Author Archives: Alon Cohen

About Alon Cohen

Alon Cohen is Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Phone.com.

Choose Your Business Tools and Procedures with Care – and Know When to Use Them

by Alon Cohen

Tools Isolated on a White BackgroundI was raised in a family that was passionate about using the right tool for the job. My parents have enough vintage tools and early tech gadgets at their home to fill a museum. One-of-a-kind hammers, saws and pliers. Unusual generators, power supplies and oscilloscopes. Not to mention all the old computers—our obsession with tech and tools spans four generations!

Over time I came to understand that each tool has a purpose, and using it incorrectly can have negative consequences—injury, inefficiency or permanently damaging a good tool. Try using a screwdriver as a chisel by hitting the handle with a hammer. The result is damaged handle that can injure your hand or a damaged tip that makes the tool no good for chiseling.

The Danger of SOPs in Aviation

In a similar way, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in organizations are really tools. Using them ensures the reliable achievement of a desired outcome, assuming they match the task at hand. If a process does not match the task it supports well, it’ll result in inefficiency, poor performance and low morale. It will act as a weight on the business instead of giving it wings to take off.

In fact, in the world of aviation, there are documented cases where strict adherence to SOPs led to disaster. The aviation industry has a multitude of carefully devised procedures, designed to keep us safe. In the nineties, an ELAL Boeing 747-cargo flight crashed over the Netherlands after two of its engines detached from the wings. The pilots could have saved the airplane; however, the crew followed the emergency protocol to the letter. Unfortunately, the plane’s instrumentation, no longer connected to the detached engines, gave the pilots false readings. The procedure no longer matched the situation, and the plane eventually lost the ability to control systems and crashed, killing 43 people.

Learning from this tragedy, airlines now train pilots to ignore SOPs in certain emergency situations. They are trained to trust their instincts instead and just land the plane. The landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009 is a perfect example, where instinctive thinking led Captain Sully to make the right decision not to try landing at a nearby airport, but instead ditch the plane into the Hudson River close to an active boat route that could evacuate passengers. Airlines frequently learn from accidents, building those scenarios into their flight simulators. Much like the use of duct tape to save Apollo 13, thinking outside of the box can save lives. While policies and procedures are essential in routine, stable situations, SOPs may be just the wrong tool in a dynamic situation.

SOPs in a SAAS Environment 

I’ve spent much of my professional life building software, not working in aviation, but allow me to translate. In a Software as a Service (SAAS) environment, processes like Kanban and Scrum are essential to delivering projects on time and to specification. However, once your software service is running, bugs inevitably pop up, and servers and Internet connections fail, resulting in unexpected situations for the code. These events require prompt attention, and ignoring them or building a queue to fix them one by one, is like employing the wrong tool. You run the risk of a service meltdown and possibly even worse consequences—imagine the phone system for a 911 service failing.

Developing SOPs for the myriad of dynamic situations that can arise in a SAAS environment is impossible and in many cases, a waste of time. If you fix a software bug properly, the likelihood that you’ll need a standard procedure a second time is slim. You’re better served spending the time training people (your most effective tools) to think and respond creatively.

At Phone.com, we’re constantly working to strike the balance between creating effective procedures to ensure quality, while at the same time responding quickly when an unforeseen issue arises. Here is my advice. The next time you think you need to add a process in your organization consider the age-old acronym KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Ask yourself if you will ever need this procedure again and how frequently. If the answer is no, use the time saved to evolve your tools and people by sharing information among the group. Evolution does not happen in one day, but as your team knowledge grows, the performance, efficiency and job satisfaction will build exponentially.

Phone.com University

Phone.com University – Implementing an “Exit” Option from a Voicemail

by Alon Cohen

In a recent webinar, one of our agents asked how to create an “exit” from leaving a voicemail message. This would be useful when callers don’t want to leave a message but rather want to reach someone else in your organization.

Normally, when a caller reaches voicemail they have just one option—to leave a message and/or hang up. If the caller wants to try another extension, the voicemail system typically does not offer an exit.

With Phone.com’s simple but powerful call handling rules, it is possible to create an exit path from voicemail so that your callers don’t have to hang up and call back.

Accomplishing this requires three simple steps:

  1. Creating a greeting with the re-direct options stated.
  2. Creating a menu and configuring the re-direct selections.
  3. Forwarding to your menu in your call handling rules.

