Business Communication Vendors to the Rescue in the Age of Coronavirus
As a response to the coronavirus or COVID-19, the “new normal” is remote work, or work from home (WFH). With recommendations to enforce “social distancing,” many organizations are telling employees to work from home, while schools and universities are closing their doors and turning to videoconferencing or distance learning.
One of the few silver linings during this challenging time is that technology has come a long way, and we now have tools to make it easier for people to work from anywhere. Business communications technologies, with capabilities such as web and video conferencing, team collaboration, web chat, and single number reach to forward a work number to home or mobile number, make it easier than ever for employees to stay connected. Cloud-based solutions, in particular, provide scalability, flexibility, and ease of deployment, while enabling users to access these capabilities from any location.
Based on early numbers, it’s clear that businesses and organizations are increasing their use of these technologies. For example:
- Avaya has seen a 700 percent increase in video collaboration traffic on the Avaya Spaces platform.
- Usage of Microsoft Teams has grown from 32 million daily active users to 44 million in March. In just one week, users have generated over 900 million meeting and calling minutes on Teams.
- Pexip service usage has increased 100% over the past month as organizations respond to corporate travel restrictions and telecommuting policies.
- BlueJeans found that global usage of its video conferencing service has spiked as much as 4x in recent weeks, as more organizations ask their employees to work from home.
- Cisco experienced a 79% increase in video meetings week over week (3/1-3/15). Webex usage doubled in the Americas while tripling in the Asia Pacific region.
- Verizon’s overall web traffic increased by just under 20% week over week, and the carrier is seeing a 75% spike for online gaming on its network while video streaming increased by more than 12%. With more business employees working from home, virtual private networking usage was up 34% on Verizon's network.
- Vodafone found that mobile data usage has increased around 15% across Europe in recent weeks, peaking at 30% in Spain and Italy, noting that some of this growth has been caused by the carrier’s initiatives to offer unlimited data, at zero cost, to groups like vulnerable customers. Vodafone also found that fixed broadband usage has increased by more than 50% in Italy and Spain alone, much of it due to the increase in video conferencing over fixed broadband as customers work from home to an unprecedented degree.
Many of the business communications vendors are doing what they can to make it easier for organizations to provide the tools needed to enable their employees to work remotely while staying connected with colleagues, customers, and partners.
In addition, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube issued a joint statement about fighting misinformation related to the COVID-10 crisis.
Here’s a list of many of the vendor offerings that have been announced to help organizations maintain effective communications and collaboration during this worldwide crisis.
Unified Communications and Collaboration
- 3CX will be offering the Standard edition of its software to all organizations completely free of charge for 3 years. The free business solution is available as of today. The company is also offering all schools a fully licensed PRO version of its communications software, completely free for one year to assist schools with the smooth transition to e-learning, providing free video conferencing, website chat and mobile apps to keep students, teachers and parents connected.
- 8x8 expanded global capabilities for its free, standalone version of 8x8 Video Meetings. 8x8 also developed a Business Readiness Kit for assistance in expanding companies’ remote work readiness. This kit includes quick Reference Guides, Video Meetings activation guides (Classic and X Series customers), Product Navigation videos, and email for IT Admins to send out to employees. Additionally, for help expanding their remote workforce, the 8x8 Rapid Expansion Program helps companies quickly extend their cloud communications and collaboration solution to employees, who rely on a deskphone in the office and are new to remote working, without impacting the customer experience. The 8x8 Rapid Expansion Program provides customers with the flexibility to extend cloud communications to newly remote employees with no time or term commitment.
- Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise is offering 3 months free licenses for its Enterprise Rainbow solution to let people work remotely.
- AudioCodes announced a range of solutions to support the WFH employees and contact center agents, and is now offering free SBC and OVOC licenses for 90 days.
- Avaya is offering free 60-day access to Avaya Spaces, a cloud meeting and team collaboration solution accessible from a browser or mobile app that enables people and organizations to connect and collaborate remotely. Avaya Spaces is now available for free to organizations. Additionally, the company is now offering free 90-day licenses to a wide range of Avaya unified communications solutions.
