Bell rings up client’s concern with service

Bell Canada has a new service designed to help roving enterprise employees keep on top of phone calls and faxes, but one user seems worried that the offering isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Bell unveiled Single Number Reach (SNR) in October. The telco says the service provides an easy way for people to keep in touch with bosses, colleagues and customers.

“It’s our first step towards unified communications, an integrated messaging platform,” said Howard Morton, a Toronto-based executive-director at Bell.

SNR gives users a phone number that follows them wherever they go. Users can program the co-ordinates to forward calls to a wireline phone, a mobile phone or a voice mail system. They can program the service so calls go to the mobile at 1 p.m. and to voice mail at 2 p.m., for instance.

If a call comes in while the user’s already on the phone and can’t get away, she can respond via her PC – push a button to e-mail the caller and say, “We’ll talk later,” or push another button and send the call to voice mail or an alternative extension. As well, SNR numbers can receive fax messages and deliver them to designated fax machines or printers.

Morton said SNR speaks to the mobile workforce.

“Think about sales personnel – on the road, constantly needing to sychronize with your pager or your cell phone; field personnel doing installations; teleworkers who might be working remotely….It’s designed for a broad set of individuals who need real-time communications.”

SNR also speaks to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), Morton said. He described the Call Director function, a premium feature that collects nine lines and “gives you a virtual receptionist. It directs calls to different departments within the organization.”

But John Richardson isn’t particularly impressed. He’s not so much concerned about SNR’s introduction as he is worried that Bell will shut down a similar service, PrimeLine Executive, and port customers over to the new offering.

Richardson said he’s tried SNR, and it’s no replacement for PrimeLine.

“SNR is at best a shell of PrimeLine. It’s got probably half the functionality.”

Richardson said he uses PrimeLine to power various entrepreneurial undertakings. As a landlord, for example, he programs the system to provide information about properties. Callers would dial up and hear a message offering options: press “1” for a message about a particular property; press “#” to leave a voice mail, or stay on the line to reach Richardson himself.

He said PrimeLine’s charm lies in its 99 “memory locations.” Users could program the system like a rich call-attendant that would send callers to myriad messages concerning all sorts of things – information about the company, its offerings, side-projects, et cetera. “It’s a tremendously flexible product.”

SNR only sends callers to voice mail or a particular end-point, Richardson said. He sent letters to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) describing the difference between SNR and PrimeLine, to help guide the government body as it decides whether or not Bell should be allowed to discontinue the older product.

Morton said Bell expects to get the OK by December.

He also said PrimeLine isn’t meant for power users like Richardson. Neither, for that matter, is SNR. “That was not the intent of the service. PrimeLine and Single Number Reach are essentially call-management services, as a ‘find me, follow me,’ to make sure you stay in contact with your customers.”

Richardson doesn’t buy it.

“Should Bell be permitted to argue that if a product does more than the tariff stated its purpose was, that the CRTC should ignore what it actually does?” he wrote in an October letter to the Commission.

Morton said SNR trumps PrimeLine. It provides a computer interface for management, whereas PrimeLine is controlled via touch-tone alone. PrimeLine doesn’t let users screen calls by priority. And new PrimeLine subscribers have to start all over again with new numbers. SNR subscribers can use their current numbers as virtual co-ordinates. “You don’t lose the equity of the number you’ve been promoting for years.”

He added, Bell received positive customer feedback about SNR.

“We believe there is very compelling rationale to move to Single Number Reach. It’s simpler, more convenient; it puts people in control.”

Richardson agreed that SNR offers certain features that its predecessor lacks – number portability and fax access among them. Bt the new service simply doesn’t replace PrimeLine for this user. “I can’t let my phone number go, so I’m going to have to stay with SNR. But what I’m going to do is use it as a forward, perhaps to a third-party service of some kind that does what I really need.”

SNR is available in parts of Ontario – Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Ottawa and Toronto – as well as Hull, Montreal and Quebec City in Quebec. Morton said Bell would present the service to other places as demand warrants.

It comes in two flavours. Package A offers find me, follow me functionality, four-way conferencing, a pager connection, fax functions, outbound calling and an incoming-call announcement feature, all for $14.95 per month. Package B, which adds call history logs, PC-based management of incoming calls, as well as wake-up calls, is $19.95 per month. Voice mail is $5 per month. Call Director is $5.95 per month. For more info visit; search for “Single Number Reach.”