With unified communications (UC), the era of always-on, multi-channel corporate communications is truly upon us.

It is starting to change the way organisations work – making people more contactable on the move, communication channels more integrated, and business processes and workflows more efficient, says Henry McCracken, regional sales director, Africa at Aspect Software.
“Currently, the unified communications strategies of most organisations only focus on using applications, like presence, voice integration and collaboration to improve employee productivity. However, there’s more to UC than just improving productivity,” he states. “Enterprises should also be focusing on communications-enabling their customer-facing process, such as service, collections and sales to ensure they are fully leveraging the value that unified communications can provide.
“A successful UC strategy will yield measurable improvements to help meet and exceed key performance indicators. Benefits could include improved first call resolution, increased sales, improved time-to-answer, more successful cross and up-selling and enhanced customer satisfaction. These are often accompanied by less tangible benefits such as reduced customer churn, improved employee satisfaction and ultimately greater top-line revenue growth.”
It is evident that businesses are starting to recognise the important role that UC applications can play in closing the gap between the contact centre and external knowledge workers and in improving service delivery. In a 2009 European business survey conducted by Strateco and commissioned by Aspect, 85% of interviewees stated that they believe UC can improve customer satisfaction by raising service levels and improving first call resolution. 67% stated that they believe UC will deliver cost advantages within a three to five year timeframe and 83% said that UC will be a competitive differentiator in the future.
Aspect believes that by using its UC applications (coupled with appropriate UC services support where necessary), organisations can improve customer satisfaction by 8%, increase first call resolution by 5%, improve productivity by 10%, and reduce overall maintenance costs by 20%.
Aspect’s UC applications for the contact centre use software to target operational objectives with a specific set of capabilities and can be deployed on either an in-house technology platform or on a network-based service provider’s hosted platform. These include:
* Seamless Customer Service – which delivers the tools needed for comprehensive call response;
* Blended Interaction – which provides inbound, outbound, self-service and workforce optimisation capabilities;
* Streamlined Collections – which automates early stage collections and enables expert agent engagement for a more effective delinquent account targeting strategy;
* Optimised Collections – which utilises performance, workforce and campaign management to enhance contact and calling strategies,
* Productive Workforce – which delivers the tools and processes to help optimise resource utilisation and adopt a continuous improvement culture, and
* Productive Workforce for Aspect eWorkforce Management – which delivers the tools and processes to help Aspect eWorkforce Management users optimise resource utilisation and adopt a continuous improvement culture.
According to McCracken, many organisations are adopting a phased approach to deployment and although not merging their computing and telecoms operations, they are involving their IT departments, especially in the first phase when searching for the right technologies. Typically, this will involve IT personnel evaluating applications and assessing whether they can seamlessly interoperate to result in fewer moving parts, then piloting the technologies as appropriate and preparing themselves to support a departmental or corporate-wide roll-out.
The second wave is all about internal efficiency, with employees using UC tools to perform tasks faster and more productively. These improvements are generally fairly straightforward, and do not involve re-engineering core business processes to take advantage of the capabilities of UC and drive true incremental business value.
The third phase goes beyond simple business efficiency to business process transformation. At this point, all the right technology is in place and tasks are performed more efficiently, however, the organisation is starting to change the way it communicates internally and externally with customers, suppliers, and business partners – bringing about a collaboration of people and technologies to gain the best return on investment.
“Although few organisations have yet reached phase three, this is where they will discover the maximum value from their investments in UC technology. They will find that UC not only provides greater control and business agility but also drives improvements in customer and employee relationships. Ultimately, they will also find that it creates competitive advantage,” McCracken concludes.