Creating Your Greeting

  1. Mouse over Configure and select Add a Greeting.
  2. Enter a name for your greeting in the Nickname: field.
  3. Select a method to record your greeting and record the message.
  4. Select Save Greeting.

Example: You have reached Alon Cohen’s voicemail. To leave a message, press 1. To go back to the main menu, press 2. If you want another extension, please dial it now.

greeting

 Creating Your Menu

  1. Mouse over Configure and select Add a Menu.
  2. Select the greeting you made in the steps above for the Outgoing Message.
  3. Select Continue.

Configuring Your Menu Options

You are now on the Edit Menu screen where you will configure two options:

  • Option 1 will direct callers to the voicemail you specified in your greeting.
  • Option 2 will allow callers to get back to your main menu.

Option 1

  1. Select Edit for Option 1.
  2. Change Select Operation to Leave Voicemail.
  3. Choose the extension you want voicemails left in.
  4. Select Save Rule Settings.

Option 2

  1. Select Edit for Option 2.
  2. Change Select Operation to Goto Menu.
  3. Choose your main menu in the drop-down box.
  4. Select Save Rule Settings.

menu

Forwarding to Your Menu

Navigating to your call handling rules will differ depending on your unique setup. We will assume that you are already at this section in your account.

  1. Select Add Next Action at the bottom of your call handling rules.
  2. Change Select Operation to GotoMenu.
  3. Select the menu you made in the steps above.
  4. Select Save Rule Settings.

chr

In the example above, if the extension does not pick up within 20 seconds, the rule will engage action B, which will direct the caller to the Exit menu.

Exit achieved! That’s it for today, see you next Monday for some more Phone.com knowledge.

Phone.com University

Phone.com University – Porting a Phone Number Seamlessly to Phone.com

by Alon Cohen

Phone.com has a dedicated team of service agents trained to support our more complicated deployments. When these agents configure a new account, they typically port the customer’s original phone number over to Phone.com without any interruption to their existing phone service.

This article is primarily written for our agents who are assisting their customers however, all customers can benefit from this bit of knowledge regarding our porting process.  It offers guidelines on how to maintain phone service during the porting process and highlights common issues that may arise.

Tasks Outside of the Phone.com System

Before porting the number to Phone.com, be aware of the following points:

  • Prior to porting any numbers, check for contractual obligations or pending orders with the prospect’s current phone provider. Some companies will not release numbers, claiming that they own the number or that the customer’s contractual obligations do not allow porting at that time.
  • Make sure the number that you want to port is currently active. Inactive numbers cannot be ported.
  • Never try to close an existing account with any phone company before porting the number over. If you close the account before porting, you run the risk of losing the phone number.
  • Always forward the original number to Phone.com before starting the porting process. Some companies may not let you set up call forwarding once you’ve started the porting process.

On the Phone.com Side

Before porting the number, be sure to consider the following when configuring the customer’s Phone.com account.

  • When setting up the Phone.com trial account, create a virtual extension and place all your call handling rules on that extension. We call this a Mezzanine Extension, as it sits between the phone number and the rest of your menus, IP Phones and so on.
  • Do not set any call handling rules on Phone.com temporary numbers, other than simple forwarding to the Mezzanine Extension. If you eventually delete a temporary number, you will lose the rules associated with it.
  • Use call handling rules presets. When deleting an extension or number that has call handling rules on it, the rules will be deleted also. However, if you stored them as a preset, they will be saved on the account under the Presets list.
  • When porting the original business number to Phone.com, the process creates an additional temporary number that will be replaced by the incoming business number. Be sure to forward that temporary number to the Mezzanine Extension you created.

diagram

Once the number is ported over, it will replace the temporary number. All calls will be routed to the Mezzanine Extension and all phone functions will continue to work flawlessly.

Once you confirm that porting is complete, delete the original trial phone number from the account and place a test call to the ported number to make sure everything is working properly. Also be sure to call the other phone company and tell them to close the account. Many companies will continue to charge the customer every month, even if the customer has no phone numbers with them.

Group SMS – A Story About A Counter-Intuitive Solution

by Alon Cohen

group_sms

As you may know, anyone can create a group SMS on an iPhone by adding two or more participants to the “to” section. This method is also compatible when messaging Android smart phone users.  As a bonus for iPhone users, it even supports MMS (i.e. Pictures).

One problem with this method is that when you create a group, there is no way to save it in the phone address book. Also, if you include people that do not have a smart phone, they cannot respond to all nor can they create such a group either.

