When a customer contacts a business to ask a question or make a complaint, they expect to receive an instant, and helpful, response. In the past, they were satisfied with contacting organisations through traditional channels such as telephone or email and waiting for human agents to help, but now they also want to be able to resolve issues more rapidly via everything from instant online messaging services to self-service portals.
“Digitalisation, the pandemic and other factors have changed the types of experiences customers expect businesses to provide,” says Roy Dehing, principal partner program manager for ACS at Microsoft. “Customer experience (CX) is the new battleground and if they want to emerge as winners, businesses must make a paradigm shift in how they manage enterprise communications. They need to replace traditional contact centre solutions with platforms that enable them to offer machine-to-machine, machine-to-human and human-to-human communications.”
Microsoft is helping contact centre solution providers to meet this demand with Azure Communication Services (ACS). The communications-platform-as-a-service offering features multichannel communication application programming interfaces (APIs) for adding voice, video, chat, text messaging, email and other functionalities to enterprise communication solutions.
“ACS enables contact centre solution providers to develop new communication and collaboration experiences on top of Microsoft’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications such as Microsoft Teams,” says Dehing. “By lifting and shifting the back end of their contact centre platforms to ACS, these independent software vendors (ISVs) can integrate artificial intelligence, machine learning and internet of things (IoT) capabilities. This enables them to create exciting new ‘hero’ use cases for both internal employees and external customers. Importantly, it also means both Teams and non-Teams users can interact with each other seamlessly on the same platform.”
One ISV already leading the way is Anywhere365, which provides a cloud-based contact centre and dialogue management platform that natively integrates with the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. The platform, which was the first of its kind to be certified for use with Microsoft Teams, uses AI, ML and Microsoft Azure to empower businesses to interact with customers across any channel, from anywhere and at any time. Anywhere365 is keen to enhance the platform by capitalising on the flexibility ACS offers, says product director Ruud Lendfers.
“ACS is a core Microsoft platform with very powerful APIs that will help us to overcome the limitations of Teams,” he explains. “The out-of-the-box functionality and powerful APIs make it much simpler for us to incorporate the newest channels and capabilities into our solutions. This will empower us to create customer engagement solutions that work for everyone, regardless of whether they are a Teams user.”
Anywhere365 is already adapting its Dialogue Cloud platform so it can work flexibly with both Teams and ACS. According to a recent Gartner report, Anywhere365 is a first mover towards the newly developed Power integration model that will help Microsoft ISVs to build solutions in the Microsoft Azure cloud.
“We’re developing the back end of the platform so that it can easily be switched to either Teams or ACS depending on the customer’s preference or specific business requirements,” explains Lendfers. “Initially, we plan to launch the platform in the North America region by summer 2023 and will add new functionalities over time as we introduce it into the rest of the world. This will ensure we can develop new communication experiences that will keep pace with changing customer experience expectations.”
The new Dialogue Cloud platform will make it easier for companies to intuitively engage with customers and quickly provide the help they need in the way that is most convenient for them.
“Integrating technologies such as AI and ML will enable customers to use self-service options, such as online chat, and easily escalate them to an audio or video call with a human agent if necessary,” says Lendfers. “In addition, we can use these same technologies to vastly improve the agent experience by continually analysing conversations and customer sentiment to provide them with detailed contextual information and recommended responses in real time. This allows them to complete interactions quickly, and with the highest possible success rate, every single time, thereby significantly improving both the employee and end user experience.”
According to Dehing, Anywhere365’s creative approach to developing innovative new use case is just one of a myriad of factors making it a front runner in the CX space.
“If you want to bake a tasty cupcake you need to add all the right ingredients, and it’s clear that if we take all the ingredients Anywhere365 provides and mix them with ACS, we’ll be able to produce the best CX cupcake,” he says.
“Anywhere365 is a valuable partner that has been collaborating with Microsoft on its unified communications journey since the very beginning, all the way from Skype to Teams and now ACS. It’s one of the best ISVs in the class, primarily because its solutions are already natively integrated with the Microsoft technology stack and can be labelled as co-sell ready by Microsoft.”
Dehing adds that Anywhere365’s acquisition of IoT communications platform IQ Messenger and its extensive ecosystem of partners that are reselling its solution to hundreds of businesses worldwide are also key benefits.
“All of these factors put Anywhere365 in an ideal position to use ACS to work with Microsoft to successfully develop the machine-to-machine, machine-to-human, and human-to-human communication experiences that will help us win in the CX battleground.”
Lendfers is equally confident in the power of Anywhere365’s partnership with Microsoft. “By combining our technologies and expertise, Anywhere365 and Microsoft can empower enterprises to take communication to the next level, for both their employees and their customers.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.