Wrapping your mind around the concept of business communications.
If you’ve read any business books or articles in the last decade, you’ve almost certainly come across the phrase “paradigm shift.” As soon as the concept made its way into popular culture, it became a buzzword of epic proportions.
Suddenly, everyone’s bragging about their paradigm-shifting advice, products and services. Thanks, Steven Covey.
In fairness, it is a powerful concept . . . even though most people don’t know what a paradigm shift really is. It’s a change, yes. A big change. But it means more than that.
Paradigm Shifts & Scientific Revolutions
According to business writing coach Barb Sawyers, “Paradigm shift actually means a new scientific assumption that replaces the old . . .” That’s more than an adjustment in thinking. That’s a literal revolution.
We’re talking about Galileo’s claim that the earth revolves around the sun or Marie Curie’s discovery of radioactivity. In both cases, new information changed the way scientists think about the scientific world.
These aren’t subtle tweaks. These are intellectual revolutions.
So . . . About Unified Business Communications?
There is a connection. We promise.
Paradigm shifts mark a complete change in how we approach a whole subject. That sort of change has happened in the last few years in business communications. It’s a whole new ball of wax with a whole new set of rules.
In the Beginning There Was VoIP
It started with VoIP. VoIP stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol.”(Look at that lonely little “o.” That’s grammar for you.) VoIP was big news back in the day. At its core, it’s telephone service over the internet instead of the older analog lines. When it came onto the scene, it gave businesses a way to lower long distance bills and super-charge their phone systems.
None of that sounds like a big deal now. We walk around with little computers in our pockets that make calls . . . in addition to playing movies, music, games and a whole bunch of other stuff. But VoIP is still a part of unified business communications.
And we say “a part” because it’s hardly the whole enchilada.
Building on the Base
When you talk to a business communications professional and they start going on and on about VoIP, it’s a good idea to ask what else they offer. That’s because (much like your smartphone) modern digital phone systems include a lot more than just phones.
A full-blown unified communications system might include all of the following:
- Instant messaging
- Presence info (those little icons that say you’re online or busy)
- Mobile options (like smart call forwarding)
- Video conferencing
- Desktop sharing
- Document sharing
- Data sharing (like web-based whiteboards)
- Speech recognition
- Voicemail transcription
- And, of course, the standard basics (like calling, voicemail, email, text messaging and faxing)
Granted, your business may not need all of that. In fact, you almost certainly don’t need every feature available. And you’re not alone there. According to a 2016 article from Smart Business, “Companies typically use 40-50 percent of the functions that are available . . .”
But here’s the kicker. The rest of that sentence says a lot about how important YOUR unified communications setup is. The article goes on to say, “ . . . each company uses a unique 40-50 percent.”
In other words, what works for you will be completely unique to you.
A Can of Worms
Exploring unified business communications is kind of like opening a can of worms. Things get really complicated really fast.
Not to fear. We’ll walk you through it. We’re going to dive in by discussing the philosophy behind unified communications and then dig into the practical side of things.
Grab a cup of coffee, get cozy, and let’s talk transparency.
Can we get a little love for transparency in business communication?
Things were looking good for Kenneth Lonchar in 2001. That was the year he literally won an award for his business savvy and leadership skills. As the CFO of Veritas Software Corp, he was riding pretty high on the hog.
(Not an actual pig. That’s just a metaphor. Back to the story . . .)
The following year some devastating news broke. Despite his resume, Lochnar did not have an MBA from Stanford. He didn’t attend Arizona State University, either—another claim he made. He earned his degree at Idaho State, but the lies he told to look more prestigious ended up costing him (and his company) big.
A disgraced Lochnar was asked to resign and the company’s stock took a serious hit. The lesson? Miscommunication (intentional or otherwise) hurts bigtime.
Sweet Little Lies
According to a 2014 article published by the New York Times, “60 percent of adults [cannot] have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once.” Ouch.
For far too many of us, lying is commonplace. It may not cost most of us our jobs or make our companies’ stock prices drop, but it takes a toll, nevertheless. And as a 2012 Forbes article points out, “. . . there are times that lies can be indirect, or unintentional, or even simple exaggerations.”
You may not even mean to mislead, but it hardly matters. That same article goes on to say, “When leaders lie, whatever the circumstances, the justification, rationalization or excuses, bad things invariably follow.”
What Jim Carrey Taught Us About Business
Yes, that Jim Carrey.
His 1997 movie Liar, Liar was a lot of things—silly, funny, a box office hit . . . and surprisingly accurate. Lies in any form tear apart relationships and destroy trust, which is why the idea of transparency has become so big in the workplace.
In 2014, a survey completed by the American Psychological Association found that roughly 25% of employees don’t trust their bosses. While that data is a few years old, it’s likely still an accurate number. The average office place is a politically charged, highly competitive environment.
