Organizations are getting smarter and more efficient with how they help their end users and customers. Unified Communications (UC) is the all-encompassing term for phone systems that do more than just voice calls. They can communicate via SMS text messaging, chat with teams, make video calls and manage calendars, all in one app.
UC makes features like these available to small and medium businesses; they’re not limited to phone systems only enterprise-level organizations can afford.
UC provides organizations with a fully-unified platform with all communications tools are in one app. UC is available on-premise or as-a-service.
With on-premise systems, the entire phone system is owned and people on your staff manage it. You host everything on site and take on a capital expense instead of a monthly expenditure, as well as staffing costs.
If you don’t want to own or manage the phone system, Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), a cloud system, is probably best for your needs. You don’t have to think or worry about maintaining it. You pay a monthly fee, you own your phones, and the system just works.
Both options are valid, and companies choose either option for varied reasons.
What is UC? What are the possibilities? What kind of features does it have? Why is it such an attractive suite of communication tools for businesses and organizations today? What follows is a deep-dive into the communication tools available on a UC platform, and why they matter.
Voice is the foundation of all business communications and has been around for over 100 years. One stereotype about younger generations entering the workforce is that they don’t want to talk on the phone, but that applies to more than just younger generations; all of us are wanting to get away from voice conversations. Many favor text or video communication.
That’s why having a phone system that does more than voice calls is so important. More and more, people are moving away from voice to options like SMS texting, social media, instant messaging and team messaging (more on these below).
While the world is moving away from voice-only options, these are still the foundation on a UC system.
Instant messaging changed the game by creating efficiencies for internal communications. Instant messaging is the ability to get questions answered quickly. Even when coworkers are away from their desk or in a meeting, mobile tools like instant messaging give us that instant communication ability without having to find someone to pick up the phone. Instant feedback is a reality.
Why use instant messaging in your Unified Communications system instead of picking up your phone and texting someone? Because then you’re picking up another device or opening another app. UC means having all your communications tools in one app, everything integrated into one stream. Instead of toggling between conversations and other apps all day, UC lets you have it all in one.
Taking instant messaging one step further, team and group messaging allows collaboration with your internal teams or groups. The keyword is collaborate. With team and group messaging, you’re able to send a message to a whole team, rather than try to get everybody together in a meeting, in one room at the same time, or even on a call.
Team and group messaging solves problems. If you’re trying to get to the bottom of an issue, you can send a message to a team and ask if anyone has seen the issue before. You can ask the group if anyone has sold to a customer and someone can immediately respond to that. Somebody else can add their input and it’s all in one message feed, instead of redundant among various email strings and outside conversations.
Team and group messaging reduces email threads. That should be in big bold letters: REDUCES EMAIL THREADS. If you’ve ever been on a group reply with 30 people and all of a sudden you have 200 emails, you know what a relief that can mean. With team and group messaging, those 200 emails are gone.
Imagine you have a group called Lunch. When people decide they want to go for lunch, there’s actually a tab where lunch planning can occur. Think about doing that in the old days. You send out an email asking if anyone wants to go to lunch and it’s not until 45 emails later, six people have solidified lunch plans. That’s where that team and group messaging comes into play. It’s a massive reduction of email.
Team and group messaging also gives the ability to collaborate and share documents. In the team messaging app, you can ask if anyone has a specific document/PDF. It can be attached in the feed, it’s saved in the messaging app, and the team can go back and reference it later. It really is helpful for people because it provides instant feedback with the added benefit of document storage.
These next three applications for Unified Communications build on one another. The first, audio conferencing, is pretty simple. Audio conferencing is the ability to have three or more people together on a voice phone call at the same time. UC makes this utility simple by sending a web link to click and join the call. That link can be synced up with your calendar (more on calendar possibilities below), and with one simple click you’re in the audio conference call.
With web collaboration comes the ability to share your screen with others. This means you have the ability to show presentations. You can also hand off presentation controls and allow others to share their screen. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a well-used screen share is worth hours in avoided confusion. Web collaboration helps everyone get on the same page.
The next evolution of conferencing is the ability to see all conference call participants. For years, video was the most talked about and never used feature in communications. Video conferencing meant organizations were setting up video capabilities in conference rooms. It takes lots of money to roll out video that way. It was too complicated, too expensive and not intuitive. Today, video is built into the Unified Communications platform, and video conferencing has become a way of life for many end users and organizations.
Facial expression is essential in communication. Think of FaceTime, but integrated with all the other functions of your organization’s phone app. People are finding it's important to be able to see people’s facial expressions and to understand if they’re multitasking. If we’re on a video conference, and you see someone typing away the whole time, it’s no different than being in the same room and noticing when someone is tuned out or distracted by their phone.
Many job interviews today are conducted via video conference. Even 10 years ago, a lot of interviewing was done over the phone (voice calls). With a phone interview, the interviewer has no idea if the interviewee is paying attention. With video, you get to see the interviewee and get an idea of how the candidate interacts realistically.
Video conferencing is an excellent leadership and communication tool for leaders with teams dispersed around the country. Video is going to continue to expand the meetings marketplace. UC systems will use a video conferencing tool (Zoom, WebEx, Gotomeeting, etc.) on their backend, so the cost of having this tool is rolled into your cost.
All applications on your desktop are also available on your tablet and your phone. This is the ease and simplicity of Unified Communications being available all in one simple app. You can take the full functionality of your UC system with you and have full, complete UC capability on a mobile device. The UC app will not eat up your battery, nor will it use up memory. It is a clean, efficient app that allows you to take your work everywhere with the same high performance you would expect in an office, whether you’re at home, in a hotel, on a boat or elsewhere. Everything you use is on your phone, and is as simple as logging in with your credentials.
Unified Communications platforms integrate directly with your calendar so you can stay inside of your UC app to navigate your day, rather than going back and forth between calendars on your phone, your desktop or within your email client.
You can be in the app and see what your day looks like. From there, you can click to join meetings. You can do it all in one application instead of flipping back to Outlook, clicking the button, then going back to the app. UC has built in all that functionality.
Presence gives you the ability to see where your coworkers are, whether at or away from their desk, on the phone or on vacation. That presence status information helps create efficiencies.
Presence also allows you to see who is available and who is not. If I see Greg’s presence says he is on the phone, I know not to try to hunt him down or call him or walk to his office. I can see he’s on the phone and choose to message him within the Unified Communications app. This lets Greg respond as he is able.
Having that presence is crucial to saving valuable work time. Workplaces with on-premise UC systems will see the best presence features, because the physical phone is part of the system. With a cloud UC system, phones are third-party devices, so presence information isn’t as complete.
Advanced reporting and analytics available in Unified Communications systems give a snapshot glance into what’s going on in your business. You can see how many calls are coming in, how many calls are abandoned and whether people are taking or ignoring phone calls. Advanced reporting and analytics even has a report that shows unreturned calls. You can run a report to see if somebody calls and leaves a voicemail and that call is never returned.
Analytics are available in both historical and real time. You can see what’s going on for your call centers, your phone system and your individual teams. It’s become more and more important for managers to have those analytics. If you have an employee who’s supposed to be on the phone all day, and you find out that they’ve only spent two hours a day on the phone, then you wonder what’s happening for the other six. It gives a tremendous amount of power to the business to know what’s going on and whether people are being efficient and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Fax is another familiar form of communication that has been used for many years. Fax features are built right into the Unified Communications platform, which means you don’t need big, expensive fax machines anymore. Everything you need is available within your UC system.
“This call is being recorded for quality assurance purposes.”
By now we assume everyone has heard this disclaimer, or one like it, ahead of talking to a representative on the phone. Unified Communications platforms allow you to do on-demand and/or full-time call recording. Organizations use call recording for quality assurance, customer satisfaction and for training purposes.
