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VOIP Telephone System

November 1st, 2010 6 comments

New Office
On October 14th we moved into a larger office and as part of that move, we needed to address the best way to ensure uninterrupted phone service. Perhaps, where you live, this means calling up the local phone company, they click some buttons, and now your phones magically start ringing at your new location. In Ocala, this is far from being so simple. Our local copper line phone service is provided by Sprint who, because of such a bad reputation, renamed themselves Embarq, and then when that didn’t work, sold out to CenturyLink. This company, no matter what they name themselves, is the worst company I have ever had the mis-pleasure of dealing with. I don’t exaggerate when I say that every single time I had them modify my service they would break my ability to receive phone calls.

Change Is In The Air
Sensing the opportunity to break free from the shackles of Sprint/Embarq/CenturyLink hell, I started investigating VOIP systems.  VOIP stands for Voice over IP and allows phone calls to be placed over the internet. VOIP can offer significant cost savings over traditional phone services, however, it does require a high-speed connection to the internet. I must confess that I have dabbled with VOIP in the past and the quality, at that time, was still lacking. I knew though, that it was time for a reevaluation. I fired up my trusty FireFox browser (with NoScript extension) and Googled “VOIP for business” and was astounded, confused, and a bit intimidated at just how many vendors there are. Aptela, 8×8, GrassHopper, Vocalocity, RingCentral and the list goes on and on. Their product offerings can be anywhere from very similar to wildly different. Their pricing can be unlimited or metered. And with all that, it’s next to impossible to figure out who the market leaders are in this space. With too many variables to process in my head and being naturally inclined to build spreadsheets, I fired up Excel to start documenting specific comparisons.

Decision
In the end, my spreadsheet made the choice for me. I decided to try out Aptela. They offer a reasonably priced unlimited voice package and their negative reviews online were few and far between. As a side note, whenever I’m researching a vendor/product I always Google the name of the product with the word “sucks” after it. I find this is the quickest way to get a ballpark estimate of real world feedback. I talked to an Aptela rep, and really liked their business practices which are similar to ours. They don’t require long term contracts, only month-to-month. If you don’t like the service, you can return the equipment for a refund within 30 days. With that peace of mind in place, I ordered our VOIP phones and received them in just a few days. The installation was straight forward and preliminary testing for quality passed our very unofficial “can you hear me now” tests.

Jumping In With Both Feet
With the move to the new office we forwarded our old phones to our new phones and never missed a beat. We now have more options and bells and whistles than we ever had with our old low-tech PBX. With our old PBX we had 5 lines. If all 5 lines were in use and someone needed to make a call out, they had to resort to their cell phone. With the VOIP systems, every extension has it’s own line and we never have to wait to dial out. The old PBX had a simple ring-down wherein if line 1 was busy, line 2 would ring, if line 2 was also busy, line 3 would ring, etc. We had one message if nobody answered and calling the auction-emergency number meant that our customers had to write down and dial a separate number. With the new VOIP system we set up an auto-attendant where customers Press 1 to talk to sales or support, or press 2 if they are having an auction emergency. The sale and support department is manned by dedicated support staff. The auction emergency department rings all workstations, the call is identified as an emergency phone call, and furthermore, if nobody answers in the office, the phone call auto-forwards to a dedicated 24-7 cell phone.

Other Nifty Features
The phones will literally work with any high speed internet connection, so even though we all work in a single office, it is completely feasible for us to have remote workers across the country all answering the phones exactly the same as they do now. You can configure extensions to automatically follow you, so that it rings the office 5 times then automatically forwards to your cell phone, or you can have it simultaneously ring your office phone and your cell phone. Administrators can monitor phone calls so that if one of our reps needs help on a phone call an adminstrator can listen in and talk directly to the Auction Flex rep without the customer hearing. This causes fewer delays for the customer getting the information they need while simultaneously building the knowledge of the representative.

Good Riddance
In short, I am absolutely thrilled with the VOIP service thus far. I can’t wait to cancel the Sprint/Embarq/CenturyLink service and tell that miserable company they no longer have me shackled. With VOIP we are now leaner and smarter and more flexible than ever. We can easily adjust our phone system to meet the needs of the company (imagine that). These baby-bells with their woeful customer service and antique phone systems are relegated to a by-gone era and will go the way of the Corvair. I have seen the future, and it is undoubtedly VOIP.

