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Start paying attention to call quality, service availability and UX

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/lenetstan)

Conference calls are a great productivity tool, but also sometimes a great source of angst. We have all fallen victim to the frustrating game of conference call bingo with failed joins, disruptions, latecomers, dogs barking, background noise, and seemingly “failed” technology.  More than 82 per cent of people have admitted to multi-tasking while on a conference call, 55 per cent have eaten on the line, and just under 50 per cent have taken calls from “the facilities.” On average, roughly eight minutes are wasted starting meetings, five on in-call distractions, and five on setting up screen sharing. Even when the call is executed successfully, it’s still not productive.

But don’t your end users deserve a better conference call experience?  It’s time to stop putting up with an endless game of conference call bingo! Let’s take a look at a few ways to improve the end-users’ conference call experience.  While not a simple task, success can equate to potentially switching user perceptions from that of a poorly-run service towards being seen as one of the best-run services in IT. 

“Sorry, I can’t hear you. Are you there?”

How often do your users ask someone on their calls to repeat their thoughts because they didn’t hear anything? Actually achieving great voice quality is not easy because of the vast number of factors at play.   

In practice, a majority (~80 per cent) of all voice quality issues tend to be “last-mile” issues (such as poor-quality devices, issues with specific device drivers, Wi-Fi issues, or even end-user behaviour).  In contrast, only a minority (~20 per cent) of issues can be attributed to be infrastructure related items (e.g. network, servers, firewalls, gateways). Having a comprehensive data-driven approach to measuring and handling voice quality is fundamental to eliminating the “are you there” factor.  A key metric in this context is Poor Call Percentage (PCP); a PCP of sub-2 per cent represents an important threshold objective for user confidence in voice quality.

“Sorry, I dropped, what were you saying?”

The last thing your users want to deal with during their conference calls is attendees dropping in and out. This leads to attendees missing key conversation points and disrupting everyone’s train of thought.

To avoid these setbacks, it is imperative to have 24x7 telemetry on the end-to-end service availability as measured by the end-user experience. Successful unified communications deployments combine a complex mix of hardware, software, and third-party services that work together. A data-driven approach around end-to-end service availability can help uncover systematic issues involving call reliability, such as firewall issues, network configuration, server configuration issues, and gateway issues. A Service Availability level of 99.9 per cent (as experienced by end-users, inside and outside the enterprise) represents a key threshold for end-user confidence in conferencing reliability.

“Sorry, I need to switch headsets. Can you hold on?”

Headsets have come a long way with regards to capabilities, but they still don’t always lend themselves to smooth calls. The number and diversity of UC endpoint devices within an enterprise environment pose significant challenges to the success of UC systems. Device proliferation can also add to the costs associated with manual troubleshooting and configuration of devices. The average employee uses 2.3 devices daily for work purposes and 14 per cent of employees use more than six devices. With each device type requiring regular firmware updates and custom configuration, IT teams are obliged to utilise some sort of automated device management solution to address the management of various devices at scale.

Ideal solutions offer not only firmware updates remotely across multiple device types (including configuration and management of all device settings), but also monitoring of all endpoint devices and the ability to troubleshoot and reach quick resolutions.

Devices are an example of factors driving overall user experience not directly correlated with underlying technical metrics (jitter, latency, etc.). For this reason, it is important to track the overall user experience on an ongoing basis, and to manage overall user perceptions of the service by taking proactive actions to improve the user experience. Some sort of User Sat metric is ideal for tracking and subsequently benchmarking user experience; an User Sat score of 120 is a key threshold for overall end-user satisfaction. Above that level, an enterprise communications service tends to be perceived as a well-run service.  

“Here we go again!”

Conference call bingo has always been the bane of VoIP across all technologies. CIOs and their enterprise communications teams find themselves at the receiving end, dealing with a constant escalation stream from all quarters of the enterprise, including key executives. The number one success factor emerging today in UC to prevent a state of perpetual bingo is KPI focus. In this case a laser focus on the KPIs for conferencing (also known as the “bingo scorecard”!).  Furthermore, the process behind periodically reviewing and auctioning against these metrics becomes just as important as the metrics themselves. The most effective workflow process involves a regular cadence of CIO review, conducted by UC staff leaders focused on the metrics, key insights, and corresponding actions/interventions. When conducted regularly over the course of multiple quarters, these reviews will drive dramatic improvements in end-user perception of IT communications services.    

For better or worse, this game of bingo still exists with UCaaS cloud-based services. The “bad” news is that IT must still play the game. But, the good news is that these KPIs and processes are just as applicable in the cloud as in on-premise (given 80 per cent of voice quality issues being “last-mile” issues, under direct IT control), and generally applicable across all voice communications solutions used in the enterprise – not just specific implementations like Skype for Business or Cisco.   

To achieve UC success, create happy end users and avoid that terminal “BINGO” call out, IT departments need the focus, metrics and processes in place to ensure that call quality, service availability and device management are no longer a game of chance, but instead a top IT priority.

Sonu Aggarwal is Chief Technology Officer of Unify Square (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/lenetstan

Sonu Aggarwal is Chief Technology Officer of Unify Square, where he is focused on driving the overall technology strategy and assisting customers with product roadmaps for enterprise communications.