By Russell Horton, COO, Elitetele.com

Over the last decade the face of business communication has changed irrevocably. Traditional phone systems which used to be managed as a separate entity from the rest of IT have now converged with the arrival of VoIP and Unified Communications (UC). With the advance of the internet, ecommerce, WiFi and high speed internet connectivity, there has also been a shift in the way customers want to communicate with businesses, accelerated by new multi-media platforms such as mobile and the rise of social media.

UC is the consolidation of all communications and networking resources such as telephone, server-based applications, voicemail, email, instant messaging, video or conferencing into a single infrastructure. Whether a company is based at a single site or spread across dozens, multiple users can become part of a single network. It can deliver cost savings for businesses and the flexibility to move and adapt quickly to technological changes in an increasingly dynamic market. It can also improve the customer experience, enhance business credentials and increase sales and profit.

Research by Ovum in 2013 concluded 80 per cent of businesses will be implementing UC in the next two to three years. However many firms are still failing to reap the benefits of this approach and meet the needs of modern customers.

In order to maximise the value of UC businesses should:

Link presence information with business applications
It is essential for businesses to use UC to enhance their services, retain customers and keep them coming back. Today customers have a short attention span and are quick to point the finger or fire off an angry tweet if they encounter a problem and are kept waiting for a resolution. Rich presence, an enhanced form of presence awareness in which participants can determine if other users are online and observe what they are doing, combined with intelligence call routing can help overcome this to achieve first call resolution. By linking presence information with key business applications such as calendar functionality, businesses can identify times when the correct person is available and how best to contact them to ensure customer queries or problems are answered as quickly as possible.

Ensure all applications line up
A software-based UC solution such as Swyx acts like an app and can be fully integrated with other critical applications. The result is that all communications are in sync with everything else that’s going on in a business. This joined up level of communication gives businesses the ability to engage in highly personalised conversations with customers that make them feel valued, resulting in repeat business.

Prioritise important customers
By integrating a phone system with other back office applications, businesses can tailor communications depending on customers. With UC it is possible to flag important customers to the same individual or branch that they would normally request to speak to or even escalate the call, so they are not left holding in a queue. Some software-based UC solutions such as SwyxWare even allow businesses to configure calls so pop up information can be drawn on depending on who is calling, which could prove important to the conversation. This can also provide the ability to up-sell/cross sell successfully.

Support a virtual workforce
With the rising costs surrounding business operations many firms should look at how UC can support a virtualised workforce. In the past it has been more difficult to support home or remote working, as normally this involved using two or more different communication platforms that were not integrated. With rich presence a business can see immediately when and how it could communicate with the remote employee, making it much easier to set up a virtual face-to-face between colleagues or customers. By offering the option for workers to operate away from the office businesses can reduce overheads too with options such as hot desking while still allowing access to communication and third party applications.

Create effective international working
If a business wishes to operate across different countries or time zones UC can help enhance communication between international teams and customers allowing businesses to make better use of resources. Businesses can use extended call routing to switch enquiries from one resource to another, taking advantage of a global market via online sales and around the clock territories, with each shift being taken care of by a different call centre or even home-based workers.

By moving to a single network and a central point of control, not only can businesses streamline processes but they can more readily react to changing business needs. Now more than ever it is crucial to be able to adapt to new environments. With UC, it becomes much easier for firms to do this to not only give more staff access to information and applications but to also improve the quality of the customer journey, increase loyalty, sales and profit.