What’s the main reason SMBs are moving to cloud-based business services? It’s faster, easier, and *cheaper – i.e., frictionless cloud sales and service.
Let’s roll back about 10 years ago. The only option for business communication services was to call up your incumbent service provider or possibly a CLEC. Your provider of choice would have to come out to your physical location to do an evaluation, and possibly run a physical line from their facility to yours. This was typically a 6 to 8 week process. Then there was the delivery and install of the physical equipment that could include phones, a PBX or a key system.
But wait! It gets even better. Whoever provided you the equipment was the only one who could make changes, even something as simple as adding or deleting an employee. And you had to pay them every time they did this. The whole arrangement was pretty much the opposite of user-friendly frictionless cloud sales and service.
Fast forward to today’s cloud-based CSPs.
Let’s break this into two simple categories – “OTTs” and “Incumbents.”
VoIP providers such as 8×8, RingCentral and Vonage – and more recently, Switch.co and Google for Business – are often referred to as “OTT” providers. They offer subscription-based cloud communication services over the Internet, typically bundled in cost-effective packages that are super easy to purchase, deploy and manage. The end goal is most definitely to provide frictionless cloud sales and services to the masses.
As an example, using a properly designed self-care web portal, a non-technical buyer can quickly choose, purchase and turn on services using a credit card. The company administrator can make moves, adds and changes in real-time, from home or the coffee shop on a connected device. And the end user can easily manage their own services, even from their smartphone.
Think of other enterprise services. Salesforce, Jive, Box, Dropbox. Frictionless!
Mind you, when it comes to cloud communications there is a caveat. The above model does not work for everybody. Why? Because many companies have invested big dollars in existing PSTN infrastructure and services that they still want/need to use. Secondly, larger enterprises often want sophisticated services that may require some level of integration, typically not offered by the OTT’s.
There are many businesses out there that want to leverage their existing phone systems AND take advantage of new cloud-based Unified Communication (UC) services, such as video, messaging, collaboration and more.
Enter the big guys. This is my category two – the incumbent service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and other global providers. They are uniquely qualified to take advantage of both old and new infrastructure, and have the capability to provide seamless integration between the two. They are actually in a great position to offer legacy, contemporary and next-gen services in a single bundle, if they so choose, as well as other creative packages.
However, not all of them have caught on to the “let’s make it super easy to order and manage” piece.
Moving to Frictionless Cloud Sales and Service.
Today’s buyers are used to the easy, DIY on-line purchase model offered by mobile and cloud services. The procurement process for business communications needs to be much the same, where it makes sense – which is often in the SMB segment.
A non-technical buyer should be able to register, log in and easily choose and purchase their services with just 3 or 4 steps and a credit card. The company administrator should be able to log in to make simple moves, adds and changes. The end user should be able to intuitively manage their own services, such as notifications, voicemail, and other personalization features.
All of this requires a properly designed “self-care” portal that enables the customer to purchase, manage and use communication services with minimal involvement from the provider. Using access control privileges, buyers, administrators and end users can all be presented with the appropriate interface to perform their respective functions, with a common look and feel throughout.
It should go without saying that the most critical part of all this is the user experience from start to finish. Without a compelling and intuitive user interface, the service will be dead before it even starts. But if done right – welcome to the lucrative world of frictionless cloud sales and service!
Holly Dowden, VP of Marketing, mPortal
*Cheaper. This is hotly debated, but as a minimum I’m referring to op-ex vs. cap-ex.
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