Prior to the iOS update that introduced the current group SMS functionality, users could send one SMS to a group of people.  The problem was that each recipient could only respond to the sender.  It was around that time that I sat in a restaurant with my son, Gal Cohen, (at the time, a computer science student at Rutgers University) and we tried to think of service ideas for Phone.com that might appeal to students.

We recognized that students primarily use SMS (Texting) for communicating with their friends and that hanging out together is a big portion of what occupies their minds.  With that realization we came up with the idea for an application that might help them communicate via SMS when they try to plan a night out. From this discussion emerged the Phone.com Group SMS service.  Our goal was to create a service that would work from any phone, smart or not, and provide the ability to create persistent groups that could be saved, invoked, created and managed!

The main obstacle we ran into is that in order for each group to be persistent, they need to have a phone number that is stored in the user’s address book. This is very costly since sooner or later Phone.com would end up with thousands of groups and a phone number associated with each group. Phone numbers in inventory represent a cost to the service provider (e.g., Phone.com) that holds them.

The solution that we found is counter-intuitive. Instead of allocating a phone number to each group, we decided to assign one to each group participant.  This must sound crazy considering I just said that numbers represent a cost.

Here’s how it works.  As long as we know the user based on their caller ID and we never assign the same user the same number twice, we can reuse telephone numbers between different users. In this case, the maximum number of phone numbers we will ever need is equal to the maximum number of groups our most social user will need. In other words, if our most social user has 100 groups, we will need 100 phone numbers for millions and millions of different groups. Our back-end obviously needs to be a bit smart in terms of managing the process, so for the sake of simplicity, I will leave that out and let you read about it in our GroupSMS patent!

I know it sounds a bit complicated and if you did not understand it, you are in good company! It took me hours of working with a patent lawyer to explain it in legal patent language and later elaborate on it to the patent examiner. Luckily, they eventually understood it. They realized this was an innovative solution and allowed our patent.

To try our app, download Group SMS from the App Store.

If you are on any other phone, you can use our free service by sending the text below to 1-973-577-6378.

The TEXT you will need to include in order to initiate a group SMS should be formatted like this:

PhoneNumber1 ParticipantName1 PhoneNumber2 ParticipantName2 PhoneNumber3 ParticipantName3 YourNameLast

Once the bridge responds, it will receive a Persistent Caller ID that you can save in your address book under something like “Group AlonPeterJeremy” or “Group Emergency.”   Give it whatever name you with and you are done.  Now, any time you wish to send an SMS to your group you can simply send an SMS to that particular contact in your address book.

If you text the word “Help” to 1-973-577-6378 you will get few more goodies to play with!

Enjoy! It’s free!

Phone.com University

Phone.com University – Ensuring Business Continuity

by Alon Cohen

When using the Phone.com service in a small business setting, the users more often than not will use our IP Phones. However, most small businesses do not have an alternate Internet solution since the Internet is usually reliable.  This begs the question of “What is your contingency plan when your Internet connection fails?”

It is also a common misconception for people to think they must have Internet service to receive and place calls with their Phone.com service..  This actually happens to be only partially true. Yes your IP Phone must have a working Internet connection in order to place or receive calls however, you can set up the Phone.com system to detect when your Internet is offline and simply route calls to your cell phone instead.   Now, in the event that your office is flooded or your Internet connection is down, you can still run your business without interruption.

Let’s first talk about how this works with inbound calls.  In your call handling rules associated with the extension you can set up the following (see the image below). The idea is to include in the same rule an alternate call destination such as your cell phone number. When your IP phone is offline, our system will initially try to call it and when no one answers, it will forward to the cell phone. However, after some time Phone.com will realize that the IP phone is unreachable and will immediately call your cell phone. That is until your IP phone is back online.

continuity

As for the outbound calling, you can use your cell phone as well to place Phone.com calls. You do need to make sure the caller ID on the outbound call displays your business number as opposed to your cell number.  To achieve this you will need to install the FREE Phone.com Mobile Office app on your smart phone (iPhone or Android). Once installed you can use the app to place calls from your cell phone.  From the settings in the app you can configure the caller ID you wish to display.

Our app allows you to do so much more than that.  It includes access to your voicemail, faxes and even SMS (TEXT) messages that were sent to your Phone.com number and extension.

To learn more about the Phone.com Mobile Office click here.