The direction of Microsoft Teams and relevance to contact centres

Microsoft Teams first came on to the scene as recently as 2016 after a company hackathon. Subsequently, growth has been astronomical, not least over the past few years during COVID. Now the role of Teams is evolving, and it is relevant to contact centres. We explain the strengths of Teams and limitations of Teams as a communication tool, and introduce our CC4SME product as the perfect complement.

The growth of Teams

The growth-rise of Teams and collaboration tools during COVID is well publicised. In the case of Teams, it went from 20m global users in 2019 to nearly four times that by April 2020. By the start of 2022, there were an estimated 270m global users, as citizens sought new ways of staying in contact during COVID.

Recap of Teams main features:

 

  1. Videoconferencing
  2. Chat
  3. Voice-calling
  4. Encryption
  5. Integration with Office suite
  6. Four pricing plans
  7. File editing/sharing: 2GB file attachment (free) or 1TB (paid)
  8. Storeage: 10Gb (free) or 1TB/organisation + 10Gb/licence (paid)
  9. Free version available up to 100 users and 60 min group meetings
  10. Paid version up to $20/user/month

Teams vs Zoom and other UCaaS

Until the past few years, over the course of 2016-2019, Zoom had eclipsed all of its main rivals in the business communication space for internal collaboration, including Cisco’s WebEx product which had previously led the market.

 

Zoom’s success had been attributed to its focus on “frictionless” experience, subsequently amplified by a highly effective brand: “Let’s jump on Zoom” became a video-conferencing call to action akin to “Just Google it”. Zoom won by excelling at making the experience easy for users to both set-up and use. When security issues later emerged as a result of its popularity, it was effective at quelling what could have otherwise been a significant growth pain. [2]

 

Teams entered the market later five years later than Zoom in 2016 as ostensibly a chat collaboration tool.

 

However, despite its later entry, Teams has since been catching up quickly on its main rival. In the pivotal US market for instance, in 2021, Zoom has a 60% share. In other countries, including Poland and South Africa, Teams is now ahead [1].

 

As Teams evolved the common narrative became that Teams and Zoom have different relative strengths for communications inside (Teams) and outside (Zoom) the organisation. Some commentators suggest they can therefore co-exist, though most commentators now suggest organisations choose one or the other, largely as they have converged to have many overlapping features. Zoom is still seen by many to excel over Team at UI. However, we think the trajectory of growth appears to be strongly favouring Teams to win over the next few years.

How Teams is evolving

A key reason for Microsoft’s success with Teams is that they have been increasingly successful at reducing customer effort beyond just the in-app user experience. Foremost, the growth of Teams is being supported by the incredible c1.4bn active user base for Windows 10 and 11. Whereas Zoom may have excelled at reducing the customer effort involved with using the application itself, Teams is able to excel at reducing effort in a wider sense, when collaboration and project-work crosses the boundaries of different applications, by using close integration with the Office suite.

 

Microsoft have additionally been launching a blizzard of new features, particularly over the past 12-18months to enhance the user experience, to close the gap with Zoom in the latter’s traditional areas of strength. These include matching Zoom’s noise suppression, enabled by AI. Microsoft have included full screen mode in the desk top app and enhanced functionality for meeting organisers to view and manage meeting options. The ability to add a custom background was added and the new Together Mode was a further AI-enabled development to bring realism to the meeting experience.

 

On top of this, it has been enhancing the wider features that help with usability, such as adding natural language support to help with searching for messages. A Teams Chat button was installed into the Windows 11 task bar.

 

Microsoft has also started to position Teams more to serve communication needs beyond the organisations’ staff. In 2020, it supported company branding their Teams portals. Microsoft already offers calling plans for communications beyond the enterprise. All in all Microsoft Teams has become an impressive, feature rich and flexible platform that allows employees to work across their organisation and increasingly beyond.

 

Teams also has the ability to influence potential customers as it continues to evolve with valuable new features, with several new ones typically released in any given month (see Table 1, showing selected releases from Dec 2020 to Feb 2022). What can be noted from this feature list is that some of these are motivated by continuing to remove friction from the user experience of set up and participation, whereas others are helping with Teams’ utility as an internal collaboration and project tool, such as the tighter integration with Outlook and PowerPoint. This is all helping to create an ecosystem in which Teams resides at the centre of the employee’s desktop – their projects, calendar, contacts, files and communication channels all being readily available and interconnected from one portal.