- BlueJeans is offering free access to its video conferencing service to first responders and NGOs helping communities manage outbreaks and protect citizens from further exposure. It also reduced its entry-level ecommerce pricing by 20% in order to accommodate organizations of any size as they implement a remote work strategy.
- CafeXCommunications announced that Challo, the company’s cloud application for enterprise collaboration, is now free for organizations to use until this summer.
- Calltower is offering 90-days of free Microsoft Teams Direct Routing to help companies that need to move quickly to a remote workforce. It is also offering free, no commitment Cisco Webex Meetings and CT Cloud Meeting powered by Zoom conferencing through June 30.
- Cisco expanded the capabilities on its free Webex offer in all countries where it is available.
- Counterpath will be extending Virtual Meeting Room capabilities until the end of June for all of its Bria Solo, Bria Solo Free, and Bria Teams users. Businesses who do not currently have a Bria solution are welcome to start a free trial of Bria Teams, which includes Virtual Meeting Room capabilities. Additionally, CounterPath has joined more than 390 companies in committing to the United States Federal Communications Commission "Keep Americans Connected" pledge, which aims to ensure Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity as a result of circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Dialpad is offering Dialpad Pro and UberConference Business free for a limited time to allow users to seamlessly work from anywhere.
- Edify has a work from home checklist, providing a compliance and operations checklist for employers, Work From Home buyers guide to set up a home office, plus 5 users free.
- Facebook is partnering with its developer community to provide free Facebook Messenger services to government health organizations and UN health agencies to help them use Messenger to scale their response to the COVID-19 crisis. Facebook is also creating an online hackathon and inviting developers to build messaging solutions that address challenges related to the coronavirus such as social distancing and keeping people educated and informed. The company is also launching a global program to connect government health organizations and UN health agencies with developers that can help them use Messenger most effectively to share timely and accurate information, and speed up their responses to concerned citizens.
- Foritas, operator of My Branch Office – SOMA One and a Gold Partner for Wildix Communications has announced an offer for free Wildix Collaboration Business Licensing through September 30, 2020.
- Fuze is providing user guides, documentation, best practices, specific content, and more to help companies enable their employees to work from home. For non-Fuze customers, the company has removed the paywall for certain items to allow non-customers to access them. On a per customer basis, the company is also offering deferred payments and other ways to assist customers.
- Google is offering free access to its advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally until July 1, 2020.
- Intermedia is making AnyMeeting Pro available to all new users for free through the end of 2020, with full video conferencing features and no meeting time limits. This new offer is available to all new customers and new users. In addition, one free Webinar Pro license will be available for every account, which enables organizations to hold larger, live broadcasted events for up to 200 people,
- Lifesize is offering an unlimited number of free licenses for six months to all organizations impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide.
- Logitech has been offering K-12 teachers the ability to request to receive a complimentary webcam and headset bundle to continue teaching outside of the classroom, although it can no longer accept applications due to the high demand.
- LogMeIn is providing free phone and unified communication services (via GoToConnect) to K-12 schools to help with remote learning and teaching (through the end of the school year). This is an extension of the Emergency Remote Work Kits the company began offering for free earlier this month to help critical service organizations deal with COVID-19 (now offering GoToConnect in addition to GoToMeeting videoconferencing, GoToWebinar and others).
- LumApps announced a new free Crisis Communications and Business Continuity platform with a number of free out-of-the-box templates for crisis communication, including a news center, team community forums, virtual town halls, remote work best practices, and more. The company is offering free access to its cloud solution for any company with internal communication needs during this difficult time — in the US, Europe, and JAPAC.
- Microsoft is offering a free 6-month Office 365 E1 Trial, including Microsoft Teams, in response to the increased need for employees to work from home. Microsoft is also providing many resources for organizations that can be found here.
- Mitel’s MiCollab customers (Cloud or Onsite) who are in need of remote working solutions, can activate MiTeam Meetings for free with no obligations for 6 months. Remote Working licensing price discounts will be available late in March to leverage existing teleworker solutions for all Unified Communications platforms. In addition, cloud customers can leverage the MiCloud Connect promotion that includes access to free and reduced cost phones and applications or qualify for discounts on MiCloud Connect cloud services.
