The Next Phase: Linking UC with Business Applications

By Charles Studt | Jun 1, 2010 | Print this Page
http://www.enterprisenetworkingplanet.com/unified_communications/next-phase-linking-uc-business-applications
In 2009, many organizations deployed unified communications to reduce operational costs as part of the mandate to “do more with less” during the recession.

Additionally, the same cost-cutting frenzy spurred businesses to combine UC with SIP trunking to reduce telecommunications expenses.

With this as a backdrop, UC deployments allowed businesses to eliminate some individual offices and cut real estate costs. In turn, businesses supported remote employees with soft phones, IM and other presence-based tools to help them work as effectively as if they were still with their colleagues in an actual office building.

New priorities are emerging as the new decade begins. After a year of relentless cost-reduction, businesses have nowhere left to cut without inflicting serious damage to operations. As a result, the focus has shifted from survival to driving top-line revenue growth as survivors from the global recession focus on the battle for market share.

Consequently, marketing and sales teams face increasing pressure to generate more quality leads to support increased sales and revenues. UC vendors, service providers and their partners are now seeing renewed demand for tools and applications that improve lead-generation and help convert those leads into revenue-generating sales.

In addition to improving employee communications and collaboration, businesses need new applications that help marketers and sales professionals respect customer preferences, enhance customer connections and make it easier to improve lead conversion. Intertwined with this trend is a demand to measure marketing campaigns more effectively and more closely align budgets with resulting revenues.

These emerging demands are creating opportunities for a new generation of unified and integrated communications that extend beyond current UC voice, IM and presence applications. In fact, UC applications are converging with other business and Web applications to create a new range of capabilities for connecting with customers and prospects to increase leads, deliver new sales and foster customer loyalty.

IP-based voice, delivered through hosted SIP trunking connections, translates into a host of new possibilities that can be joined with UC systems and business applications, delivering continuous measurable results. Market research supports this enhanced role for next-generation voice technologies. A report from the Kelsey Group shows that leads delivered as voice calls are 15 times more likely to generate revenue than traditional click-through leads.

Businesses can take advantage of this research by deploying click-to-call buttons throughout their Web sites to allow prospective customers to instantly connect with an inside sales associate to ask questions about products, services and even complete a sale at the point of inquiry. It's a far more powerful alternative to asking prospects to fill out forms or even click to connect via instant message. Instant voice connections with sales professionals make the business more human and approachable, an advantage that can result in higher sales conversions and revenue.

Online retail businesses can take this concept a step further, providing click-to-call buttons throughout their e-commerce site to provide the option of speaking with a virtual sales clerk while browsing through the products. The added human touch provides opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell customers while building loyalty through superior customer service.

This level of customer engagement requires the seamless integration of the Web site, the SIP voice connection and the sales team on the corporate UC system. Fortunately, the tools, development platforms and hosted SIP peering networks are increasingly available to deploy this level of integration.

The main components for pulling all of these elements together include application programming interfaces (APIs) that adhere to Web standards, such as Representational State Transfer (REST), the protocol that serves as the foundation for most of the Web. A number of SIP trunking service providers offer a development platform that includes RESTful APIs for combining voice, UC systems and business and Web applications.

As hosted SIP trunking networks gain more traction, some wholesale carriers are also able to track user preferences. These preferences are vital information for multi-channel marketers who may be initiating campaigns that do not take people's communications preferences into account. In fact, a survey from Forrester Research found that while more than 85 percent of all marketers are executing multichannel campaigns, only 37 percent know what channels their customers prefer to use.

To address this issue, marketers need a way to combine CRM applications with available customer preference information and incorporate that information into their outbound communications.? This may also require additional integration with their UC system. Similar to other voice applications, this level of integration requires the availability of standards based APIs to ensure all of the appropriate elements work together as a seamless marketing application.

While standards-based APIs are vital for delivering this new level of convergence, businesses and solution providers need to also make sure their preferred SIP trunking provider is certified by the appropriate UC system vendor. That due diligence is critical to reduce the time needed for developing and deploying new voice applications and functionality, while also ensuring the resulting voice connections will deliver the required performance, call quality and reliability.

By ensuring this new level of convergence delivers high-quality, dependable voice connections, businesses can enter the next phase in UC's evolution and benefit from the resulting surge of leads and top-line revenues.