The Engagement of Unified Communications

"All for one and one for all!"

In addition to being the rallying cry of The Three Musketeers, that famous phrase is a pretty good illustration of the value of unified communications (UC), which integrates disparate technologies — such as voicemail, short message service (SMS) texts, and Internet Protocol–based telephone and call control — for the betterment of communications. And clearly there is much demand for this communications model: Industry-analysis firm IDC estimates that the UC market will reach $17 billion in worldwide revenue by 2011.

From a macro perspective, UC delivers important business advantages around simplified and seamless communications, the elimination of device- and media-format dependencies, a consistent look and feel, and reduced response times between communications. Meanwhile, at a micro level, an emerging subset of UC — called engagement communications (EC) — is transforming how businesses engage with their customers. EC integrates multiple modes of communications — such as voice messaging, SMS, and email — with the ability to deliver notifications and messages at a high level of personalization with massive scalability.

In fact, EC is turning the traditional message-notifications industry on its head with innovations such as multiformat and bidirectional messaging. Those two new capabilities are enabling businesses to develop customer engagement out of what was previously one-directional contact. "Touching" or contacting a consumer might inform — but it doesn't necessarily activate. Once you establish a two-way street with consumers — a.k.a. a dialogue — you have engagement. Create engagement points, and the path is opened up for activation.

Unlike UC, EC is not an "all for one and one for all" approach; rather it's a one-by-one and one-on-one approach — on a massive scale. The element of "human touch" within EC comes from a deep understanding of the demographic and behavioral aspects of human nature.

Human-Touch Elements

  • Format — Different communications have very different impacts and outcomes depending on the demographic. Sending an SMS bill-pay reminder to customers in their 40s, for example, is typically not an acceptable form of communication and would likely damage rather than enhance customer satisfaction. 
  • Voice — However, an automated voice call involving a nurturing female voice pleasantly suggesting a payment has been overlooked will have significantly better impact and positive response than an assertive request for payment by a male voice.
  • Timing — Meanwhile, the timing of engagement is critical. One recent survey of around 9,000 dentists revealed that 75 percent of appointment no-shows are Mondays and Fridays, that 50 percent of no-shows are between the ages of 15 and 24, and that men are the worst no-show offenders. The ability to proactively engage with men in the 15-24 age group via their preferred medium and in a style such as SMS texting delivers a powerful proactive means to limit no-shows and minimize the cost disadvantages associated with missed appointments.

Few companies have the technology resources to manage scalable, personalized, and automated two-way communications of phone, voice, email, and SMS communications. Typically, these companies will outsource to hosted EC companies that offer dedicated and secure Internet connectivity, CRM systems integration, the means to create messaging that conforms to industry-specific regulations (such as HIPAA), and the ability to deliver personalized and automated messages at a rate of hundreds to many thousands per minute.

The payback is compelling:

  • improved payment cycles,
  • reduced missed appointments,
  • greater revenue predictability,
  • better use of customer contact centers,
  • a reduction in overall cost of delivery, and
  • increased customer engagement and satisfaction.

While EC provides the means to anticipate and impact consumer behavior — just-in-time reminders, for example, can go out to members of a client list deemed to be high-risk no-show candidates. Meanwhile, another new stage of transformation is not far off. The massive shift from landline- and PC-based communications to smartphones, the growth of location-aware services, and our increasing adoption of social networking will see EC evolve to incorporate emerging technologies such as context-aware computing and communications.

Imagine a future in which a customer opts to make real-time information about her own location public and visible. Now imagine the ability to know that that customer is running behind schedule, and is going to be significantly late for an appointment — and the impact that a timely, context-aware message/reminder might have. Imagine a resort guest getting an SMS message as she strolls past the resort's on-site spa — a personalized message offering service discounts. Imagine, in the case of disaster, being able to alert thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, based on their location, and direct them to the closest shelter.

The notion of being able to engage customers one-by-one and one-on-one on a massive scale is becoming a reality, and is delivering transformative business and brand advantages across multiple industries.


About the Author
As president of TeleVox (www.televox.com), Scott Zimmerman (ScottZ@televox.com) believes the days of exchange-based relationships are long over. He puts a high value on individuals' thoughts and values, creating the space to speak to people's hearts and minds, engaging them in profound ways. Zimmerman believes that, in a service-oriented economy — and certainly service businesses — we cannot go beyond customer satisfaction to achieve customer delight if we can't engage people in this way. Zimmerman leads all aspects of TeleVox operations, including client operations, sales, product management, marketing, and technology and information services.


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