- NEC is offering customers the option to utilize IP Station and Softphone Licenses on their NEC voice communications platform systems now through June 30, 2020 with the option to return these licenses with no restocking fees. This offer includes all the UNIVERGE SP350 softphone, UNIVERGE ST500 smartphone client, Multiline Client Mobile (MLC) and UNIVERGE 3C soft media phone (SMP). In addition, NEC will waive the add-on Software Assurance (SWA) requirement for these licenses at the time of purchase. Licenses may be returned to NEC for credit at any time prior to June 30, 2020 and NEC will waive all restocking fees. NEC has also reduced the price of NEC Meeting Center (NMC) conference and collaboration solution in order to support those who had to make the sudden transition to a remote work environment through July 1. Also, NEC is currently offering an introductory bundle for its IP DECT i766 and G577 handsets at a significantly reduced price through June 30 to help protect those who are on-campus providing essential services.
- Otter.ai is supporting SMBs, educators, and teams at large enterprises during the Coronavirus outbreak by offering two months free service of its enterprise offering, Otter for Teams, to support employees working remotely or from home. Up to 10 people per company can sign up for Otter for Teams by May 1, 2020. Otter uses AI to generate rich searchable notes for business meetings, presentations and distance learning.
- Pronto’s communication hub that connects people via chat and video is available for teams and teachers at no cost during this time, helping teams stay connected and helping students and employees maintain a positive experience.
- Ribbon Communications announced the release of its cloud-based [email protected] offer, which delivers advanced remote working capabilities to enterprises and contact centers of any size. [email protected] provides enterprises with UCC capabilities through Ribbon’s Smart Office. Fully functional licenses of Ribbon’s Smart Office are available for free through June 30, 2020. In addition, contact centers can create a complete omnichannel contact center from a web browser in 30 minutes by leveraging Kandy’s Live Support.
- RingCentral is offering RingCentral Office free of charge for three months to organizations impacted by the pandemic, including educators, health providers, and non-profit organizations.
- Salesforce’s Quip Starter will be available for free to any Salesforce customer or non-profit organization through September 30, 2020 to help teams collaborate while employees are away from the office.
- StarLeaf launched a ‘freemium’ model of its conferencing software app for non-customers. The free version is available worldwide and across all devices.
- TetraVX is offering 90-days free on its cloud UC or cloud contact center platforms, including Microsoft Teams direct routing, along with a commitment to have businesses deployed on Teams within 7-days of signature. The company is also offering free training for Microsoft Teams end-users.
- TrueConf is giving educational institutions free on-premises video conferencing system for up to 1,000 users to allow students to take their classes online and ensures smooth operation under any conditions.
- Vidyo is offering a free temporary license for its cloud-based video solution.
- Vonage has released several new solutions for organizations that need to operate in remote environments, including a new business continuity offer enabling seamless remote work; a new standalone video collaboration product; and new Vonage Instant Alert SMS service to distribute real-time updates on the COVID-19 pandemic from government agencies which Vonage will open source and share worldwide. The Vonage Business Continuity offer is available to any business and provides up to 250 mobile-only licenses free for up to 90 days. Vonage is also offering healthcare providers, educational organizations and non-profit customers that need a more permanent solution the first 90 days of VBC service for free with its Virtual Workplace Offer. Vonage has also extended the availability of its free desktop and mobile video collaboration product, Vonage Video Conferencing (VVC), originally available for 90 days, through the end of the year.
- Wildix is offering its Smart Working solution free for the next six months to ensure employees stay safe and productive. This solution will give users access to all of the features of Wildix Collaboration (audio/visual call, chat, conferencing, screen sharing and file transfer, etc.), plus videoconferencing and lets users begin working from home immediately; activation takes only a few hours, with no software installation or on-site technicians required.
- Yeastar is offering 90-days of complimentary access to the Yeastar remote working solution, including the Cloud Business System, as well as the Linkus Cloud Service. The system comes with access for Yeastar Cloud PBX and Linkus Cloud Service for remote working. Partners can get 50 free connectors for Yeastar Remote Management to monitor, configure, and manage customer premise PBX and gateways remotely.
- Zoom is temporarily removing the 40-minute limit on free Basic accounts for schools and making it easier to leverage Zoom for virtual education for any K-12 schools affected in various countries around the globe. The company also put together a security resource for educators teaching over Zoom – Blog: Best Practices for Securing Your Virtual Classroom.
