Unified Communications: Your Playbook to Better Business

Sometimes, business is like football: you can have a great lineup, but if you’re not executing plays well, you’re not going to score. You need a fast, agile team that has the tools and training to work together flawlessly.

Pulling off big wins in business often boils down to better communication and collaboration. In our hyper-mobile world, all your employees must communicate quickly and clearly—no matter where they are or what device they’re using, and you’ve got to be ready to respond to customers in whatever way they choose to reach you.

Today business success may mean it’s time for your enterprise to upgrade to a unified communications system.

What Is Unified Communications?

Unified communications, or UC, is a business communication system that lets your employees and customers get in touch through just about any means they want, short of smoke signals. They can instant message, call, video chat, or e-mail. They can receive company voice mail messages via e-mail on their smartphones or tablets. It’s all linked—or unified.

How Do You Know If You Need Unified Communications?

Ask yourself two questions. Will UC help your team work together better and improve productivity? Can you use UC to gain, serve, and keep customers—to improve market revenue and market growth?

For most businesses, the answer is yes. UC is built to help employees work more efficiently and respond more quickly to customers, building lasting relationships that can help your business be more successful.

How Can Unified Communications and Collaboration Boost Productivity?

A big benefit of using UC technology for business communication is that it helps bring people in different locations with different schedules together. That feature can potentially boost employee productivity significantly. Using e-mail, instant messaging, video and phone conferencing, and other technologies can help you reduce travel time, scheduling conflicts, and miscommunications that could arise with a traditional communications system.

For example, unified communications could help speed up a business process if you were working on a project with a co-worker who is at home with a sick child. The project is due at the end of the day, and you need their input to complete it. Because this co-worker has UC on their laptop, you can call them up with a mouse click.

As you talk, you realize that your boss will also need to weigh in. But they’re traveling to the corporate headquarters of a key client in North America this week, and they’ll be two time zones away. With UC, this scenario is no problem. You can easily catch your boss on their smartphone while they’re away from the office. Using video conference capabilities, you pull up the project on your screen and let everyone involved look at it and talk through the issues before moving on.

The result? Your team gets the feedback they need to wrap the project up today instead of waiting until next week when everyone can be in one place at the same time. You meet your deadline and keep your customer happy. These are the solutions that propel your business forward.

How Does UC Help You Serve Customers Better?

UC can make a huge difference in customer service. With UC, customers can contact you in whatever way is most convenient for them: chat, e-mail, or phone. Right off the bat, they can start the interaction feeling more at ease.

When the customer reaches you, your customer service reps have the tools they need to create solutions as soon as they’re aware of a problem. If you have integrated your customer relationship management (CRM) system with your UC system, your reps can easily pull up customers’ purchase histories and call histories.

So if your customer called last week, they won’t have to repeat their whole story—your customer service rep can see the history and address their needs immediately. If the customer needs, say, a new part for a product but doesn’t know the model number, your rep can find out by looking at the purchase history.

And if your customer needs expert help, your service reps can use the presence capabilities in UC to see which expert is available and can quickly answer the customer’s question. With UC, you let your customers avoid the maddening experience of calling one person after another after another and having to repeat themselves.

How Does UC Work?

UC is not a single technology. It’s an umbrella that sits over a number of products and lets you use them all more easily through a unified user experience. Think of UC as an integration of communication services or a bundled service.

technology umbrella

A typical UC offering will include a plethora of communication solutions to help with collaboration and customer service. These solutions include instant messaging; e-mail; presence information; voice calls; conferencing by audio, video, and web; and features that let you automatically forward calls.

Some companies will continue to use deskphones with UC, while others use softphones or both. A softphone is a software application that allows you to make Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls through a computer—you can make calls by using a headset or simply speaking into your computer. With UC, the app can also be integrated to work with smartphones and tablets.

Which Is Better: On-Premises Unified Communications or Unified Communications as a Service?

If it looks like unified communications can help your employees work more efficiently and help you provide better customer service, your next step is choosing the best UC platform for your business.

What is a unified communication platform? The platform is simply the base technology you (or the provider you’re working with) will implement your UC service on. There are two different kinds of unified communication platforms: on-premises and as a service. 

