For many years small businesses relied on two key communications technologies: phone calls and email.
These were generally stand alone services provided by two different suppliers and serving two separate purposes. When new communications technologies like IM, group chat, conferencing and video started to emerge, many smaller businesses didn’t see the need.
To some extent, the pandemic changed all that. Video calling software was a growing market before Covid, but the pandemic gave it wings. Dispersed employees started to use IM and group chat to communicate more efficiently and informally with colleagues. Conferencing replaced face-to-face meetings. New tools were bolted on to traditional telephony solutions to facilitate these new ways of working.
With remote and hybrid work here to stay, and at least some client contacts likely to remain virtual for the foreseeable future, many businesses are replacing this ad hoc collection of tools and apps with dedicated unified communications (UC) solutions.
UC gathers a range of communications and collaboration tools in one package, and gets them to work together. In the rest of this article we’ll find out why that’s a huge step forward for business communications, and potentially as beneficial for small organisations as it is for large enterprises.
The benefits to internal communications
With remote and hybrid work becoming standard practice, the ease with which dispersed teams can communicate and collaborate becomes a business critical issue.
So most importantly, UC gathers your communication tools together in one place, putting audio and video calls, conferencing, chat, IM and email within easy reach of every employee.
That means colleagues can communicate with each other in the way that suits them best, and the way that’s most appropriate in any situation.
For example, more formal meetings can take place via video, whereas a quick question can be asked with a simple instant message. Group chat can happen alongside voice and video conferencing, so that each participant can share relevant documents, add more detail or ask questions without constant interruptions.
It all helps smooth the flow of internal communications, especially when your teams work remotely or semi-remotely. When colleagues can communicate easily, they’ll feel less isolated and more integrated into company culture, even when they’re working from their back bedrooms.
And another major benefit of UC is that good solutions also include tools that aid collaboration. For example, colleagues on a video call can share screens so they’re all seeing the same thing. A Presence feature shows which colleagues are available and which are busy. File sharing lets dispersed teams work on the same document at the same time, creating one version of the truth.
The benefits to external communications
As we’ve seen, UC is a benefit to internal communications, especially at a time when some colleagues might be working remotely. It brings a range of powerful features together in one handy package.
And at the heart of any UC solution is business-grade VoIP telephony. That means your employees can make and take professional business calls wherever they happen to be – in the office, at home or on the road. The same telephone number goes with them, so clients and colleagues always know who’s calling, and which number to call.
With some UC packages, powerful call management features are merged with the solution. For example, some come with single click voicemail, voicemail to email, on demand call recording and seamless call routing.
This latter benefit means that calls can easily be transferred to a preferred device. So if you’re away from your desk, you can divert calls from your computer or handset to your mobile phone. That’s the other great thing about hosted UC. It can be accessed from a dedicated handset, or from a softphone on computer, laptop, smartphone and tablet. You never need to miss an important business call again.
In addition, good UC solutions can even add contact centre functionality to your communications infrastructure, saving you considerable sums of money on standalone contact centre software.
That functionality can include integrated call centre services like wallboards, IVRs and in-depth reporting capabilities. You can create hunt groups, add and remove users and assess performance in real time. Expansive trunking capabilities including Caller ID, DIDs, tandem trunking and trunk groups.
The benefits to your bottom line
As we’ve seen, UC makes your internal and external communications smoother and more seamless, with obvious benefits in terms of productivity, efficiency and customer service.
It also has a direct influence on your bottom line. UC solutions often come as per-user-per-month subscriber services, which means you never pay for more capacity than you actually use. In addition, they scale up and down easily to meet the changing demands of your business.
And by merging a wide range of communications and collaboration services in one, UC reduces costs associated with sourcing, managing and maintaining each of those services separately. Putting everything in one package works for your finances and your IT and admin staff, who only have to deal with one invoice and one helpline, saving time and simplifying day-to-day operations.