they’re no use for creating content, such as documents, spreadsheets and other staples of business life, but that’s short-sighted.

Obviously, tablets’ on-screen keyboards aren’t easy or ergonomic typing tools. However, there’s a wide range of Bluetooth options available that can turn an iPad or Android tablet into a lean, mean, writing machine.

 

But if you’re going to add a keyboard to your tablet, why wouldn’t you just buy a laptop? The next three reasons answer that…

 

2. ARM = light weight + long battery life

PC and Mac laptops are built around the Intel processor architecture, using chips from either Intel or AMD. Often known as x86, the architecture is great for compatibility with the PCs we’ve used for years, but it’s encumbered with historical baggage that makes x86 machines hot, heavy and hungry for battery juice. Modern laptops have improved but are still a world away from today’s tablets.

Most tablets break from Intel’s historical hegemony by using chips designed by ARM. These so-called system-on-a-chip architectures use much less power than x86 – especially when idle. This and modern battery technology can give tablets a 10-hour life and weeks of standby readiness, which means you can get more work done on the go.

Intel is fighting back, though the jury’s still out on whether it can compete. Intel tablets will at least be able to run the full version of Windows 8, as opposed to the cut-down, ARM-only Windows RT.

 

3. Cellular data: a first-class citizen

Today’s tablets often include access to 3G and 4G/LTE networks. The data networking technology is seamlessly integrated, so that you can switch between it and Wi-Fi with no noticeable interruption.

That’s much cleaner than the typical Windows or Mac laptop with an add-on 3G dongle; the difference being that cellular data was designed into tablets from the get-go. So there’ll be fewer excuses to not get the presentation finished on time.

 

4. Seriously cool sci-fi toys today

Who can forget countless Star Trek episodes where an impractically uniformed ensign brought a portable device to Capt. Kirk for him to sign off on some Starfleet paperwork? These sort of science-fiction visions drive gadget designers to invent the future… and who doesn’t want to live in the future?

Don’t deny tablets’ “cool factor.” Your users want to use them, they want to be seen using them, and they’ll thank you for letting them use tablets in business. (However, make sure you stay safe by protecting against Romulan malware and the Klingon drive-by.)

 

5. The phablet trend

There’s also a place in some users’ hearts for a tablet that’s also a phone. In today’s Brangelina world, some refer to these hybrid phone-tablets as phablets: big phones that are also small tablets. Why carry two devices, when you can have one?

We first saw this trend emerge in 2010, with the 5-inch Dell Streak. More recently, Samsung made a splash with its 5.3-inch Galaxy Note. They’re not for everyone, but they do have a growing niche and could translate into greater productivity.

Know about internet telephony

Many SMBs and SOHOs are walking away from their traditional phone companies and moving to the Internet for their telephony needs. In tech jargon, they’re switching from POTS (“plain old telephone service”) to Voice over IP (VoIP, pronounced as one word). Read on to find out what it is, why you should use it, and what to watch out for.

 

VoIP lets you make phone calls over the Internet with a number of advantages over your landline. It gives you low calling rates, especially when making overseas calls; excellent voice quality, rather than the muffled squawk of a traditional phone; and extra features (or easy access to the hard-to-use features you already have).

A phone using VoIP is different from a regular phone; instead of connecting to an analog phone line, it connects to a computer. That computer is usually called a VoIP gateway, and it’s the bridge between the handset and other telephone users.

Breaking it Down: VoIP Types

Cloud vs. Local

The gateway connects you to the regular telephone network, or to other VoIP users. Your gateway might be on-site, or it might be a hosted service—“in the cloud”—that you connect to via the Internet.

Running it yourself might be a good option if you have the expertise in-house, but for most people, a service is the simplest and least expensive option.

Which System?

Classical VoIP is based on Internet standards like SIP and RTP. The best-known example of a commercial service like this is Vonage; the best-known in-house product is probably the Cisco UCM Suite.

Some newer systems are based on a different standard, called Asterisk. This is a robust, battle-tested system supported by many vendors, including Fonality.

(Normally, you can ignore all this nerdy alphabet soup, but it’s helpful to know which standards your system uses, in case you ever need to know about compatible add-ons.)