Contact Center and Customer Care
- Aisera will provide free 24/7 AI technology-based assistance to healthcare providers and government agencies during the coronavirus pandemic. Its remote working virtual assistant and collaboration app is available for free for 60 days to help healthcare organizations, agencies, and businesses provide customer service during a time of need during the global pandemic. The Aisera Virtual Assistant will help hospitals and government agencies deliver COVID-19-related responses to the high volume of questions, concerns, and inquiries caused by this pandemic.
- Altitude Software's 3-day virtual classroom for contact centers to train agents and get them certified in 3 hours, and is being provided at 50% off.
- Avaya is offering complimentary Work from Anywhere Contact Center Solutions, enabling Avaya clients to request a 90-day complimentary access license to convert their existing office-based contact center agents to remote workers. Avaya has also announced the launch of global COVID-19 technical hotlines for customers and partners who are looking for 24x7 support and guidance to help transition to remote workforce deployment models.
- Bright Pattern is offering a special virtual call center capability for companies impacted by the coronavirus to enable remote agents. The cloud contact center solution will supplement contact center operations so that organizations can remain productive and deliver a seamless customer experience without compromising the safety of its workforce.
- Cisco’s Work from Home Contact Center Agent Plan is a quick-to-deploy solution to get organizations with these urgent needs up and running quickly. In as little as five days a secure, scalable, native cloud solution for businesses with up to 1,000 concurrent agents can be deployed on the Webex Contact Center.
- Five9’s FastTrack Deployment package helps organizations quickly convert to cloud, or expand their remote agent pool, with a 48 hour turnaround time to quickly migrate contact center to the cloud and support a work from anywhere model.Customers can choose their most critical configuration (voice, screen pop, chat, Zoom, etc). The Five9 FastTrack Deployment offer is comprised of three options: Voice with basic screen pop, Basic chat, Basic email, and Zoom Phone Connectivity. As part of the package, Professional services teams are deployed immediately, to get agents up and running quickly. In addition company’s software is being utilized with coronavirus (COVID-19) informational hotlines to handle incoming calls across the United States.
- Genesys is enabling its on-premises customers to subscribe to 90-day seasonal licenses, and cloud customers can burst as needed. Genesys will credit the overage premiums. To help companies transition to work-from-home, Genesys on-premises customers can convert existing licenses to 90-day work-from-home licenses for free. In addition, Genesys Engage (formerly PureEngage) and PureConnect customers can use Genesys Cloud free for 90 days.
- Google Cloud announced the launch of the Rapid Response Virtual Agent program, helping organizations quickly launch Contact Center AI agents for handling conversations with online chat or over the phone. Google Cloud also made easy to add COVID-19 related templates and content to virtual agents with the ability to integrate open-source templates from organizations that have already launched similar initiatives.
- Helpshift is offering its digital customer satisfaction technology to community, government and healthcare organizations at no cost, enabling them to leverage the power of automation to rapidly scale operations without additional staff.
- Inference announced the launch of an FAQ On-Demand offering, which includes a free team of IVAs that can be rapidly deployed to keep customers and employees informed as the COVID-19 crisis evolves. For a limited time, service providers, businesses, healthcare organizations and government agencies can license five voice-based virtual agents that have the skills to answer frequently asked questions using speech recognition, text-to-speech and natural language understanding (NLU). Inference will waive the standard licensing fees for the IVAs through June 30.
- Intelliverse will be providing the Premium version of its CRM, IntelliDialer Software for Salesforce and Cloud Contact Center free of charge for the next three months as well as free 24/7 support for easy and fast setup to all businesses that are affected by COVID-19.
- Jacada is offering award-winning customer service automation solutions at no cost for a limited time during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes Visual IVR, step-by-step guidance to agents who are beginning to work from home.
- NICE inContact is providing a free work-from-home module for users of NICE inContact CXone to maintain service continuity while employees need to work from home. The company will also provide free voice call ports to 211 and 311 organizations for the next six months. The company also announced [email protected], a limited time offering to support organizations as they respond to COVID-19. [email protected] cloud native offering is designed to enable contact centers to transition their workforce to work-from-home in 48 hours or less. [email protected] is also available to organizations with on-premises infrastructure that still do not use CXone and enables expediting their response to COVID-19. [email protected] is offered to them with no commitment, no contract and free for 45 days.
