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How unified communications is providing continuity and comfort during the coronavirus pandemic

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Ruslan Satsuik)

Remote working has been, until very recently, the exception rather than the rule. With the development of the current public health crisis, declared a pandemic by the World Heath Organisation, this has all been flipped on its head. Millions are suddenly coming to terms with a different way of working, using communications interfaces that can do more than just help them make audio calls with colleagues and customers.

Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) may be new to some, but is already familiar to lots of organisations. The good news is that adoption is fast and intuitive. And now that the UCC genie is out of the bottle, many more people are going to stick by its benefits – long after this terrible outbreak is in the past.

In a nutshell, UCC is the ability to communicate from any place, on any device, at any time – via voice and video calling, messaging, and virtual meeting rooms. Rather than being an adjunct to everyday business processes, it can be integrated with key applications and workflows.

Here are three examples of how UCC is used to support critical activities during these unprecedented times:

The contact centre that nobody commutes to

A physical contact centre with staff on premises cannot operate the same way during a pandemic. UC technology means they can all work from home with no disruption to the customer experience.

- Queuing of inbound and outbound calls and engagements happens in exactly the same way

- Agents can use their own smartphones/laptops, with callers seeing the company ID presented.

- Access to CRM and knowledge management systems is the same, including CTI prompts

- Routing of enquiries within the virtual contact centre is simple, and agents can visualise which colleagues are available and what expertise they have

- Where appropriate, agents can optimise their engagements with customers by sharing screens and launching video sessions  

- Supervisors can track live metrics in the usual way, with access to granular reports

Many organisations have switched to this approach as part of activating business continuity plans. But lots were already doing this prior to COVID-19. Why? For one, staff churn is an ongoing concern across the contact centre industry, so offering flexible working arrangements is a good way to keep agents happy and motivated. It also means lower facilities costs because there is no need for office space. Finally, it’s good for the environment – no commuting means significantly lower carbon emissions.

The classroom where no students line up outside

Schools have closed and teachers are falling back on issuing assignments via VLE (virtual learning environment) platforms and other applications. But while these work well to keep track of student needs between physical classes, they typically only support email and messaging communications.

UCC makes it easier for teachers to teach on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis, allowing screen-sharing and supporting video. It makes them easier for students to access too, via presence. The teacher is always in control during virtual class-time, and can mute unruly participants and respond to students who note questions or virtually raise their hands. Screen-sharing enables teachers to show and tell, and for students to check work.

 Again, long before COVID-19, these UCC capabilities were already in use in remote communities where lack of physical access to the classroom would have otherwise restricted students’ learning.

The virtual consulting room where patients are treated at a safe distance

The use of UCC in medical settings is far more sophisticated than simply launching a 2-way video chat. Integration with electronic patient records, prescriptions, on-call scheduling and even medical device data and alerts ensures that medical professionals are equipped to make virtual consultations as effective as physical ones. UCC also enables this via mobile devices, increasing the availability of medical staff to provide crucial interventions earlier and assign precious physical emergency resources when necessary. 

For those of us who’ve been in the UCC industry since the start, we could never have imagined that the catalyst for such a surge of demand in the technology would be a global virus pandemic. The commercial benefits of UCC are well documented, but these seem to pale into insignificance compared to how vital it is proving to the fabric of society as well as the continuity of businesses.

Todd Carothers is Chief Revenue Officer at CounterPath