But it doesn’t have to be. Enter transparent communication.
What Is Transparent Communication?
Transparent communication is all about getting communication right. At the most basic level, that means telling the truth, but it includes a lot more than that.
Think about all the ways business communication can go wrong. When we’re at work, we’re busy. We’re moving fast—helping customers, responding to email, slipping in and out of meetings, handing off reports and customer data. In the chaos of that shuffle, it’s painfully easy to inadvertently mislead.
And trust is so very fragile.
It only takes one poorly handled conversation. One assumptive email. One misunderstanding. Employees end up doubting each other—or worse, customers begin to feel like they can’t count on you, as a company, to shoot straight with them.
Why Does Transparent Communication Matter?
Transparent communication matters because trust depends on it. That’s true inside your company and outside of it. You can’t afford to lose the respect and trust of your staff or your customers. You need to guard that closely.
And that, in turn, is one of the big reasons why unified business communications matters.
There are a bunch of advantages to unified communications tools. We’ll get to those a little further into this ebook, we promise. But the one we want to start with is trust.
Unified communications tools help you cultivate, maintain and protect trust. You can’t operate a successful business if trust is an afterthought. Not in the long run, anyway. Eventually, a lack of trust will always bite you in the ass.
Maybe 50 years ago a firm handshake and a promise would have been good enough. But not today. If you want to maintain trust today, you need the right business communications tools to keep everyone in the know.
This may be more philosophical than you expect the average IT solutions ebook to get, but it’s still true. Unified communications solutions guard your integrity by giving you the tools you need to communicate clearly, accurately and honestly.
If you’re invested in your company’s reputation, you can’t afford to ignore the need for the best possible communications options. This is important stuff.
What unified business communications does for collaboration. (Spoiler: It’s freaking awesome.)
Let’s talk geese. (Given the seemly off-topic things we’ve discussed so far in this ebook, you have no right to be surprised by that statement.)
You likely already know why geese fly in a V formation. If not, get ready to be dazzled by nature. That V formation geese are so fond of isn’t for looks. It’s entirely pragmatic. According to an article published by The Library of Congress,
“Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest.”
Who knew geese were so smart? Oh, but wait. It gets better.
If you’ve ever seen geese migrating, you know the V formation is only one of the noteworthy things about their flight. There’s also the honking. Geese honk constantly while flying together. Top geese scientists speculate that all that honking is their way of communicating to maintain the formation.
Good Teamwork = Good Communication
You can’t have effective teamwork without effective communication. As obvious as that sounds, we seem to forget from time to time. When that happens, a whole bunch of articles and studies pop up statistically connecting productivity to collaboration and communication.
Folks nods and says, “Yes, yes,” and we ground ourselves in this obvious truth only to forget again later. But not everyone.
What Savvy Business Owners Don’t Forget
The most strategic SMB owners don’t have to be told that good business communication is crucial. They know. Just consider these sage words from Steve Jobs: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
But there’s a difference between understanding the importance of business communication and having the right tools to pull it off. That’s where your communication technology comes into play. With the right tech tools, collaborative communication becomes second nature.
The ideal blend is easy, free-flowing communication when you need it, and the ability to buckle down and focus when you don’t. It’s not a good idea to grab every chat tool out there and try to get your staff to use them all. They’ll be instant messaging all day instead of working.
What you want is a strategic approach. That starts with knowing what’s available. Below, you’ll find a quick breakdown of five key areas of business communication. Think of this as your own personal primer on communication technology.
The New Standard
It wasn’t that long ago that it would have seemed silly to think of instant messaging as a core business tool. Today, it’s central to how a lot of organizations operate. In fact, the instant messaging app Slack now has more than 2 million paid users, including 43 of the largest 100 companies in the US.
The advantage of instant messaging is that it’s, well, instant. It’s even faster and more convenient than email. When co-workers have quick questions or just need to send a file, it’s hard to beat the raw convenience of instant messaging.
The downside is that it has the potential to be a huge distraction. It’s painfully easy to let IMs derail your flow. The best instant messaging setup/app is the one that allows you to seize the pros without being weighed down by the cons—paired with some solid team training and a few guidelines.
Share that Doc
Speaking of sending files, the most collaborative workplaces don’t just shuffle files back and forth. They also utilize applications that allow employees to join forces, sometimes working in the same file at the same time.
When there’s only one copy of that team report, you no longer have to worry about multiple versions floating around, some up-to-date and some woefully inaccurate.
Video conferencing isn’t just a flashy way of showing off how high-tech your company can be. It’s a powerhouse productivity tool.
According to one survey, 89% of respondents said that “video conferencing reduces [the] time [it takes] to complete projects or tasks.” And the same survey found that 82% of folks are more likely to focus on a video conference than an audio call.
Video is more personable, makes for clearer communication, is more engaging, and gives folks a better sense of connection. All of that adds up to a significant boost in productivity.