No discussion of VoIP software would be complete without mentioning Skype. It’s probably best known as a consumer-focused, free, peer-to-peer service, but the company also offers a service aimed at businesses of all sizes. It’s not just a program you run on your computer; you can also buy dedicated desk phones that work with Skype.

Security

One of the advantages of VoIP over regular phone service is the extra security. In the VoIP world, voice scramblers aren’t just the preserve of the military.

It’s similar to working with a secure website, such as your bank. By enabling encryption, you get privacy for your business communication, plus authentication (i.e., protection against call rerouting).

While we’re on the subject of security… remember to stay safe. If your users connect to any Internet services—including VoIP—make sure they’re protected with business-class security.

Also, check with your provider about emergency calling (911 in North America, 112 elsewhere). Some providers do a better job than others of routing your call to the correct dispatcher for your location.

Equipment Types

What do you want on your desk? With VoIP, you have three main choices:

  • A regular, wired phone: To connect to a VoIP system, you plug each phone into a bridging device, known as an analog terminal adapter (ATA). The simplest type of ATA has two sockets: one for the phone and one to plug into your computer network.
  • A dedicated digital phone: These all-in-one devices plug straight into your network. Because they’re designed to work with your VoIP system, they often have extra buttons to control special features — for example, there might be a “call back” button, so you don’t need to remember arcane commands like *69.
  • A softphone: This is VoIP software that runs on your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet. Skype is the program that most people think of, but other VoIP systems can also work with software-only phones. Some examples are AOL Instant Messenger, Cisco IP Communicator and Jitsi.

Other Aspects to Consider

If your power goes out, a traditional phone continues to work because your phone is powered by the phone company, not your building’s power. However, with VoIP, you’ll probably lose service if you lose power. Think about keeping a traditional phone and/or a cellphone as backup.

You may or may not be able to keep your current phone number. Ask your intended provider about number portability, before committing.

VoIP doesn’t always work well for uses other than voice calls, such as fax machines, security systems and satellite TV receivers.

The beast is dead

Oh beastly server, how I will miss thee and thy constant neediness. No longer will I need to cool you down, swap out your bad memory and reimage your data after the inevitable crash.

I have found a better way to handle all of my applications and storage and – get this – I will never again have to physically touch a server or worry about data loss because my backups are automatic and redundant.

Yes, we are breaking up because I have moved on – to cloud solutions. I understand you’re upset, but please get a hold of yourself – and let go of my leg. It’s embarrassing.

 

Why use the cloud?

In all seriousness, maintaining a local server farm for small- and medium-sized businesses has traditionally been looked upon with a certain amount of justifiable dread due to the time and expense involved in maintaining hardware, ensuring data redundancy in the event of corruption and putting new servers online when scaling up.

Cloud computing easily handles all of these issues, and its benefits extend beyond simply outsourcing these annoying tasks. In fact, the affordability and stability of cloud solutions are engendering a sea change in how enterprises can milk their data to improve operations in ways that were previously just too costly to consider.

 

The scalability factor

As an example, let’s consider one of the cloud’s main benefits: massive, and nearly instant, scalability. Storing enormous amounts of data live in the cloud allows that information to be creatively used to solve real-world problems.

Consider a case where a business uses artificial intelligence to detect employee theft by identifying transaction anomalies when compared with years of historical data stored in the cloud.

Prior to cloud solutions, this data might have been archived and taken completely offline to make space for new storage. The affordability of cloud storage and the ability to simply order up more of it with a few mouse clicks enables businesses to leverage and explore a robust, active data set that might go back to the first document or transaction ever stored.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget that this is all available for a much lower cost and faster speed than dedicated local servers, which might lack proper load balancing.

 

The world is your office

Another benefit to cloud solutions is the creation of a huge mobile workforce that not only allows workers to operate from all over the world, but also reduces the enterprise’s carbon footprint, thanks to less commuting and reduced power needs.

Using this model, office square footage is greatly reduced as workers access applications and data remotely, and the need for office staples such as desks, computer workstations, phones and kitchen supplies is eliminated.

Cost and environmental benefits not with standing, the cloud-based mobile worker phenomena does present a bit of a headache when it comes to one thing: security.

 

The security issue

The enormous amount of company data and wide variety of endpoints used in the cloud, compounded with the fact that a company’s data is on servers shared with other unrelated businesses, understandably brings to mind security questions and concerns.

