You’ve spent all week anxiously waiting for your biggest client to call in and place their annual order.

Your manager calls to discuss potential topics for a meeting tomorrow, but after you take their call, you see your big client’s name flash across your desk phone’s caller ID.

Plus, a coworker is messaging you on Slack to ask for your help.

If only there was some way to be able to text your client, respond to that chat notification, and keep the conversation with your manager going.

Thanks to Unified Communications, there is.

In this post, we’ll give you a clear definition of the digital transformation UCaaS offers.

 

Table of Contents:

 

What Is Unified Communications?

 

 

Unified Communications (UC or UCaaS) combines all major business communication channels into a single, omnichannel interface.

Users can send team chat messages, texts, faxes, or make video and voice calls from within one platform, as opposed to having to constantly switch from one application to another.

Best of all, Unified Communications as a Service software is also device agnostic, meaning you can connect with coworkers and even clients from your desktop or smartphone.

Though somewhat similar to CCaaS and VoIP services, our article on UCaaS vs. VoIP will help you to better understand the subtle differences in functionality between these tools.

 

Which Communication Channels Does UC Include?

Most UC solutions bundle the following channels into one platform:

  • VoIP phone system
  • Video calling
  • Unified Messaging (Chat, SMS, and MMS, and Social Media messaging)
  • Team collaboration tools
  • Virtual faxing

While UC systems will have native communication channels, they also integrate with popular third-party business communication solutions and collaboration tools your team members are already using.

 

VoIP Phone System

 

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems are the foundation of unified communications.

Because users make calls over the Internet as opposed to via the PSTN, IP telephony solutions provide unlimited local and long-distance calling and often, reduced rates for international phone calls.

In fact, studies show that making the switch from standard landlines to VoIP telephony can reduce monthly telecom bills by more than half.

Admins can create toll-free vanity numbers, local business phone numbers, and user/department extensions.

VoIP softphone applications can transform any device with Internet access into a telephone. Employees can make calls from their mobile phones, desktop computers, VoIP headphones, and tablets.

This offers a much higher level of flexibility and privacy to agents and offers a faster support call resolution and higher level of customer service to clients.

Top VoIP phone features include:

  • IVR auto-attendants for customer self-service
  • Advanced call management options (call routing, forwarding, queuing, etc.)
  • Dialer modes
  • Audio conferencing
  • Call presence
  • Call analytics
  • Call recording
  • Virtual voicemail (voicemail-to-email, voicemail-to-text)

 

Video Calling

 

Studies on the state of video communications show that companies save roughly $11,000 each year per employee by using video calling tools.

Especially given the rise in the remote workforce, face-to-face video meetings are one of the most important channels of communication. Research shows that video-based UCaaS platforms have the highest overall CAGR of 2020, as opposed to platforms that are based on other communication channels.

In addition to one-on-one meetings, video conferences can replace in-person department meetings, be used for employee training, and allow for company-wide on-demand or live webinars.

Unified communications tools can integrate with existing web conferencing software or provide their own native video meeting tools.

Users can schedule video meetings and send out invitations from within their UC app, or can start instant video calls with a single click. Additionally, team members can send messages and files to each other during a video call via the chat messaging feature.

Essential video calling features to look for include:

  • Screen sharing
  • Video recording/recording storage
  • Remote screen control
  • Pass presenter tools
  • Breakout rooms
  • Password-protected meetings and waiting rooms
  • Active speaker view
  • Admin control over attendees (mute, remove, block, disable video streams, etc.)

 

Unified Messaging

 

Unified Messaging allows real-time internal and external 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 — or between multiple agents for a better customer experience.

This prevents both customers and team members from having to repeat themselves and ensures that essential information doesn’t get left behind when transitioning between these messaging channels.

 

Chat Messaging

 

The chat channel allows team members to escape from the endless email cycle and instead communicate in real-time via instant messaging.

Though Slack is perhaps the best-known chat messaging tool, many UC service providers also have their own native messaging capabilities in addition to integrating with Slack and Slack alternatives.

Users can post in company-wide or team-based channels to get faster answers to their questions, tag individual users to make sure they don’t miss important updates, or send direct, private messages to one another.

