Theatre Sites - Hosted Telephony Back to resource hub
Based in Godalming, Surrey, Theatre Sites – www.theatresites.com - is a business that for the past 10 years has been keeping the websites of several of the UK’s largest theatres running. The company combines hard-core back-end technical expertise with a friendly front-end support team to ensure websites look great and work smoothly, even during huge spikes in traffic generated when a major show goes on sale.
The company has a handful of staff at its Godalming office, including founder and director, Roger Coleman, supported by a team of contractors working remotely.
“We began as an IT consultancy, but gradually picked up more and more work from theatres, hence Theatre Sites becoming a dedicated support business for their websites,” explains Roger. “Theatres have a really interesting problem in that they will often sell a huge number of tickets in a very short space of time, so it’s important that they’re up and running as smoothly as possible and can handle large traffic peaks.”
This means Theatre Sites itself must have “industrial strength” processing and first line support because theatres cannot afford to miss their window of sales for shows. Theatres also need websites that hit the mark, as Roger explains: “The theatre industry is by its very nature highly creative so it’s also important that graphics and visuals for shows look good and work well.”
Maintaining contact with customers, as well as communicating internally among staff, is a key part of Theatre Sites service, which is why its own communications system needs to be robust and flexible.
The company had previously used BT for its telephony, but moving to new premises in 2012 decided to look for an alternative set up.
“We’d always had BT as our supplier, but one of our consultants suggested that we consider Voice over IP,” says Roger. “I wasn’t really up to speed with what was out there or how we could improve out set up, but nevertheless decided to look into it as it sounded like a good idea. One thing that was important to us was the ability to retain the previous number.”
Roger did some research and found Voipfone. “It all looked good, but surprisingly to me the killer feature they couldn’t offer was a hunt group, where a phone call would switch to the next handset, and then the next, if previously unanswered. This was an attractive feature for us, especially when we need to be contacted quickly by customers needing fast and first line support.”
Theatre Sites also bought numbers from Numberstore, but this led to further challenges, as Roger explains: “Numberstore offered the hunt group features we wanted but added the complication that our incoming calls were on one number and outgoing calls were on another - our telephone numbers were not all joined up and that wouldn’t work for us."
“We talked to Voipfone and asked if they could help and we talked to Numberstore about IP phones, but the two didn’t appear to be on the same page. So in the end we decided to look for a company that could do everything – joined up and working seamlessly.”
Roger wanted a company that he could trust and rely upon.
“What we were looking for was a block of numbers, IP phones and handsets and really good support,” says Roger. “We created accounts with a few potential suppliers and out of the blue I was sent a handset to play with that I hadn’t requested. That impressed me.”
That company was Foehn.
“I contacted Foehn and they appeared to be the sort of supplier we were looking for, able to provide all of the equipment and services we needed,” says Roger.
Foehn supplied Theatre Sites with a hosted VoiP telephony system, initially with six extensions, that has provided the company with a single joined up system as well as a host of modern telephony features that it did not have previously.
“The line quality is superb and we can make calls internally that don’t cost us a penny,” explains Roger. “We also make very good use of the conferencing facilities – again, excellent quality - and are able to pull people into calls quickly, simply by merging them in.”
“A lot of our contact with customers is by email, but there are times when we rely heavily on our phones, especially if something has happened and needs to be addressed quickly by one or more of our team,” he adds.
Although quality of service is more important to Theatre Sites than cost, call costs are extremely cheap. “We pay Foehn a flat fee per extension to run the system but on top of that our call charges are next to nothing - something like 90 pence per month,” explains Roger. “We draw upon Foehn’s expertise to configure the system to our liking. The system does give you the flexibility to do this yourself, but in our case we prefer to rely on Foehn.”
Staff also have softphones running on their laptops which can prove to be a very useful feature. "We have a growing number of part time staff who use softphones to take calls out of hours. It's a very easy and low cost way to get someone up and running on our phone system without us having to send them any hardware, which is great for us. It's much better than using mobiles - if they need to make calls, the outgoing number is always our main number, and when they have finished work they just quit the softphone app and the hosted telephone system takes their extension offline."
Often out of the office himself, Roger also uses a softphone on his laptop to take calls when needed. “We recently had an incident where we lost connectivity to an entire data centre - just as I was leaving a client meeting in central London,” says Roger. “The guys back in the office were able to handle everything but I nipped into a Starbucks and joined a conference call from the softphone on my laptop to keep on top of what was happening. I was absolutely as connected as if I was sitting in the office; it was awesome!”
With plans to grow the business further, Roger explains that Foehn’s hosted telephony system offers scalability. “We started with six extensions, we now have ten, and we have the option to scale up as business dictates,” says Roger.
He concludes: “Looking back, making the move to a hosted telephony system was exactly the right thing to do. Not only does it support our business in ways that any telephone system should, it also provides us with levels of flexibility and scalability that you wouldn’t necessarily get from a traditional telephony set up.”