Modern business communication systems are all about mobility. That includes everything from smart call forwarding (like auto-forwarding at specific times) to remote access for video meetings, document sharing and mobile apps for IMs and virtual phones.
It’s possible to be on the other side of the country and still receive calls to your direct line, as though you were right there at your desk.
According to CNN Money, “The number of telecommuting workers has increased 115% in a decade . . .” As more SMBs consider the lower overhead of remote working, these kinds of business communication tools really start to shine.
Back to the Basics
On top of all that high-tech coolness, unified business communications systems also include all the basics you would expect: phone service, voicemail, email and standard call forwarding. But even these old standbys benefit from the “unified” part of newer systems.
For example, voicemail is convenient. But automated transcripts of voicemail messages delivered to your email so you can get the gist of a missed call at a glance are amazing. When all those basic services work together, each one takes on new life.
What you really wanna know: The cost of unified business communications.
When we talk about business communications with one of our potential clients, most of them are pretty quick to cut to the chase. They go straight for the (literal) money question. “How much is this gonna cost me?”
There’s a lot of salesy stuff we could say to deflect that question, but that’s not really our style. Plus, that doesn’t help you make practical decisions about handling your own business communications. And while we’d love to take you on as a client and be your business communications partner, the point of this whole ebook thing is to give you helpful information, regardless of whether or not you decide to work with us.
So let’s explore the dollars and cents of these solutions.
The Good News (and the Bad)
We’d love to be able to promise that a new unified communications setup will save you money. You like saving money. We like finding new clients. Of course we want to be able to tell you that.
But there’s a problem. We have no idea what your current setup is, so there’s no way we can guarantee savings.
Let’s say right now you’re rocking one phone line that your entire staff shares. Your hardware is whatever was on sale when you bought office furniture. You don’t even have voicemail. If that’s your setup, then we can make a promise. You’re going to pay more.
Even if you have a more sophisticated setup right now, you might pay more. Or you might save. We’ve seen clients all across the spectrum, and we’ve learned three really important things.
1. Don’t Get Too Focused on Savings
It’s entirely possible to save money and upgrade your communications system at the same time. That happens for a lot of our clients. But it doesn’t happen because the primary goal is to drop costs.
If you get too focused on saving money, you may opt to leave out some critical features. While that may feel good when it comes to setting the budget, it’ll have a negative impact on every other area of your business. Really.
Your staff will feel the pain of missing features every day. Your customers will, too. The toll that takes on everything from internal morale to external customer experience is no small thing. A good unified communications partner will lower your costs if at all possible, but not at the expense of functionality.
That’s just irresponsible.
2. No One Needs All the Bells and Whistles
On the other hand, you do not need every available feature. No one does. If you start talking to a unified communications pro and they push for options you’ll never use, show that jerk to your door.
It’s easy to get carried away by all the cool stuff modern phone systems can do, especially if you’ve got a bit of a geeky side. But those “just in case” features come with a price tag. Don’t get some fancy-schmancy add-on just because one day you might get to use it. And don’t let some fast-talking sales guy hoodwink you, either.
A reliable unified communications consultant should steer you away from as many features as they steer you toward.
3. Remember What Really Matters
Before you even begin the process of selecting specific features, think about how your people communication—with each other and with customers. What pain points are you dealing with right now? What would your dream phone system do that your current phone system doesn’t?
As you start looking at features and options, don’t just focus on the dollar signs. Think about cost vs. value. That’s what really matters.
The goal here is to hook you up with a unified communications system that delivers value to your organization. Even if you have to pay a little more than you’re paying now (and you might not!), it’ll be worth it if it sets you up to make more money. That’s the underlying strategy behind the concept of ROI.
When we walk our clients through this process, we try to strike the perfect balance. It would be crazy to ignore cost. Anywhere you can save a little is helpful. But we don’t want to handicap our customers, either. So we work extra hard to find the perfect blend of features, trimming costs where we can and taking advantage of the value of the right features where that makes sense.
Whether you decide to tackle a new unified communications system on your own or you decide to get some professional help, we encourage you to shoot for the same thing.
Tying It All Together
That brings us to the end of this handy little ebook. We hope you’ve found the information helpful, and we hope you have a better understanding how unified communications can help your business.
We know, of course, that we may have left you with as many questions as you had before you started reading. Different questions, we hope, but more questions, nevertheless. Now that you know the general concepts, you’re no doubt wondering what setup would be ideal for your office.
That’s a good place to be. Really, that’s what unified communications is all about—finding the best possible solution, custom fit just for you. Whatever your business needs, the right blend of features (at the right cost) is out there.
To quote John Powell, “Communication works for those who work at it.”
We sincerely hope your efforts to better your unified communications are wildly successful. And if we can help, all you have to do is give us a call.