Some of the fundamental challenges that SMBs face (irrespective of location, industry or vertical) include attraction and retention of valuable employees, gaining a competitive edge over rival businesses, improved service delivery to customers, and total control over operational business expense and customer acquisition costs.
Although the above challenges are also faced by larger companies and enterprises, SMBs have a much harder time solving them due to lesser resources and reach. To level the playing field and allow more favorable competition with their larger counterparts, SMBs should leverage innovative technologies like UC (unified communications). Not only does UC help to solve the core challenges of SMBs, but it also allows them to interact with prospects and customers just as effectively and professionally as larger companies.
Once treated as isolated technologies, the intersection of computers and telephones has taken communication abilities to a whole new level. During its early stages, unified communications was largely the province of large enterprises; however, it has evolved to a point where it's now available to SMBs.
What is UC?
Unified communications refers to an integration of the following five specific capabilities into one technology.
This refers to the capability of end users to indicate to others their current "communications status." It can be used to inform others when they'll be available to communicate and their preferred method of communication. For instance, "You can contact me by 10 a.m. via email only."
This set of capabilities enables users to communicate by sending and receiving text messages, faxes, emails and voicemails using a variety of devices. It also gives users the ability to seamlessly switch between devices and communication formats.
Audio and video conferencing
This focuses on technology that allows people to interact/communicate simultaneously using audio conferencing capabilities. Communication can also be done over video conferencing (combined video and audio) or through a combination with visual information (like PowerPoint slides/presentations) using browser-based capabilities (web conferencing).
This capability reduces business travels since employees, management and investors in disparate locations can communicate with each other. It also encourages closer collaboration between partners, customers and teams working from different locations.
Instant messaging (or IM)
Basically, this category of UC deals with the ability of two or more persons to communicate via text format using devices such as tablets, smartphones and personal computers.
IP telephony (or IPT)
IP telephony is the contemporary technology for voice communications. Instead of being transmitted as digital "ones and zeros" over traditional PSTN (public switched telephone network), voice calls are transmitted via IP (Internet Protocol) packets over a data network.
In addition to IP telephony capabilities, contact center management capabilities are also included in this category of UC. Several UC solutions include a "softphone" capability that allows users to use their desktop PCs and laptops as IP phones to receive and make calls.
Impact of unified communications on SMB operations
Instead of standalone communication tools (like fax machines, laptops, telephone sets), unified communications solutions provide a fully integrated communications experience to end users. For SMBs, UC solutions represent an effective means to seamlessly and rapidly communicate with employees, customers, and management.
It increases the efficiency of business procedures and processes and makes employees more productive and responsive. By leveraging the power of UC solutions to facilitate faster and more effective communications, SMBs can deliver more differentiated customer service and gain an edge over their competitors.
Benefits of unified communications for SMBs
Although there are variations in employee make-up, it is estimated that over 50 percent or more of the employees that work in typical SMB environments are skilled professionals. Studies show that over 35 percent of the working time of these professionals are spent communicating with colleagues, managers, suppliers, prospects and customers.
This means that solutions that increase the effectiveness and efficiency of these interactions will have a profound impact on their inherent productivity.
Attraction and retention of skilled employees
Today's employees (especially millennials and Generation X) now work in environments that leverage a broad range of contemporary technological tools and solutions. Although Generation Y workers expect appropriate technology to be available at their workplaces, millennials have a much higher expectation of digital tools and technology.
This generation of employees prefers to communicate and receive information in realtime using UC tools. This enables faster delivery of the information that they need to do their jobs properly. Although SMBs may not be able to provide the salaries and benefit packages offered by larger companies, they can at least create a working environment that appeals to today's workforce.
Other benefits of UC solutions include:
- Reduced expenses due to the mitigation/elimination of long-distance call charges with no-cost IP telephony calls over packet networks.
- Mitigation/elimination of service charges incurred as a result of using third-party conferencing solutions.
- Reduction in travel expenses since face-to-face meetings can occur using the in-house audio, video and web conferencing capabilities of UC solutions.
- Seamless support for telecommuting and remote employees, thus reducing the amount of real estate needed for employees.
- By using laptop softphones to make calls over the internet during travel, mobile roaming charges are eliminated.
Easy scalability and management
UC solutions are easier to implement and manage since all the communication technologies are integrated into a single interface. Such solutions are easy to scale. Users and capabilities can be added and removed as needed without the need to pay third-party support providers when there are changes to the communication needs of the business.
Features to look for in a UC solution
Before choosing a UC solution, SMBs should ensure that it offers external improvements in operational efficiency and is ideal for their business use case. It's best to pick non-proprietary UC solutions that are based on open standards like Session Initiated Protocol (SIP).
The UC solution should also have the following capabilities:
- Complete range of interactive interaction (ranging from voice to video, email, web interaction and SMS in a single interface).
- Seamless and robust presence management.
- Remote working capabilities.
- Resiliency and survivability.
- Virtual capabilities.
- Integration with third-party applications.
With the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, SMBs can no longer afford to do without the amazing capabilities of unified communications. Aside from the cost benefits, unified communications helps to level the playing field for SMBs by enabling enterprise-like communication with stakeholders and a significant increase in employee productivity.
By leveraging the five essential UC capabilities, SMBs can truly stand out from the crowd and gain a competitive edge over their larger counterparts.
SMBs (no matter their industry) can benefit from Audian's "Telecompetence" concept, embodied in easy-to-use UC solutions that offer advanced calling features that include call forwarding, call identification, call waiting and message waiting.
Telephone calls, voice messages and electronic message alerts are routed via wireless communications networks and the internet, enabling businesses to have reliable, easy and modern phone solutions, so they can spend less time worrying about their communication technologies and more time on improving service delivery and customer satisfaction.