Examples of recent new product and feature developments in Teams

Month

New Features

Dec 2020

Virtual breakout rooms allowing groups to split and hold brainstorms before reconverging.

Improved pre-join experience better allowing participants access to settings.

Cap removed on how many teams and organisation can created using Teams

Jan 2021

Meeting agenda is included in the free version of Teams.

Google integration allows Teams meets to be configured from a Google calendar

Company wide task lists can be created and published

Approval settings created, to help with request and signing-off project work

Feb 2021

Emotions added allowing users to make gestures such as laughter and applause

Resume presentation integrates with Powerpoint to give a seamless experience

Mar 2021

Meet now facility introduced, including the ability to start directly from Outlook

Recap allows meeting notes, transcripts and files to be captured and shared

Apr 2021

Share email to Teams from Outlook to help with collaboration

May 2021

Audio sharing for Mac allows users to share their PC’s sound with participants

Improvements to sharing made to make it easier share files and audio

Camera management allows organisers and presenters to disable cameras

Jun 2021

Spotlight allows participants videos to be “pinned” so all can see

Jul 2021

Auto-record setting introduced to ensure recording is not forgotten

Call quality monitoring is provided, refreshing every 15s

Sept 2021

Turn on transcription from the point of turning on the recording feature.

Oct 2021

Start new chat window to better organisation conversations

Whiteboard reconfiguration creates a range of new features to help with collaboration

Dec 2021

Quicker transfer between chat and channels

Jan 2022

Blur background on web Teams version to improve user experience

Feb 2022

Pin message in chat to ensure important points are always visible

Limitations of Teams & the implications for Contact Centres

However, there are still considerable limits on Microsoft Team’s ability to displace an organisation’s entire telephony service. For a start, Microsoft’s telephony plans are relatively more expensive than an organisation would pay if buying from a VoIP provider.

 

Critically, though, what Microsoft Teams doesn’t offer, and isn’t likely to any time soon, is to provide the extensive feature-set needed to provide a contact centre solution. i.e. It will not be able to help an organisation to receive, manage, route and control telephone calls, or communications through other channels, at scale.

At present, it remains the case that a call centre agent in an organisation that used Teams would have to move between two systems – Team and their external telephony system – when situations required it.

 

With this separation of the two, the benefits of Microsoft Teams, which is ever-increasing, as reflected in their range of recent feature releases, is not available to agents or indeed the contact centre staff.

 

Actions such as sharing documents easily between back-office staff and customers via agents are not effortless or frictionless.

 

Therefore, there is no ready way in the way many contact centre tech stack are set up at the moment which allow call centre managers can take advantage of the project management and diary aspects of Teams, for activities such as coaching, training or team meetings. Agents themselves cannot readily triage customers’ calls to team members.

 

The management of two systems also contributes to the present situation reported in industry analysis by Contact Babel, that where 63% of agents in medium sized contact centres are using three or more applications in one call [4. pp156]: a situation correlated with both increased cost and increased agent stress.

TelXL's Offer

At TelXL, our contact centre solution for SME (CC4SMEs) integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Teams to offer SMEs the ‘best of both’: sophisticated call centre features for managing external calls, but from within one simple Teams window. Call centre staff are able to leverage the existing and ever-expanding features and benefits of Teams when collaborating with colleagues internally, but then switch to TelXL’s call centre control portal – embedded within Teams – to manage their calls. The time and hassle of trying to flick between two systems is removed.


The job of resolving customer issues that cannot be immediately solved by the agent is also made easier, by virtue of being able to use Teams while taking a customers’ call and carry out a chat more quickly in parallel or interleaved with their customer call.


For resellers, all this means that those selling our CC4SME platform integrated with Teams can offer their SME clients – particularly in the 10-100 employee band – a range of strong benefits for their organisations: 1) improved call centre metrics, 2) a frictionless customer experience and 3) ICT management simplification.


Read more here about our CC4SME products and what they offer. (-> Link)


If you are a reseller that is interested in talking more about building a revenue stream from contact centres, then contact us to talk more.

Sources