Burlington, Ont.-based Web development and hosting firm ecwebworks Inc. offers its clients a guarantee: call about a problem any time, day or night, and ecwebworks will respond within 15 minutes.

Keeping this promise would not be possible without unified messaging, says Marc Bechard, account

manager at ecwebworks.

Bechard says the 3Com NBX Internet Protocol (IP) phone system that ecwebworks installed in 2000 comes with a unified messaging capability that lets the company’s service technicians and developers check e-mail and voice mail together through the Microsoft Outlook software on their PCs. They can also receive voice and text messages — though not e-mail — on their cell phones or personal digital assistants.

Ecwebworks initially installed the VoIP system for the cost savings over traditional telephone systems, Bechard says, and because company officials thought it was fitting for a high-tech company to have the latest in phone technology. Then they realized the system’s capabilities could help their company offer attractive service-level agreements to customers.

Unified messaging makes it easier for staff on call to receive messages quickly when a customer has a problem, Bechard says. To make the process work reliably, ecwebworks has added a couple of other elements. The system is set up to call and/or page the primary on-call person when a customer calls, and to start trying to reach a second and a even a third person if the first doesn’t respond promptly.

Getting it all working smoothly took some thought and tinkering. “”You definitely have to kind of figure out how it’s going to work in your business,”” Bechard says. “”For us to get to where we are now, it didn’t happen in one week.””

For instance, ecwebworks found technicians sometimes don’t receive text messages on their cell phones because they are in areas where digital service isn’t available. So now the system can place a voice call to a technician’s phone with an alert.

Since ecwebworks has only 12 employees, six of whom are developers and technicians, the 15-minute guarantee means those people are on call most of the time. However, Bechard adds, “”we actually – knock on wood – do get very few calls.””

While the unified messaging system is crucial to ecwebworks’ 24-hour, seven-day-a-week support guarantee, it’s useful for other purposes too. When traveling, Bechard says he can plug in his computer in a hotel room, fire up Microsoft Outlook and get his e-mail and voice messages all on one screen, with the voice messages downloaded from the office phone system to the PC as .wav files.

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