Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Zavee News

by on Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Wondering what we have been up to lately?

Zavee has partnered with a firm called RewardsNOW to bring the Zavee platform to merchant networks sponsored by banks and credit unions. RewardsNOW is a leader in providing loyalty and rewards programs to mid-market financial institutions – over 200 of them.

Zavee is integrating its social loyalty platform with RewardsNOW’s existing loyalty suite to create an advanced loyalty program called Shop Main Street. Shop Main Street will provide marketing solutions to local merchants, valuable offers to local shoppers that are integrated with their current loyalty program, and a range of benefits to local financial institutions.

The first two markets for Shop Main Street are in suburban Boston and Metro Detroit. Detroit in particular is a great opportunity, because RewardsNOW has a dozen clients in that market which represent more than 250,000 registered cards! Integrating the two platforms has required extensive new development, much of which has improved the existing Zavee platform. Look for more great news from Zavee and Shop Main Street during 2013.

And thank you for your continued support.

Making Social Media Easier

by on Monday, January 23rd, 2012

When we talk with local businesses about Social Media, the most frequent objection to becoming more socially engaged is time. Many local merchants believe that the time required to attend to Facebook and Twitter is better used for tasks more directly related to running the business. Rather than argue the importance of Social Media, we’d like to pass along a post on Mashable that introduces some tools that make it easier than ever for a small business to manage its Social Media presence and derive maximum value from this powerful marketing medium.

via Kevin Moore (Creative Commons)

Some of these tools are geared toward agencies or at least larger companies, but there are two that we have used successfully at Zavee: HootSuite and TweetDeck. Both applications live on the desktop although both have mobile versions. TweetDeck is free and HootSuite has a free version that should be fine for most businesses. Both apps let the user manage multiple streams (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) simultaneously, including posting the same content to several streams. Both apps make it easy to schedule posts, so an hour or two on the weekend can result in a week’s worth of posts.

It’s also easy to redirect content, so a link, image or other content that is found on Twitter can be shared out on Facebook (and vice versa). This can be especially valuable for Zavee merchants, because Zavee shoppers now can share merchant-related content on Social Media even more easily than before. So merchants that sees a good review or recommendation can increase its reach by putting that content in their own Social Media stream. Merchants also can push news announcements published on Zavee to their Facebook and Twitter streams. That gets their own content noticed by even more potential customers.

Social Media can’t be fully automated, any more than any other marketing tool. But these two apps (and others mentioned in the Mashable post) can make the time devoted to Social Media time well spent.

The Old Ball Game Finds Some New Tools

by on Thursday, September 1st, 2011

ESPN baseball writer Jayson Stark has an entertaining and informational column this week about how the iPad has taken over baseball. Not just the device itself, but the information that it can display and the way that information is used.

Instead of relying on scouting notes, which are inherently subjective and qualitative, managers, coaches and players can look at opponents’ statistical tendencies – and video clips that back up the stats. Citing the RaysJoe Maddon, Stark calls this the “second great renaissance” in baseball, the first being Branch Rickey‘s pioneering use of statistics from the 1920s on.

Marc Falardeau via Creative Commons

Today, of course, the growth of Sabermetrics has made the breadth and depth of available statistics in baseball somewhat overwhelming, so computers are essential to unlocking their value. What the iPad does is put the necessary number crunching and report displaying power required into the hands of every pitcher, catcher and hitter – as well as every manager and coach. Stark cites many examples of how these changes have changed the game, from increases in defensive shifts to decreases in fastballs in fastball counts. It’s a fascinating piece, and not just for baseball fans.

The theme of Stark’s column, obviously, is that knowledge is power. Many smaller businesses operate like the baseball teams of twenty years ago, knowing intuitively that more data would help them perform better but believing that experience and intuition can fill the gap. But like baseball teams that are slow to embrace statistics and technology, the difference in achievement is there for all to see.

Savvy marketers, of every size, know that there is no substitute for data. Judgment is important, and no business – or ball club – should be run by robots, but merchants need to have the most in-depth understanding possible of who their customers are, what they are doing, and what they want. Some if this information is difficult to obtain, but some is there for the taking.

