Unified Communications (UC) is equal parts ‘obviously beneficial’ and ‘misused, underused and opportunity missed’. Every time a new mode of communication is added to the daily landscape, there is an unspoken need to integrate it within the broader scope of all other modes of communication. Then, there is the sometimes daunting task of making sure they play well together, don’t create extra work, and make life easier and more efficient for the communication’s sender AND receiver.

As you, and every other business, are working to build efficiencies between each of your various methods of communication, there are many things you must keep in mind. Here, we’ll explore seven of the most prominent factors, ensuring your unified communications are efficient.

Redundancy is… the goal?

No one wants to be considered redundant. It means you’re not needed, or likely to be ignored because, well, what you do and what you say is already being seen and heard from something, or someone else. When it comes to unified communications, however, redundancy is one of several desired outcomes.

Your voice solution proves itself as reliable by demonstrating redundant messaging between each of its shared platforms, playback devices, and mediums. Consider voice-mail transcription. The strength of your recording system, and the accuracy of its reporting functions are tied together in a symbiotic relationship. One cannot be better than the other because, when that happens, one will be considered unreliable, and the user will not be able to interact with the message with the confidence necessary to be efficient.

Consider: you receive a voice-mail from a client, stating, “Hi, this is Barbara and Dino, need for you to attend the board meeting on Wednesday.” You don’t listen to the voice mail, but rely instead on the transcription which reads… ‘Hi, this is Barbara and Dean, no need for you to attend the board meeting on Wednesday.”

Reading this, you keep your calendar open for that day and time, and, like all calendars, it gets filled up by people who know you are just dying to attend THEIR meeting, which likely will consist of discussing the previous meeting, and very little else.

You missed the meeting with your client, and their board. In fact, you didn’t even let them know you wouldn’t be there because, well, you read the message stating you didn’t need to show up.

You, by the way, lost this client. This is beyond inefficient, this is detrimental.

But, this blog is about efficient Unified Communications.

Hopefully, this never happens, but if it does, let’s hope it never happens more than once. What happens next is a new standard of operation when checking voice-mails. Now, instead of relying on your voice-mail transcription, which is designed to make message retrieval faster and more efficient, you are going back to your actual voice-mail. This defeats the whole purpose of voice-mail transcription, as it would normally let you view the pertinent information, pull any phone numbers you may need, and be on your way.

Now, you can’t trust that system to be accurate, consistent, or …efficient, and now, neither are you. Be sure that you put your voice solution through its paces, test it out with a lot of tricky messages, from lots of different sources. The more reliable your voice solution, the less time you’ll spend checking, double-checking and second-guessing the messages you receive, and the actions you need to take to keep your business humming.

Redundancy is equally important in the overall reliability of your voice solution. Are your calls getting through? Are they dropping, lagging or losing quality based on common variables (cell phones, mobility, IP)? If so, you are in the market for a new voice solution.

Just the facts, Manager

Does your unified communications platform help you manage usage reports, or do you have to expend an abundance of time, effort, human resources and cost? An efficient unified communication solution should make it easy to see, interpret and share usage reports for all call activity. How many hours do your employees spend on the phone? You should know that at any given moment. How many of those calls are spent furthering the mission of your business? You should know that at any given moment.

Utilizing a unified communications solution that helps you automate these reports should also factor into your decision. It’s one thing to be able to pull a usage report whenever you want to, it’s another thing entirely to create a schedule of auto-generated reports that tell you what you need to know, pinpoint the key data you need to see, and highlight those areas where improvements must be made.

With this type of system in place, you can see at a glance where your team is engaged in activity that is beneficial to the bottom line, as well as those times in which resources (and dollars) are being wasted. Focus on action steps and results, rather than gathering the information that will help you decide which action steps you should take.

Works well with others

This may seem like a small thing, but it’s a small thing that, when performed hundreds, if not thousands of times per day, takes away a lot of valuable time.

How many times are you jumping from one platform or application to another, only to send a different type of communication? Hundreds? Thousands? Your unified communications solution should provide access to every form of communication, within a single pane-of-glass. This means that you can e-mail Roger in accounting, send a Word document to Stella in your Chicago office, and IM with the Marketing team about their new seasonal campaign, all while you’re on a conference call, and all without leaving your singular communications application.

Adding, removing or updating contacts from your CRM should not cause a disruption or breakdown in your UC. In fact, these two should speak to one another seamlessly, constantly and clearly. When you update a contact, how much time are you then spending updating their record in various other applications? If the answer is more than zero minutes, you’re not working with an efficient unified communications solution.

Are you able to launch third-party applications from your UC platform? No? You should. Applications like ZOOM and Zipwhip add tremendous value to your business, in terms of time saved, communication style, and accessibility. Being available to as many people as possible, on mutually beneficial terms is without a doubt one of the cornerstones of communications efficiency. When someone asks for a meeting using ‘platform x’, always be able to say ‘can do’, and have confidence in your ability to make that happen.

Compliant, not complaints

Most of your customers have made what was once seen as a treacherous leap of faith. Placing valuable, sensitive and proprietary data into a cloud was viewed by many, at its onset, as the security equivalent of keeping your login password on a post-it note on your monitor.

But, the skies have brightened, and the clouds have lifted (and lots of other ethereal metaphors that we’ll keep for future blogs), and there is growing confidence in the cloud as a protector of all things data. This is especially true in the retail and healthcare space, where consumers and patients are sharing information in direct transactions with their chosen vendor, and where the information they’re sharing could be devastating to both, were it to be loosed.

In two other key industries, Legal Services and Insurance, call-recording is a requirement. They are looking for a solution that will help them maintain compliance within their own regulatory agencies, with confidence and ease. The voice solution they choose must provide security as well as an archive of the verbal or written communication with every customer, from every call, every hour of every day. In those instances when they need to retrieve these records, the importance of efficiency cannot be overstated. The UC solution must provide them with a record that is comprehensive, customization, and clearly-defined.

And bend and stretch and twist and turn and…

You lose efficiency when your applications can’t be modified or customized to meet your business needs. Ideally, your business is growing, changing, evolving to meet the needs of YOUR customers. When that happens, you need a UC solution that grows along with it, without much time or effort required on your end.

Additionally, the workforce is changing constantly to accommodate more and more remote and mobile employees. Secure those rock-star sales agents by offering them employment where they can work where and how they perform best. If they are going to be on the road 25-30 weeks of the year, they need to know they will have constant access to collateral, resources, contacts and communication, no matter where and when they are.

For employees who are a great fit, but may not have the ability to relocate, or be in the office everyday, maintain their required productivity by ensuring they will be accessible for every meeting, conference call, docu-share or phone call. A lack of physical presence should not feel as if they are not present, and you may find more efficient use of the office space they would normally occupy.

Flexibility is one thing, scalability is another, although, they are very closely related; one requiring the other to exist. You are in business to grow your business. No one ever started a business with the intention of staying the same size (side note: see The Founder, as it may point out the exception to this belief - of course, then you have to recognize what happened to those who DID decide not to grow and realize what we’re saying here is true).

When your business grows, will your UC solution grow with it? Or will you have to go through all of the same startup procedures you endured with your original launch? If you want your business to grow, your UC solution must grow to meet it. This growth should be seamless, painless and take only as much time as it takes to update your contacts when you add a new customer to your CRM (which, if you recall, should also integrate with your UC platform). Any UC solution worth having will make it easy for you to add locations, go out of state, out of country, control standards, create roles and permissions, customize reports and manage quality of calls and performance. Then, make sure your UC platform allows you to manage all of this from a central location.

What keeps you up at night?

If you’re an IT manager, just about everything gives you pause (good days), or night terrors (not so good), when it comes to maintenance, management, security and trying to predict what lies ahead for your unified communications platform, the business, and your customers.

A great UC solution is a great first step to managing these natural (yet avoidable) fears. The real silver bullet, however, is to engage with a provider who can do all of this for you; a single point of contact who watches your network, anticipates trouble, responds quickly when problems arise and addresses issues before they actually become problems. This creates a more efficient use of your time, as you can focus on the day-to-day functions of the network, the business and the solutions designed to create further growth or gain new customers.

Operating on a whole new level

Your Unified Communications solution should generate new opportunities to invest in your business, with more liquidity and cash-flow-friendly financing (say THAT five times fast). The OpEx model ensures flexibility and scalability by allowing you to spend only on those items that are going to also support flexibility and scalability.

Do yourself a favor, make sure you can grow, change, adapt to new opportunities, without having to gut your whole system, or disrupt a large stockpile of equipment that you still haven’t fully paid for. Leaning more heavily on an OpEx solution is like walking around with a corny dog, seeing all the sights, darting to and fro, walking anywhere you darn well please while simultaneously enjoying your meal. When you rely, instead, on a CapEx investment, you may still enjoy that corny dog, but you’re also lugging a picnic table around with you, looking for a place to sit. Not only does this sound unpleasant, it is extremely inefficient.

This may be the first article to equate unified communications to corny dogs, but it’s almost noon and now we need to synchronize lunch plans for 15 people, across 6 departments and 2 clients. We already know our business needs are being met by our UC solution, coordinating lunch should be a breeze.