Fully addressing end customers’ unified communications (UC) needs can be tricky business for partners.
In the second of our three-part series, “UCaaS/Hosted Telephony Spotlight,” we look at 10 issues partners need to keep in mind to ensure their customers are fully satisfied with their UC, UCaaS and contact center solutions. They range from knowing exactly where a customer’s data resides, to providing services like billing without mistakes.
Sandler Partners’ Eric Beller
Changing customer preferences are impacting the need for quality of service (QoS), said Eric Beller, Sandler Partners‘ senior vice president of sales and complex solutions.
“Workforces are more mobile than they used to be and that is changing the game,” he said. “Mobility is one of the biggest drivers for PBXs going by the wayside, that along with slow pace or lack of feature development. There’s so much more competition now than ever before and that has made it very hard for the premises-based vendors to keep up.”
The fact that many of the premises-based vendors have gone bankrupt or don’t exist also has changed the game for clients, Beller said.
“I’m seeing lots of movement away from premises-based to cloud-based PBXs for larger customers of 200-plus seats,” he said. “The pricing is crazy competitive for those customers to move to the cloud. Contact center also is a big driver for cloud-based systems. Customer service departments are now using chat, email, [text] and social media to interact and service clients. CRMs are tied into the communication system to improve support. This is why so many companies are moving to CCaaS.”
Jon Arnold, principal analyst at J Arnold & Associates, said QoS in voice communications is always a high expectation, including uptime and a quality experience with little or no interference or degradation.
Arnold & Associates’ Jon Arnold
“Expectations are higher in the sense that as companies use these technologies to become more customer facing, they need to make sure that that voice quality isn’t compromised,” he said. “If you’re thinking of UC strictly for internal purposes, it’s not so important, but if you are a company that is trying to become more customer-centric where touch points with the customer aren’t restricted to the contact center, and your sales departments and marketing teams may all have reasons to communicate externally with end customers, that’s where those expectations get a little higher and that quality of service is important.”
It’s also an issue for businesses that are becoming more distributed, with operations across different geographies, and telephony partners that provide the dial tone and the actual VoIP service may have to partner with three or four carriers to provide a truly global service, Arnold said.
“And another part of that QoS is that we’re relying more and more on our mobile phones … and cellphone quality has never been good and I don’t think it’s ever going to be as good as landline,” he said. “And because we’re relying more on mobile phones, there might be an unrealistic expectation that that quality should be the same, and maybe that will come with 5G. So it’s going to be harder to maintain expectations that you had before with landline phones.”
Rick Beckers, CEO of XaaS1, said it’s important to offer reliable service uptime with QoS considerations that are built in and can be diagnosed by the partner via a performance console.
“This lets the partner see and diagnose things on behalf of their customers as a component of their own help desk,” he said. “[An] out-of-the-box solution should be reliable. And in those instances where there are issues, let a partner see behind the curtain to try to isolate and diagnose the problem without always having to rely upon the vendor to fix the problem in a vacuum. It creates a higher level of confidence for the partner and the customer.”
Telarus’ Andrew Griffiths
Andrew Griffiths, Telarus‘ vice president of CC/UC business development, said it’s always a good idea to take a tour of the site and ask people about their jobs.
“Most businesses don’t realize they have CCaaS type needs even though they actually have multiple informal contact centers,” he said. “Ask about remote workers and check for other locations on their website, making sure all user groups are covered.”
Scroll through our list of 10 UC issues. Then, check out part one on game-changing innovations, and part two on sales does and don’ts.
Lack of Full Understanding
One potential issue for partners is not having a full understanding of a particular vendor’s offering and its suitability for the end customer, Arnold said.
"For channels that are reselling Cisco
, Microsoft, etc., there are pretty rigorous certifications that they need to resell those products and that often narrows down the field for who can actually be qualified to resell those offerings," he said. "But certainly when you start looking at the smaller players, the tier 2 and tier 3 UC-collaboration players, I would think that their certification programs either aren’t as rigorous as you would have with a tier 1 vendor or they may not have much at all. So I think there’s always scenarios where they could be putting something into the market that they really aren’t fully versed in. I don’t think it’s a big problem, but it’s a potential problem."
