Going Beyond Voice

There’s something very strange happening in telecommunications, apparently there are more phones than ever in the UK, some 33.2M fixed lines and 89.9M active mobile connections at Ofcom’s last count; and yet the total number of voice minutes has fallen from the peak in 2008 of around 260 billion to under 220 billion! That’s 40 billion fewer voice minutes being logged in the UK in just the past few years.

There’s something to be said for the fact that the peak happened to coincide with the year leading up to the big economic downturn in the world, but surely as with everything else, there should have been a noticeable recovery by now if it was just down to people wanting to save money. What we have is another trend entirely taking place that happens to have masked itself in the pattern of the greater economy. People are falling out of love with talking on the phone!

If you’re a business, you’ve no-doubt relied for years on your telephone as an invaluable sales and customer service tool, so what are you to do?

If your customers don’t want to speak to you on the phone, does that mean they’re going to look for more personal, face-to-face service as the replacement? Well the success of businesses like Amazon would say that’s not what’s happening at all.

Instead what we have is a shift in consumer preference (most notably with the younger, up-and-coming consumers) for non-voice interaction. They want to hear about things via Twitter, not a pre-recorded message. They want to get customer service through email and online chat, not via a toll-free helpline.

In light of this, it’s interesting to note that in 2015 the market estimates that businesses will spend upwards of USD$20 billion on unified communications & collaboration (UC&C). The question that should be burning in everyone’s mind is how will this spending benefit non-voice communication?

When you chat / tweet / email a business, how many of those businesses are able to recognise you and automatically associate you with the correct products / services / accounts you have with them? It’s fairly old-hat for customer service departments to have automatic number recognition for phone numbers, but many customer service systems are not designed to work with email, video and chat.

When considering any upgrade to a business’s communication systems in 2015, it’s equally important to consider what underlying systems may need to be upgraded as well to take fully advantage of the new capabilities offered by UC&C. We’ve seen recently the news with Microsoft’s re-launching of Lync as “Skype for Business”; clearly a nod to the fact that we’re much more interested in chat and video than ever before, and that we all want the same type of experience we get from consumer UC&C like Skype and Facetime in our workplace.

Still it doesn’t say anything as to the ability, even within the Microsoft ecosystem to seamlessly integrate this new Skype for Business with, say Office365, Azure web hosting or Dynamics CRM. It’s these added integrations that make UC&C truly invaluable to business.

When you are shopping for UC&C, ask these three questions of your provider:

  1. What software can your voice system integrate with? Out of the box, or with custom development?
  2. Does the same application handle all forms of communication? Voice, chat & video?
  3. Does the same application make it equally possible for my customers to use any form of communication they like, from any device as it does for my staff?

The providers who understand business communication challenges in 2015 will have insightful answers that demonstrate their understanding of your business and your customers, the others, they’ll sound like the PBX and SIP-Trunk salespeople of last decade. You’ll know which you want to work with immediately!

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