For example, Zavee lets merchants see every purchase by a Zavee shopper, observe trends, and even determine which Zavee offers are working better than others. This is the kind of information that lets merchants segment their customers and market separately to each segment. It lets merchants test and evaluate marketing plans. And it helps merchants determine the return on their marketing investment. It even works on an iPad.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • The only businesses too small to use data are the ones that want to stay small.
  • Some information is difficult or expensive to find, so obtain what you can afford and use it creatively (Hint: Zavee can help).
  • Do what baseball does and decentralize information – let colleagues help collect, analyze and use information to grow the business.

A Look at the Future of Location-Based Marketing

by on Friday, November 19th, 2010

Bill Hanifin of Loyalty Truth (and a friend of Zavee) was kind enough to point me toward the Location-Based Marketing Summit held recently in New York. Bill thought it would be worth my while and, as usual, he was right.

Although the conference organizers were interested in what comes next for location-based marketing, most of the speakers were oriented toward the here and now. I came away from the conference with a far greater understanding of the uses and limitations of the current technologies and platforms while getting a grasp on some of what lies just over the horizon in the location-based space.

The Wise Marketer, a leading UK-based site for forward-thinking marketers, asked Bill to provide a write-up on the conference. Bill’s report, with which I assisted, was first published in The Wise Marketer for this week and is reprinted below:

The conference blended strategic and tactical insights about location-based marketing techniques, and most of the speakers observed that this branch of mobile marketing is still in its infancy. The principal strategic focus of the conference, however, was on consumer engagement and how to increase it.

Several speakers referred to Forrester’s recent finding that regular use of the ‘check in’ model was still in single-digit percentages, and that consumer awareness of these services wasn’t much higher – a report that has however been disputed at least once.

Either way, with estimates of more than 12 million people playing what consumers will initially consider “the location game”, smartphone penetration reaching 9% of the handset market, and SMS usage covering 95% of all wireless customers, it is clear that almost all consumers can be reached with marketing messages via a mobile handset.

Ian Schafer, CEO for Deep Focus, discussed ways in which marketers could use the technique for more effective marketing, suggesting that it can grow customer loyalty, increase relevance, and provide useful data and insights. He considers the smartphone to be “the next generation loyalty card”, with targeted deals and discounts being available upon check-in (or perhaps even without a digital check-in). By way of example, he highlighted ShopKick, which has a hardware platform that pushes reward currency to the consumer as soon as they enter the merchant’s store (without the consumer even having to check-in or make a purchase).

Android Phone

Android Phone (by Johan Larsson - Creative Commons)

Most of the speakers, including Schafer, took it as read that delivering more relevant marketing messages increases their effectiveness. And, in a highly fragmented communications environment, the relationship between relevance and effectiveness is even more essential.

Overall, it was agreed that location-based applications can at least provide:

  • People – other users who might have something in common with the user;
  • Content – messages or offers based on what the user likes that is at/near her location;
  • Time and Place – targeted, timely messages or offers based on where the user is right now;
  • Context – communications based on prior behaviour, as tracked by the location-based device.

The potential of location-based data is that it can drive better business decisions by adding additional dimensions (i.e. time and place, captured over time in real-time) to what is otherwise known about each consumer’s behaviour. One great example cited was the Microsoft Bing ‘Home Turf Finder’ for the World Cup, which identified certain bars in New York City as “home turf” for fans of a particular team. The determinations were based in part on editorial sources such as Thrillist, but were mostly derived from ‘heat maps’ of consumers who had checked in or tweeted their support as well as their location.

Several speakers also noted Google‘s recent announcement that 30% of mobile searches and 20% of all internet searches have local intent, and said that all of the major players (e.g. Facebook, Google, and even wireless carriers) were already focusing on local information.

There was also considerable discussion of ‘Groupon’, although some panellists expressed doubts that the “deep discount, deal of the day” model provides sustainable customer growth. Speakers agreed, however, that geo-targeting adds value by increasing both relevance and personalisation. And, in order to thrive, it was agreed that location-based applications must provide the consumer with something of value, preferably in terms of relevant and personalised content.

Overall, panellists agreed that there is great demand for marketers to engage with consumers at “the right place and the right time, all the time”. Mobile couponing, despite being a fragmented space, seems to have taken hold. As a result, one area in which technological developments are anticipated is indoor navigation, where GPS signals are sometimes degraded and are not designed to be accurate enough for navigation within a store.

