While the Return on Investment (ROI) debate for Unified Communications (UC) continues to focus on cost savings, a recent University of London study has made me wonder whether organisations should be looking at the added-value delivered by UC deployments in a slightly wider context?

The study proved conclusively that headsets can produce dramatic productivity gains over handsets for customer-facing employees in the UC environment. But, it also highlighted some key ways in which UC can impact ‘softer’ but equally vital areas such as customer satisfaction and employee empowerment as well as mobile working.

As Newport City Homes, the subject of the aforementioned study, discovered UC provides an opportunity to transform the work environment, creating new ways of working that bring rewards for both employees and customers. Below, I have summarised the five key learnings from the study for anyone wanting to make the most of their UC deployment:

  1.  Providing multi-tasking tools brings dramatic productivity gains

The study was designed to find out just how much headsets impacted productivity in a UC environment, so we were not entirely surprised to discover that the ability to multi-task would bring time and efficiency savings. However, it is fair to say that even my team was impressed with the staggering statistics the study produced.

When handsets were replaced with UC-optimised headsets, the study found that typical call length dropped by up to 50%, the overall time to handle a customer call (call length and wrap-up combined) fell by 33% and users who typically made 20 calls a day realised up to two hours of productivity savings.

These figures would be pretty hard to ignore in the context of any UC ROI debate, showing the importance of providing the right multi-tasking tools for the job. If further proof were needed, the study found that while traditional handsets actually inhibited the ability of participants to multi-task during calls, 92% of participants found it easier to multi-task while wearing a headset.

  1.  Making collaboration easier increases workforce cohesion

While productivity statistics are hard to argue with, it is not quite so easy to measure the value of the real-time communications and collaboration features which UC brings; how do you quantify the benefits of presence, or the ability to IM a colleague during a call, especially when these features have not been used before?

The study discovered that headset wearers would be more likely to refer to a colleague by IM to resolve a customer enquiry; and, because of presence, workers in the field and their office-bound colleagues were able to collaborate much more effectively than previously:

“The difference that new technology makes to our organisation is that it makes you feel as if you’re all sitting in the same room. There’s a sort of cohesiveness bringing us all together.”

A surprising number of participants also commented that the combination of UC and their headsets directly increased their ability to be productive when away from the office working environment, maybe due to the fact that 94.8% of participants found it easy or very easy to switch between different UC functions during calls, compared to just 42.5% with handsets.

“Work is what I do, not where I am”

  1.  Customer satisfaction should be a key driver 

If you want to measure the full return on your UC investment in service environment, remember that improving the quality of customer interactions can be as important as the reduction in call length and wrap up time. Of course productivity gains will help meet call centre KPIs, but it is arguably just as vital to find out whether customer satisfaction – and sales – are increasing.

The study strongly suggests that the customer experience is significantly improved when staff are empowered by real-time communications tools and the enhanced sound quality delivered by UC-optimised headsets, with 81% of users agreeing using headsets leads to better customer relationships than using handsets.

  1.  Better sound quality leads to better customer relationships

The improved sound quality afforded by UC is often overlooked, but it certainly shouldn’t be, as any investment made in UC technologies will be compromised by a poor investment in the end user audio device.

While traditional telephony is transmitted in the narrowband frequency, IP telephony offers full wideband audio capabilities of up to 6,800KHZ for optimum call clarity. And it was clear from the study that headsets fully-optimised for the UC environment are essential; 84% of users said they could hear callers far more clearly using a headset and 81% could be heard more clearly.

The study also highlighted the value of improved sound quality: 81% of staff in the study agreed that the sound quality of the new headset leads to better customer relationships than the sound of their old handset.

  1.  User empowerment is key to UC success

Perhaps the key learning for anyone considering a UC deployment is that user empowerment is key to success; UC is all about enabling to take control of their communication environment, so it makes sense to give them everything they need to be effective. It should not come as a surprise then that a large proportion of participants in the study wanted more training on UC functionality, in the form of regular digestible follow-up sessions after initial training.

The study also confirmed that hands-free communication is a key requirement to realise the full benefits of UC, best illustrated by the fact that 95% of participants said they were satisfied with their headset compared to just 54% who were satisfied with their previous handset.

Anyone wanting to equip their workforce for UC success, should remember that – with a wide range of UC-optimised headsets to use from – choosing the right model for the right worker in the right environment is vital.

A growing number of organisations are adopting UC but as the study suggests, a reliance on measuring ROI based on cost reduction alone could mean organisations overlook some of the less tangible, but arguably equally valuable benefits of their UC deployment.

By carefully considering these five ways to define the value of UC, organisations can dramatically alter the ethos of communication, while delivering real value to their employees, customers and bottom line.