Technology has improved many aspects of our lives in the past decade or so and for the business that deals with a lot of customers in the call centre, unified communications (UC) has and continues to help businesses to deliver excellent customer service. As the name suggests, unified comms is simply the integration of real-time services such as instant messaging, IP telephony, video conferencing with other, non-real-time services such as email, SMS and to some extent, social media. According to Gartner, Inc., “unified communications offers the ability to significantly improve how individuals, groups and companies interact and perform.” Gartner go on to say that the main goal of UC is to “improve user productivity and enhance business processes.” Commercial UC solutions can be integrated, standalone products, or in a suite that’s provided by a supplier such as Cisco. Broadly, UC can be divided into six main components:

  1. Telephony – including fixed lines, VoIP, mobile, hosted PBX, IP PBX
  2. Conferencing – voice and audio conferencing, video conferencing, web conferencing, document sharing
  3. Messaging – email, voicemail
  4. Instant messaging (IM)
  5. Clients – enabling access to multiple communications from a single dashboard
  6. Communications apps – software apps with integrated communications capabilities
  In the call centre, UC plays a strategic role, helping staff to effectively communicate with customers across various platforms, enabling collaboration and helping to improve upon business processes and reach business goals.

UC Fundamentals

unified comms Central to UC is the VoIP network, which must support both voice and data and allow different types of devices to communicate freely. In a call centre, a CRM might be used to present all of the different communications into one dashboard to enable more effective ways of accessing customer details and talking to the customer themselves. In turn this leads to more effective customer service as the customer is dealt with by one operator. Customer service has changed beyond all recognition in a relatively short space of time. This is largely due to social media which has seen a shift take place in the power balance between the customer and the business. Now, customers expect a response to any query or complaint very quickly. The business that’s able to respond to this and deal with customers on a multi-channel basis will be the one that wins out. UC allows this to happen – no longer is a customer forced to wait in a queue whilst they’re connected to yet another department that can’t help them. Now, with UC, their query can be dealt with quickly by one operator who has instant access to all of the customer’s account details through the CRM console. If the customer service rep can’t answer the query, then with UC it’s possible to quickly get a more senior member of staff in on the call to provide the answer.

Making the Most of UC

UC There are many ways in which UC can be harnessed in order to ensure better customer service.
  • Presence for remote agents – this can alert call centre staff to the status of each caller.
  • Skill-based routing – allows agents to connect calls directly to a member of staff who has a certain skill-set.
  • Real-time training – UC collaboration features allow more than one person to be on a call at the same time for training purposes.
  • Multi-channel comms – call centre staff can communicate with customers on various platforms.
  • Business continuity – a call centre can enable remote working, allowing the employee to access the comms network and work as they would if they were sat in the office.
  • Wideband sound – this gives the impression to the customer that the call is a private one-to-one call due to improvements in audio.
  With regard to the latter, research has found that 82% of consumers said that they preferred the feeling that they were on a private call with a customer service rep. It was also found that the improvement in the quality of audio – such as that given by UC – results in a higher level of customer satisfaction and in turn, the propensity to make a purchase.

Cost vs Traditional Systems

It might seem a little flamboyant to some business owners to do away with a perfectly serviceable telephone system in order to put UC in place, but the benefits outweigh any inconvenience. UC systems can be deployed at a relatively low cost and as they are IP-based, cost less to run than a traditional system too. Whilst there are ongoing savings when it comes to UC, the major benefits are in the difference it makes to customer service and to employees themselves. Workers now expect to have the same functionality in their work devices as they do in their own. This means that those using a traditional comms system will become frustrated more easily than those with a fully-functional, multi-channel UC system. Collaboration too is made easier with UC and this improves productivity and essentially, the revenue of the business. Customer service too will be improved as the call centre staff are given the means to deal more effectively with customers directly on their preferred platforms. Live chat is quickly becoming a preferred means for younger consumers, for example, and as such should be offered in a customer service environment. Research has found that 31% of people that use live chat say that they’re more likely to go ahead and make a purchase after speaking to a rep using this medium. For the call centre, UC is a must if a business is to compete in a crowded online arena. Whilst it can cause some inconvenience during initial deployment, this is just about the only area in which a call centre business might have a complaint. For the most part, UC enables a better, more productive call centre team and importantly, the opportunity for the business to deliver outstanding customer service.  

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