With an on-premises unified communications system, the equipment you need is located at your business. On-premises solutions are more likely to be used by large businesses that need an enterprise communication system with a fair amount of customization. An on-premises unified communications system comes with higher up-front costs—you have to purchase, set up, and maintain servers—but over time, a business can save money by not paying for ongoing subscription fees.

What Is UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service)?

Unified Communications as a service is a cloud-based service model, which means you pay a service provider for a UCaaS subscription. There’s no up-front investment, and it’s easy to scale up as your business grows. You don’t need to have space on-site for servers or other hefty equipment, and you don’t need an IT staff dedicated to UC to maintain the system regularly.

The as-a-service model is usually seen as a better choice for small and midsize businesses, companies that are growing quickly, and businesses with multiple locations. However, Unified Communications as a Service is becoming a viable option for all businesses. In fact, according to Gartner, “UCaaS . . . capabilities now exceed those available from premises-based UC solutions.”

As an additional note, some companies in the UC market may use different language to describe their communications solutions. These businesses may refer to a package of communication and collaboration technologies similar to UCaaS—including voice, video, messaging, customer service, and web conferencing—as collaboration as a service.

What Other Choices Do You Have?

Once you’ve decided which platform suits your needs best, you have even more choices to make concerning cloud-based (UC as a service) solutions:

  • Multitenant solutions, where users share the same software instance, are easier to support and more popular among small and midsize businesses. Examples of multitenant solutions include Cisco Spark, Google Hangouts, Frontier AnyWare, and Microsoft Skype for Business. (Microsoft replaced Office Communicator and Lync Online with Skype for Business, although the company still supports Lync Phone Edition and Lync Server 2013.)
  • Virtualized solutions, where each user has their own software instance, allow more customization and tailored security. Virtualized solutions require more support and are usually more appropriate for enterprise-level companies—those with 1,000 or more employees. And even many of these companies are beginning to opt for multitenant solutions, according to the 2016 Gartner analysis Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service, Worldwide.

The takeaway? For most small-size businesses, a multitenant UCaaS platform is going to be the best bet. It can provide all your communication and collaboration applications and services—everything from VoIP service to chat apps and conferencing—in a single, integrated package that you pay for monthly. It’s likely the most efficient way for you to improve collaboration and customer service.

What Additional Things Should You Consider?

If you decide Unified Communications as a Service is right for you, you’ll want to make sure you’re working with a company that has a carrier-grade network with a redundant architecture that can guarantee high uptime. Your existing broadband internet service may be adequate for a good UC experience, but some companies find they need to combine UC with a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) to avoid jerky video and dropped connections.

Unitek Education can be a useful resource if your staff needs training in UC-related areas. Internet Telephony magazine can also be a great source of information on communication solutions, collaboration solutions, and the UC market in general.

How Can You Put Your Communication and Collaboration Strategy into Action?

To extend the football analogy, think of your company’s communication technology plan as a series of plays, each of which gets you closer to the goal line or end zone.

First Down: Focus on the Phone

This was your communications starting point when your business opened, and it’s still an essential tool. It may seem like everyone communicates via text, social media, or e-mail now, but the phone is still critical. Sometimes, customers just need the back-and-forth conversation with a real voice on the other end of the line.

In fact, according to Zendesk, people trying to reach customer support still prefer to do so over the phone rather than through e-mail, social media, or live chat.

Worldwide, 54% use the phone as their first contact to reach support. Among those who start off trying other channels, most will revert to the phone if they don’t get an answer. Additionally, 71% of those who first try an e-mail message will use the phone if they don’t get a response, and 55% of those who use social media will use the phone if their post goes unanswered. Most of those who don’t get a response by phone (54%) will keep trying by phone.1

As Zendesk puts it, “Literally hearing a human being on the other end can be reassuring to some people and prevent confusion around ambiguity.”

Second Down: Voice over Internet Protocol

While the phone is still a critical communication tool, a legacy PBX phone system is only going to get you part of the way. To build a unified communication system, you have to switch to a voice over IP telephony system, or VoIP. With VoIP, you switch your phones from a private carrier to the internet.

Instead of using traditional phones, you have internet phones, or IP phones, that run over the same network that your computers do.

Once you switch to VoIP, your service provider will set you up with dial inward dialing numbers, or DID numbers, so callers from the public telephone networks can reach your internet-based business extensions.

