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What is cloud technology? It’s a seamless way of managing your data, without all the hardware.

You’ve probably heard about the cloud. As noted by Small Business Trends, 93 percent of organizations are currently using cloud services, and 80 percent are following a cloud-first strategy. The solution offers huge potential to streamline SMB practices and drive ROI, but it also comes with huge hype that makes it hard to sort out what should be a simple question: What is cloud technology?

For SMB owners with limited time and interest in becoming IT experts, it’s easy to take a pass on the specifics and avoid the cloud altogether. The problem? Staying competitive means embracing tech that takes your business to the next level. Here’s what you need to know about the cloud — without all the hype:

The Cloud, Uncomplicated

So, what is the cloud, exactly? US-CERT suggests thinking of it like email. Your basic email provider handles the sending, receiving, and storage of your messages offsite. You don’t need servers and IT professionals to manage your email account; you simply use the service. The cloud works the same way. You rent space in a public or private cloud and use it to run whatever applications and services you need. Public means you’re sharing the space with other virtual tenants but pay less overall; private offers your own space at a higher cost. Many SMBs leverage the cloud for accounting and payroll software, e-commerce portals, or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems that let them record calls, implement voice recognition systems, and seamlessly connect with customers and employees around the world.

What You Need to Know

Let’s say you make the jump to the cloud. What do you need to know about using this technology? First up, it’s seamless. You log in and use applications as if they’re stored on local computers. The difference? Data is automatically saved and backed up in the cloud, meaning that if you experience a local server failure, your files and records aren’t gone forever.

It’s also worth understanding cloud price structure. Typically, you’ll pay a monthly fee for specific services — in the case of cloud-based VoIP, this could be paperless faxing, call recording, and mobile integration — and you’ll often have the ability to access more resources on-demand. This feature comes with a commensurate uptick in price but lets you handle sudden traffic spikes to your website or accommodate new business growth. You also need to familiarize yourself with cloud features specific to your deployment, such as how you start and stop call recordings, how you play them back, and how you delete them when they’re no longer needed.

Big Benefits

Sure, some cloud benefits may be more hype than helpful for you, but opting for the cloud offers solid advantages for SMBs, including the following:

  • Virtual Management: All servers are offsite, meaning there’s no need to install or configure complicated hardware.
  • Seamless Upgrades: Software upgrades and performance updates are all handled automatically.
  • Easy Support: Troubleshooting can be handled over the phone or via email, since all physical hardware is at the provider end.
  • Lower Costs: In the case of cloud-based VoIP, for example, you don’t need to install or upgrade any phones or systems onsite, often making the cloud cheaper than in-house alternatives.

What is cloud technology? For SMB owners, it’s a way to get more, pay less, and not worry about the technical complications of having new hardware onsite. You don’t need to become an expert to reap the benefits. Find a provider you trust, negotiate a solid SLA, and start leveraging the cloud to enhance the reach and ROI of your small business.

Considering a move to the cloud? Contact Vonage Business today and get started!

About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies.

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Is your business providing a comprehensive omnichannel retail experience?

In today’s multiscreen, multitasking world, consumers are continually bouncing from one communications channel to the next, whether they are using text messaging, chat apps, email or making a phone call. And, they expect brands to keep up by providing consistent messaging and a seamless customer experience. When done right, an omnichannel retail strategy enables brands to engage and convert consumers, wherever they are, how ever they chose, and on whatever device they’re using. Done wrong, it can be downright annoying.

For example, imagine you walk into a department store and a customer service rep greets you, saying, “Welcome to our store! Can I help you find anything?” You explain that you’re looking to buy a winter coat, and she helps you find exactly the style, size, and color you wanted, even suggesting a few matching scarves. So far, so good.

As you’re walking toward the checkout line, however, the same rep approaches you. Oh, good, you think. She must have found another scarf. Nope! She smiles at you blankly and says, “Welcome to our store! Can I help you find anything?” She clearly doesn’t recognize you, which stings a little. You really thought you were more memorable than that. But you hold up the coat and tell her you’re all set.

You check out and head for the door, where you’re met with the same canned welcome from the same rep. Now you’re kind of frustrated, right? Without the right infrastructure in place, that’s essentially how brands treat omnichannel retail shoppers.

Consistency Is Key

It’s not enough just to be visible via different channels. To deliver a consistent brand experience, retailers must be able to sync customer data from all channels — including in-store loyalty programs, e-commerce, mobile apps, email marketing, and social media.

When channels are siloed and disconnected, companies don’t have a clear picture of who individual customers are, what they’ve purchased in the past, what they want now, or how they want to buy. Without the ability to see all the data at once, brand messaging on each channel is inconsistent and impersonal. In other words, it’s content no one really wants.

Think about your own inbox. It’s always full of marketing messages about products you’d never purchase — even from brands you’ve done business with in the past, brands that should know better by now what you’re actually interested in buying. So it’s no wonder that consumers check email with one finger hovered over the delete button, uninstall apps that annoy them with unwanted notifications, and tune out or fast-forward through commercials.

Brands that want to cut through the noise must do more than reach out: They must build relationships. And to do that, they must provide a consistent, personalized customer experience.

3 Ways Omnichannel Retail Improves the Customer Experience

Today’s consumers expect a lot from brands, such as the ability to shop on any device via any channel, personalized recommendations and offers, and engaging content. However, they’re also giving a lot in return both in dollars and data.

An omnichannel retail strategy improves customer service and can help drive sales by doing the following:

  1. Providing seamless access to inventory: Online customers might want to know what’s available in their local stores. Meanwhile, in-store shoppers who don’t find what they want in stock may visit a brand’s mobile website or app to see what’s available online. If they can’t easily find what they’re looking for, they’ll get it somewhere else.
  2. Collecting more data: The more channels through which customers interact with a brand — and the better those channels are connected — the more marketers can learn about individual shoppers. Every time customers open an email, visit a company’s website, download a mobile app, make an in-store purchase, or respond to a push notification, they are providing valuable behavioral data that helps brands better understand who they are, what they want, what they don’t want, and how to best serve them.
  3. Driving more relevant content: Brands with this type of insight into their audience can customize recommendations and offers to suit individual customers, increasing the likelihood they’ll buy. Just as importantly, personalized content is the best way to avoid the trash folder, where all other irrelevant emails go to die.

To deliver this type of omnichannel retail experience, retailers must be able to integrate customer relationship management (CRM) platforms in the cloud with other databases and business tools. With these types of cloud integrations, brands can connect the dots between different channels, build comprehensive customer profiles, and trigger content based on robust customer data.

Otherwise, the brand is just like the ditzy sales rep with the bad short-term memory — alienating customers, missing opportunities for relevant upsells, and generally frustrating people.

To make sure your customer experience is engaging instead of frustrating, contact a Vonage Business representative.

Taylor Mallory Holland

Taylor Mallory Holland is a professional writer with more than 11 years of experience writing about business, technology and health care for both media outlets and companies. Taylor understands how enterprise mobility and cloud technology can reshape industries and provide new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve employee collaboration and reimagine the customer experience. She is passionate about helping business leaders understand the impact that emerging technologies can have on communication, operations and sales and marketing.

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