We reject the idea that the desk phone is dead. It’s still a critical part of the business communications ecosystem. All that’s changed is that now the desk phone is not alone. With the emergence of mobile devices and messaging technologies, employees now have other options when it comes to communicating with each other or clients and customers. That means preferences have to change and systems need to mature.
A better desk phone and integrated systems are more important than ever. We sat down with our CEO, George Platt, for a few minutes to talk about ESI’s new ePhone7 and why it’s critical that all aspects of a unified communications system be integrated.
It feels like personal culture is moving away from landlines and going all-in on mobile technologies. Why is that not the case when it comes to the business desk phone?
What we hear from most of our customers is they still want a desk phone because they know the value of a desk phone. It provides several features that are critical to business productivity. That's why they bought it to start with. They need to be able to transfer calls. They need to be able to hold conference calls. They need all to be able to do these things to run their businesses. So, that’s number one. The desk phone is still vital. We don't really have to change it. We just needed to make it better.
Did the original idea for the ePhone7 come from complaints you were getting from customers, or concerns or desires that they had?
Really, it came from the fact that the mobile phone generation had begun. People started to use smartphones, and were getting used to touchscreen interfaces at the time, scrolling, clicking, and those kinds of things. When you look at your traditional business phone, it's not built the same way. We wanted to build a phone that end users could relate to.
The whole crux of the smartphone is the contacts that you have in the phone. Most people would say, "If I've lost my phone, I've lost my whole life." That's because every phone number that they've collected since they've owned a smartphone is in there, and business phones just didn't have that same benefit.
We found that the traditional business phone experience was just clunky and not user-friendly when it came to connecting with people. We hear from our customers that the phones they were working with had all these great features, but they had a number of people on their staff that didn't really know how to use it. We took that to heart.
What we also started to see was when you go into those offices, you'd see two things happen. One, the people would take out their smartphone and make the call straight from their smartphone. At that time, there were no smartphone applications that were an extension of the corporate phone system, so they were making calls to business associates outside of the control of the company they work for. Or two, they were taking that phone, looking up a phone number, and then dialing it into their office phone.
Both were terribly inefficient. The first one, you lose any record of any transaction. If I got a complaint from a customer that an employee was rude or unhelpful reason and there was no record of that call in the corporate system—it was all just based on her mobile phone—that wouldn't be very good from a company perspective. If she made some commitment on behalf of the company that we couldn't track, that wouldn't be very good. The second one really just has to do with the time it takes to open up your smartphone, find the number, and then dial it into a business phone. It just didn't make sense from an interface perspective.
Will you walk me through why it is so important to make both the phone and the cloud platform?
We really think that's important because if you look at a lot of the competition, their solutions are typically delivered with maybe a generic business desk phone. That’s probably combined with a platform that might be one they built themselves. Or it might be an Asterisk-based platform, a freeware platform, or it might be a BroadSoft-based platform.
Really, what you see is those two companies didn't build those products specifically for each other. They built them to be very generic. Their phones will work with anybody's switch, and their switch will work with anybody's phones. What you end up with is a very generic solution that's not integrated, so that ease of use, that intuitive nature tends to slip.
Most companies just put this generic phone with this generic switch, and yeah, it does all the basic things, but it won't make them easy and intuitive, and it won't do the things that really enhance the productivity from a business perspective.
What you also find a lot of times is that the phone manufacturers put a lot of features and functions in the phone that are duplicated in the switch, so you have this duplication of effort as well. If I wanted to call forward my phone to another extension, I could either do that in the phone or I can do that in the switch. It might end up being very confusing because it doesn't work hand in hand with the system behind it.
Is that why ESI is focused on manufacturing the phone, the cloud platform and the mobile app?
We have an analyst, an industry analyst that we talked to as we were just getting into the cloud, and we were talking about having this solution that was integrated and making it very easy to use. She had said, "We got this cloud phone system that corporate gave us all, and I've got this phone sitting on my desk, but I have no idea how to use it. I don't know what my login is for my web interface, all of the feature functionality is in on the web interface. I don't know why I need to go to a web interface to use my phone."
Really, it summed it up because that's an industry analyst that is covering cloud communication space. She was given a system from a fairly well-known provider, and she had no idea how to use her phone. So she was just turning to using her iPhone instead, and, therefore, all the problems like we talked about before is those calls were completely her own. They weren't a matter of corporate record anymore. I think that just sums it up. We take for granted this ease of use thing. We think people will just figure it out in the technology space, and that's not really what happens. People won't take the time to try to figure it out. If it's not easy and intuitive, they just won't use it. And integration is key to ease of use.
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