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Microsoft Teams + Contact Center. Does it Actually Make Sense?

  • 6 min read

The dissolution of the front- and back- office divide, so anyone can be customer facing, is important for business success and better customer (and employee) experiences. However, no one is addressing the real challenge of combining agents who are supposed to be dedicated to that next customer interaction being available as normal Digital Workplace users, supposedly dedicated to business productivity, at the same time.

By Simon Harrison
Analyst and Client Executive Partner

Simon is an industry analyst who has authored over 30 Gartner Magic Quadrant notes as lead and with colleagues. He’s written important research as the Chief of Research advisor for Gartner. He continues to provide deep research and insights as an Executive Partner for Actionary clients and the industry.

In my 2019 The Future of the Contact Center research, I wrote about how activity- and team- based working capabilities in contact center software will ensure customer experience strategy success. So, I’ve always been an advocate of agents being able to collaborate using the same tech as everyone else. And I’ve seen a lot of discussion over the years, and spoken to many vendors, about the potential benefits of Contact Center technology integrated with Microsoft Teams and prior to that, Skype for Business.

Enghouse, Workstreampeople with Anywere365 and Luware built specialized apps and are part of Microsoft’s marketplace ecosystem. Five9 talks about its Microsoft integration “bridging the gap between contact center agents and subject matter experts (SMEs) in real-time, anywhere in the organization”. Its data sheet describes how, “Five9 UC Integration with Microsoft Teams enables agents to consult with experts, conference them in, or transfer the call directly to answer the customer’s question on the first contact”. 8×8 talks about how its Contact Center product “routes calls directly to Teams-powered support staff, improving customer service and supporting omnichannel interactions, call recording and more”. The contact center agent app is either side-by-side with Teams or “embedded” and there’s a clear ambition to demonstrate more native integration.

The value proposition and solution is largely the same from most and ALL appear to be skipping over a fundamental problem with the design of combining these technologies.

The Agent Engagement “Rule”

Contact center technology is built around agent availability. Ready for chat, social, call, and video customer engagement and Workforce Engagement Management (WEM) technology is mandatory to ensure agents are available when customers need them to be. Historical engagement and agent state data enable real-time adherence, intraday management and an ability to create more accurate resourcing forecasts and schedules, (see 5 Reasons for Intraday Management). AI is now making WEM apps even more capable. The key point is, any time an agent isn’t engaged with customers, (training, meetings and so forth), availability is closely monitored and managed. A modern WEM solution provides some great lifestyle benefits but the goal is still about being available for interactions with customers.

Microsoft Teams is actually a Workstream Collaboration solution, part of the new work nucleus*, to boost staff productivity by being better connected and making it easier to collaborate. It increases chat as a channel and encourages working in channels/streams/groups where staff can “think out loud”, become candidates to “jump in” and join the conversation or contribute as and when. The focus is on being available to colleagues to get things done, faster, and better.

So, what’s the solution or “rule” when it comes to engagement when Teams and a Contact Center app are integrated?

  • Can an agent freely engage with staff via chat, calls, video and if so, does that stop them being available as a candidate for customer engagement?
  • Does a customer chat request or call take priority and switch them away from any internal engagements?
  • Are the agents only able to use chat and call features when they’re connected to a customer?
  • Is the Teams client dumbed down to be no better than the agent app that provides the ability to conference in SMEs anyway?

The “rules“ of engagement are central to teasing out the value of this integration and I haven’t seen any solutions, thus far. And having to get other staff involved in solving a customer problem is old thinking and expensive.

Contact Center Operations are Defined by the Technology Deployed

With the Digital Workplace technology buyer targeting a solution for the business, with more focus on employee productivity and collaboration, are we overly surprised by the rules oversight? They may look to a UCaaS/WSC vendor for a contact center solution as an extension of that, but that’s about it. Contact center technology buyers have very little say in what good looks like for the whole business and are more focused on customer experience with employee experience powering that, quite precisely. Leading with ambitions around enabling the Digital Workplace and tacking on contact center is bad, which is the common design principle, “contact center enabling” Teams users.

Originally, contact center infrastructure (CCI) supported the operational and physical design of staff sitting in neatly organized rows in a sectioned off room, sporting the latest headsets and helping customers in an isolated way. The “factory floor” contact center design. As much as this is now an outdated concept, considering the benefits of SaaS-based contact center applications, so is the notion of relying on SMEs because agents don’t “know enough”.

AI is not an “if” question, it is now central to any contact center solution. Agents must be empowered with knowledge and insights at their fingertips specifically so they don’t have to engage others. We are the most demanding consumers, ever, the everything customer**. We will only engage with an agent when the self-service, web experience or business app, (banking, health, fitness, travel etc) isn’t good enough. So, when we begrudgingly engage with an agent, that agent better not need to conference transfer me or ask me to speak to someone else. And a Superhero agent with an AI sidekick, getting live suggestions from a better dynamic knowledge base, (that’s accurate because “users” keep it that way) based on intent and sentiment, is much more likely to turn me into a brand fan, a proponent of the brand.

As an agent I want to create in-the-moment memorable experiences, made possible by technology. More ambitious contact center staff want to be part front- and part back- office, splitting their day based on a SaaS consumption model making it possible to do so, improving lifestyle balance.

Final Thoughts

Teams + Contact Center technology is a “connectivity” solution for an outdated, less equipped, agent. Of course, this is likely why Microsoft, themselves, built Microsoft’s Digital Contact Center Platform based on Dynamics, entirely suited to empowering the agent. Given, you don’t store customer insight within a CCaaS solution this is a solution design that’s worked very well for Salesforce with ServiceCloud, supported by an extensive ecosystem. That’s what we feel really safe buying, ecosystem.

I’m keen to hear from people who’ve solved the Contact Center + Teams “rules” of engagement problem. And perhaps those that have combined the power of AI in this design, too.

* The new work nucleus refers to “a collection of ever-changing, multivendor, SaaS-based personal and team productivity applications that replaces decades-old on-premises applications centered around Microsoft Office.”

** The “everything customer” wants fair and equal treatment, yet also want to feel unique. They want to be treated the same as everyone else but expect to be treated better. They want a full-featured, sometimes complex, suite of CX options, but they also want their customer experience to be effortless and simple. In short what the everything customer wants is extremely difficult to solve for.