Unified Communications refers to the combination of productivity, chat, meeting and calling technology into a single business solution. Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) denotes the delivery of such services via the cloud.
Regarded as one of the fastest-growing cloud software segments, UCaaS represents significant operational benefits for both cloud providers (MSPs, ISVs, VARs, etc.) and end-users, including scalability, cost-effectiveness and reliability. To be more specific, a well-rounded UCaaS solution is easy for organizations of all sizes to scale up and down based on user volume, is more affordable than purchasing subscriptions for a variety of different communications tools, and is more reliable than other communication solutions in that UCaaS is cloud-based and accessible across locations and devices.
Sherweb’s platform of choice to enable UCaaS for partners and end-clients is Microsoft Teams, where users can message one another, host and join meetings, work on documents in real-time and even make internal and external phone calls complete with rich features for interactive voice response (IVR, otherwise known as an auto-attendant). Previously, calling capabilities were only available via Teams for select Microsoft 365 and Office 365 plans. But with the introduction of the new Microsoft 365 Business Voice SKU, more SMB partners and customers can take advantage of powerful calling features to create a full-service communication and productivity suite.
Sherweb’s Product Manager of Voice Services and resident VoIP subject matter expert Jason Nadeau sat down with Cam Smith, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft Canada to talk about the new Microsoft Business Voice SKU, and how it connects with Sherweb’s own existing UCaaS solution. Read their interview below!*
*Please be advised that this interview has been edited for clarity and readability.
Want to get in on the UCaaS action? Learn more about offering unified communications with Sherweb.
The new SKU: Microsoft Business Voice
Jason: “So I heard there’s a new Microsoft SKU for voice.”
Cam: “That’s right, yeah. We’ve launched an SMB voice SKU in Canada. We know that about 98% of the market are small businesses within Canada. About 73% of those businesses have nine employees or less, and this creates a challenge for Canadian small businesses: how do they create scale but also create simplicity in the way that they’re communicating?
Cam: “Well this new SKU allows them to be able to have a variety of different enterprise-grade features out there to deliver amazing results to their customers regardless of which area of the business they’re in.”
Jason: “I’m really excited to hear about that because as you know, we have our own unified communication offering that ties in to Teams. But until recently, we could only work with E1 or E3 or E5 users. So now, you’re saying that it’s available for everybody?”
Cam: “Yeah—that’s the great part about this. In the past, there was a lot of complexity with a small business to be able to have a phone system, a place to be able to collaborate, to have voice communication and do meetings. The way in which this new SKU brings all of that together is it allows small businesses, with the help of great partners, to be able to have everything in one spot. With one bill, one system, all working together, and allow them to scale out the way in which they’re communicating with customers and operating their businesses.
Cam: “So tell me a little bit about Sherweb and what you guys are offering customers.”
Jason: “Well we take that and we brought in a team of voice experts to help the end-customers build and use those systems properly. There’s a lot of parts involved with a telephony system and a productivity system, right? So we come in (experts) to show [partners or end-customers] and teach them best practices. Helping them with [the] porting of their phone numbers and all those advanced configuration options where you could flat-out do it for customers or teach them how it’s done.”
Cam: “That’s really interesting because when it comes to this space and when it comes to customers looking for a simple solution, oftentimes it can get pretty complex. How do you port over phone numbers? What about your inter-office phone systems? How does that work with the way that you’re using your mobile phones in a digital age? And it sounds like some of the solutions that you offer create not just the services behind it, but the ability to create simplicity with it.”
Jason: “Exactly. We take what can be a complicated system and we simplify it. We teach people how it’s used in real life, I should say, so, people don’t need to know the advanced workings in the backend.”
Cam: “Yeah—the day-to-day operations of a small business can be a bakery with multiple different locations. And they have to look at shift scheduling and they have to be able to have an automated phone system that directs customers to the right area of the business.
“Or you can have manufacturing or retail. And a variety of these different businesses out there need to be able to have a customer call in, for example, from a voice perspective, and get the right answer and be connected to the right department of their business in order to be able to facilitate that customer’s needs.
“That’s some of the stuff the Voice SKU does as well. I think the infrastructure, and then how to run it on a day-to-day basis is something that Sherweb is doing a really great job helping out with.
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Jason: “I love Teams because it’s simple and it’s intuitive, and the same goes with the customers that are using it. Can you tell me a little bit more about your experience in regards to customers using Teams?
Cam: “Customers are loving Teams so far. It’s the fastest-growing application that Microsoft has ever released—we just hit 20 million monthly active users worldwide across it.
“There’s a few reasons why customers are really enjoying the experience. One is exactly to your point: it’s simple. You have your chat, you have teams and channels where you can work together with specific groups. You have a calling voice system that you can add on—as per the SKU that we talked about—and it creates this rich environment where customers are able to collaborate, communicate, host meetings and make phone calls across any platform out there.
“Teams works on any web browser. It’ll work on iOS or Android devices. It works on Windows 10, obviously, [and] it will work on a Mac as well. So there’s no limitations in the way in which customers want to use Teams, but it’s simplistic in how they use Teams with various features that it offers.
“A couple of cool things that you can do with Teams when it comes to the fun side of it, is you can have GIFs that you can put into a chat—so think of a dynamic chat of teams communicating together. Another really cool thing you can do is use the accessibility features that are built-in. Teams, very soon, is going to have the ability to have live AI translating what someone is saying so that you can see it in your native language.
“Within the chat feature, you’re also able to translate into over 60 different languages. Let’s say you’re a small customer within Canada, and you’re looking for a way to be able to scale globally. One of the ways in which you can do this, whether it’s opening a new store or a new area of the business in another country out there, is the translation services that Teams offers. You can have live translation on a call with an AI translating in real-time and doing live captions, or you can translate instantly any of the chat that you’re having with somebody, whether you’re having a meeting or having a call with the customer and telling them about your product or solution you’re offering them.
“It doesn’t just give you the ability to communicate with each other, it gives you the ability to communicate with your customers in a really dynamic and rich way.”
Jason: “[You can] communicate with the whole world at this point no matter the language.”
Cam: “Yeah, that’s exactly it. One of the things Canadian customers are looking for is the ability to not only scale across all of Canada, but to scale globally as well, especially living and working in a digital age.
“Teams allows you to do that. Not just the chat, and not just the channels and the teams that you create, but the way in which you can communicate across the globe. That’s a component of the Voice SKU as well. It gives the ability to have domestic and international calling plans, and it allows customers from anywhere in the world to contact, chat and call you as a customer as well.”
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