Internet telephony has several advantages. You get unlimited calling, both local and long distance. And a voice over IP system is user-friendly. You can easily add or subtract lines and move extensions, and this feature allows you to reconfigure the system as needed.

With VoIP communication technology, you can use a deskphone, a softphone, or both. A softphone is a software application that allows VoIP calls through a computer—you can make calls by using a headset or simply speaking into your computer. This makes collaboration with remote employees simple.

You can see even more benefits of VoIP when you integrate that system with your CRM software. Now you can gather data during inbound calling as you interact with customers, and then you can easily tap into that data to improve service.

When you choose a VoIP system, your UC provider is likely to offer numerous beneficial features, in addition to voice calling that can help improve real-time communication and collaboration among employees and bolster your customer service:

  • Instant messaging, or chat
  • SMS, or phone texting
  • E-mail, including e-mail fax
  • Presence, which indicates on the phone system when employees are available to talk, in a meeting, or away from their desks
  • Voice mail, which can be accessed from office phones, via e-mail, or from mobile devices
  • Parallel ringing, which lets you receive incoming calls on both your deskphone and your mobile phone at the same time so people can still reach you and you can keep your cell number private
  • Calendar access, which lets you see calendar apps on simultaneous devices
  • Conferencing, either audio or video
  • Mobile applications so you can access your UC features on smartphones and tablets

Third Down: Pivot to the Cloud

You’ll get even closer to your goal of better collaboration and customer service by using cloud-based technology, or UCaaS. According to Intuit, “By 2020, 78% of small businesses will be fully adapted to the cloud, up from 37% in 2014.”2

What is UCaaS going to do for your business? Why is the cloud the answer for unified communications? As we discussed earlier, you don’t need to buy new equipment, find space to house it, hire additional IT pros to maintain it, and then buy new equipment all over again in a few years when it becomes obsolete. No need to budget for a technology refresh.

By using a cloud-based solution, you can focus on your core business goals and let experts handle your UC needs. When your business grows, you can scale quickly. Your costs are predictable, and if something goes wrong, you transfer the headache to your cloud provider.

You can also improve many business processes so collaboration and customer service work more smoothly. UCaaS can be set up to automatically shift smartphones from your company’s Wi-Fi network to cellular networks, keeping on-the-go workers connected. Additionally, advanced call forwarding can ensure they don’t miss calls.

Through the cloud, employees will have the same UCaaS experience across all devices. You can turn a remote worker’s desktop into a virtual phone so that, with a mouse click, they can call co-workers or join a video conference regardless of their location.

Fourth Down: Down but Not Out

If you’re going to score, you can’t get sacked during a key play. That’s what a hardware failure can do to your business. You lose valuable time and maybe sales. Business continuity—the ability to keep operating during an outage—is crucial.

UCaaS can help relieve your worries about business process delays that hardware failures can cause. Even if cell towers are down in your area, if you have an internet connection, your workers can continue communicating with each other and with customers.

If you do suffer downtime, getting everything working again quickly can be easier with UCaaS. Unified Communications as a Service solutions work well for business continuity and disaster recovery scenarios because many IP phone systems are distributed across geographic locations.

Having critical resources available in the cloud, not just on-premises, can keep you up and running so external factors don’t affect how and when you work.

Fourth and Goal: Choose a Proven Solution

To make sure you reach your goals, you need solutions designed for businesses like yours. Frontier AnyWare is one great option for small to midsize companies that need a flexible, easy-to-use system with a good end-user experience. A nationwide cloud-based VoIP solution, Frontier AnyWare is hosted, maintained, and supported by Mitel, which is ranked as a visionary company in Gartner’s 2017 Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as-a-Service.

unified communications and collaboration

AnyWare is affordable, scalable, and customizable. It integrates collaboration tools, including voice, sharing, and teleconferencing, to make it easy for workers to collaborate and provide better customer service. Employees can expect a consistent user experience across devices and media types.

You can save money by paying only for the features you need, knowing the system can easily grow as your business grows. And with Frontier AnyWare, you leave the troubleshooting headaches to someone else. You get 24/7/365 customer service and tech support.

Now you’re ready to score. Go ahead—dance in the end zone once you see how Frontier AnyWare can help your business win.

1Zendesk Press Releases, “Great Expectations but Businesses Are Failing to Deliver on Customer Service in the Omnichannel Age (UK)

2Intuit, “Small Business Success in the Cloud