VOIP, Unified Communications Help Businesses Improve Customer Service

UC and VOIP solutions were cited as important tools to help SMBs achieve greater levels of customer service.

On average, customers of midmarket companies would pay a 20 percent maximum premium for exceptional service. In contrast, larger companies could only charge a maximum premium of 15 percent, according to the "2011 Report on the Impact of UC on SMB Customer Service," conducted by Webtorials. Additionally, 58 percent of the respondents prefer to do business with an SMB versus only 16 percent who prefer to do business with larger enterprises.

Fonality, a communications company and provider of cloud-based VOIP (voice over IP) and UC (unified communications) solutions for small to medium-size businesses, commissioned the survey. More than 300 participants were surveyed in spring 2011.

UC and VOIP solutions were cited as important tools to help SMBs achieve greater levels of customer service that would allow them to charge a premium rate. In fact, 80 percent of respondents indicated they were already leveraging VOIP to improve contact center capabilities while reducing operating costs or had plans to integrate the solution within the next 12 months. UC, which combines voice, email and chat communications, is already being used or soon will be used by 64 percent of those surveyed.

Users of VOIP- and UC-based contact centers surveyed achieved significant productivity gains and cost reduction, with more than half (52 percent) saving 20 percent or more and almost as many (46 percent) reporting productivity gains in excess of 10 percent. Webtorials concluded that smaller budgets and limited skill sets associated with SMBs made them primary candidates to benefit from the greater ROI (return on investment) of cloud-based VOIP and UC services, as opposed to installing and maintaining expensive, complex IT solutions.

"With the UC and VOIP capabilities now readily available to SMBs, the playing field has been leveled," said Steve Taylor, editor in chief and publisher for Webtorials. "Investments in this technology can yield tremendous dividends because consumers will pay more for enhanced customer service. Smaller businesses can enjoy greater benefits in a shorter timeframe through the acquisition of improved customer service tools, particularly when delivered through the cloud."

The survey also found consumers will pay a premium of up to 20 percent for good service from SMBs, and UC can be a primary driver for delivery. In addition, there is a growing trend to adopt VOIP and UC to reduce costs and expand the reach of skill sets across locations to improve customer service. Based on the size and scope of the operation, companies are using a combination of premises-based equipment and the cloud to deliver UC, and respondents said they prefer to work with SMBs by more than a 3-1 ratio.

"Advanced business communications features, such as UC and presence, have traditionally been cost prohibitive for the majority of SMBs, placing them at a distinct disadvantage against larger competitors," said Fonality's chief marketing officer, Wes Durow. "This study shows that once equipped with this technology, SMBs can work smarter, faster and more effectively than larger competitors, and garner a premium for doing so. For growth-oriented companies, investing in a VOIP and UC solution to empower improved customer service provides an accelerated ROI opportunity."

The study also found that the ability to access customer information in real time to improve overall experience creates a more sophisticated and positive perception for SMBs. Further, UC, combined with CRM (customer relationship management) software, can play an important role in quickly and efficiently providing this information, which in turn can strengthen loyalty and relationships with customers.