Packed with features for real-time messaging, voice and video calls, file sharing and much more, Microsoft Teams has rapidly become the communication and collaboration of choice for many businesses in different industries worldwide since it debuted in 2017. According to Microsoft, the number of active monthly users has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic in 2020 and had reached 300 million by May 2023.
Since the pandemic and the subsequent widespread move to hybrid working, Teams has been instrumental in empowering organisations to stay connected with customers. One reason for this is that businesses can integrate solutions from Microsoft partners to enrich the platform’s built-in features and seamlessly deliver higher quality customer experiences. For example, they can implement Anywhere365’s omnichannel cloud-based dialogue management solution to optimise contact centre operations. Here, experts from Anywhere365 and its systems integration partners Post Luxembourg, Resonate and Symity discuss why Teams – and solutions such as Anywhere365 – are the most powerful tools for customer engagement.
What are the biggest customer engagement challenges organisations face, particularly in the hybrid working era?
Chris Goodwill, strategic partner manager and solution specialist at Symity: Traditional or legacy communication platforms are often siloed or disparate from modern software-as-a-service solutions and therefore act as barriers for organisations that are trying to deliver an engaging customer experience. If they can’t easily draw on data from various platforms – such as customer relationship management (CRM) or IT service management solutions – when resolving a customer query, Teams users often have to dip into several systems. This is inefficient and can result in a poor customer experience.
Luc Halbardier, cloud and data centre solutions service manager at Post Luxembourg: Customers want to be able to contact businesses via any channel at any time – and not repeat the same information multiple times – but many organisations still don’t have the technology to enable them to do this consistently. While many have already migrated to platforms like Teams, they’re only using the basic voice call and chat functionalities, rather than optimising all the available features.
Ahmed Kishk, solutions architect at Resonate: Research shows that 70 per cent of customer service staff are now hybrid working. This has introduced geographical distances between team members and impacted how they connect with colleagues, management and customers. They need new technology that can support this hybrid working model, give management visibility into all operations and ensure regulatory compliance.
Erik van Arkel, global head of sales and partnerships at Anywhere365: Customers expect to receive an instant, personalised answer to their question – anything less will impact their happiness. However, it can be challenging to get connected to a subject matter expert who has access to all the right information to get things done. This is even more difficult to do in the hybrid working environment.
What are the key tenets of a successful customer engagement framework?
CG: For customer engagements to truly be successful, organisations must adopt a modern approach to handling dialogues. They should begin by assessing their current customer journey, map out the steps and then look at how they can use innovation and modern contact centre technologies to increase efficiency and effectiveness. The power of investing in technologies and ensuring the workforce truly understand how to leverage their investment in new platforms should not be underestimated.
LH: Organisations often build their IT infrastructures using several technologies from different vendors and bolt on additional solutions as new business or customer needs arise. While this initially seems like a cheaper approach, enterprises usually end up with complicated, siloed systems that don’t fully integrate with each other and are expensive to manage and run. To optimise processes, control costs and consistently deliver high-quality customer experiences, they should invest in a platform like Microsoft 365 that is fully integrated with all the business-critical applications they need and can be enhanced with solutions from partners like Anywhere365.
AK: Businesses need technology that works anywhere, offers omnichannel capabilities, stores all information in one place, and enables them to keep customers connected. It’s also crucial for organisations to create clearly defined metrics and key performance indicators to evaluate the success of their customer engagement strategies.
EVA: It is important to potentially involve everyone in the company with customer engagement, so a contact centre integrated with a unified communications-as-a-service is a fundamental piece of the framework. A successful customer engagement framework should also be able to handle omnichannel communication, integrate with other applications and apply artificial intelligence to all elements of customer communication.
Why is Teams an ideal foundation for delivering high-quality customer engagements?
CG: Teams was created to fundamentally improve collaboration and has been further developed and extended to include functionality that enables users to deliver exceptional customer services. It acts as a core platform that can be integrated with certified products and applications to provide users with everything they need to serve customers at their fingertips. It’s ease of use, accessibility, interoperability and flexibility ensure that organisations see instant benefits when it comes to customer engagements.
