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“Cloud-first strategies are the foundation for staying relevant in a fast-paced world.” So says Gartner, who predicts that more than $1 trillion in IT spending over the next five years will be affected by the shift to the cloud. So what does this mean for one of the most fundamental components of business operations – the telephone system? Well, these are exciting times. As organisations increasingly recognise the cloud’s ability to drive operational gains, cloud-based telephony is gathering momentum. SMEs are moving their telephony infrastructure into the cloud and revolutionising their operational agility, customer analytics and contingency. The new infrastructure also gives them the flexibility to overlay transformative cloud-based services that would previously have only been available through their proprietary telephony provider. Sound good? It gets better. Because like every cloud, it’s got a silver lining: you don’t need to rip and replace your existing telephone system to enjoy the benefits.

Customer experience

First let’s deal with a common retort: “A telephone is a telephone. Why do I need cloud telephony?” It’s all about the customer experience.  It’s a widely-held view that customer experience is now the ‘new marketing’. In a multichannel world, how we interact with our customers across all touchpoints has a major influence on their willingness to conduct business with us. As technology continues to redefine customer expectations and set new benchmarks for customer service, digital innovation has reinvented the touchpoints where customers engage with brands. Such is the digital trajectory that it’s easy to draw a simple conclusion: the telephone is old money, right? Perhaps you should ask your customers.

There’s a reason why 96% of SMEs still regard a landline as a fundamental requirement. It’s because the telephone remains UK consumers’ preferred method of contact. Sure, we email, we text and we go on social media. But when we want an answer, we pick up the phone. What’s more, the service we receive when we make that call significantly informs our opinion of that business. That call, and how it’s handled, is the definition of customer experience. And it’s why call management isn’t just a part of your organisation – as far as your callers are concerned, it is your organisation.

Cloud telephony provides an opportunity to enhance customer interaction and drive operational productivity. Moreover, it can help maintain business continuity and support strategic decision-making with real-time insight. Crucially, in an environment that’s floating inexorably towards the cloud, cloud telephony gives organisations a platform to explore an increasing range of data services that can transform business functionality, unlock new revenue streams and improve customer experience.

Benefits of cloud telephony

The business benefits of cloud telephony are manifold. In the first instance, it removes the need for on-premise equipment, ongoing maintenance and regular hardware upgrades. But the advantages are as much about adding value as reducing costs. Cloud telephony allows companies to reimagine the contact centre environment, in particular adding mobility, flexibility and connectivity to historically restrictive telephone systems.

As the trend towards home-working grows, businesses are keen to ensure their infrastructure enables them to maintain visibility and connectivity with remote workers, wherever they are. Likewise, with companies often operating regional call centres across multiple locations, the importance of having a complete picture of call activity is paramount. However, the individual telephone systems that support regional call centres often operate in isolation or are run by different providers – thereby (ironically) clouding the situation. Cloud telephony brings everything together into a central system. This means that remote workers access the same system as those on-site – and, crucially, deliver a consistent customer experience.

Similarly, the centralised system enables regional teams to be joined together – with significant operational benefits. Local resources can, where necessary, be flexibly redeployed to support other regional campaigns that may need temporary reinforcement. The cloud enables agile and responsive decision-making. In addition, it can unlock value-added bolt-on services to enhance the customer interaction. These include intelligent call queuing to reduce abandonment, accurate re-routing to help handle peak call volumes and on-screen scripting to support inexperienced operators. For a belt-and-braces approach, call recording can help managers monitor customer engagement to determine training and development needs.

Centralised cloud-based systems also give management instant access to robust performance metrics – providing a holistic view of call activity across all contact centres, and generating real-time data to inform resourcing decisions, campaign strategies and performance management.

Finally, cloud telephony assures business continuity. Traditional approaches to telecoms resilience – typically ‘diverse routing’ via duplicate lines and alternative local exchanges – remain a hostage to fortune. The workman that digs the road up and inadvertently cuts through the cabling can easily disrupt both lines, meaning all services are lost. Service disruption can cost a fortune in lost revenues. In the emergency services it can cost lives. Cloud telephony short circuits the problem. Rather than relying on local exchanges, cloud systems typically use mobile communications as the alternative method for resilience – re-routing calls to agents’ mobiles to maintain a seamless service. When proprietary networks are down, Cloud is the only architecture that can do this.

Silver lining

It’s easy to see why cloud telephony is gathering pace as businesses seek the ‘cloud-first’ strategies that can ‘keep them relevant’ in the modern world. After all, what’s not to like about a technology that can transform business functionality and reduce operating costs? Its advance has, however, been held back by historic limitations in implementation which have, in turn, created a common misconception.

Traditionally, businesses have needed to go through their existing telephony provider to add the layer required to enable cloud services. This meant incurring additional cost, or replacing their legacy system with a cloud-based alternative. Unsurprisingly, organisations remain keen to squeeze every drop of value out of their existing system. However, there is a silver lining…

Innovative overlay technology means that companies no longer have to rely on third party telephony platforms to reap the benefits of the cloud. The technology works with organisations’ legacy infrastructure – whether that’s analogue, digital, IP or mobile – and can be scaled to suit any business’s needs. All you need is a telephone number – and you can redecorate your old analogue handset with state-of-the-art cloud functionality. The process is quick, simple and cost-effective – and it provides a platform to introduce additional high-value data services as and when they’re appropriate to your business.

If cloud-first strategies really are the foundation for staying relevant in a fast-paced world, cloud telephony can future-proof your business for the battle ahead. The silver lining is: you don’t need to rip everything up and start again to reap the rewards.

– Lee Bryant, Managing Director, Sesui

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