- Salesforce announced that through Health Cloud, Salesforce will provide free access to technology for emergency response teams, call centers and care management teams for health systems affected by coronavirus. Salesforce Care for Healthcare is a solution for healthcare systems experiencing an influx of requests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The solution can be deployed quickly and at no charge for six months to immediately aid healthcare systems responding to the crisis.
- Serenova announced CxEngage Rapid Response, a program to help large organizations immediately scale their contact centers into the cloud within 48 hours. With CxEngage Rapid Response, organizations can quickly implement flexible remote work policies while maintaining continuity for both agents and customers during the global health crisis.
- Sharpen Technologies launched the Sharpen Quick Start program to enable businesses and nonprofits -- stuck with legacy technology that can’t support work-at-home (WAH) agents -- to quickly take advantage of the cloud. Sharpen Quick Start requires no contract, with the first 60 days and initial professional services and deployment of the platform free of charge. The pre-packaged implementation can be up and running within 48 hours
- SingleComm is offering 90 days free service of its CX tools. The platform sits on top of customer service call center software and allows any agent to work from home without any special software or training.
- SmartAction has quickly developed a tool to help companies deploy a rapid response solution that can answer commonly asked questions and screen callers to create an escalation path. This tool is available to at-risk organizations – no setup fees to customize to your business.
- Support.com is offering 24/7, unlimited Tech Pro support for all connected devices free for 30 days, providing expert tech support via virtual house calls, phone, chat, and step-by-step guides.
- TCN is offering free immediate setup for at home agents, free IVR setup and voice recording, free outbound notifications for employees (email, SMS, voice), instant setup work from home agents, no binding contracts.
- Talkdesk announced the Talkdesk Business Continuity program, which is free for three months when companies sign up before May 1, 2020. The program consists of three solutions designed to enable new and changing business needs as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Talkdesk Now offers enterprises a fast route to agents working from home, with the adaptability and flexibility of easy-to-use cloud contact center solutions, in as little as 24 hours. Talkdesk Boost, moves contact centers to the cloud within 15 days, and Talkdesk Mobile Agent converts any mobile device into a complete customer support tool. The company also announced it is making Talkdesk's flexible cloud contact center solution available to travel and hospitality businesses free for 90 days. This offer is available until May 31, 2020.
- Thrio Inc. announced the immediate availability of ThrioRemote, a productized response to the coronavirus outbreak. ThrioRemote enables enterprises to maintain business continuity while transitioning to remote work. This allows for deployments of distributed users of all types within hours, including those who are not traditional contact center agents.
- UJET is offering free access to the UJET platform for up to three months, including: Voice, Chatm SMS/MMS, In-app, web, and IVR SDK's, CRM Adapters (Salesforce, Zendesk, Microsoft Dynamics, Kustomer). This includes free implementation and free signup, to ensure seamless transition and implementation in just a few hours.
- VHT is offering its virtual hold and text notification platform Mindful for free through the VHT COVID-19 Assistance Program (VCAP) to aid organizations manage the high volume of calls they’re receiving. This service is available to healthcare, emergency services, and governmental organizations specifically designated to provide information and/or services to the general public.
- Zendesk put together a six-month complimentary Remote Support Bundle to help your team keep up with changing customer demand due to COVID-19. The Remote Support Bundle is accessible with a subscription to the Pro or Enterprise versions of Zendesk’s Support or Support Suite plans and includes a mix of products designed to provide teams with essential remote capabilities — including collaboration tools, data insight, workforce management, and training.
Other related companies are stepping up as well:
- CenturyLink installed and donated high-speed connectivity to the hospital ship U.S. Naval Ship Mercy when it arrived at the port of Los Angeles from San Diego Friday, March 27.
Stay tuned for podcasts and more information about best practices and how to leverage business communications tools and technologies to help your organization function effectively today and in the future. Listen to our recent podcasts - Business Communications Technology in the Age of Coronavirus and Best Practices for Business Continuity and WFH During a Pandemic.