“…Unified communications is so cost effective that small businesses increasingly are hopping on the UC train.” So says TMCnet web editor Jamie Epstein in “SMBs Continue to Leverage Unified Communications.”  Epstein cites a recently released report from IDG News Service that indicates small businesses are turning to UC —  the integration of voice, email, SMS, instant messaging, video conferencing and document sharing into a single interface  —  to lower costs, boost productivity and increase efficiency.

The IDG report is yet another example of the growing adoption of UC on the part of small and mid-sized business. Earlier this year, I noted  an InfoTrack report on IP Telephony (IPT) and UC that indicated that small and midsize businesses represent 46 percent of the US installed base of IPT lines, but account for only 30 percent of the spending on UC applications. However, over the next five years, spending on UC apps by small and midsize businesses will be more than twice the rate of US enterprises.

In addition to operational productivity and efficiency, small and mid-sized businesses are turning to UC because it helps them compete more effectively. They can interact with customers and prospects as effectively as larger organizations. Networking leader Cisco points out that UC can improve customer service by enabling small businesses to:

Be available any time, any place: Regardless of where your team is located, UC enables customers to interact with them however they choose.

Better and more quickly answer customer questions: When a customer call comes in, presence, which indicates where someone is and how best to get in touch, enables your team to identify who else is available in the company to help answer a question if additional help is needed. Using instant messaging and conferencing, team members can pull each other into the conversation or transfer the call without having the customer wait for a response.

As an example of the above, at Chieftain Harvesting, a grower/shipper of fresh vegetable products, UC enables the company to coordinate different inbound phone numbers for complaints, inquiries, etc. and have those numbers ring to a specific desk. They also can change the routing as needed.

Suggest the right product for a customer’s needs: You can integrate your UC solution with a customer relationship management (CRM) system to instantly access a customer’s order history to help guide them to the right product.

UC solutions can strengthen the customer connection even when team members are out of the office.  When there’s a need to conference with a customer and one or even several employees who are out of the office, unified communications lets users launch an audio or video conference from their computer, smartphone or tablet with simplicity and speed. A UC headset solves the need for high quality audio.

Are you employing UC in your business? How has it improved your productivity and customer relations?