Chat messaging can be used as a standalone communication channel or in conjunction with a video conference. These messages can contain images, videos, links, and files in addition to simple text.

Brainstorm and communicate with team members working on the same project with you via a project-based channel or create secret channels that only certain team members even know exist. Add or remove members to channels with ease, and transition a chat conversation to a face-to-face video call with a single click.

Agent status updates allow users to see who is currently available/online, away, offline completely or has enabled Do Not Disturb.

As with all communication channels within a UC user interface, chat messages are updated to allow for real-time communications across multiple platforms and devices.

Of course, team members will also enjoy reacting to one another’s messages through emojis.

 

SMS and MMS Messaging

 

The average American sends and receives between 52 and 75 text messages every day — and 78% of them would like to move more business conversations to text.

Text messages have a higher open rate than emails, allow for instant internal and external communication, and makes it easy for customers to opt in to marketing updates via SMS.

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. Look for a tool that sends and receives both SMS and MMS messages.

Many UC platforms also allow for messages on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and will automatically synch conversation histories across devices and communication channels to prevent customers and co-workers from having to repeat themselves.

This means that, as with chat messaging, you’ll be able to view past texts and pick up right where you left off, even if you’ve switched from messaging on WhatsApp on your smartphone to SMS texting on your desktop during the same conversation.

SMS and MMS messaging within a UC is most often used for:

  • Altering customers to a service issue or sale
  • Automated drip SMS marketing campaigns
  • Appointment/meeting reminders (healthcare, salon, restaurant reservations, etc.)
  • Internal multiparty SMS messaging
  • Customer service

 

Social Media Messaging

 

Once thought of as little more than a workplace distraction, social media is now a central communication channel for both marketing and customer service.

Over 40% of consumers use social media to research products and companies, and social media advertising spending is set to increase by 20% — up to $43 billion — at the end of 2020.

Additional studies show that not only do 54% of consumers prefer to handle customer service over social media instead of via phone or email but also that resolving these customer service issues on socials is 83% cheaper than doing so over the phone.

The takeaway?

Consumers want to be able to reach you via Instagram direct messaging just as much as they do through contacting customer telephone support.

Popular social media platforms UC tools should integrate with include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat

 

Team Collaboration

 

Team collaboration tools allow project leaders to assign and manage tasks, update project status, and identify workflow roadblocks in enterprise communication.

Most importantly, they allow for collaborative, real-time content editing and file version control to ensure that everyone is working on the most recently updated document.

In addition to live editing and file sharing and synching, unified communications and collaboration tools also include cloud-based file storage and digital whiteboards.

 

Paperless Faxing

UCaaS platforms also offer virtual faxing, meaning you can finally get rid of your outdated analog fax machine and dedicated fax phone line.

Instead, users can receive faxes via email and send them to any fax number (including physical fax machines) within the United States.

End users will be able to receive faxes even if you’re currently on the phone, store faxes within your UC platform, and get notifications when a fax has been successfully delivered.

 

Integrated Business Communication Tools

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.

This prevents team members from having to abandon tools they’re already familiar with in favor of an entirely new interface — and the accompanying learning curve.

Integrations allow users to unify their preferred CRM software or project management tools into one interface without having to switch from one application to another.

For example, if your UC platform integrates with Salesforce, when you get an incoming call from a client, a screen pop of a Salesforce window displays the customer’s data. Once the call is finished, any notes you’ve taken during the call will automatically be stored within Salesforce.

UC providers have an app marketplace where you can pick and choose which tools you’d like to integrate with your platform, providing a highly customizable experience.

These platforms usually also integrate with:

  • Project management tools like Basecamp and Monday.com
  • Chat messaging tools like Slack
  • Video calling software like Zoom
  • Email and work calendars from Gmail and Outlook
  • File storage platforms like Box and Google Drive
  • Tools to better collaborate like Trello

 

Top Benefits of Unified Communications

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.

According to research from Cisco and Nemertes, UCaaS saves the average company:

  • 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

 

How to Evaluate UCaaS Providers

Communication channels and cost should not be the sole standards by which you judge the overall quality of a UCaaS provider.

