How service providers are changing unified communications

There is a lucrative voice market out there for service providers, but the approach has to be right to ensure margin and customer satisfaction remain high.

Traditionally the provision of voice as part of a unified communications package was the preserve of specialist channel retailers. They had the expertise and history to sell unified comms and to take control of a lucrative market.

However, recent years have seen a substantial rise in service providers moving into the unified comms business, with smaller start-ups challenging the tried and trusted brands. In doing so, providers are becoming one-stop shops for businesses seeking complete voice, data and mobile solutions.

This blog takes a look at how the landscape has changed and the challenges that service providers may encounter when supplying unified comms.

 

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Why the shift?

As recently as two years ago, voice was the barrier to service providers entering the unified comms market. It required entirely different infrastructure to that which these providers work with. And, as such, different service requirements. In many cases, a team with an entirely different skillset and knowledge base was required to sell and implement unified communications.

But voice provision has changed. Today businesses are turning away from traditional, fixed line solutions; the kind that require line maintenance and suffer from long periods of downtime. Instead they are moving to cloud-hosted PBX, in order to enable modern comms solutions like SIP trunking and Hosted voice services

Importantly for the market, cloud hosted voice is a solution that service providers can offer. They are already experts in using cloud tech. And because providing voice over the cloud bears many similarities with providing data, the barrier to entry for service providers, such as IT specialists, has been largely removed. Add to that the falling cost of good bandwidth to supply voice, and it suddenly makes good business sense to offer a unified solution.

The challenges of unified comms

Though they are entering a lucrative and exciting market, service providers should be careful to avoid potential pitfalls when adding voice to their existing portfolio of services.

Voice connection is the lifeblood of many businesses. As such, customers expect the same high levels of service from their voice provider as they receive from their data provider, but the impact of poor quality service can be much more immediate as it stops people talking. Service level agreements and promises about downtime avoidance must be adhered to. And if things go wrong, they will have to be fixed almost immediately.

Similarly, the voice customer will expect their service provider to have a voice expert on hand for advice and trouble shooting. Service providers entering the unified comms market should ensure that they have at least one voice specialist on staff. With 74% of businesses saying they would be able to deliver better customer service with a change in how their network operates, this will not only help in the pitch process, but also when trying to convert new customers into committed clients.

The key to unified success for service providers is choosing which voice provider to work with. The right one will create the conditions that make the transition into unified comms provision as smooth as possible. In real terms, that means offering product training, pre-sales support, marketing advice and after sales care.

Worth the work

There are relatively few traps a service provider can encounter when moving into unified comms. Indeed, when voice is added to an existing product portfolio with due customer care, the market becomes a place of huge opportunity.

In some cases, IT providers that offer businesses voice – in addition to first in class data – have been able to increase the stack of products they supply one company from three or four to ten, significantly boosting their margins.

By offering a unified product package, businesses are starting to think in an integrated way and are on the road to becoming one-stop shops. It makes sense that businesses taking data from provider A, and voice from provider B, will stop if one of the two offers both at a good price and with good service level agreements.

Cloud technology has led to a significant movement in the unified communications market. What was once a product supplied by telephony specialists with access to the infrastructure can now be supplied by providers, working with the best channel suppliers.

By avoiding the pitfalls, working with the best voice partner, and offering a full, customer focused service to businesses, service providers can enjoy substantial benefits, both commercially and reputationally.

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18 November 2015 | Justin Coombes

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