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Cloud Comms: Beyond Basic Phone Calls
As No Jitter Publisher Eric Krapf noted in a post yesterday, unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is hot and getting hotter. As we learned from discussion points shared from his recent conversation with 8x8 CMO Enzo Signore, large enterprises are starting to catch on to the value of cloud communications.
But that's not really news to ThinkingPhones, which from its start has focused on larger enterprises (see related article, Thinking of Phones). From the company's perspective, the real news is the acceleration in traction within larger enterprises and "brand names," Steve Kokinos, CEO of ThinkingPhones, told me in a recent interview. Over the past couple of years, ThinkingPhones has seen its deal sizes increase by about a factor of four, he added.
"It's an exciting time," not just for ThinkingPhones but all UCaaS providers, Kokinos agreed.
Coalescing into the Cloud
Enterprises are at an inflection point, with mounting dissatisfaction with the usefulness, or lack thereof, of company-provided tools forcing a rethink. "People want some inspiration to be taken from the personal communications world. We subscribe 100% to the broad 'consumerization of the enterprise' trend," Kokinos said.
From a communications perspective, that means enabling a renewed user experience with tools and processes. First-generation UC tools are failing the modern enterprise because of their narrow, internal-facing scope. "They can enable rich communications inside a company, but as soon as you want to talk to somebody outside the company you have to pick up the phone and call."
The modern work experience needs to be multimodal, allowing people to seamlessly communicate via voice, text, and video regardless of whether they're inside or outside a company, Kokinos said. "When they're able to do that," he added, "we find that their perspective really shifts. It helps them establish a work identity ... and not be hampered by the tools they get at work."
It's about making communications the center of the budding cloud ecosystems within enterprises, he said. To illustrate his point, Kokinos described how integrating communications into Salesforce.com, that quintessential cloud app, can improve sales processes.
In studying how people use cloud apps, ThinkingPhones knows that when salespeople hang up the phone, in the majority of instances they want to set up next-step reminders in Salesforce. However, that means taking the time to switch apps and finding the contact in Salesforce -- something salespeople only actually do a fraction of the time, Kokinos said.
But with the Salesforce integration, the ThinkingPhones app can detect when a call ends and immediately query the salesperson if he would like to set a reminder in Salesforce. All he or she has to do is insert any notes taken and a couple of other pieces of information, click "OK," and the ThinkingPhone app automatically submits the update to Salesforce.
ThinkingPhones then goes a step further, living up to the "thinking" part of its name by providing insight and intelligence gathered from its own cloud apps and the others with which it integrates. Keeping with the Salesforce example, this means giving sales managers the ability to do things like quickly and easily correlate closed deals to communications touch points.
Delivering cloud communications isn't just about enabling phone calls. It's about delivering relevant information and simplifying workflows and, in the case of ThinkingPhones, topping that all off with analytics.
Customer service is another natural focal point, Kokinos said, recounting how Thinking Phones integrated its cloud apps into one large enterprise's proprietary customer relationship management system along with several other cloud apps, including public ones, to enable a seamless omnichannel experience for customers. Whether talking with a customer via an 800 call, through Web chat, or in person at a brick-and-mortar outlet, the customer service rep now has access to all previous communications history with that person. Being able to say, "Oh, I see you called into our 800 number last week looking for this information," can go a long way in creating a positive shopping experience. As Kokinos pointed out, people don't like to repeat the same information over and over again. After all, "the more you annoy someone the less likely he is to buy from you," he said.
ThinkingPhones differentiates itself among UCaaS providers, legacy and otherwise, by going beyond the communications piece itself. Communications is core, of course, "but with us, it's definitely a different discussion than just about making phone calls and instant messaging and that sort of thing," Kokinos said.
ThinkingPhones takes its inspiration from the Salesforces, Workdays, and ServiceNows of the world, and the power of the transformation they wrought in salesforce automation, HR, and service management markets, respectively, Kokinos said. "There's a similar opportunity in communications and in building really great cloud applications, and in reimagining the user experience."
And so, just as these big brands have established themselves in these markets, ThinkingPhones itself wants to be the big brand that emerges among UCaaS providers. Toward that end, Kokinos said, watch for continued internal growth (since January, when we last spoke with Kokinos, the company has roughly doubled its number of employees), an increasing global presence with datacenters in the U.S., Europe, and APAC, and continued app and analytics enhancements -- the next batch due in October.