By: Adam West
The Crunch: Business executives have been seeking a flexible all-in-one communications solution for years, and ShoreTel responded by launching its Connect platform. Connect enables employees to collaborate and work from wherever they are, using the device and communications method of their choice — whether it’s through a desk phone, a mobile phone, SMS, instant message, or email. ShoreTel focuses on providing businesses with an identical experience when using Connect in the cloud, onsite, or through a hybrid of the two. Business customers gain more control by developing their own hosted voice and SMS applications through Summit, a developer environment that facilitates creativity. With powerful email and CRM integrations, ShoreTel gives its clients an efficient communications platform that will grow alongside them.
Simple and effective communication is essential to any successful business, which means the stakes are high when it comes to picking the right telephone system provider. Communication is at the core of collaboration, and employees need a simple, versatile platform to work together while remaining connected to customers.
When music instrument retailer Sweetwater was looking for a communications solution, it found that ShoreTel fit its needs well. One of Sweetwater’s mantras is “differentiation is built, not bought,” and the retailer liked ShoreTel for its out-of-the-box internal communications and a developer environment that facilitates the creation of new applications.
“They liked that they could run their business internally, but how they’d want to interact with customers is not something they’d want to buy off the shelf,” said Mark Roberts, Chief Marketing Officer at ShoreTel
In 2015, ShoreTel Connect was introduced to the market, relieving the pressure executives faced when choosing a communications solution. The unique platform offers flexibility, with three telephony options — a managed cloud service, an onsite hardware system, and a hybrid of onsite and cloud — that are built on the same codebase.
Mark told us ShoreTel revamped its product roadmap to give businesses the ability to scale up and change their configurations without the need for retraining employees, since it all essentially works the same.
“You or I could come in in the morning, and frankly we wouldn’t know whether we were on the cloud or whether it was managed by some equipment in a closet somewhere,” Mark said. “That flexibility gives them the opportunity to migrate to cloud as quickly or slowly as they want, and they can do it on their terms.”
A “Brilliantly Simple” Approach to All-in-One Communications
ShoreTel’s founder was installing a phone system in the mid-1990s when the need for a smarter, easier phone system became apparent.
“He was up to his elbows in wires and configuring things, and he said, ‘It just shouldn’t be this difficult,’” Mark said. “’There has got to be a simpler way.’”
This is where the phrase “brilliantly simple” originated, and the concept of easy system architecture is built into the company’s DNA. ShoreTel goes far beyond providing reliable business-grade telephony and focuses on unified communications (UC), which is the integration of real-time communication services like telephony, instant messaging, and conferencing with other forms of communication such as email and SMS.
ShoreTel integrates its IP PBX (a type of telephone switching system) with applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, allowing businesses to take advantage of visual voicemail, desktop call control, and quick dialing. The idea boils down to allowing ShoreTel customers to communicate with customers and co-workers however they want and from wherever they are.
“It’s not about the features and functions that you build into something,” Mark said. “It’s about how those can be deployed and used in a real-world scenario. It’s the usability, simplicity, and customer experience that we pride ourselves on. That’s the real differentiation for ShoreTel.”
Flexible Communications Solutions Allow Companies to Scale Up
The beauty of ShoreTel Connect is that customers can grow their business and shift their communications platform to fit current needs. Many smaller companies can start with a subscription-based platform in the cloud, and businesses with remote workers find that to be an effective solution.
If the business grows to the point it needs an embedded IT department, it might then choose to buy its own hardware and keep everything onsite. Companies can even choose a hybrid of the two, and with ShoreTel, it’s a simple, seamless transition.
“You have just one system, one codebase, one common set of clients, and, most importantly, one common user experience,” Mark said.
ShoreTel Connect™ Works Out of the Box For Businesses
Mark tells us that ShoreTel typically sees three types of customers, and its product roadmap was laid out with all of them in mind.
“The first is somebody who buys our equipment or buys our services off the shelf, and they’re totally fine with it,” Mark said. “They deploy either in the cloud, onsite, or a hybrid of the two — but it does pretty much what they’re looking for it to do.”
ShoreTel Connect, which is the company’s core product, allows teams to quickly collaborate with the device of their choice, including desk phones, mobile phones, tablets, and wearable technology. Connect is a single application that combines several multitasking tools, such as voice to text, desktop sharing, and call recording, with integrations for CRM software like Salesforce.
Build Your Own Voice & SMS Apps Through ShoreTel Summit™
Mark refers to the next type of customer as “the dreamers.” These are people who have unique ideas and they just need a communications platform to build their application on.
It was with these customers in mind that ShoreTel Summit was created. With Summit, even the coding involved with creating a new application is simple.
“What we did to make it easy was to provide a completely integrated development environment for those who wanted to do that,” Mark said.
The Summit environment employs an easy, almost conversational coding language called Lua. Mark told us that despite his marketing background, he’s written applications using Summit in less than an hour.
If someone wanted to build an application using another communications platform, they might be dealing with extra steps in the process, such as finding a host, picking a virtual server, and installing a development environment.
“We’ve had people up and running within 30 minutes, and that includes a basic course on how to actually write the script,” Mark said. “If you take the other guys’ approach, you’re talking at least a day or so while you work through all of that stuff, and we host it for you so don’t have to worry about it.”
Customized Communications Through a Hybrid of Connect & Summit
An advantage for ShoreTel is the flexibility that comes from having a single codebase and customer experience for both onsite and cloud customers, while giving them the ability to easily change their configuration.
“A major differentiator we have in the market is we have these two solutions that work in conjunction with each other,” Mark said. “ShoreTel Connect is the core business communications solution and ShoreTel Summit allows you to customize a CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) solution.
“Having those two things together and actually being able to make the changes even after you’ve implemented without talking about huge consultancy fees is a major plus for us.”
This arrangement supports the third type of customer Mark described, someone who uses ShoreTel Connect but needs some light customization to fulfill their needs.
ShoreTel Actively Seeks Customer Feedback to Improve Its Products
Part of ShoreTel’s success in the market has come from actively listening to feedback from every channel to get a well-balanced perspective to drive its product decisions, and this includes a six-month review cycle that takes a close look at every aspect of the products.
“We talk to our existing channel partners, any of the agents who are selling our solutions, customers who are happy to talk to us, and even speaking with those who are unhappy with us as well because you have to get that blend,” Mark said. “I think it’s too easy to get caught up in the ‘everything is wonderful’ kind of approach.
“You have to consider all aspects of what people are saying about your offerings and your company before you can come up with a good solid roadmap to move forward.”
One of those conversations was with Sweetwater, and the feedback was that the ability to employ both onsite and cloud communications was tremendously helpful.
“One of the reasons they chose us was we gave them the flexibility to head toward cloud when and how they wanted,” Mark said. “They’ve also used ShoreTel Summit to customize some of the interactions they have with their customer base, just making it easier and simpler for them to connect.”