By Ari Rabban, CEO and Co-Founder, Phone.com
For small businesses, part of the appeal of cloud-based IT and communications services is that they provide access to technologies they otherwise couldn’t afford. That access helps level the playing field because small businesses now are better able to provide service and support on par with large enterprises.
Here are five examples of cloud technologies that are bridging the digital divide to give small businesses a large enterprise cachet...
· Customer interaction analytics. Many small businesses already understand how Google Analytics gives them deep, actionable insights into the people who visit their Web site. Hosted services provide comparable analytics about callers by tapping resources such as demographic databases and social networks for as little as $2 per month for basic information.
· Call recording and transcription. The customer is always right – until he or she isn’t. Unfortunately, businesses often wind up eating a customer’s mistake. Hosted call recording and transcription services provide a convenient, cost-effective way to verify what your employees and customers discussed. Besides facilitating dispute resolution, these services also free employees from detailed note taking, enabling them to focus better on customers’ needs, upsell opportunities that arise during calls and other revenue-generating tasks.
· Geographically independent phone numbers. This new breed of global numbers eliminates the link between phone numbers and place. As a result, small businesses now can get numbers that stay with them as they move or expand to other cities, countries or continents. That makes it easier for longtime customers to continue doing business with them.
Global numbers also eliminate the cost and complexity of working with local telcos in every place where you have an office, so they’re ideal for small businesses that have many or only SOHO employees. Finally, customers can call global numbers for the cost of a local call even when the business is on the other side of the world. In that sense, they’re like toll-free numbers, but on a global scale. That’s particularly valuable for targeting price-sensitive demographics.
· Cloud IVR services such as auto attendant and call steering. These services create a professional appearance because prospective and existing customers don’t have to wait for several rings only to hear, “Can you hold, please?” because the front-line people answering are perpetually swamped. Instead, the IVR fields calls and routes them to the appropriate department or person, including that person’s mobile number. By getting routed immediately and directly to the right resource, customers also are spared the annoyance of having to repeat their inquiry: first to the person fielding all calls and again to the person who can actually help. Small businesses also benefit from lower overhead because fewer people are required to field calls, freeing that staff to focus on other tasks.
· Mobile apps and Web sites. Although more than 60 percent of the population in countries such as the U.S. now have a smartphone, many businesses – large and small – still don’t have an app or even a mobile-friendly website. That oversight means small businesses can use mobile apps, websites or both as powerful market differentiators.
The cloud enables them to take this strategy to another level. For example, hosted speech-recognition platforms reduce the cost, risk and lead time of adding voice control to mobile apps. That can be attractive to customers who don’t want to type in information or navigate menus, such as when they’re driving. Another example is hosted IVR services that can be extended to mobile apps.
Finally, one overarching benefit of these cloud services is scalability. As your business grows – maybe into a medium or large business – they grow with it more gracefully and cost-effectively than having to rip and replace premise-based solutions as they max out.
Ari Rabban is an IP communications industry veteran, with specific expertise in the start-up environment, moving companies from concept to operation. He joins Phone.com from Pulver Ventures, an incubator for new IT companies, where he served as managing director and vice president. Previously, Ari served as vice president of corporate development and marketing for VocalTec Communications, the VoIP market pioneer and developer of the first Internet phone.