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-level companies. Cloud-based UC means that the 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.

Next, consider the provider’s guaranteed uptime — anything less than 99% isn’t worth considering.

Understand how the company guarantees that level of uptime, as well as how quickly they’re able to respond to an outage. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) clearly define the expectations that you have for the provider both when it comes to uptime as well as the specific communication services they must provide.

SLAs often also outline the level of customer service you’ll receive.

When evaluating the quality of a provider’s customer support, consider things like:

  • Average response and resolution time
  • Types of maintenance/repairs included in a contract
  • Available customer support channels (live chat, video calling, phone support, online knowledge base, etc.)
  • Automatic software upgrades

 

Above all, consider the provider’s overall approach to network and data security.

Do they have two-factor authentication available? How detailed are the available levels of admin control? Is all data — not just a few of the communication channels — end-to-end encrypted? How do they protect both the physical and digital security of their data centers?

Additional factors to consider while evaluating UCaaS providers include:

  • Installation time
  • Available add-on features
  • Data migration process
  • Interoperability with any current hardware
  • Available integrations
  • Required hardware
  • User experience and reviews
  • Overall ease of use
  • Software use training for your employees
  • Security Compliance (PCI, HIPAA, GDPR, etc.)

 

The State of Unified Communications in 2020

Ribbons Communications study found that 41% of large companies with 1,000 or more employees are currently using Unified Communications systems.

However, that same case study shows that SMBs are currently the fastest growing market sector — meaning that UCaaS is no longer seen as a tool that’s useful primarily to enterprise-level companies. In fact, 46% of companies with 20 or fewer employees and 61% of companies with 21-100 employees that have not yet purchased UCaaS software will do so by 2021.

According to a 2020 study by Global Market Insights, the Unified Communications market is expected to be worth $60 billion by 2026.

Its current projections put the overall CAGR of Unified Communications at 8% between 2020 and 2026.

Though North America will continue to be the overall UCC market leader through at least 2026, controlling 45% of the market shares, China’s IT and Telecom industries will catch up. The Chinese IT and Telecom industries are expected to control roughly 35% of the UCC market by 2026.

Finally, the Global Market Insights study shows cloud-based Unified Communications solutions have an expected growth rate of 10% between 2020 and 2026. This is due in large part to the widespread adoption of cloud-based models by startups and SMEs.

 

What Are the Best Unified Communications Platforms?

The below table includes information about available features and pricing of the most popular unified communication platforms.

 

Features Microsoft Teams GoToConnect RingCentral 8×8  Vonage
Price of Most Popular Plan $20.00/user per month $23.95/user per month, up to 24 users $34.00/user per month $25.00/user per month $24.99/month per line, up to 46 users
VoIP Calling Unlimited US/CA Calling Unlimited US/CA Calling Unlimited US/CA Calling Unlimited US/CA Calling Unlimited US/CA Calling
Video Conferencing Unlimited Video Calling for 300 Attendees Unlimited Video Calling for 250 Attendees  Unlimited Video Calling for 100 Attendees  Unlimited Video Calling for 100 Attendees  Unlimited Video Calling for 100 Attendees
Unified Messaging No Native SMS Messaging, Unlimited Team Chat Messaging, Social Media Messaging via Integrations  Unlimited SMS Messaging, Unlimited Team Chat Messaging via GoToMeeting, Social Media Messaging via Integrations  Unlimited SMS Messaging, Unlimited Team Chat Messaging, Social Media Via Integration Unlimited SMS Messaging, Unlimited Team Chat Messaging, Social Media Messaging via Collaborative Contact Center Unlimited SMS, Unlimited Team Chat Messaging, Social Media Messaging via Communication API 
Virtual Faxing X
Team Collaboration Tools Mainly via Integrations
Third-Party Integrations
Softphone App
Customer Support 24/7 phone and web support Phone and email support  24/7 customer support via live chat, online form, and phone 24/7 support via live chat, email, web form, and phone 24/7 via phone, chat, email, web
99%+ Uptime Guarantee

 

To learn more about these and other UCaaS providers, please review our post on the top Unified Communications providers and features.