Finally, the issue of consumer privacy arose in almost every session. John Nicholson of law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman concluded that “the more value a marketer delivers, the more information a consumer is likely to share”, and that an application that seems to exist only for marketing purposes is unlikely to gain the consumer’s trust.

(Article copyright 2010 The Wise Marketer)

4 Things I Just Learned About Location-Based Marketing

by on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

As someone who enjoys – but doesn’t completely get – Foursquare and other “check-in” services on the Web, I was looking forward to the Location-Based Marketing Summit I attended last week in New York. I learned a great deal about this rapidly-growing field, and I had the chance to hear and speak with some of the people who are responsible for the latest thinking and most interesting developments in location-based services (LBS) and their application to marketing. Here are some of the things I learned at the conference:

via jorgempf (Creative Commons)

Check-in is only the beginning. Services such as Foursquare and Gowalla have received so much publicity lately that it’s easy to equate LBS with check-in. But LBS also includes maps and other query-based services (imagine wandering through a museum and using your mobile device to learn about the painting you’re standing in front of) and a variety of shopping platforms (mostly deals and discounts but also several loyalty platforms) as well as socially oriented services like Foursquare. What can LBS do for marketers? At least three things:

  • Grow loyalty. Some marketers, such as Tasti-D-Lite, are using LBS as a loyalty platform, where a purchase results in an automatic “check in” and a message to friends as well as an award of loyalty points. A new service called TopGuest drives enrollment in hotel loyalty programs by offering bonus points when a guest checks in (in the LBS sense).
  • Increase relevance. Adding time and place to any information increases its relevance. And almost any kind of information can be made more valuable by adding relevance. Location data can tell marketers about what people like to do and to buy, and when and where they like to do it. It can place consumer behavior in context: Is going to Starbucks after the gym the same as going there on the way to work? Is going to Starbucks because it’s convenient the same as going there because you like it? With more detailed and relevant information about the consumer, marketers can create messages and offers that are much more relevant to the consumer – and more likely to be acted on.
  • Provide data. Marketers also can use aggregated location data to make better decisions. Comcast, which uses Twitter as a customer service channel, has been mapping tweets as a way to learn where service resources are needed most and communicate with customers in those areas. Location data can also be used to map patterns of customer behavior, from which bars attract fans of what teams to which doctors are prescribing what medications.

Engagement is everything. The hype about check-in services has obscured the wide variety of location-based services that are already available. The common denominator among them is engagement. How can LBS create engagement? One way is to deliver relevant information delivered in real time. Or, as one speaker called it, earning attention by being in “the right place, right time, all the time.” Another source of engagement is providing an enjoyable experience, such as by including game mechanics. On a superficial level this is how the check-in services work. But the real value of these services is relevance: for avid users, where their friends are and what they are doing right now matters. Another way to create engagement is financial: location-based shopping services that provide deals and discounts certainly have an audience.

Local is next. It’s easy to think of LBS as the province of large marketers, and it’s true that large marketers are better able than small ones to take the risk of jumping into LBS early. However, many of the speakers (and attendees) at the conference were talking about local applications. Why? One reason may be that, according to Google, one-third of mobile searches and 20% of all searches have local intent. That’s a big audience to overlook, and with the cost of technology decreasing, local marketers have a chance to engage with them using a location-based platform. Although local use of LBS is still in its early stages – for one thing, awareness of and interest in LBS is thought to be low among local marketers – look for substantial growth in this sector. And look for Zavee to be right in the middle of things.

Privacy is a transaction. This was one of the most eye-opening insights of the entire conference. No speaker disagreed that consumer privacy concerns were a legitimate issue for LBS and the marketers who use them. Several speakers, for example, were critical of Facebook for being insufficiently sensitive to users’ privacy concerns. But every speaker who discussed privacy at any length made the same point: While a service that exists only to push marketing messages will always have a privacy problem with consumers, a service that delivers a genuine benefit will find consumers more likely to share private information. The greater the benefit, the greater the sharing. This only works, of course, if consumers know what they are being asked to share – a potential issue with some advertising programs. All of the speakers at this conference, however, emphasized the need for LBS to be transparently opt-in with an easy way to opt back out. It will be very interesting to see, over the next several years, whether this transactional notion of privacy reflects consumer behavior or whether there are certain bright lines that no LBS can safely cross.

This has been a busy few weeks but our conference-going isn’t over: Zavee CEO Alan Pleskow and I are off to California for the Rise of Social Commerce Conference in Palo Alto – expect a post about it next week.

