Unified messaging is the integration of different kinds of messaging, like email, text, and social media, into one platform. Unified messaging software typically uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to import messaging features at varying costs, but make it easy to stay in communication with team members and clients throughout your daily work life.
What Is Unified Messaging & How Does It Work?
You probably use a number of technological tools in your daily operations, which can be chaotic. For example, you might use email to stay in touch with suppliers, but implement social media to speak with your customers. You might also use text messaging, live chat, and marketing automation software on top of those services. Unified messaging brings all of these channels to one window, so you have a full view of all of your business communications.
In theory, unified messaging is straightforward. Unified messaging platforms simply take all of your communication channels and let you switch between conversations within your unified inbox window with one click. In most cases, your channels will be presented as a list on one side of the unified inbox’s screen. All you need to do is click on the channel, and you’ll be brought to your relevant communications in that channel.
Unified messaging helps put certain work items in context. For example, say a customer tweets at you complaining that your checkout page is down. Rather than switch between your web browser and Slack, you can simply switch from your Twitter tab to your Slack tab and tell your web development team about the complaint so they can look into it. Even if this only shaves a couple of seconds here and there, these time savers add up throughout the day.
The fact that unified messaging brings all of your communication services to one window also provides unified search functionality across all channels, which can be very helpful when it comes to referencing past events and assignments. So, for example, if your checkout page went down, you can simply type “checkout” in the search bar and look at relevant messages from your development team, customers, sales, and all other departments.
Application Programming Interfaces
Under the surface, unified messaging apps work by leveraging application programming interfaces (APIs) made available by software vendors of all kinds and connecting that data to their platform. In basic terms, APIs allow developers to take data from software systems and connect them to another piece of software. A basic example of this is Apple using the Weather Channel API to bring live weather data to its millions of iOS users via its own Weather app.
In most cases, unified communication services will offer a range of ready-made channels for you to connect to. You probably won’t have to do any coding to connect to Facebook, Gmail, Salesforce, or other mainstream systems. However, if your preferred communications app is not supported by your unified communication service, you can leverage what is known as an open API.
With an open API, you can essentially build any connector you want. Connecting services usually consists of copying and pasting some prewritten code into a management console, as well as your login credentials and authorization key for the communications app you are trying to integrate. Most software providers have detailed step-by-step instructions for doing this on their website, but you can also hire a freelance developer on sites like Fiverr to do it for you.
Who Unified Communication Software Is Right For
If you use multiple communication tools in your daily operations, unified communication software can be helpful. Saving yourself the trouble of switching between apps, along with the ability to quickly pull up information from a range of channels, can help employees in all roles and in all industries. Unified communication features are particularly helpful for managers, sales teams, and customer service staff.
- Managers: Those who are in charge of multiple departments can benefit from being able to quickly view and send messages with associates across all channels, no matter what medium they use.
- Sales agents: Unified communication platforms often integrate with a customer relationship management (CRM) service, so you can view and manage sales pipelines while also collaborate with team members via chat.
- Customer service staff: Many customer service agents need to speak with customers who are reaching out via social media, email, phone, and text. Unified communication systems make handling all of these channels at once much easier.
All told, unified communication systems are useful for any environment where employees communicate with others via several different apps. In 2019, many workers are using email, phone, instant messaging, and social media all at once. Unified messaging services simply accommodate the productivity habits of the modern employee.
Unified Messaging Costs
There are free unified messaging platforms, and there are more robust paid systems that cost as much as $79, like the Enterprise edition of Front. However, you will also need communication apps to connect with the platform, which will usually come at an extra fee.
The overall pricing on these systems will depend on the communication channels you need and what features you want:
- Unified messaging services: Services like Zoho Cliq offer a free version, but more advanced small business versions of Nextiva start at $29.99 per user, per month. It’s also worth noting that Nextiva and its competitors also include a voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) business phone system in addition to unified communications.
- Communication apps: You will need to have communication tools, such as a phone service or chat app like Slack, already in place to connect them to a unified messaging system. Prices vary widely depending on what kind of tool it is and what package you subscribe to.
There is an overwhelming amount of unified communication services out there, so you can easily find one to suit your organization’s unique needs. They also come with pricing to meet the budgets of most small businesses.
