• United States

Managing cell phones

Mar 09, 20064 mins
ComputersSmall and Medium Business

* Gain control and lessen the international long-distance price pain

I wasn’t born with a cell phone in my hand, but everyone under the age of 25 seems to have been. Do you know anyone 25 or younger that has a land line? Cell phones are not a convenience for them; cell phones are their only phones.

Small and medium companies love the flexibility given to employees by cell phones, but cost containment has become an issue. Large companies, according to a recent survey, say a quarter or more of all telephone expenditures are cell phone minutes. Do you know how much you spend on cell phones?

Doing some research, I found two popular but completely contradictory suggestions for controlling cell costs. The first option is to have employees use their own cell phones for business use and track their work minutes file expense reports. The second option is to provide company cell phones so you can negotiate the best contract based on total volume.

I favor the second option for three reasons. First, asking employees to track cell minutes only aggravates them and bogs them down with more paperwork. Second, managing this properly requires matching expense account reports to cell bills, which requires a lot of time. Finally, you have no real idea if the calls they list are actually business calls without checking the number yourself, wasting even more time.

This option can help companies who have covered cell costs in the past but now realize they’re spending too much money. But frankly, I believe this option is only popular with people that don’t actively manage mobile employees, especially salespeople. Good salespeople dislike paperwork, and asking them to track cell calls will drive them crazy, because they’re on their cell constantly if they’re working.

The second option, where the company provides cell phones and service contracts, may actually cost more at the beginning, but gives you better control in several areas.

First, if you negotiate the contract, you know what your expenses are each month. You can arrange a contract to cover the average number of minutes used per month, plus some cushion.

Most importantly, you control the physical cell phone because it’s a company cell phone, not a personal phone used for business. When your best salesperson leaves for your competition (and this always happens if you’re in business long enough), the number your customers have to reach that salesperson is your number, not the salesperson’s. After a salesperson leaves for any reason, do you want your customers talking to that salesperson? No, you want them talking to you and your new salesperson. Same goes for field technicians and all other mobile employees. One lost customer can turn those pennies you save by asking employees to use their own cell phones into lost dollars.

If you control the cell phone contract, you can arrange for extra services. I’ve talked before about CallWave, the service company that offers neat tricks like being able to listen to voice mail messages as they are being left so you can pick up if you want, and one-button transfers to another phone number (like your desk phone) to reduce cell minutes used.

Do your employees make international calls on their cell phones? If so, how big a headache do those bills cause you? You might want to review a new service from MobileSphere called CellularLD for Small Businesses. The company modified its consumer long-distance service to work with SMB customers. Savings up to 70% on direct dial international long distance means the outrageous $1.50 per minute charged by some cell companies drops to merely painful.

Keep an eye on new advances in Internet Telephony, because some smart company will no doubt offer easy ways to tie cell calls into existing VoIP phone systems (like the one discussed last time) and reduce long-distance costs to pennies. If I were a VoIP company, I’d be working on that type of product night and day.