SMB Attitudes Toward Unified Communications
IndustryView | 2014
Unified communications (UC), or the integration of communication modes such as chat, email, video conferencing and voice calling, is transforming the way people do business. The increase of remote employment and adoption of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies have led many businesses to seek UC technology to maximize workplace flexibility. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the UC segment saw a 27 percent worldwide revenue increase from 2013, and cloud PBX and UC services are projected to become a $12 billion market by 2018.
To gain a deeper understanding of how SMBs feel about UC, we surveyed over 2,000 respondents on the benefits of UC technology, then shared the results with industry experts to gain further insight.
In this report, the following definitions are used:
First, we surveyed respondents to identify what types of phones they use for business communications. We found that over half of both small business owners (77 percent) and employees (76 percent) use a personal cell phone for work.
Eighty-five percent of owners and 66 percent of small business employees surveyed use a home phone, personal cell phone or combination of both for work. There are potential downsides to using separate devices: missed calls, separate voicemail boxes for each device, separate contact lists and directories and no singular corporate identity.
The fact that so many owners and employees continue to use multiple devices, however, suggests that SMBs may not be fully aware of the benefits of using UC technology to link company and employee devices.
As Jon Arnold, a UC expert and principal of J Arnold & Associates, explains, “One of the challenges with UC is that it doesn't fix anything that is broken.” In other words, because UC technology doesn’t fix a readily apparent issue, businesses may not yet fully understand how the benefits of UC technology can impact them.
Next, we asked respondents to identify how many different work phone numbers they use. Nearly half indicated that each phone they’re using has its own number. A mere 9 percent of owners and 11 percent of employees reported that all phones have single-number identity.
Given that the majority of our respondents are operating across multiple devices with different numbers, it’s not surprising that roughly one-quarter of respondents ranked single-number identity as the most important feature of UC technology (27 percent of owners and 24 percent of employees).
Without a UC solution that links devices under a single-number identity, a business owner using a cell phone while on the road may not recognize that an incoming call is from an important client—data only accessible on a work phone directory, for example—and may miss an opportunity to greet the client by name or anticipate the nature of the conversation.
According to Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at CommFusion, having a different number to correspond with each device can also present data accessibility issues. “Salespeople who use cellphones store potential customers' information within them,” she says. “If the salesperson leaves the company, that person leaves with all the data.” A UC solution would prevent such losses by storing the information in the company’s database.
Consistent with previous Software Advice research, “voicemail-to-email” also remains a highly desired function among respondents in our sample. With visual voicemail (which transcribes voicemail messages and emails the transcript to the recipient), users can read voicemail, instant messages and fax messages within the same interface. Users can sort by keyword (e.g., company name) to quickly retrieve messages.
Also popular among respondents was call forwarding, which allows users to route calls to the device(s) of their choosing. If an employee is on a business trip, for example, incoming calls to the office can be routed to a cell phone—all while maintaining a singular corporate identity.
Next, we surveyed employees on their ability to access presence information, or the ability to see a user’s availability when they connect to the network. According to our survey, roughly two-thirds of small business users (62 percent of owners and 68 percent of employees) currently have no way to access this information.
Presence information becomes unified presence information (UPI) when all contact lists, directories and availability statuses are linked across communications modes (e.g., chat, text, voice and video) and devices (e.g., tablet, cell phone and desktop). In this way, UPI helps determine the most effective communication method between users, reducing time wasted on “phone tag” and enhancing collaboration among colleagues.
According to our survey, however, a combined 90 percent of respondents currently have no way to access UPI.
This figure suggests considerable missed opportunities for SMBs—incorporating UPI into business opportunities can lead to significant productivity gains. Phil Edholm, president and founder of PKE Consulting, explains, “The magic [with UC] is in making communications not a separate thing, but part of an integration of business processes, applications and software.”
Edholm points to an example of a financial services client of his. This firm discovered that, whenever a sales broker recommended a new financial investment to a client, the client would ask to speak with a specialist 90 percent of the time. An internal audit revealed that, once the broker scheduled this meeting between a client and the specialist, the deal took an average of two to three weeks to close.
After implementing UC technology, however, the broker was able to access UPI to identify which specialists were available at that moment, and which method of communication was most efficient to reach them. As a result, clients were able to meet with specialists right away, and the average deal closing time was reduced to just two days.
When asked to identify the primary benefits of UC, a combined 29 percent of our respondents said it makes communication easier by feeding information into a central application. Additionally, applications such as visual voicemail and voice-to-text convert audio files and hard copy data into email format, consolidating information within the same interface.
Another highly ranked benefit was “fewer missed calls, voicemails and emails,” cited by 23 percent of respondents. This finding suggests that users feel confident in UC’s ability to prevent important communication and information from being overlooked.
To better understand how UC software can enhance operations, Pleasant recommends that companies ask their employees questions such as, “Are you missing important calls when you are out in the field?” and, “Do you have meetings that could be conducted virtually?” Questions like these can help pinpoint areas where communication is weaker, and thus, can be improved through the implementation of UC technology.
Our survey found that a majority of respondents use a personal cell phone or combination of personal phones for work, and less than one in 10 users can operate under the same number across all of their devices. More importantly, both owners and employees care most about creating a single-number identity.
Respondents cited the ease of communication when all information is in one place as the greatest benefit of UC; yet two-thirds of our sample currently have no access to presence information. Because UC technology does not necessarily provide a new service to businesses, but rather enhances existing processes, business owners can benefit from conducting a cost-benefit analysis that captures both hard and soft benefits to determine if a UC solution would improve operations and increase their bottom line.
To find the data in this report, we conducted a one-day online survey of 6 questions, and gathered 2,017 responses from random small business owners and employees within the United States. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood their meaning and the topic at hand.
Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent partner vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Interview sources are chosen for their expertise on the subject matter, and software choices are selected based on popularity and relevance.
Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.
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