If partners are hungry and sales-driven, they’ll be very good at getting the UC
business and closing the deal, but when it comes to implementing, especially in more complex environments, there’s always a possibility that their capabilities won’t be up to speed and it may take longer to deploy, Arnold said. There might be some problems or integrations that don’t work well despite promises to the contrary, so there are always those scenarios, he said.
Questions with Lesser-Known Products
Lesser-known offerings might be attractive for the channel because they may get better margins, but the product itself isn’t as proven, so partners could run into some issues selling something that may not be reliable or could include issues with data center support, Arnold said.
"There's also potentially not knowing enough about where the data resides, and for some customers that really matters when it comes to things like data sovereignty and data security," he said. "The partner may be selling a solution, but may not fully understand where all that data physically resides because, again, you’re getting it third or fourth hand and you’re so far removed from the source so it’s very difficult to ascertain that."
The new features that are becoming standard in UC software, such as video conferencing
, are going to impact bandwidth consumption, Beckers said.
"The features being standard and the customers' perception that they are always usable creates a problem for the partner and the customer in low-bandwidth areas," he said. "There are still bandwidth challenges all throughout the country that have to be addressed. Internet infrastructure has to be improved as there still are some completely unserved areas and many underserved areas. These areas are not going to be able to consume UC because their bandwidth won’t support it. We have that challenge in West Virginia where one of our offices is. Our office is fine, but we have to be very careful when working with, and communicating with, customers. We have to set expectations that these features are based on the bandwidth available and they may not be able to get enough to use them. Bandwidth consumption and control via QoS is essential in my opinion for every installation of UC."
A lot of times, partners will offer a turnkey UC solution where they manage all of the billing, so they take care of the carrier relationships, and that could be another area where their practices aren’t very accurate, Arnold said.
"They miss a lot of things and make errors, and that can also be an area where they could fall down," he said. "When they’re selling the offering, that capability may sound very attractive to an end business, but if they’re not really that good at it and they just don’t have enough resources to do it right, that can be problematic."
Many sales partners don’t fully understand the difference between features that are must-haves versus nice-to-haves, Beller said.
"This is especially true if the customer has a PBX
today," he said. "It’s key to understand how that functions today and make sure the new solution can provide similar functionality or, alternatively, identify the gaps that the new solution can’t fill. Understanding requirements is key."
Providers are falling short on the collaboration front, said Nicole Folino, Sandler Partners' regional vice president.
"There are a lot of customers that want to keep their Cisco Webex
meetings in place, but integrate it with a RingCentral or Vonage service, for example," she said. "However, most providers include their own collaboration tool with each UCaaS license so customers cannot optimize costs if they don’t want to use the tool. Some of my bigger clients are married to Webex and having to transition away has prevented them from moving their PBX to the cloud."
UC providers often overpromise and underdeliver, Beller said. Clearly setting out next steps and timelines sounds simple, but has emerged as a major challenge for some UC providers, he said.
"Partners can serve UC
customers better by asking good questions, really digging into what they’re trying to accomplish and aligning or mapping goals back to how the solutions address both challenges and goals," he said. "Partners also should make sure they address customers’ current issues, but also their wish list to future-proof and modernize their communications."
Contact Center Issues
From a contact center perspective, providers still are falling short of being able to provide a workforce management (WFM) solution that is fully integrated into their stack without the use of a third party, Folino said. WFM is a large opportunity in which only a few do not have to outsource to either NICE inContact
, Calabrio or Verint
, she said.
"A similar scenario exists with predictive dialers," she said. "The finance industry still uses this technology quite a bit in their collections departments and NICE inContact is the only provider I know of that can offer a true predictive dialer. Other carriers have progressive dialing, etc., but not true predictive dialing that is compliant with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)."
Not Enough Flexibility
One issue plaguing providers is the lack of ability or willingness to start with a subset of functionality to solve the pressing business issue with a midterm plan to roll out the rest of the UCaaS
suite, Griffiths said. This is more relevant in 500-plus seat deployments, he said.
"Solve the need for (sometimes complex) post-sale information from the customer," he said. "This is the biggest cause of post-sale friction, frustration and associated delays. Maybe there is a technical solution, maybe clearer communication is needed, ideally both."