Zavee, Privacy and Data Security

by on Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

When I was writing this post I wanted to link to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post. I had previously signed up for Facebook Connect for the Post so I was taken directly to the article. And I have a small confession: I don’t think I fully understand how Facebook Connect works and, more importantly, what its implications may be for the privacy of my information on Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg at f8 2010 (Washington Post photo)

In his op-ed Zuckerberg admits only to “mov[ing] too fast” to introduce privacy tools that “were too complex”. Zuckerberg goes on to say that Facebook’s intention was to provide “lots of granular [privacy] controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted.” The ability to fine-tune privacy settings seems like a good idea given the wide variety of content available on and through Facebook. However, the risk of missing something significant and inadvertently setting a control incorrectly may well outweigh the value of granular controls.

However, Facebook’s recent history of introducing, then modifying, changes to the platform, along with its enormous size and influence in the social media space, has created an environment in which not everyone is willing to take the company’s statements at face value (the comments on almost any post on the allfacebook blog are instructive). We believe that it is in the interest of everyone in the space – users as well as networks – for Facebook to get a better handle on how to develop, introduce, explain and refine significant changes to its platform.

It is axiomatic that users should control the amount of personal information they share, and with whom. I’m not sure there is one best way to ensure this, and granularity versus ease of use for privacy controls seems to me a debate worth having. Zavee is oriented toward the ease of use end of the spectrum. We provide very clear but fairly granular choices about who gets to see what information. Furthermore, all of our privacy settings default to the most limited distribution, which minimizes the downside risk for the user.

In addition to receiving credible assurances about the privacy of their personal information, users of social networks – especially social shopping networks – need to be completely comfortable that any financial information they provide will be maintained and transmitted with the utmost security. Platforms such as Mint ask for a wide range of personal financial information since Mint’s model is to aggregate that information and make it easier for the member to use. Blippy and some other sites require registration of a credit card, as their model involves sharing purchases over a social network. Zavee also requires registration of a credit card, although unlike Blippy Zavee does not share purchase details over the network.

Zavee has a number of safeguards in place to protect users’ credit card data. First, we use Secure Sockets Layer technology from industry leader Verisign to provide secure access to the platform for every Zavee user. That’s why our URL starts with “https://” and has a distinctive green band in the address window. You can see the Verisign seal in the footer of our site and can click on it to learn more about Secure Sockets Layer technology.

Second, we only collect the minimum card data necessary for the Zavee platform to function. Anyone who has ever made a purchase online, or even over the phone, knows that the merchant is required to collect not just the the card number, but also its expiration date and security code, and sometimes the zip code for the billing address. Zavee only needs the card number, so that’s all we ask for. Anyone who improperly obtained that information would still be unable to use the card for an unauthorized transaction.

Third, Zavee itself never collects or stores any credit card information. The card registration page may look the same as other pages on the Zavee site, but it isn’t actually on our site at all. When a user registers a credit card the card number is automatically encrypted and sent directly to our data provider, a company called TSYS. TSYS is one of the largest credit card processors in the world and maintains secure credit card databases for, among others, VISA itself. Once TSYS receives and registers the card number it sends a secure, unique identifier back to Zavee. Our system is set up to use only this identifier when we process shopper transactions, so the actual card number remains within TSYS’s secure environment. Our databases are stored in a secure facility in the US, but if anything happened to the card identifiers we would simply get a copy of the relevant database from TSYS.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Overly complex privacy settings may have the effect of inadvertently decreasing actual privacy. No one should find that acceptable.
  • Zavee is a simple platform from a privacy standpoint and has simple, intuitive privacy controls that are designed to minimize user risk.
  • No one should ever be in doubt about the security of their financial data. Zavee uses industry best practices to protect the credit card numbers that members provide.

Checking Out Checking In

by on Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Have you checked in yet?

Foursquare @SXSW

Foursquare @SXSW

Location-based social networks such as Foursquare and Gowalla make use of the GPS capabilities of smartphones to let users communicate in real time not just what they are doing, as with Twitter, but where they are. They are growing rapidly, and for businesses they are well worth checking out.