We see people concerned about security of their phone systems today, but if they’re on Unified Communications, they are secure. With an old-school phone system, you ran a high risk of getting hacked. Long distance calls for several dollars per minute could be charged around the world. We saw one scam like this over a holiday. In three days, the organization had racked up a $25,000 phone bill because of the breach.
With a UC system, a hack like that is not really possible. Today’s UC providers have end-to-end security that qualifies under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). For organizations upholding PCI, HIPPA, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, or any other security credentials, FISMA is the security framework that encompasses all other requirements. In short, UC systems are highly-secure platforms. UC is fully encrypted from end-to-end.
Screen pops are another useful tool that make the all-in-one aspects of Unified Communications so useful. If your UC system is connected to a CRM tool, the phone system can talk to it, recognize the phone number and immediately open the record for that customer.
You can design the screen pop functionality to open whatever you want. It can recognize the customer’s sales person and move the call to that person. That level of CRM integration is incredibly attractive to businesses. It all rolls into one unified application.
Most people looking for a voice solution have experienced Interactive Voice Response (IVR). IVR is when your phone system instructs you to, “Press 1 for a directory. Press 2 to make an appointment. Press 3 to speak to a representative.” You interact with the phone system by making a selection and moving along in the options list.
Voice-responsive IVR provides the ability to say what you want rather than having to press buttons. This allows for appointment reminders and self-service. A customer can call, say their account number and the system will provide an account balance or other requested information.
Imagine if someone could call your organization, and if they had an existing ticket number they could say it instead of entering it. Now combine the concept of voice-responsive IVR with the Screen Pop mentioned above: If the phone number is recognized, the UC system can pop the phone number and ask if they’re calling in regard to a certain ticket number.
When communicating with a call center, you're typically speaking on the phone with an agent of some sort. In contrast, when you’re communicating with a contact center, extra modalities and extra lines of communication are available.
Contact centers often serve the same purpose as a call center, but with more options for how you communicate. The industry term for this is omni-channel. The advantage is an agent can talk with different channels: they can email, chat through your website and voice chat like with traditional call centers. SMS texting has even been introduced to the contact center framework, so the customer can text, and the agent receives that in their regular workflow. They can respond in the same way they would a chat. The customer could even be on Facebook Messenger, and the agent will see the Messenger communication in their queue, just like a call or an SMS or anything else.
A lot of times if you’re chatting with a company, you’ll find that you type something, and the agent may take time to respond. A minute later, all of a sudden that agent is typing again. This is because they’re handling multiple chat interactions, or multiple email interactions, at the same time as social or SMS. That’s why you see so many “Chat Now” buttons on websites. They want to push customers to these chat communications because each agent can handle multiple interactions at once, instead of one at a time. This greatly reduces hold times. If a customer can push 20% of customers to chat, that’s 20% less phone calls coming in and 20% less wait time.
Recently, just by showing a call center a report of how active their agents were, they were able to save two head count. They reallocated resources and saved the company $110,000 per year (when you add together salary, benefits, 401k accounts, etc.) The call center itself costs $90,000 to run. Just by freeing up those two spaces, they paid for their call center. That’s where having a contact center is really important, because you can take efficiencies and expand even further. If you can offload 20% of your calls to multichannel chats or emails, you could repurpose 10% of your staff and save significant costs.
When you're looking through options for new business phone systems, Engage with a UC partner you trust to help determine the best option to fit your organization. Whether you choose to host your Unified Communications platform in the cloud or on-premise, the attraction of UC all comes down to using that single application.
When someone asks, “How do I get ahold of you?” There are several ways you can answer: Call. Instant Message. Text. Video. They all work. You have one phone number, and everything is integrated within one UC app.
UC makes communicating simple, via computer, cell phone, desk phone or tablet. It’s all in one app.