If your company is looking to move beyond telco-based voice communications, then you probably should look into purchasing a business Voice-over-IP (VoIP) solution. But, before you choose a VoIP vendor, you'll want to ask everyone on your short list if they offer a Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) package. Don't let this term confuse you; it's actually much simpler than it sounds.
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In this article, I'll explain what you'll get when you work with a typical VoIP service provider and what you'll get if your VoIP provider also offers UCaaS. Before I get into the specifics, let me give you a simple breakdown of VoIP and UCaaS. I asked Curtis Peterson, Senior Vice President of Cloud Operations at business phone system provider RingCentral, to help distinguish between the two services.
"VoIP is usually just a voice service provider, inbound and outbound calls," Peterson explained. "UCaaS is basically looking at all business communications and putting them over IP or Internet Protocol. VoIP is a single mode. UCaaS is multimodal: texting, chatting, video conferencing, screen sharing, video meetings. But it uses VoIP to power the voice part."
Okay, so now that you have a basic understanding of the difference between VoIP and UCaaS, I'll break down what you'll get with each service.
At its core, VoIP is a digital telephone service that uses the internet for transport and delivery of communications. You can make and receive calls from your internet connection via handsets as you would in most traditional office settings or via softphones (which are software-based applications). By taking advantage of the microphone and speakers in your desktop, laptop, or smartphone, you're able to conduct calls in the same manner as you would using a typical handset. VoIP offers many of the same accoutrements as your telco service provider. You will be able to receive and listen to voicemail messages, and monitor calls via caller ID. Calls can be forwarded to alternate lines if someone isn't available to receive a call. Other features VoIP offers include auto-attendants, call holds, call logs, call monitoring, call recording, call transcriptions, dial-in conferencing, and number porting.
If you opt to go with a VoIP-only provider, then you'll be missing out on one obvious feature: video. With UCaaS, your service provider will let you also schedule one-on-one video calls as well as one-to-many video conferences. This may not seem like a must-have for smaller companies but, as your team scales and as you hire in different geographies, you're going to want to be able to conduct "face-to-face" video calls. With video conferencing and VoIP, you'll be able to do things such as conduct meetings with hundreds of attendants, share your screen with everyone attending, and even share and receive files to everyone on the call or to individual attendants.
UCaaS tools also let you chat and text message with coworkers on your plan. Why would you need this feature? Well, if you're on a video call with a client and your sales rep is speaking out of turn, then you can send her a private chat message to get everyone on the same page. This also lets your team members send chat messages rather than emails to discuss more time-sensitive and more casual interactions.
If you're one of those strange cats who still enjoys sending and receiving faxes, then some UCaaS solutions let you do so from your computer or mobile device (where the faxes will automatically be stored to your Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive account). This feature also gives you better oversight into who is sending and receiving faxes, what they're faxing, and it will let you turn off junk faxes.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a UCaaS platform is its ability to integrate with third-party solutions to help you better pull in and export data from tool to tool. For example, if you need to call a customer and you'd like to access her records to improve your communications, then an integration between your Salesforce account and your UCaaS tool makes this incredibly easy. From within your Salesforce dashboard, you'll be able to launch the call, view the customer's interaction history, and add notes about what is being said during the call. With a Microsoft Outlook email integration, you can launch calls directly from within the body of an email.
Integrations are especially useful for companies that plan to use their UCaaS tool to respond to helpdesk tickets. Imagine giving your service reps the ability to make and take calls directly within the helpdesk console. Imagine giving them the ability to research customer interactions or add notes to customer records while on the call, and then tie this data back across your UCaaS, helpdesk, and customer relationship management (CRM) tools for later edification.
"Companies that are looking at plain VoIP solutions are losing out on the opportunity to put multiple communications tools together with a vendor and getting a discount to do so," said Peterson. That's because most vendors offer bulk discounts when you bundle all of your UCaaS tools together rather than cherry-picking communications tools across multiple vendors. Think about how you purchase your home's cable, internet, and phone service: the price of all three together is typically less than going with three different vendors for each.
Bundling also guarantees that each service integrates and reports back to one another without issue. "[But] if you have one provider for VoIP, one for video, and one for chat, you can't share analytics between them," Peterson explained.