Both networks are about two years old but have entered the mainstream only recently. Users of Foursquare “check in” at different locations to tell their friends where they are and what they are doing. Foursquare also has an element of game play that lets users collect “badges” for certain activities, such as earning a “barista” badge for checking into five Starbucks. Foursquare has a large user base that skews young and lives in cities, and has attracted a certain amount of backlash (note: strong language at link), although it has its defenders. Gowalla doesn’t depend quite as much on its game mechanics, but supports media files, such as photos, and claims to be looking for a broader (and perhaps older) demographic.

Businesses seem to have less of a “wait and see” attitude toward location-based social networks than they did toward Facebook and Twitter. It may be that, having been through this before with other Social Media outlets they simply need less persuading when it comes to location-based networks. It may also be that the business case for location-based networks is more obvious than with, say, Twitter. Another possibility is that the networks themselves have become business-friendly faster. Foursquare already has the ability to serve merchant offers based on location, although it is still refining its analytics dashboard. In any event, marketers are not sitting on the sidelines. Recently, Pepsico announced a “geo-based loyalty program” in partnership with Foursquare that will reward consumers who check in via iPhone at businesses that serve Pepsi products. The History Channel also is using Foursquare to promote its show, “America, The Story of Us.”

Do networks like Foursquare and Gowalla have relevance for small businesses? We think they do. Even basic data on who has visited a business, how frequently, etc. adds to the merchant’s knowledge of the customer base. Serving offers and other content to those customers has obvious benefits, although it still isn’t clear how the merchant can get a full picture of the return on investment from that content (merchants will know how many people used (and, presumably, saw) the offer, but won’t necessarily know how many of those transactions were made by customers who would have purchased anyway). Checking in to a business from a location-based network also can provide extended word of mouth for the merchant. It’s going to take time to figure out how to use these services for business, but that was true with Facebook and Twitter. And, as with Facebook and Twitter, there is a lot of potential and no real downside for businesses that experiment.

At Zavee we are currently exploring the fit with location-based networks, but we fully anticipate using this technology to add value to the Zavee experience for both merchants and shoppers. With both cash back offers by merchants and reviews by shoppers, Zavee provides a great deal of content whose value can only be enhanced by becoming location-aware.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • You heard it about Facebook, you heard it about Twitter. Well, location-based social networks aren’t fads either.
  • Businesses have wised up and caught up, and are right on the heels of consumers in discovering how to make these services useful, relevant and rewarding.
  • If you were sitting on the sidelines while Facebook and Twitter were becoming huge, don’t let it happen again!

Tape This to Your Fridge (or Maybe Your Monitor)

by on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Maybe it’s a sign of our collectively diminishing attention spans, but magazines (and blogs) seem to run more and more articles that are basically lists. There’s even a term for it: the “listicle”. (Want to guess what the graphic equivalent is called? Right, it’s a “charticle”!) Listicles often reflect shallow thinking and lazy writing, but sometimes they provide tremendous value, collecting and condensing a great deal of knowledge into the kind of piece you want to print out and tape to your refrigerator door.

I’ve recently come across two listicles of the latter kind, both from sources every small business owner should be following. The first is from Mashable, which provides all sorts of valuable information about social media. This post by Ross Kimbarovsky, who co-founded an online community of graphic designers that now exceeds 43,000 members, offers 10 Small Business Social Media Marketing Tips. In addition to its overall clarity and conciseness, this post adds value in two interesting ways. First, it goes beyond Twitter and Facebook to explain some less widely known tools, including mobile/local social network Foursquare and brand consistency tools such as Namechk. Second – and at least as important – the post suggests both a basic and an advanced strategy for each of the 10 tips. This approach provides a road map for small businesses that are just starting out in social media or are unsure how extensive a commitment they want to make. This post recognizes that different businesses will have different needs and appetites for social media, shows businesses how they can mix and match different tools and provides a framework for increasing the utilization of social media marketing over time.

Deep in Conversation

Deep in Conversation

The second post comes via the Conversation Agent blog: a compendium of 25 Must-Read B2B Marketing Posts. I haven’t read all 25 yet but so far every one has been thought-provoking and several have provided significant value to our business; I imagine you will feel the same way. Business-to-business marketing frequently gets overlooked in the rush to market to consumers, so it’s great that some of the best minds in the social media space are paying attention to the needs of the B2B marketer.

This is by no means an original observation, but it really is amazing how much useful material can be found just by spending a little time searching the Internet. It’s even more amazing how many talented people have done so much of the heavy lifting by finding, evaluating, collecting and editing valuable source material for marketers like us. We hope you find these posts as worthwhile as we have. Please let us know how they work for you.