Businesses can take advantage of BYOD

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.

Save money with secure providers

Just a few short years ago, the image of an IT department for small and medium businesses was one of Dilbert-looking technicians noodling around with Cat 5 cable and speaking in a blend of Klingon and Robot. In other words, IT seemed completely remote, complicated and inaccessible to most employees. Additionally, each new hardware and software deployment, including installing malware protection, could take weeks to manually implement across the enterprise, and rarely went smoothly.

One solution – outsourced IT – has found greater acceptance in the past few years as its benefits have become more tangible to even small businesses. It is estimated that globally, 74 percent of companies use some form of outsourced IT solution, up 25 percent from 2009.

 

Read further for compelling reasons why a small or medium business should consider the IT-outsourcing trend.

 

Cost savings

Moving IT off-site can save an SMB thousands of dollars per year. As most business decisions are predicated on the bottom line, this is often the main driver in the decision to migrate. Areas of savings include:

Reducing hardware expenses. Servers, storage, cabling, cooling, and datacenter square footage expense can now be on a cloud vendor’s dime, not yours.

No salary or benefits expenses for IT employees.

Potential tax savings by converting capital expenditures (servers), that depreciate slowly over time, to a monthly cost which can potentially be deducted in the current tax year.

 

The latest software versions – hassle-free

Outsourcing IT means software, including malware protection for endpoints, can be updated automatically by the provider. This obviates the need for a local tech to run around taking workstations offline for upgrades.

Furthermore, updating software not only unlocks newer features, but also closes exploits in older versions that might allow hacker penetration. So it’sworth exploring any platform that can make this process painless and automatic, such as a cloud service.

 

Focus on your business, not technical issues

Anyone who survived working in Corporate America from the 1980s onwards is familiar with the spectacle and lost productivity that accompanies the proverbial “system going down.”

When outsourcing IT to the cloud, this nightmare occurs less often as data is often distributed redundantly across many servers that are monitored constantly, leading to greater stability and uptime, and less worrying about IT matters.

 

Improved security

Reputable outsourced IT providers are dead serious about security against malware, zero-day hacks and other intrusions and constantly monitor and update their protection schemes.

For most SMBs, outsourcing will provide a more frequent and secure back-up solution than their existing IT setups. Furthermore, as the data is kept off-site, it is well- protected from a local catastrophe, such as a fire or flooding.

 

No new employees to manage when scaling up

Scalability is easy with outsourced IT – simply contact the vendor for more storage, memory and processors as needed. There is no longer any need for job postings, interviews, expensive training, personality clashes, worker’s compensation or other common HR issues and liabilities just to get tech personnel to handle the increased operations.

Instead, you can focus your payroll budget on production or sales staff that directly drive revenue.

 

How to move to the cloud

Prior to outsourcing your IT, draw up a migration plan. Then study the stability and security reputation of outsourcing providers before trusting them with your mission-critical data. Malware protection is increasingly important, so discuss solutions with each candidate to explore what steps they take in the event of a breach.

Taking the leap on business

Leaving their business consulting positions, they approached the student union bodies in Trinity College, University College Dublin and Dublin City University with the idea. They all agreed to partner with Orla and Sean and provide a service offering grinds to students in need. “It’s often the case that a certain percentage of students in one class need one-on-one attention from a tutor and it can’t be provided,” explains Orla. “Most lecturers are aware of this and happy for students to take grinds as a result. And that’s where we come in.”

The company launched last year, and since then Sean and Orla have branched out into providing grinds for Junior and Leaving Certificate students due to demand. “We decided that we’d set up a separate site for school grinds and started a new company called TutorHQ,” explains Orla. “It officially launched last September and has been doing incredibly well since.”

A unique offering

Challenges the business initially faced included the recruitment of tutors, not only in Dublin but in other parts of the country like Limerick, Cork and Galway. It’s also been a challenge to make students aware of the service and most of their marketing has concentrated on online ads. “Our ultimate aim is to provide a tutor for students, no matter where they are in the country,” Orla says. “But we also have to make students aware that we exist.”