LH: At the start of the pandemic, organisations used several audio and web conferencing platforms to interact with customers, but Teams has quickly become the most popular for businesses of all sizes. It’s a secure platform that offers an intuitive user experience, multiple built-in capabilities and integration with applications on the wider Microsoft 365 platform. Importantly, Microsoft continually adds new features to further improve its functionality, performance and the user experience. Plus, Teams can be easily augmented by contact centre solutions that are natively built for the platform, such as Anywhere365 Dialogue Cloud.
AK: Teams makes an ideal foundational platform because it integrates with all the applications organisations use, facilitates company-wide collaboration, enables employees to easily share information and reach out to subject matter experts for help, and offers a complete meeting experience.
EVA: Statistics show that Teams has become the hub for work in lots of organisations worldwide and is fuelling the hybrid workspace in the past few years. Organisations can use Teams as both an internal and external phone system, so many have migrated from their private automatic branch exchange systems to the platform. Solutions like Anywhere365 can also be integrated with Teams to help organisations leverage the foundational framework of the platform and turn it into a hub for customer engagement, giving them more flexibility and reducing costs.
How can Anywhere365’s solutions enrich the Teams experience for businesses and customers?
CG: Anywhere365 is more than just a contact centre; it’s a full dialogue management platform that seamlessly integrates with Teams to improve customer services. It allows organisations to control the data that is surfaced, shared and stored as part of the Teams product. One compelling use of the platform is that calls can be transcribed, recorded and injected into the Teams platform automatically, allowing a business to quickly and efficiently recall and review customer interactions.
LH: Anywhere365 enables businesses to interact with customers via multiple channels and is also connected with their CRM and other systems, which means contact centre agents have access to all the data they need to quickly resolve issues and deliver a personalised experience.
AK: Anywhere365 is an omnichannel contact centre solution with a wide range of capabilities that enable organisations to interact with customers via email, web chat, voice calls, chat bots, WhatsApp, SMS and social media. This offers customers a lot of flexibility and choice.
In addition, Anywhere365 fully integrates with the Microsoft technology stack, allowing businesses to maximise their existing technology investments and easily manage workflows and data in one digital platform.
EVA: Anywhere365 is open to connect with other services and applications to enhance the customer experience. For example, we helped a financial institution to implement a solution that uses a natural language processing service instead of a keyword or an interactive voice recognition whenever a customer calls. Anywhere365 combines this information with data from internal sources to route the call to an appropriate subject matter expert via Teams. When the expert answers the call, they see all this data to help them deliver a personalised experience. Customer sentiment is analysed throughout the call and soon, a new AI-powered feature will provide recommended responses to the expert. We plan to add a voice bot to increase the self-service options for customers too.
How do you foresee customer engagement evolving in the next couple of years?
CG: The journey to deliver exceptional customer experiences has only just begun; with the advent of AI services, we’ll soon be able to add further automation and value to customer engagements. Businesses processes will improve, empowering organisations to deliver better outcomes and slicker customer engagements. This will increase customer loyalty and brand advocacy.
LH: We know that happy customers are loyal customers who often become brand ambassadors, so increasing customer satisfaction and engagement will become an even bigger priority for businesses. Customers want multichannel services, so organisations must accelerate their digital transformations and invest in solutions that deliver insights into customer satisfaction levels. This will help them identify opportunities for continually enhancing the experience.
AK: Organisations will have invested in full digital transformations and automated many basic tasks, while AI-powered chatbots and solutions will become essential for facilitating all customer interactions. This will help businesses to overcome many of the barriers they face today. In addition, organisations will use predictive analytics to determine how best to evolve their business to meet customer needs and remain competitive.
EVA: Omnichannel will continue to grow as more customers adopt a text-first mentality. AI is already applicable in customer engagement, but it is being rapid developed, so it is expected to revolutionise customer engagement by enabling organisations to provide personalised experiences, instant support and predictive analytics. We'll also see successful implementations of OpenAI and similar generative AI solutions.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription