Originally published by Contact Center Pipeline / Image Credit: Contact Center Pipeline
What SMBs need to know about optimizing these critical solutions.
COVID-19 forever changed how businesses operate. During the pandemic, many businesses chose stopgap temporary communication measures, not knowing how long remote work would be necessary, and without insights into how they would need to evolve long term.
In the New Normal, remote work remains essential for continued operations and is considered non-negotiable by a growing number of employees.
However, a more distributed workforce presents businesses with new challenges in connecting their decentralized teams and ensuring their customers get the support they need quickly and easily: regardless of the preferred device or location of support personnel.
Pre-COVID, many small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) may not have thought of themselves as contact centers or needing advanced communication features.
But post-pandemic and in the New Normal, most SMBs could improve their productivity and customer experience (CX) if they had these tools. In fact, nearly every business would benefit from switching to unified communications (UC).
In the New Normal of remote work and higher customer service demands, no business should operate with a premise-based private telephone network or VoIP phone system: when integrated platforms and cloud-hosted infrastructure are readily and cost-effectively accessible.
UC systems solve many of the new challenges SMBs face by providing business communication services that connect people whether they’re at home, at the office, or anywhere else with an internet connection.
With UC, the infrastructure is housed in the cloud rather than on-premise and data is remotely managed. Even more, this flexibility often costs less and is easier to implement than traditional PBX systems.
Advanced contact center features follow a similar logic, but on a larger scale. For businesses that were busy pre-pandemic, the switch to remote or hybrid work made it much more difficult to keep up with customer interactions and provide the same quality of service remotely as they could in-person.
Additionally, remote support agents require a much different suite of tools to answer calls and track cases than other departments. With UC systems integrated with contact center functionality, SMBs can better manage their call volume, easily direct callers to the correct people or departments, automatically record calls for easy review, and track team performance over time.
Who Should Consider an Integrated Approach?
Modern UC makes sense for all companies regardless of size, call volume, or feature needs. In fact, UC is now the standard of the most basic business phone systems.
Integrating contact center features requires slightly more consideration. Any SMB that is heavily reliant on phone calls or is struggling to meet the support needs of its customers is a prime candidate for integrated UC and contact center functionality.
If in doubt, SMBs should consider the following questions:
- What type of CX do you want to create?
- What type of employee and manager experience do you want to create?
- Do you want easy access to data from your customer interactions that allow you to enhance the CX and/or improve employee productivity?
- Does the team struggle to keep up with your call volume?
By exploring these questions, you may discover that it would be highly advantageous to integrate contact center services with your UC system.
For instance, consider an accidental call center scenario, which happens when an organization receives an unexpectedly large volume of calls, often due to a sudden surge in demand for its product or service.
Since the organization typically does not operate a call center, it can quickly become overwhelmed with the influx of calls and unable to address all the requests in a timely manner, thus potentially losing business opportunities.
Once a UC system is up and running, IT support isn’t required to maintain business communication as usual.
Keep in mind that the term “accidental contact centers” is intentional. That’s because some businesses don’t intend to be in a situation where they need to provide extensive phone support, but due to their rapid success or unexpected shift to remote work, they find themselves technologically unprepared for their daily call volume.
The integration of UC and contact center services ensures preparedness and the likelihood of consistently positive customer support regardless of volume shifts. With a modern UC system, businesses should see an almost immediate improvement in call management and communications workflows.
By integrating contact center features, customers can be automatically added to queues, request callbacks instead of waiting, hear pre-recorded promotional messages while they wait, and access paths of escalation to managers, to name a few customer-centric benefits.
Integrated Approach Advantages
The point of any communications system is to make life easier for employees and provide a positive, consistent caller experience for customers.
Contact center functionality is designed to accentuate those benefits and add insightful ways for managers and business owners to track performance over time. Yet, by integrating contact center capabilities with UC, businesses gain a host of additional benefits.
For example, one of the biggest advantages lies in the management of the communications infrastructure. With an integrated approach, the UC provider will host the platform and take over infrastructure management, freeing business owners to focus on efficiently running their businesses.
In this environment, everything from phone calls to voicemail boxes to analytics to call center on-hold music is housed remotely in the cloud, requiring virtually no hardware or infrastructure management on the customer side.
This approach eliminates the need for an IT team to maintain and manage the phone system. Once a UC system is up and running, IT support isn’t required to maintain business communication as usual. If there is an issue with the service or features, the service provider can address them remotely. This aspect alone saves businesses significant dollars.
The other opportunity for savings is in how UC vendors streamline services and allow communications to scale based on the needs of the business.
For example, phone service, reporting features and advanced contact center functionality are streamlined into one easy-to-use platform with one monthly invoice. Rather than needing to find and implement multiple platforms, businesses can choose one trusted partner and improve all of their caller interactions.
And if a business doesn’t need premium features, don’t pay for them. Need them later? Add them when the budget allows. A preferred UC partner will help customers identify their business needs and build an integrated platform with the capabilities necessary to support those requirements.
Furthermore, many UC providers offer a communication services dashboard that empowers businesses and their employees to customize their individual preferences. This gives employees greater freedom and control and further alleviates the need for IT support.
Transitioning to a modern UC solution should be seamless.
For example, employees may want to forward calls from their home offices to their mobile phones while on the road or change their voicemail settings. Businesses may want to change their auto attendant options or add an extension for a new employee. An easy-to-navigate user interface or mobile app makes it possible for even nontechnical professionals to elect changes to their communication settings.
An additional advantage to this integrated approach is the advanced reporting options that accompany most contact center solutions, which give businesses more insight than ever into communications trends and employee performance.
SMBs can gain greater insight into average call times, how many calls each support agent has addressed, post-call review scores, and monthly totals reports. These insights and more are easily accessible to managers and business owners with administrative access.
Implementation Best Practices
To ensure a successful integrated approach to business communication services, it is best practice for the business customer to work with their provider to customize their UC system to include contact center functionality instead of trying to adapt to an out-of-the-box solution.
Another best practice is when starting with a new UC provider to have it provide a dedicated onboarding agent who can ensure that the customer gets the most out of their integrated system.
Also, the customer should schedule and commit to training for the entire team. Especially for remote and hybrid businesses, ensuring everyone is on the same page with dedicated training can often make the difference between a good and a bad experience for their customers.
After all, tools are only as useful as the person using them. Most of the challenges revolve around navigating the new user interface and workflows that accompany any new software.
Transitioning to a modern UC solution should be seamless. The best way for a business to avoid challenges is to report any issues to its provider immediately so they can be resolved. With cloud hosting, most issues can be identified and fixed remotely, without the need for IT help or to involve multiple team members.
However, that convenience also introduces one of the unique challenges of UC solutions. Since system-wide changes can be made so quickly and easily, updates can be made before everyone in the organization is aware.
Integrating contact center capabilities with UC systems addresses all of these needs and offers additional benefits...
For instance, an office manager could record a new holiday greeting and then forget to immediately inform the rest of the staff, resulting in new callers referencing deals or updated hours that weren’t yet relayed to the sales or support teams.
To avoid situations where too much efficiency leads to miscommunication, make sure to always share system knowledge or updates internally. Open communication is the best way to avoid frustration and to promote user adoption within the organization.
It’s Not Too Good to Be True
Modern business communication services have advanced at a record pace in recent years, in part, due to the challenges faced during the pandemic.
The New Normal requires greater flexibility to support on-site, hybrid, and remote work environments, more responsive customer service capabilities, and streamlined services to alleviate management oversight requirements and costs.
Integrating contact center capabilities with UC systems addresses all of these needs and offers additional benefits that enable SMBs to operate successfully regardless of employees’ locations or preferred devices. They can now manage customer support needs more efficiently and effectively, and ultimately, continue to grow their businesses.