Consider all of the ways your small business customers, partners, suppliers and employees can contact you these days. They can email; call your cell, softphone or desk phone; dash off an instant message (IM), send a fax and more.  You have a  wealth of communications devices and messaging options for keeping in touch. However checking the range of messages you receive can be time consuming.

Here’s where Unified Communications (UC) comes in. UC is a platform to integrate desk phones, PCs, smartphones and tablets into one data and voice network so that all of your devices can talk to each other digitally. UC also provides a host of collaboration tools, including e-mail, instant messaging, web and video conferencing and fax, which are accessible through the convenience of one interface, eliminating the time it takes to check the inboxes of multiple devices. You also can easily control the data and relay any or all of it to others at your convenience.

To further boost productivity, the unified messaging capabilities of UC enable you to seamlessly move between all modes of communication. For example, unified messaging can send a voice message to your universal inbox where you can either play the message directly from the email; play an audio file attached to the email; or read a transcribed text of the message sent in the body of the email. If you want to share the message with someone, you easily can forward it on.

Here’s an example of UC in action: Let’s say you need to go out of town but you are right in the middle of finalizing a new contract for your small business. While you are taking a cab from the airport to your hotel; a call comes into your office desk phone from your new customer letting you know the contract is ready for your signature. With the aid of your small business UC system, the message is routed to your smartphone through email. You listen to the message and text a reply asking to get an e-fax of the contract. You receive the e-fax on your smartphone within minutes. Even though you can read it right then, you wait until you have checked into your hotel room to digitally sign the document from your PC and send it back to the customer. Before heading out for a dinner meeting, you also make a few Skype calls to your team back at the office.

UC options enhance the platform

UC offers other capabilities to boost productivity and to enhance collaboration between your small business team members.

Presence: It’s no longer necessary to figure out if someone is available for a call or conference or to receive an IM thanks to presence technology, which displays someone’s status. In a UC system, presence can be integrated across all of your communication devices, including IP (over the Internet) desk phones, email, IM and softphones.  According to a survey about presence conducted by Software Advice, a majority of respondents cited decreased call and email volume and quick resolution of simple question top productivity benefits of using presence technology.

One number reach: Often called Find Me/Follow Me, one number reach is the capability that lets you choose one number to give out. It even can be a virtual number.  When someone dials that number, the IP telephony system routes the calls to numbers you have selected – office phone, mobile number, home phone or other – at the same time or sequentially.  If, after routing the call to all the numbers, you still don’t answer; the system will leave the call in your voice mail.

Click to dial: Click to dial — also called click to call – enables you to click a phone number on a web page and initiate a voice over Internet (VoIP) call in real time. Integrated with your UC platform, anyone can dial a phone number or join a conference directly from a web browser. Click to dial saves a lot of time looking up phone numbers. It can be particularly helpful to your small business when you make it easy for prospects to get in touch with ‘one click.’

Extension dialing over all locations: Extension dialing uses a short number – three or four digits – to connect to anyone in your small business even if they are in different locations.   Extension dialing makes it easy for your team to call each other and transfer calls faster. Also it helps your small business look like everyone is in one location since callers don’t know where the extension is when they dial it.  Extension dialing also can include mobility so it doesn’t matter where someone is located in the office, on the go, or at home. The call will go through to their mobile phone wherever they are.

Headsets help answer the call to UC

With so many connected communication devices and tools integrated into the UC experience, you and your small business team need a singular – one touch – control to facilitate communication and collaboration. Headsets meet that need by simplifying connectivity to your range of devices and applications, knowing when you’re wearing a headset and routing calls accordingly, and providing sophisticated notifications that a call is coming in. Great audio equipment that works seamlessly with any device makes the goal of UC to simplify communications and boost productivity a reality.

As an example, consultants at Pariveda Solutions depend on their Plantronics Bluetooth headsets to facilitate calls when they are working at a customer site. The headsets make it easy to manage softphone calls on their laptop over Pariveda’s Microsoft Lync UC platform or their smartphones. The flexibility is particularly important when there is a weak cellular signal.

Learn more about Plantronics UC headsets that work seamlessly across a range of communications devices, such as the just announced Voyager Focus UC. The new headset provides active noise cancellation (ANC) and dynamic Hi-Fi stereo and works seamlessly across Bluetooth-enabled desk phones, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and even smart watches.