At the moment, the company’s main competitors are grind schools. However, TutorHQ differs in that it offers one-on-one tutoring in the student’s own home. All tutors are vetted by the company and Orla stresses that they only take on those with a Leaving Certificate ‘A’ in the subject or a qualified teacher. What’s more, many of the grind schools do not allow online booking.

“We make it really easy for people to find the very best tutors in a short period of time wherever they are in the country,” adds Orla. “We’re like no other grind school. Our service is unique.”

Two months after it launched, TutorHQ already has over 700 tutors located throughout Ireland. What’s more, it’s being used by hundreds of students. Orla and Sean have now set their sights on the UK and are hoping to expand their business there soon.

Tools to help Start-ups succeed

“We couldn’t have done it so far without the help of AIB,” explains Orla. “Their support and MyBusinessToolkit have been invaluable.”
Out of the five tools in MyBusinessToolkit, the account management tool Sage has proved the most useful to Orla. “It allowed me to see exactly how I was spending money,” she says. She also found Receipt Bank useful. “It’s much easier than filing receipts, in particular when you’re dealing with a lot of them,” she says. “I would highly recommend MyBusinessToolkit for anyone starting a new business. It has been a major factor in our success so far.”

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 attackers 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.

However, you’re not safe if you simply ensure there’s distance between you and a potential attacker; hackers have been known to use directional, high-gain antennae to successfully communicate over much greater distances. For example, security researcher Joshua Wright demonstrated the use of such an antenna to hack a Bluetooth device in a Starbucks from across the street.

To combat this threat: Once again, switch off your Bluetooth!

 

Bluetooth headsets

Wright has also demonstrated serious flaws in many popular Bluetooth headsets. By exploiting these vulnerabilities, attackers can eavesdrop on your conversations with the people around you, not just your phone calls. Built-in hands-free car kits can also be vulnerable.

The device becomes, in effect, a mobile bugging device, transmitting everything it hears to an attacker.

To combat this threat: Make sure you change the default PIN code to something hard to guess. And yup… switch off the headset.

How to Be Proactive About Potential Breaches

Are you tiring of users continuously badgering you to get corporate network access for their mobile devices?  Does your corporate management want to buy tablets for the sales team? If so, your small- to medium-sized business (SMB) needs to start proactively addressing mobile security breaches such as malware.

 

Modifying your existing security policies and protocols, establishing new policies and educating your mobile workforce are economically sound frontline solutions for securing your corporate enterprise and trade secrets.

Here are some tips on how to address mobile device security breaches beforethey happen:

  • Establish corporate information access guidelines. It’s important to pre-determine how mobile device users will access corporate information. Will users download data to devices? Will they access the data remotely? The answer will vary from company to company, so be sure to consider your situation uniquely.  If your company has to be in compliance with a regulatory body like PCI Data Security Standards (DSS) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), then consult with your auditor before enabling network access to mobile devices.
  • Establish device control policies. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) can be full of benefits like saving on corporate hardware purchases and increasing productivity for your mobile workforce and SMB. However, the negatives can outweigh all those positives when a BYOD device brings malware into your network. Create a policy that governs how your corporate IT staff can gain control over a personal device, while maintaining your network security. Include information about how to keep personal information private (e.g., via a mobile device backup strategy that doesn’t touch personal data) and define corporate ownership over data and applications.
  • Enforce device-level security.  Both corporate-owned and personal devices should have secure passwords and screen locks; document this requirement in your mobile device policies. In addition, make sure it’s clear that both personal and corporate mobile devices maintain up-to-date corporate-approved (and preferably corporate-managed) antivirus and security software installed to guard against malware and other security risks.
  • Develop and deliver mobile workforce security training. Education can be just as powerful a security tool as technology. Develop and deliver mobile workforce security training built around keeping your mobile workforce productive and prepared to be the first line of defense against malware and other security threats to their mobile devices. Spell out your corporate policies and include a participant sign-off stating that they understand and will abide by the policies.
  • Determine deal breakers for your mobile device policies. In establishing mobile security policies – regardless of your industry – there are going to be deal breakers when you have to deny certain user requests.
    Deal breakers might include devices not running the current version of its OS, or they may be jail broken. There should also be a defined escalation path for deal breakers so the denial can be dealt with in an official manner with reasons formally documented in your mobile device security policies.

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.)