A smiling woman in an office, using a headset to speak on the telephone.

Hands-free communication can help your contact center employees provide better customer service.

Between men in business suits having loud conversations through their Bluetooth® earpieces in coffee shops and tech lovers wearing Google Glasses™ in the mall, hands-free technology has, at times, suffered from an image problem.

Fortunately, there are millions of people who use hands-free technology in volume-appropriate and non-annoying ways. Indeed, hands-free communication is gaining a firm foothold in the enterprise world, where its flexibility and ability to enable multitasking provide productivity benefits to employees and their organizations.

Hands-free communication technology is being used in a number of ways as a business collaboration tool, including the following:

  • Contact center workers can handle customer calls while liberating their hands to type on a computer keyboard, use a mouse, or manipulate a touchscreen. Agents can handle a greater volume of calls in a specific time frame because they can more efficiently use their hands.
  • Hospitals can make it easier for clinicians along the care continuum to share information and collaborate. One recent case study from the Health Information and Management Systems Society showed that a hands-free integrated communications system improved patient satisfaction and staff morale while increasing nurse/patient contact time.
  • Field workers can receive instructions and communicate with colleagues while working on building construction, equipment installation, and emergency repairs.
  • Journalists, writers, and other content providers can use hands-free technology to take notes while talking with subject experts and other information sources.
  • Entertainers and event speakers can communicate and receive instructions from directors and other production crew members.

Hands-free communication technologies can run the gamut from basic headset and microphone devices, which plug into analog phone systems, to Bluetooth-compatible smartphones, to smartwatches, but the major advances in hands-free communication in recent years have come from cloud-based softphone applications.

Softphone Applications

Softphone apps allow users to access VoIP calls from computing devices such as desktops, smartphones, tablets, and even iPods. As TechTarget explained, most softphone apps “work in conjunction with a headset and microphone, a specialized VoIP phone, or by using a device called an analog telephone adapter, which enables VoIP calling from a standard telephone handset.”

As with any other software applications, softphone apps are built to run on specific operating systems such as Windows, iOS, and Android. Cloud-based softphone apps include a number of functions vital to business communications, such as the ability to do the following:

  • Make VoIP and video calls over the internet
  • Make and receive phone calls over Wi-Fi and other wireless networks
  • Manage contacts
  • Send instant messages
  • Transfer files
  • Forward calls
  • Integrate with email software

Some softphone apps can even provide the equivalent of a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) phone system, which allows businesses to route and manage call traffic internally and externally. Given that PBX systems can carry high per-user costs, it’s easy to see how softphone apps can help smaller and midsize businesses avoid crippling capital expenditures. In addition, a click-to-call service can provide a fast and easy way for customers to phone your business through a button on your website or email signature.

Cloud-based softphone apps combined with VoIP not only offer businesses advanced communications functionality at a lower cost than legacy business phone systems, but they also enable greater flexibility for employees and enterprise resource planners. And because employees are given the tools to be more productive, they’re happier and more likely to stick around to continue to enjoy their hands-free existence.

Would you like to learn more about hands-free communication? Contact a Vonage Business consultant.

About Chris Nerney

Chris Nerney is a technology writer who covers both enterprise and consumer technologies. He has written extensively on cloud computing, unified communications, enterprise collaboration, VoIP, mobile technology, big data and analytics, data centers, converged systems and space technology. His writing has appeared in Computerworld, CIO.com, Data-Informed, Revenue Cycle Insights, Network World, ITWorld and many other technology publications, including enterprise whitepapers. Chris lives in upstate New York with his wife and three children.

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Two men and a woman in a conference room, viewing laptops.

If you don’t understand the business language of the cloud, here is a cheat sheet.

Tech jargon is a slippery slope. Use too much, and you confuse — or worse, bore — your audience. Use too little, and you can’t have an effective conversation about the digital workplace.

The cloud still confuses many people, even those who use cloud services every day. Still, if you ask the average person to define it, you can practically see the cartoon question marks hovering above their heads. Throw in a few related terms and acronyms — such as SaaS, IaaS, SLA, and VoIP — and eyes start to glaze over.

However, these terms are important parts of today’s business language. For teams to effectively and strategically use cloud technology, they must be able to communicate about it. This means everyone in the organization needs at least a basic understanding of cloud-oriented business language — including the decision-makers who adopt cloud-based solutions, the leaders who deploy and integrate them into workflows, and the end users who rely on them to work from anywhere.

As more small and midsize businesses undergo a cloud migration for the first time, which terms do their teams need to know to professionally and confidently discuss their new tech tools?

What Is the Cloud?

We talk about “the cloud” as if it’s a place or thing, which leads to such questions as “Where is the cloud? What is the cloud? Is it over us right now?” Really, the cloud is just a metaphor for the internet. In simplest terms, it means storing and accessing data and software via the internet, rather than your hard drive or a local server.

Cloud Migration

No, it’s not a storm rolling in, nor is the internet heading south for the winter. Cloud migration simply means transitioning some or all of a company’s data, applications, processes, or services from onsite servers to the internet for on-demand usage.

Cloud Storage

You know that scary-looking room with all the interconnected computers only the IT team is allowed to enter? That’s a local server. And with the cloud, it’s unnecessary. Instead, business data gets saved on remote servers that can be accessed via any internet-connected device.

There are three types of cloud storage:

  1. Public: A third-party server where users share resources and pay per use
  2. Private: A remote but privately owned server that is implemented within the corporate firewall and controlled by the IT department
  3. Hybrid: A combination of public and private cloud storage, where highly sensitive data is kept on a private cloud and the rest resides on a public cloud

IaaS and SaaS

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) refers to self-service, pay-per-use storage space, networking equipment, and services.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) refers to third-party business applications that are accessible via the internet. This includes bookkeeping software, project management programs, word processors, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and any other business programs that teams use to share and utilize information.

API

An application programming interface (API) is a set of computer codes that help different software — or different components of the same software — play nice together. For instance, if you wanted to link customer information from your CRM platform and your accounting program, an API could help them “talk” to each other and share data.

VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) refers to a phone connection that takes place via the internet, rather than a landline or cell tower. Cloud-based VoIP service is becoming particularly popular among businesses with remote workers or call centers, as it enables employees to use the business phone system from anywhere.

SLA

The term “service-level agreement” (SLA) is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a contract that spells out the level of service a vendor agrees to provide, including the quality and accessibility customers can expect. This important document also explains the vendor’s privacy protocols, which can be a critical consideration, especially for businesses that handle sensitive data.

There you have it. The cloud really isn’t all that complicated — it just requires learning a new business language. Share this cheat sheet with your team to help them join the conversation.

To learn more about VoIP and other cloud business services, speak to a Vonage Business consultant.

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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