Voice, Fax, Email and Video from a Single Inbox

Updated: April 30, 2009

A unified communications strategy lets companies manage voice mail, faxes, email and video from a single inbox using a single set of management controls. The perks are plentiful and include increased agent productivity, enhanced customer service and reduced telephony costs. Tossing your old system for a unified messaging solution, however, is no easy feat.

Just ask Kathleen Peterson, founder of PowerHouse Consulting, a call-center and telecommunications consultancy. "Managing a voice mail system is a delayed response," Peterson said. "It's a load that can be pushed off because it's not immediate." Juggling a steady stream of faxes, attachments and emails, on the other hand, creates "an entirely different set of circumstances." It requires companies to re-examine their call-center priorities and expectations.

Smooth Transition

For example, as messages from various communication channels begin to trickle in to a single repository in real time, companies must decide how quickly agents should respond, the skills needed to respond appropriately, what modes of communication warrant immediate attention, and what counts as an acceptable amount of time for fielding each communication.

"You're going to have to make some clear decisions around what kind of response times you're committing to and what kind of resources and skills will be required," warned Peterson.

Assessing Resources

The next step is ensuring that the internal resources are actually available to meet a company's service-level expectations and goals. This calls for some honest appraisal of a company's in-house talent. According to Peterson, the good news is "there really have been some fundamental changes in the call-center work force, because automation has off-loaded so much of the mundane."

But while a call center's collective IQ may be on the rise, there's no guarantee the right skill sets are in place. For example, your call-center agents may be fabulous at fielding customer phone calls, but a unified messaging system's email component calls for strong literacy skills as well. That might mean having to test agents' writing skills and retraining those who fail to pass muster.

Open for Business

One of the greatest risks involved in migrating from a voice-mail-only communications system to a unified messaging solution is the potential impact on business continuity. In fact, according to a Frost & Sullivan survey, business continuity was ranked as one of the top five priorities of enterprise decision makers. For this reason. Peterson recommends that companies test the introduction of a unified messaging system via a pilot project and take the necessary steps to ensure that the system can sufficiently handle the company's telecommunication load.

"The proof of concept and load testing are two key planning tools that, quite honestly, I don't think vendors want to engage in because it takes more time and effort on their part," said Peterson. "But from the client perspective, they're critical success factors in risk avoidance."

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