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Cataloging with Detailed Entry

September 2nd, 2010 No comments

Good day Flexers,

I’ve put together a quick demo to show the capability of the Detailed Entry screen from Auction Lots and Preview. Combined with a Web Cam or Video Camera, we are able to quickly catalog an entire auction. In this particular video we are also showing the use of User Defined Fields and the Auto-Lead feature. These options are located from the Inventory drop down menu. Click on Inventory Type Maintenance to get started.

As always, if you would like additional support on this or any other topic, call the office and speak with our Support Staff.

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9 Keys to Success

March 15th, 2010 No comments

I’ve read my fair share of business books and articles over the last few years including; Mavericks at Work, What Would Google Do?, The Tipping Point, etc. These scribes inspired me to write my own keys to success, or rather more accurately put; to record the things they said that resonated with me the most. Drumroll please.

Passion
If we don’t have passion for what we do, no amount of other chicanery is going to make up for this fatal shortcoming.  Without passion we’re just phoning it in and somebody else that actually does have passion is going to kick our butt doing whatever we do, but better.

Confidence
Confidence in oneself is crucial to success… even to the point of being over-confident, but tread carefully; there is a fine line between over-confidence and delusion.

Weaknesses
It may seem an odd characteristic to follow confidence, but remaining cognizant of our weaknesses is vital to our success. Misplaced delusions of grandeur serve only to provide an express ticket to failure. We all have weaknesses to go with our strengths. We must embrace those weaknesses so that we can avoid their inherent pitfalls.

Honesty
While dishonest people can succeed, being a straight-shooter makes success easier to attain. That, and I like to believe that karma eventually serves the liars their just due. 

Principals
Our core beliefs provide the necessary foundation for our life-long success. Without a solid set of principals our lives meander like San Francisco’s Lombard Street.

Calculated Risks
Risk is a core function of life. The keyword here is the calculated before the risk. If there is quantifiable data to be measured, success thrives on taking the time to do the measuring. The calculated risks work out more often than the hunches. When those calculated risks fail, that’s okay. We can take that data and apply it in the future. When a hunch turns sour, we have nobody to blame but our lazy selves.

Failure
We can not be afraid to fail otherwise we won’t ever achieve anything of merit. Failure means we have discovered one more way that doesn’t succeed. Failure means we have set our sights high enough that success on the first try isn’t a given.

Never Give Up
This is a simple one isn’t it? Without perseverance, nothing else matters. We must set our goals and unabashedly pursue them.

Customers First
Our customers are our most important and valuable form of marketing. No amount of money spent advertising a company is as effective as positive word of mouth and referrals. Consequently, a poor customer experience is more detrimental to a business than any marketing dollar can overcome. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; I just ran our marketing numbers for 2009 and Auction Flex added more new customers via referral than any other single marketing channel.

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Self-Checkin Kiosk

July 27th, 2009 2 comments

Here’s a video that Aaron Traffas did of our new self-checkin kiosk. The video was shot on the tradeshow floor at the National Auctioneer’s Conference & Tradeshow in Overland Park, KS.

The self-checkin kiosk is not available yet, but will be included with version 7 which is slated for beta release towards late August – early September.

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Plain text email vs “fancy” HTML email

July 10th, 2009 2 comments

EmailWhen sending email campaigns you have the option of composing your emails as HTML or plain text. With HTML you can have fancy formatting, embedded images, etc. With plain text emails you just have text. There are pros and cons to each format. I am a proponent of sending plain text emails, but rather than explain the reasons behind this preference, I’ll send you over to a great article written by Aaraon Traffas at his blog on AuctioneerTech.com:
Sending plain text email is better for users and branding

Aaron makes some very good points in his article and hopefully convinced you of the merits of plain text email over HTML email.

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Bing.com

June 19th, 2009 No comments
bing

bing

Microsoft released their new search engine bing.com recently and I have to say, I’m impressed. If you search bing.com for auction software we are the first natural listing. We can’t argue with those results. On other searches bing.com seems to compete well against google.com in terms of returning relevant results. In some categories I dare say bing has google beat.

It’s been some time since anyone put up even a meager challenge to Google’s search engine dominance. If Microsoft can capture even 30% of the market that will make a huge dent in Google’s revenue. Better yet, the competition will mean a better consumer experience as these 2 giants battle for our eyeballs.

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