• Home  / 
  • Business
  •  /  Unified Communications Guide for Small Business

Unified Communications Guide for Small Business

By Jason Freely / 4 weeks ago
Unified Communications Guide for Small Business

Now that you’re running your business more virtually than you thought you would, it might be time to consider a unified communications system.

That might sound like some hoity toity corporate word — but it’s just another word for managing all of your voice and video communications from one place, usually using a software platform or application.

Most unified communications systems are also called VoIP (voice over IP or wireless) phone systems.  These phone services run over the internet.  You may already be using a VoIP phone at home through your cable provider.

One of the big benefits of wireless phone technology is the ability to manage and control your communications in one place.

What is Unified Communications

A unified communications system is one that incorporates multiple modes of communication such as phone, text, reception menu, video, etc.  into a single platform that makes communication easy.

How Does Unified Communication Work

Unified Communication allows an individual to send a message on one medium and receive the same communication on another medium.

For example, you can receive a voicemail message and choose to access it through e-mail or a cell phone.

Why Unified Communications is So Important

A Unified Communication system allows you to run your entire customer communications from one place.

Here are all the things you can do with a unified communications system:

  • Place and Receive Calls
  • Send and Receive Texts
  • See who’s calling
  • Read voicemail transcriptions
  • Hear call recordings
  • Get faxes
  • Link to Emails

Having all of these customer communication channels in one place saves you time and money.

It puts your phone system to work for you so you can focus on your business. Plus it helps you look more established and credible, so you can win more customers and enter new markets.

Common Features of Unified Communications Systems

As you would imagine, there are dozens of unified communications tools, systems and software to choose from.  Which one you choose will depend on your business and the features that will help you serve and engage with your customers.

To put it simply, there are several different types of unified communications systems. Some are more focused on phone and text communications and others are more focused on overall business systems and communications.

Here are just a few of the features you’ll find in many unified communications systems.

Call Forwarding

If you have a brick and mortar location with dedicated lines, call forwarding allows you to send incoming calls to employees on their mobile device.

Directory

The dial-by-name directory feature allows incoming calls to reach a specific person in your company by dialing their first or last name using the keypad on the phone.

Video Conferencing

Some unified communications systems are integrated with online or video conferencing platforms.  These features are ideal for businesses with virtual employees across the country and the world who need to connect.

Automated Receptionist

No. This isn’t a human receptionist that’s working from home.  Instead, it’s a feature that allows you to choose how you want your calls handled.  You can route incoming calls to your mobile device, or

A unified communication solution can provide just that, getting the call to the person who needs to answer, helping a customer to schedule an appointment, or answering any questions, all without having to worry about payrolling another employee or the risk of getting a mediocre receptionist.

Voicemail Transcription

Checking your voicemail is annoying.

If you’re on a phone, it is a long and complicated process and doing it on your computer is also annoying and adds more steps to giving them a call or text back.

Voicemail transcription makes everything simple and way easier. Just check your email or text messages and read the transcription to gather the information you need in just a few seconds.

Easily search for and filter messages

Get the information you are looking for, whether it’s a name or a number, by searching your inbox instead of wasting time listening to voicemails or trying to remember the date and time you got that call.

Fax Linking

Most businesses don’t have a fax machine in-house, they’re old technology that is becoming more and more outdated.

With fewer and fewer clients and businesses using them consistently. Save time, space, and paper having those faxable documents sent to your email address in PDF format. That is the purpose of unified communications, receiving a message via one medium and responding with another. Not to mention that it is significantly easier to search through your inbox than it is a box of faxes.

Text Message Marketing

Part of the draw for a unified communication solution is that it provides you with many tools for staying in contact with the customers that want to see you succeed and grow.

Text message marketing (SMS Marketing) is one of those tools. Boasting some important benefits such as:

Small business customers utilize text message marketing in a number of ways. To name just a few, they take advantage of the following features: scheduled sending, birthday rewards, text to win contests, social media integration, age verification, email capture, and email integration.

SMS Marketing (Text Message Marketing) Is a tool with instant large reach, boasting high conversion and even higher open rates that is flexible and reliable, going to the people who want to give you their money. It just makes sense…

  • Everyone can receive texts, immediately.
  • Over 90% of all texts are read within the first 5 minutes.
  • The average American looks at their cell phone 150+ times a day.
  • 70% of Americans want to receive mobile offers from their favorite businesses.
  • It’s perfect for the business owner on a budget. At just pennies per text, it’s cost effective.

To begin, you will choose a keyword, whenever a customer texts that keyword to your phone number they “opt-in” to your marketing list.

This will allow you to send them a message in the future. There are best practices that are associated with doing this, such as setting expectations for frequency and the content of messages sent as well as the legally required information on texting STOP to be opted out of any lists that you are on.

Once you have this setup there are many ways to market this keyword to get more traffic to the texting list and by extension to your website or storefront.

Unified Communications Companies, Tools and Platforms

Bet you didn’t think that you already had access to some low-cost unified communications platforms already.

Google’s G-Suite: Most businesses use some elements of Google’s G-Suite such as Gmail, Documents, Meet or Google Voice.  If you’re running virtual teams where the primary way of communicating is via email, video meetings and by sharing documents, this is a great choice. One of the great benefits of the G Suite platform is its ability to integrate with third-party apps. Price: $12 per user per month.

Zoho One: Another low-cost fully integrated platform idea for a variety of businesses and industries such as manufacturing, service, retail and professional services.  If sales and customer service is the center of your business, their integrated platform for more than 45 apps and artificial intelligence feature, Zia, can help you track prospects throughout their entire life cycle. Price: $30 per user per month

RingCentral: If your focus is primarily on calls and video conferencing, then RingCentral offers a great unified communication solution. Price: $25 per user per month

Grasshopper: Grasshopper is a small-business phone service, designed to work on top of your existing landline or mobile service. Like many virtual phone systems, Grasshopper offers a mobile app that lets you make and receive calls from your business number—even when using your personal mobile devices. Price: $26 per month

Vox Direct: Vox Direct is a Unified Communications platform that was launched back in 2006 and it’s a great option for small businesses and startups looking for a virtual phone system. They have Android and iOS applications that can provide a company with the desired flexibility while catering to its mobility needs. This service is ideal for small businesses with virtual teams who “live on mobile”.  Price: $39 per month

With so many choices, it can be overwhelming to try and figure out which system is right for your business.

Garret Halsell, Founding member of Vox Direct, has some tips for choosing the best unified communication system for your business.

“Here are some things to consider if you are in any of these positions..

For Businesses that are now working from home

  • Better Customer Service: Help customers navigate to the person the need to speak with faster and easier via call routing with transfer-hold capabilities
  • Customer Communication (Updates, Confirmations, and Feedback): Your customers want to support you, make it easier for them to give you feedback and communicate with you in a personal way.
  • Employee Engagement and Communication: Avoid misunderstandings and improve efficiency by enabling easy communication throughout the company with a unified platform.
  • Centralized Information: Never let a lead fall through the cracks, reduce poor customer service, and have everything in one place for ease of access.

For Service Based Businesses

  • Better Customer Service: Help customers set up a call or get to the representative they need to speak with faster and easier via call routing with transfer-hold capabilities .
  • Customer Communication (Updates, Confirmations, and Feedback): Your customers want to support you, make it easier for them to give you feedback and communicate with you in a personal way.
  • Improved Call Quality: Make sure you’re crystal clear over the phone with a well integrated system.
  • Employee Engagement and Communication: Avoid misunderstandings and improve efficiency by enabling easy communication through the company. Never worry about double booking a project or missing an appointment.
  • Centralized Information: Never let a lead fall through the cracks, reduce poor customer service, and have everything in one place for ease of access.

For Retail Businesses

  • Better Customer Service: Help customers navigate to the person the need to speak with faster and easier via call routing with transfer-hold capabilities.
  • Customer Communication (Updates, Confirmations, and Feedback): Your customers want to support you, send them promotions and rewards to incentivize coming to you!
  • Employee Engagement and Communication: Avoid misunderstandings and improve efficiency. No more accidental missed shifts.
  • Improved call quality: Never worry about your end of the line with a unified communication system that is well made.
  • Reduced costs: By consolidating multiple streams of cost into one spot, you will usually reduce the cost of 5 systems to the cost of 1 system.
  • Increased reliability: No more worrying about those 5 systems working together properly, everything is on the same platform now.

For Consultants or Virtual Teams

  • Group Notifications: Whether it’s your team or a series of partners or referral relationships, let everyone who needs to know about what is going on and on the same page.
  • Client Communication (Updates, Confirmations, and Feedback): Make sure meetings go smoothly and are able to be tracked or recorded in some way so you can review it and update their profile as time goes on.
  • Professional Appearance: Look bigger and more professional while not having to compromise on being personal with your clients.
  • Automated Tasks: You are going to want something to do the small things for you, meeting reminders, updates, scheduling information, etc.
  • Reduced costs: By consolidating multiple streams of cost into one spot, you will usually reduce the cost of 5 systems to the cost of 1 system.
  • Increased reliability: No more worrying about those 5 systems working together properly, everything is on the same platform now.

For Ecommerce or Online Businesses

  • Client Communication (Updates, Confirmations, and Feedback): Make sure meetings go smoothly and are able to be tracked or recorded in some way so you can review it and update their profile as time goes on.
  • Professional Appearance: Look bigger and more professional while not having to compromise on being personal with your clients.
  • Automated Tasks: You are going to want something to do the small things for you, follow up offers, updates, promotions, and rewards, etc.
  • Reduced costs: By consolidating multiple streams of cost into one spot, you will usually reduce the cost of 5 systems to the cost of 1 system.
  • Increased reliability: No more worrying about those 5 systems working together properly, everything is on the same platform now.

Find The Best Fit For You

When looking at a unified communication system for your small business it’s really important to do an overview of your options and make sure that you’ve chosen what works best for you and what has the best bang for its buck. Many companies that claim to be unified Communications really aren’t, so make sure that whatever you’re looking at is going to be sufficient for your needs. A great way to do this is to ensure that you can communicate through any medium that your customers use with your platform, regardless of who the provider is.

A Unified communications system is going to be very important for your communication with customers and overall customer service. Find what works for you with a company that doesn’t nickel and dime you for every feature, otherwise you won’t actually reduce your costs.

All of the examples above are going to be heavy users of a Unified Communications platform because it will help them have customer service that sets them apart from the competition.

Whether you like it or not, ease of access is a HUGE factor in a customer’s decision making process, and it is your job to make it as easy as possible for them to get what they want if you desire their business.

You want to incentivize customers to choose you over a competitor and discounts or promotions are a great way to do that, so make sure you have a way to tell all of your customers about those offers.

There are a lot of great ways to facilitate these results in your business and Unified communications platforms are some of the best ways to consolidate everything into one place and make everything simpler. Look at multiple providers, not just one or two. Make sure to find what works best for YOUR business, if you’re unsure, feel free to contact me and I can make some recommendations.

Leave a comment: