Looking for business software that research shows can reduce meetings by 30%, cut employee turnover rates in half, and that offers features that are twice as likely to improve the customer experience?
If so, then look no further than Unified Communications.
In fact, small businesses are currently the fastest-growing sector of the Unified Communications market. According to a study from Ribbons Communications, 46% of businesses with 20 or fewer employees and 61% of companies with 21-100 team members that don’t already have a UCaaS system will purchase one by the end of 2021.
Given that UC systems can vastly improve team communication and collaboration, increase employee productivity, and offer major operational cost savings, the rising demand for them isn’t a surprise.
But what is Unified Communications, and what features, benefits, and business solutions does UCaaS offer?
Read on to find out how UCaaS takes business communication to the next level.
Table of Contents:
- What is Unified Communications?
- The Benefits of UCaaS
- Key Unified Communications Software Features
- What to Look For in a UCaaS Provider
- Who Should Use Unified Communications Solutions?
- Examples of Unified Communications in Use
- Top Unified Communications Solutions
- UCaaS FAQs
Unified Communications (UC, UC&C, or UCaaS) is a business software solution that streamlines several key business communication channels into one omnichannel interface.
Unified Communication tools users can communicate with one another via business VoIP telephony, team chat messaging, SMS texting, video calls, online fax, and even with interactive file and screen sharing.
UCaaS is device agnostic, so users can connect with one another on smartphones, desktop computers, laptops, and even IoT devices.
Note that there are a few subtle differences between UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) and CCaaS (Contact Center as a Service.)
Though UC tools do offer some external communications capabilities, their primary function is to improve internal communication and team collaboration. CCaaS tools, on the other hand, focus more on external communication between clients and employees.
For best results, most businesses bundle or integrate UCaaS and CCaaS to create a powerful and complete cloud communications platform.
Aside from the convenience of being able to access all modes of communication within a single app, the biggest benefits of Unified Communications are the incredible cost and time savings it offers.
- 30-50 minutes daily per employee
- 5 hours per week on telephony IT support
- 40 minutes of employee travel time per day
- $1,727/month on cell phone and long-distance charges
- $1,700 monthly savings in employee travel costs
- 27% on meeting times
- 24.3% on IT spending
Additional benefits of Unified Communications include:
- Faster support resolution time
- A better overall quality of customer service
- Allows for mobile and remote work
- Communicating with customers on their preferred channels
- Ability to seamlessly switch between communication channels
- Improved internal communication provinces time-consuming miscommunications
- A higher level of team collaboration increases productivity
- Fewer administrative headaches as all communication needs are taken care of by one provider
- Improved accountability in the workplace
- Valuable insights and analytics into customer and employee behavior
- Scalable communication APIs
UC systems have native communication channels and integrate with popular third-party business communication solutions and collaboration tools team members are already using.
Below, we’ll cover the most important communication channels and additional UCaaS features to look for.
VoIP Audio Calling
Because users make phone calls over the Internet as opposed to via the PSTN, IP telephony solutions provide unlimited local and long-distance calling and reduced rates for international calls. By making the switch from standard landlines to VoIP telephony, companies can reduce monthly telecom bills by more than half.
Admins can create toll-free vanity numbers, local business phone numbers, and user/department extensions.
Best of all, VoIP softphone applications can transform any device with Internet access into a telephone.
Important VoIP phone features include:
- Call forwarding and call routing
- Call monitoring and call recording
- Call queuing
- Call presence
- Audio conferencing
- IVR auto-attendants
- Virtual voicemail with voicemail-to-email and voicemail-to-text
- Ring groups
- Call analytics
- Automated callbacks
- Custom hold music
- Do Not Disturb
Especially given the rise in the remote workforce, face-to-face video meetings are one of the most important channels of communication.
Blended teams can communicate with each other quickly, switch between devices during video calls, schedule meetings ahead of time, or start ad hoc meetings from the instant messaging interface.
Key video conferencing features include:
- Screen sharing
- Video recording/recording storage
- Remote screen control
- Pass presenter tools
- Breakout rooms
- Password-protected meetings and waiting rooms
- Active speaker view
- Webinar capabilities
- Admin control over attendees (mute, remove, block, disable video streams, etc.)
Unified Messaging allows real-time communication across several messaging platforms, including chat messaging, SMS text messaging, social media messaging, and MMS messaging.
Because messages are synched within the singular UC interface, conversations can seamlessly transition from one messaging channel to another.
Chat messaging can be used as a standalone communication channel or in conjunction with a video conference.
Users can send/receive public and private chat messages, create channels for departments, teams, or projects, and upload files in the chat interface. Agent status updates allow users to see who is currently available/online, away, offline completely or has enabled Do Not Disturb.
In addition to allowing users to send/receive individual messages from their desktop computers and mobile devices, business SMS texting makes sending mass marketing messages much easier. Many UC platforms also allow for messages on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram Messaging in addition to other social media platforms.
The UCaaS tool will automatically synch conversation histories across devices and communication channels to prevent customers and co-workers from having to repeat themselves.
Team Collaboration Tools
UCaaS team collaboration tools like real-time team chat messaging, live file editing and version control prevent miscommunications and let users send/receive quick answers and updates without the need for constant emails.
Basic task management functionalities make team member expectations clear, simplify keeping up with deadlines and multiple projects, and help to identify workflow roadblocks.
Digital whiteboards let users collaborate on ideas and concepts and help to keep track of key points in meetings, while screen-sharing tools ensure everyone is on the same page through more hands-on communication.
UCaaS platforms also offer virtual faxing, where users send/receive faxes via email as opposed to fax machines.
End users will receive faxes even if they’re on the phone when the fax comes in. They can also store previous faxes within the tier UC system and get notifications when a fax has been delivered.
Though some Unified Communications platforms have basic CRM and project management features, their goal is not to replace your current third-party business software, but rather to integrate with it.
Integrations allow users to unify their preferred CRM software (like Salesforce) or project management and collaboration apps (Microsoft Teams, Avaya, etc.) into one interface without having to switch from one application to another.
UC app marketplaces let users choose tools to integrate with the platform, providing a highly customizable experience.
Unlike business software solutions providing only one communication channel or function, (such as call recording software or virtual faxing services) unified communications tools simultaneously improve internal collaboration and communication, streamline business processes, and simplify the customer service and support process.
In other words, companies don’t just use UC solutions to only improve individual employee productivity and internal communications.
They also use the features and functionalities of UC to restructure their entire approach to communication, knowing that business operations and processes will benefit as a result.
When used in a traditional office environment, UC can:
- Offer team members new communication channels without constant business application or device switching
- Simplify file sharing, collaboration, storage, and location
- Let users update team members regarding their availability via user presence
In blended or remote teams, unified communications tools:
- Allow for internal/external communications from anywhere, on any device
- Provide access to essential customer data or company information before or during offsite client meetings
- Streamline communication between in-house employees and remote teams
UC even empowers workers that interact with customers on behalf of a business (for example, retail workers, service professionals, etc.) Unified communications let face-to-face workers:
- Manage customer orders and appointments via numerous communication channels
- Instantly access company policy or communicate with higher-ups in the event of a customer service issue
- Update one another on personal work schedules, select upcoming shifts, or request time off
Now, let’s take a look at some more specific UC use cases by industry or business.
Within the healthcare industry, UC is used to:
- Offer HIPAA-compliant telemedicine and telehealth services to patients
- Unite a patient’s entire care team
- Provide instant access to patient forms, medical history, etc.
- Access real-time patient data from IoT healthcare devices (heart monitors, etc.)
Retail and eCommerce
UC in the retail and eCommerce worlds:
- Lets customers place, pay for, and pick up orders via SMS text messaging, or other channels
- Allows for customer self-service or personalized customer service through IVR phone systems
- Lets customers track the live location and shipping status of orders
- Lets in-person and online salespeople check current stock or use knowledge bases/wikis to provide additional information to customers
In the manufacturing industry, UC helps to:
- Improve the supply chain management process by allowing vendors, suppliers, distributors, etc. to communicate with each other
- Alert entire teams/departments in the event of a mechanical failure or delay in shipments, etc.
- Get production and shipment updates
- Work with teams to improve the manufacturing process and the product development process
Within the education sector, UC is used to:
- Instantly message the entire campus in the event of an emergency
- Connect faculty and departments to coordinate events, discuss student progress, develop curriculum, etc.
- Update students about assignments, grades, class schedules, syllabi, etc.
- Offer students a complete virtual classroom experience
Home Services Providers
With home services providers like pest control experts, landscapers, plumbers, or electricians, UC can:
- Let customers book, reschedule, cancel, or receive notifications for upcoming appointments
- Simplify the technician scheduling process to ensure certain techs aren’t overwhelmed while others are underused
- Provide a direct line of communication between the technician and homeowner without compromising phone number privacy
- Send customer surveys and collect responses/feedback
Aside from available communication channels, there are several equally important ways to evaluate UCaaS provider quality.