Paperless Business Cards (Really!)

by on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

If you’ve seen this commercial for the Apple iPhone you probably noticed two iPhones exchanging information by being bumped together. It’s an application called, reasonably enough, Bump. And it’s far from the only way to exchange contact information without using traditional business cards.

With so much innovation surrounding what has become known as the “Real Time Web” it isn’t surprising that someone came up with an online alternative to exchanging business cards. What may be surprising is how many alternatives are out there, and how quickly they have caught on with mainstream business users. For proof, look no further than this article on CNN.com, which claims that there are more than 20 such applications and takes a look at eight of them, including Bump.

We have been experimenting (OK, playing) with a couple of these applications and haven’t settled on one yet. We actually like Bump’s technology but we don’t like to think about what happens after an over-enthusiastic bump (hint: it’s not covered by insurance). beamME is another app that exchanges info using an iPhone. It lets you beam without the bump. And since we are talking about iPhone apps, the iPhone’s contact manager lets you share information via email or MMS – no third-party application required.

Awww!

Awww!

Our sentimental favorite is Poken, which is also mentioned in the CNN article. It isn’t very corporate-looking and has some technical hurdles to overcome but it’s a great conversation starter. It’s also a whole lot cuter than any business card we’ve ever seen. Will the Poken ever replace the business card here at Zavee? Probably not, but we just can’t keep our hands off the little pandas, ninjas and geishas.

Poken Pulse

Poken Pulse

Perhaps with a nod to that commercial reality, Poken has just come out with a product targeted to business users called the Pulse. It looks very stylish (if not as wildly adorable as the original) and we can’t wait to try one out. By the way, if you are interested in the Poken – or just want to see how a business can be built almost exclusively using social media – it’s worth checking out Poken Girl, a young entrepreneur who is a Poken distributor in South Florida.

So, trendy gizmo or the future of information exchange? Give some of these business card alternatives a try and let us know what you think in the comments.

Phoning It In

by on Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Zavee recently moved into our first real office, and one of our biggest challenges was to figure out what kind of telephone system to use.  We have only a handful of full-time employees right now, but we will be adding staff rapidly, especially on the sales side.  So we needed a phone system that met today’s requirements, but also was easily scalable; didn’t require a lot of time, money or overhead to maintain; and didn’t conflict with our extensive use of technologies such as mobile and Skype.  Obviously, cost was also a big factor.

We considered a wide range of options.  The three main technologies we looked at were:

  • Telephone company services
  • Physical private branch exchange (PBX)
  • Virtual PBX

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

The local phone company could have provided everything we wanted, including maintenance.  We could have had an unlimited number of lines, voicemail, call forwarding, conferencing, etc.  However, the phone company services were very expensive and configuration was not quite as flexible as we wanted.  We probably would have wound up with more landline capability than we needed given our reliance on mobile for inbound calling and Skype for outbound.  Still, for a business that has limited needs and a growth path that is well-defined, the phone company might be an option.

We didn’t spend much time considering a physical PBX.  A PBX can do everything the phone company can do and more, but they are not cost-effective for small businesses – at least not for this one.  Thanks to technology and competition the initial costs of a PBX are trending down, but the total cost of ownership, including maintenance, put a PBX well out of our reach.

We decided to use a “virtual PBX”, which is a Web-based telephone system that provides PBX-like services in a hosted environment.  We have multiple lines and several local phone numbers, fax service and full call switching capability without having any hardware (other than handsets) in-house.  We use a company called Ring Central but there are many companies in the virtual or hosted PBX space.  In addition to much lower costs than either the phone company or a physical PBX, we only pay for what we need.  The service is easily scalable, since there is no hardware to replace.  Obviously, we don’t have to perform any system maintenance.

With our phone system in place at a manageable cost we feel better about investing in mobile.  All of our sales reps will have smart phones as well as wireless-enabled laptops.  All of us use mobile as our main phones as well as Skype.  Skype is a Web-based application that supports free computer-to-computer voice calls and inexpensive computer-to-phone calls.  These two technologies let our sales reps operate from anywhere – they aren’t tied to the office.

What technologies do you use for voice communication?  Have you tried Web-based voice applications? Let us know in the comments.