Small and medium sized businesses are increasingly finding themselves fighting shrinking operational budgets and increasing pressure to meet customer demands – faster than ever before, and with a smaller staff. Unified Communications can help these organizations extend the power of their business phone system far beyond its standard capabilities. Unified Communications can be a competitive advantage for businesses that need a single system to manage multiple tools and platforms, making their business more productive and helping smaller companies take advantage of features that only larger companies typically enjoy – much like a Swiss Army knife of communications. There are five essential benefits that are driving businesses towards Unified Communications today.

1. Ability to do more with less – with a solution that is easily managed

Particularly important to smaller businesses is the ability to implement any technology that provides enhanced functionality while also being both affordable and relatively simple to manage. As expected, smaller organizations typically have fewer or more limited resources, from budgets to staffing, and a technology, as is the case with a UC solution, is especially appealing if it enables the organization to operate as a bigger business, but without the same costs. UC is increasingly recognized as a technology that allows SMBs to take advantage of proven increases in productivity and functionality while realizing significant savings.

2. Incorporating mobility to connect the growing mobile and remote workforce

An office is just about anywhere you need it to be, today, and it is increasingly important for remote and mobile workers to access the same
phone system features, whether working form a desktop or a mobile device. By implementing a UC solution, it makes it easy to stay connected
to customers and prospects, from any location, from any device. It also provides flexibility in managing off-site employees, using features like
presence and conferencing, and having additional monitoring capabilities.

Important elements of a mobility feature in a UC solution include:

  • fixed mobile convergence and find me/follow me call capabilities
  • mobile applications for iPhone, Blackberry and Android
  • having access to company directories from any device
  • the ability to make calls from your mobile device as if it is from your office extension
  • the capability to transfer and record calls from your mobile phone to another number or extension too.

Look for UC solutions that offer this as an included basic feature; you should not have to pay extra for the capability.

3. Saving money on overall operating costs

ne of the greatest benefits of implementing the right UC solution is taking advantage of the cost savings it provides. This includes both savings on the initial cost of the system, as well as savings on the long-term costs that leads to a good Return on Investment (ROI). To achieve the greatest opportunities for savings, it’s important to understand how to accurately compare vendor quotes. It’s easy to look at multiple quotes from UC vendors and assume that the final cost quoted includes the same parameters. But not all UC solutions are created equal, and not all UC vendors can offer the same cost savings.

To get a true “apples-to-apples” comparison of vendor quotes, SMBs need to be aware of key differences in quotes that can add thousands of dollars to the cost of implementing UC solutions – both in near-term and long-term costs, and in both hard and soft costs. For example, many vendors offer a quote for base features, but the business-critical features that an SMB needs, and the the features that make UC so useful – like mobility and third-party integration, require an additional fee. Licensing fees also often drive up costs, as well as maintenance and upgrade costs, down the road. To avoid these expensive add-ons, compare across vendors for biggest savings potential on overall operating costs in these key areas:

  • Avoid getting locked into using a specific vendor solution; check for true interoperability of the UC solution
  • Confirm which features are included in the base cost of the system without additional fees or licenses
  • Look for solutions with low maintenance costs, particularly when updates are software-based; always ask vendor for details about maintenance contracts and how updates are handled –especially if the updates require new hardware.
  • Calculate not only initial savings, but longterm ROI; productivity and staffing savings can add up to thousands of dollars, annually. A vendor should be able to show how to calculate these savings and provide examples of common savings from the UC solution
  • Beyond IT budgets, consider how the savings extends across departments, in areas such as admin, sales, and marketing. Ask the vendor to provide specific case studies or customer testimonials that provide examples of each of these.

4. Gaining uplift in customer service capabilities

The right UC solution should be more than a phone system, it should be a better communications system that provides improved operational efficiency. A quality UC solution allows SMBs to serve customers more effectively using features such as call queues and IVRs, for example. SMBs should be able to use a UC solution to know more about every incoming call, in order to route each call appropriately, ensuring there are no more missed calls or lack of visibility. For example, Jobbers Warehouse Supply (JPW) is a leader in the automotive aftermarket, selling engine parts tomachine shops and parts stores all across the U.S. and Canada. This established SMB selected a UC solution with the intent of providing a higher level of customer service for their best customers. To do so, they needed a system that would allow them to prioritize incoming calls from their customer base.

Specifically, when a call from a priority customer comes through the switchboard, JPW wanted that call promptly routed to a select customer service representative, taking precedence over lower priority calls circulating through the system. The UC solution that JPW selected offered intuitive, user-friendly web interface that allows the operator to drag-and-drop calls while chatting online with co-workers, conferring over calls, reciprocating requests, and assigning instructions. Several phonebooks, a Salesforce panel, Google news and maps, a “parking lot” for on-hold calls, and access to proprietary software are also available to the administrator.

Furthermore, JPW was able to get an integrated customizable database software using SugarCRM, with two inbound call queues. SugarCRM offers a fast, flexible and feature-rich customer service application. The customer service agent simply clicks a selection box next to the customer name in SugarCRM to set a “preferred”, “general”, or “new customer” status, which determines into which of the queues the calls are routed. General
callers move into the non-priority cue and remain on hold while preferred status callers move into the priority cue and take precedence. This level of detailed and customized flexibility has helped the company exceed its original goals of managing their priority customers, and choosing the right UC solution made it possible.

5. Moving beyond basic functionality

Too often, SMBs evaluate new technologies based on whether or not the system can meet the organization’s current needs – in reference to both basic features included with the technology and in reference to the current size and structure of the business. That type of decision can cost an SMB thousands of dollars in future upgrade costs when choosing a business phone system. When considering “future expansion,” that term may not mean something as extensive as expanding physical locations; it could be as simple as adding or moving an employee. The right UC solution allows SMBs to opt for a flexible system that provides extended functionality and that will grow with the business. When evaluating UC solutions, consider systems that can:

  • Easily accommodate future growth/operations needs of the business, without an additional, heavy investment down the road
  • Systems that include detailed reporting options that provide business critical information about business operations and customer needs
  • Ability to integrate with third-party business applications, such as CRM, for a better user experience

As an example, Pathways is an Ohio-based organization that manages a community crisis hotline. Due to the critical nature of their services, they required customization to the UC solution they selected. Fortunately, they chose a solution that was flexible enough to meet their needs (without additional costs) and were able to easily add a Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API) so that from the moment a call comes into the crisis center, the system can search a database to identify the location of the caller, even if they are calling from a cellular phone. In the event that the person calling needs emergency assistance, or the counselor feels the need for police backup, the mapping feature pinpoints the cellular signal so they can find them. From a landline, the call is cross-referenced with phone number, address, and area code to identify the location. Google Maps uses GPS to locate pings from cellular phone towers.

Pathways team members can also use their UC solution to identify calls and which extensions they are routed to; record calls for quality purposes; watch for excessive callers and how they are being handled; and customize reports for training purposes. These are all features included with their system, at no additional charge. The system’s the additional reporting functionality has proven to be a useful tool in providing a detailed view into whether or not their business communications is successfully supporting the organization’s operational requirements.

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