First, consider if you’d benefit most from an on-premise, cloud PBX-based, or hybrid deployment system.
On-premise UC means that all of the necessary hardware is in-house, and is best for enterprise communications. Cloud-based UC means that the service provider hosts your UC services within their own data centers, which is generally the most popular solution. Hybrid UC systems, as the name suggests, provide UC platform connectivity to on-premises hardware.
Your provider should also offer a minimum guaranteed uptime of 99.9%.
Ask how the company maintains that uptime, how they notify users in the event of a problem, and the average response and resolution time to system problems. Look at what types of maintenance and repairs are included as the company’s responsibility in your contract, and which ones you’re expected to manage and pay for on your own.
Finally, make sure the platform integrates with your most essential business tools and software.
Remember, a Unified Communications system isn’t necessarily meant to replace all your existing third-party applications — and your team members may feel more comfortable still working on platforms they know how to use.
Additional signs of a superior UCaaS system include:
- Interoperability with current hardware or compatible hardware available for purchase (headsets, desk phones, etc.)
- Installation process
- Available add-on features
- User training
- Compatible and complete mobile app
- Positive user experience
- User-friendly interface
- 24/7 customer service and support
- Phased migration from your existing system to the new provider platform
- Ease of use
- Security Compliance (PCI, HIPAA, GDPR, etc.)
Now that you know what unified communications and collaboration solutions can offer your business, it’s time to start researching top providers.
The below comparison table provides an excellent starting point, outlining top UCaaS solutions, pricing, top features, and more.
|Provider||Nextiva ONE||RingCentral MVP (Formerly RingCentral Office)||GoToEnterprise||Vonage Business Communications||Zoom United|
|Pricing||Four paid plans from $18.95-$57.95/user per month for 20-99 users||Four plaid plans from $19.99-$49.99/user per month for up to 10 users||Three paid plans from $24.00-$39.00/user per month for up to 10 users||Three paid plans, with popular plan of up to 49 users from $14.99-$34.99/user per month||Three paid plans from $250.00-$360.00/user per year|
|What It Is||A cloud-based UCaaS system with voice, fax, video, and team chat especially focused on VoIP voice communication||A cloud UCaaS platform combining team messaging, SMS texting, video meetings, and phone communications with industry-specific integrations||A UCaaS solution that combines GoToConnect, GoToWebinar, GoToMeeting, and more in a single platform||A highly scalable cloud-based UCaaS platform with phone, video, SMS messaging, team chat, and online faxing features with over 50 native VoIP features||A combined Zoom Video Meetings, Zoom Phone, and team chat UCaaS solution for 1,000+users|
|Best For||SMBs with a high daily call volume and a high number of geographically diverse remote/blended teams||Medium-sized businesses within the education, tech, or manufacturing industries that communicate primarily via phone||Larger-sized businesses that are rapidly growing and need a UCaaS system that offers a complete set of bundled features for internal and external communications||SMBs of 50 or fewer employees that work mainly in-office, not remotely, that need to add features a la carte instead of purchasing bundled plans||Small businesses that are current Zoom web conferencing users and need to upgrade to a UCaaS system with a primary focus on video communications|
|Additional Information||Nextiva Review||RingCentral Review||GoToMeeting Review||Vonage for Business Review||Zoom Phone Review|
To learn more about these and other UCaaS providers, please review our post on the top Unified Communications providers and features.
Below, we’ve answered some key FAQs about Unified Communications.
Frequently asked questions
As with any SaaS solution, the cost of UCaaS depends on the number of users and the specific plan that you need. Additional features will also incur extra charges.
That being said, expect to pay roughly $32.00/user/month for a basic UCaaS system.
Though compliance and security may vary according to provider, high-quality UCaaS systems will have:
- HIPAA compliance
- PCI compliance
- GDPR compliance
- TLS and SRTP secure
- Two-factor authentication
- Third-party security testing
- Tier III data centers with SOC 2 certification
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) refers primarily to voice calling and audio conferencing. Though VoIP communication is a part of UCaaS, not all VoIP systems will offer unified communications.
In most cases, yes, and you’ll likely sign a contract for a minimum of one year with the provider you select. That being said, an SLA is a good thing. It allows you to have written documentation of guaranteed uptimes, functionalities the tool must be able to complete, and other specifications. (Learn more in our SLA post.)