Unified Communications: A Guide for Small Businesses
This article is part of a larger series on Unified Communications.
Unified communications, or UC, integrates voice calling, video conferencing, and instant messaging into a single platform. It provides a central hub for collaboration across multiple channels, resulting in productivity, reduced costs, and better customer experience. Read on to discover the top providers, features included in a UC system, and the benefits of unified communications to small businesses.
Top Unified Communications Platforms at a Glance
Unified Communications Platforms
Monthly Starting Price (Per User)
Free or $4 for annual billing
Free or $14.99
Free or $25
How Unified Communications Works
Unified communications systems work by sending and receiving voice, video, and text data from one application over the internet using voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology. This integrates various communication channels, creating a system that acts as a central hub for sharing files and collaborating with teams. For example, users are able to make calls, host video meetings, and start a group chat, all from a single platform.
UC solutions are either deployed on-site or in the cloud. On-premise implementation requires working with a vendor who provides servers for your UC requirements. On the other hand, a cloud-based UC system, also referred to as unified communications as a service (UCaaS), enables users to access real-time communication services through the internet.
Top Features of Unified Communications
As more businesses recognize the power of UC solutions in collaboration and connectivity, providers are introducing more features to enhance the efficiency of their platforms. When evaluating UC solutions, it’s important to delve deeper into which tools will benefit remote and hybrid teams and reduce the need to use third-party applications. To help you decide, here’s a list of the popular types of unified communication features:
Team Collaboration Tools
UC solutions have become very popular among remote and hybrid teams as they offer tools that support collaboration amidst the lack of in-person interactions. They serve as virtual workspaces where team members are able to access files, links, and conversations without the neezd to open another program.
Features like screen and file sharing allow quick transmission of resources and enable people to take part in a conference call to see what the other is working on. Basic task management capabilities like to-do lists, whiteboards, and project calendars clarify team expectations, help identify workflow processes, and keep track of deadlines.
Audio & Video Conferencing
When hosting large meetings or online collaboration sessions, UC systems enable real-time communication for audio conferencing and video meetings. Choose a UCaaS provider that accommodates more attendees, allows longer meeting durations, and offers built-in features like meeting transcripts, in-meeting chat, and recording.
Comprehensive UC solutions provide extra features to secure the privacy of online meetings. These include virtual backgrounds, noise suppression, and waiting rooms. Some UC providers like RingCentral offer the ability to seamlessly switch between devices to keep users connected without leaving the meeting. If you’re looking for a solution to meet your virtual meeting needs, check out our guide on the best video conference software.
UC solutions facilitate real-time communication across various forms of business messaging, such as voicemail, email, fax, chat, SMS, and MMS. All messages are synced within a unified interface, making it easy to respond to messages from different devices and track all conversations without switching platforms.
Other UCaaS providers combine conversation histories like phone calls and help desk tickets to prevent co-workers and customers from having to repeat themselves. Some allow social media messages from Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Many UC providers offer team chat functionality, which you may find in our list of the best team chat apps.
Benefits of a Unified Communications System
As more businesses move toward remote and hybrid working, it’s vital to invest in a centralized platform that will promote employee collaboration and productivity. Here are the key benefits of implementing UC as part of your company’s communications strategy:
Increased Team Productivity
Using multiple apps to manage business communications affects focus and eats away time. UC systems solve this problem by providing a single platform to access all communication tools. Since it resides in the cloud, employees are not tied to work in a certain location or time because UC systems allow them to work anywhere, anytime.
Lowers Communication Costs
Deploying a UC platform offers greater cost savings by eliminating the need to pay for separate apps for texting, instant messaging, and video conferencing. UC providers bundle all these tools together for a lower cost, reducing subscription fees. Virtual meetings also reduce the need for face-to-face meetings, which helps avoid travel costs and associated expenses for your business.
Improved Employee & Customer Experiences
Customers appreciate getting a prompt and competent response from a company. UC systems help achieve this goal by empowering employees to reach customers across various communication channels.
Having access to previous conversations enables employees to create a comprehensive customer profile and tailor their messages based on the collected information. This results in more personal and efficient communication that strengthens the customer-brand relationship.
Decreased Organizational Silos
Organizational silos tend to isolate information across channels. Robust UC solutions help you consolidate all data in a unified workspace by connecting its communications platform with your business software. Integrating a UC solution with a customer relationship management (CRM) system provides access to all interaction histories and customer data whenever needed.
UC solutions are hosted in the cloud, making it easy to scale it based on your unique business needs. They come with an admin portal that lets you add and remove users, locations, and phone numbers. Some UC providers allow a mix and match of plans and features to give you the control and flexibility to expand your communication infrastructure without incurring additional costs.
How to Choose a UC System
UC systems differ in terms of features, functionality, and scalability. In a highly competitive market of UC providers, choosing the right service can be a complex and overwhelming process. To simplify your decision, here are important factors to consider before making a decision:
- Supports standard communication channels (voice, video, SMS, fax, and instant messaging)
- User-friendly interface
- Browser, mobile, and desktop app support for easy access from any location
- Cloud file storage and backup capabilities for voice and video recordings
- Robust business integrations with CRM systems and productivity tools
- For developers: application programming interfaces (API) to embed communication capabilities into applications
- Round-the-clock customer support available via phone, live chat, and email
- 99.999% uptime service level agreement (SLA)
- End-user training for successful implementation
- Strict password policy
- Role-based access to private information
- End-to-end encryption
- Compliance certifications for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), and Service Organization Control (SOC) 2
- Scalable and flexible deployment options
- Integrates with existing private branch exchange (PBX) equipment
Want to adopt a robust unified communications strategy for your business? Find ways to optimize your UC solution in our guide about using unified communications and collaboration tools.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the difference between VoIP & unified communications?
VoIP is the transmission of voice data over an internet connection, allowing users to join voice calls and audio conferencing. Though UC systems use VoIP technology, not all VoIP solutions have UC capabilities, such as video conferencing and screen sharing.
What is a unified communications strategy?
A unified communications strategy involves auditing your workflows and business processes to see how, when, and where your staff communicates and collaborates. Your audit should include the software used by different team members and highlight opportunities to save time or improve experiences through integrations.
What is the difference between UCaaS & CCaaS?
UCaaS means Unified Communications as a Service, whereas CCaaS stands for Contact Center as a Service. The products differ in their approach. While UCaaS focuses on solutions for teams, CCaaS is geared toward customer-facing solutions. CCaaS is also more likely to include skills-based call routing and sales and customer service integrations. Learn more about their differences in our guide, UCaaS vs CCaaS.
Unified communications offer benefits for businesses looking for ways to improve team collaboration and customer experience. When implemented correctly, it allows your business to quickly access crucial data, exchange information accurately, and communicate with the right people. Before choosing a UC provider, learn what is unified communications and consider the essential factors outlined in this article to determine what type of solution you need.