Unified Messaging Features
Unified messaging offers several benefits to business users. The most important feature offered by these systems is the convenience of having all of your communications apps integrated into one user experience. On top of that, the fact that most providers offer a mobile app is a boon to remote workers or anyone who travels frequently.
If you use even two or three different apps to speak with all of your associates, it can quickly become unruly and chaotic. You have to switch between apps, and it’s easy to forget what channel you were using to communicate with an important customer earlier in the day. The fact that all of your communications are in one place can make a huge difference in staying productive and struggling to keep up with several ongoing conversations.
Most of today’s leading unified messaging services allow you to connect communications functionality with many mainstream business apps. For example, Front lets you sign in with your Gmail, Slack, Twitter, and telephone number so that you can use all of these services in one app. They leverage APIs to take the most essential features of these services and insert them into a unified inbox.
If you are a remote worker, or you take a lot of meetings outside of the office, unified messaging can be beneficial. Mobile app functionality is a major component of popular unified messaging systems, so you can take your omnichannel approach to communication anywhere. This is especially helpful because mobile apps can usually only show one app on screen at once, which makes switching between separate apps even more of a pain than on a desktop.
Unified Messaging Providers
There are many different unified messaging services on the market today. Some are dedicated to standalone unified messaging, while others come bundled for free with VoIP services. This is helpful if you are also in the market for a new phone system.
Popular unified messaging apps include:
Front, which starts at $9 per user, per month, is a dedicated unified messaging service that connects with Gmail, Slack, Salesforce, Twitter, and more than 40 other apps. The company also provides an open API so that you can essentially build your own integrations with whatever app you use. To learn more about Front, click here.
2. Zoho Cliq
Zoho Cliq comes either as a standalone solution or bundled with the Zoho One suite of products. Zoho Cliq can pull data from a wide range of popular communication apps, and it also comes with a drag-and-drop file sharing module that lets you import and send files in a wide range of formats, no matter what channel you’re on. The service offers a free version, and a paid plan that costs $3 per user, per month. Click here to get started with Zoho Cliq today.
Nextiva is a VoIP service that provides customers with an internet-based phone service. The solution, which starts at $35 per user, per month, comes packed with features, one of which is a unified communications module. The software provides call, text, email, and chat information in one easy-to-understand unified inbox.
Pros & Cons of Unified Messaging Software
Unified messaging is helpful to many small businesses because it brings all of your favorite features together. However, they aren’t appropriate in all cases, and there might be situations where using different apps is preferable.
Pros of Unified Messaging
- Convenience: Working with all of your messaging apps in one window is less of a hassle than switching between individual apps.
- Searchability: Unified messaging services allow you to search for keywords, phrases, and other information across all of your channels.
- Mobility: The ability to take unified messaging services with you via a mobile app helps you stay productive, no matter where you are.
Cons of Unified Messaging
- Cost: In most cases, unified messaging apps come at a cost. When you factor that in addition to the cost of each connected communication app, this can be very expensive.
- User error: If you are not tech-savvy, the process of setting up and deploying a unified messaging service can be very intimidating. You may also fail to set it up correctly, rendering it useless for your team.
- Old habits: Once users are used to one way of doing things, it can be extremely hard to introduce a new solution. Even if you adopt a unified messaging app, you may be wasting money because employees simply prefer to use separate apps.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are there any unified messaging apps that don’t require outside apps?
Yes. Nextiva, along with other apps, provides all the chat, calling, and text messaging tools you need without the requirement of outside business software. This can be used for internal as well as external company communications.
Can I store files in my unified messaging system?
Yes. The majority of services on the market provide at least a few gigabytes of online storage space with every account so that you can save and share files with your associates.
Are my conversations secure in a unified messaging solution?
They should be. Leading systems offer encryption of all contents, and many are compatible with numerous worldwide laws regarding data privacy. If you are concerned about data integrity, be sure to ask a representative from a prospective vendor about their system’s security measures.
Unified messaging software is designed to make your business communications easier to track, understand, and take action on. They connect all of your favorite messaging channels and bring them into one space. This way, you can focus on getting actual work done instead of fussing around among separate applications.
If you are in the market for a new unified messaging service, we recommend taking a look at Nextiva. With a starting price of $35 per user, per month, the service is incredibly easy to use and can connect data from a range of different business applications. Click the link below to learn more.