What is unified communications?

illustrated phone keypad

Unified communications is defined simply as the way businesses integrate multiple lines of communication into their processes. What those communication channels are and how they’re used will look different depending on the company, but some examples of UC technologies include:

  • Email
  • Text messaging
  • Persistent chat
  • Mobility
  • Telephony (fixed-line, mobile, and Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP)
  • Voicemail
  • Audio conferencing
  • Video conferencing (room-based conferencing and telepresence)
  • Web conferencing via virtual meeting spaces and interactive whiteboards

The goal of a unified communications strategy is to combine technologies like these in a way that increases collaboration, productivity, and efficiency—both when communicating internally and when meeting the customer’s needs.

That usually means integrating chat, phone, video conferencing, email, and more capabilities in a single dashboard. From there, users can take actions with a click—a phone call or video conference, for example—that otherwise would’ve required opening a separate app. IM, email, and more are combined into one unified messaging solution.

The best UC systems work wherever and whenever you need to access them. UC solutions should operate just as well from a smartphone as the office desktop. Softphones are an excellent example of this kind of technology.

There are different categories of UC technology. Some are a “store and forward” type, in which the information sent is kept and remains accessible almost indefinitely. Email is a good example.

Then there are “real-time” technologies that require a rapid response. Oftentimes these types of communication can interrupt other tasks—phone calls are one good example of this UC type. Instant chat is another, less urgent example.

How unified communications works

Unified communications began as desk-based telephony systems and evolved from there. From desk phones to PCs and email, it evolved to include instant messaging and video chat, then smartphone integration. Today’s UC systems incorporate emerging technologies like voice assistants and artificial intelligence (AI).

Unified communications systems generally rely on two different components to work properly: back-end management systems that are sometimes called UC platforms, and front-end clients that let the user interact with the system.

These systems can be deployed on the premises of a business, in a public cloud or private cloud, or a combination of the three. Cloud-based UC services are also referred to as UC as a service, or UCaaS.

Going through one vendor—or setting up your own UC system in-house—provides the most direct solution. Using multiple products from multiple vendors can create problems with interoperability—the ability of those products to work together within a larger system.

To be most effective, a good UC system should do everything it can to increase access to and efficiency of communication. Call routing, for example, can direct incoming calls to someone’s mobile phone, tablet, or computer—wherever they are at the time.

The system should be set up so that the right messages get to the right people as quickly as possible, something especially critical to marketers.

How does unified communications benefit businesses?

Some of the most prominent benefits of a good UC system include:

  • Increased agent efficiency and productivity
  • Improved collaboration between employees and departments
  • Ability to have a mobile and remote workforce
  • Enhanced user experience and improved customer service
  • Reduced costs due to less required oversight and maintenance

When enabled by unified communications technologies, your staff can communicate and collaborate more intuitively than with a conventional phone system. Multiple types of information can be sent rapidly—from presentations to videos to images—and multiple people can work on a project at once.

Using technologies like video conferencing can also cut down on costs and save time. Employees don’t have to spend time traveling somewhere to have a meeting—they can just log on at the appointed time from their home or mobile office. Touching base with prospective clients is also much easier.

A good call-management system routes the calls to the best available agents to take them, and when a call is finished, that agent can score their call in the system for future reference. Staff can share and access a database of customer records to see past interactions when they take a call.

If you integrate corporate social media channels into your UC strategy, it takes your customer interactions up another notch by allowing agents to communicate with customers and leads on those channels in real time.

What should you look for in a unified communications provider?

Whether you decide to go through a vendor to meet your UC needs or install your own system, there are several important criteria to consider when choosing a vendor/product:

  • The range of services. What are your communications needs? What does your perfect UC system look like? See how well that vision matches what the vendor has to offer. Some vendors offer only very basic packages that include things like IM, phone, and basic conferencing. Others provide more comprehensive solutions.
  • Specialization. Not all industries will have the same UC needs, and some vendors specialize accordingly. One vendor might focus on telephony, while another focuses on mobile integration.
  • The deployment model. Is the UC system you’re considering cloud-based, or do you have the IT capability to set up your own platform?
  • Interoperability. If you’re considering multiple vendors to meet multiple UC needs, or you’re using a hybrid infrastructure, you need to be sure that all the products will work together.
  • The UX. A good UC system should be easy to learn and have an intuitive interface. Employees across your organization will be able to use it no matter what their department or role, and new hires will be able to pick it up quickly.

In sales, your unified communications should be able to let your agents communicate effectively with one another and stay in touch with leads. Dropped calls and prolonged delays aren’t an option.

CallRail’s Lead Center solution helps you do exactly that by letting your staff take calls without a phone, qualify leads in real time, and more.

Learn more about Lead Center and connect with your customers the way they want.