By Scott Stone
Voice mail is one of the most significant communication technologies of the past decade. It enables people to access messages from virtually any location where a telephone is present. However, this produced somewhat of a dilemma: consider the amount of time it takes to retrieve these voice mail messages, in addition to email documents, faxes, and instant messages – let alone analyzing the content and responding. There is clearly a need for a solution that consolidates all of this information so that it can be managed more efficiently and effectively.
Unified messaging builds on the proven functionality and value of voice mail by integrating it with other messaging channels to include email and fax in a single mail box that offers expanded message and contact management capabilities. By implementing a unified messaging solution, users have the ability to access, manage, and reply to all messages from a PC, touch-tone telephone (wire-line or wireless), or PDA virtually anywhere in the world.
Unified messaging has proven to be a powerful tool in helping workers organize and manage not only voice mail but also other non-real time communications such as email and fax. Unified messaging is an outgrowth of the success of voice mail, which continues to enjoy a must-have status in today’s business environment. As companies’ needs evolve and change, unified messaging will become a critical and ubiquitous business tool, just as voice mail is today.
Make The Case To Unify: Workers can spend up to fifty-eight percent of their workday (approximately four hours) away from their desks. Being out of touch half their workday can mean risking relationships that are increasingly essential in today’s customer-centric economy.
To remain competitive, an enterprise must constantly improve its communication abilities by enhancing contact tools for its workforce, customers, and partners. Efficient communication drives customer responsiveness and advances employee productivity. This results in increased satisfaction, retention, and loyalty for both customers and employees.
Use Accessibility To Increase Productivity: Unified messaging enables the receiver to react to any message, at any time, regardless of the format in which it was sent. For example workers can:
- Access and manage all messages using a PC, telephone, PDA, or Web browser.
- Listen to email messages over the phone via text-to-speech conversion and reply instantly.
- Send and receive fax messages with a PC.
- Generate voice mail messages as email attachments that can be sent to anyone with an Internet address.
- Reply in the “medium” of choice, allowing users to use the application and device which is most convenient.
- Work with compound messages, such as forwarding an email or fax message with a voice introduction, or embedding voice messages into emails.
Unified communication enables organizations to operate more efficiently no matter where users access the system – the office, remote locations, or mobile.
Choose A Solution Today: One of the key strategies for implementing a cost-effective unified communication system is interoperability. A good unified communication platform should integrate easily into one’s existing infrastructure. For example, businesses that have made significant investments in their voice messaging technology should identify a solution that can support it.
The right solution will provide scalable, open systems architecture capable of supporting present and future communication applications. Whether a company is using a PBX style or IP-based communications infrastructure, a good unified communication solution should be capable of extending an organization’s reach and providing a new set of tools designed to positively impact the bottom line. When evaluating different solutions, look for ones that offer a full range of options.
Reap Positive Returns: Unified communication’s potential return on investment lies in its ability to support revenue growth and market leadership. For example, if company “A” does not respond to inquiries fast enough, the customer is a mouse click or phone call away from doing business with company “B.” Therefore, handled separately, unanswered voice mail, email, and fax messages present a liability. What good is a cell phone to a company representative on the road when an urgent email arrives from a high-priority client? However, using a unified communication solutions, the same company representative can listen to that message using a cell phone and respond to it immediately anytime, anywhere.
This type of best-in-class service makes a strong impression not only to customers, but on the bottom line. Businesses know that it costs five to seven times more to get a former customer back than it does to maintain an existing customer relationship. Customers who receive timely responses are more likely to remain loyal, purchasing more and generating business in the future. A good unified messaging solution can save thirty minutes of productive time per day, per employee. Based on a typical work day, this is an efficiency gain of about five percent.
Is unified messaging the end of voice mail? No; it is just the beginning. Unified messaging is a pliable technology with lasting power that can provide a building block for future unified communication capabilities. Unified communication will help make our lives easier, more mobile and efficient, and when the right solution is implemented, it can be done with minimal risks and entry expense. In short, unified messaging will drive responsiveness, competitive advantage, and productivity.
Scott Stone is Vice President of Solutions Management at Avaya, a leading global provider of voice and data networks as well as communications solutions and services. Avaya is a worldwide leader in unified messaging and messaging systems.
[From Connection Magazine – March 2002]