The infrastructure behind Teams has stood up well to increased use during the pandemic: Microsoft was able to scale capacity by 60 times over seven weeks as use increased, and it’s now delivering more than five billion meeting minutes a day.

In fact, it’s so robust and available that Microsoft is now making it available to developers as Azure Communication Services, a voice, video, chat and SMS platform that developers can use via APIs. Microsoft started developing this before the COVID-19 lockdown in March, but the pandemic has added impetus to the development, which goes into public preview with an SDK at Ignite.

SEE: Digital Transformation: A CXO’s guide (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Dynamics 365 is using Azure Communication Services to add voice calls to the omnichannel features in the Dynamics 365 Customer Service application.

That could finally deliver one of the promises of unified communications — that when you get in touch with a company, they know who you are. If you call for support, an omnichannel system should be able to show the agent you speak to what you ordered online, what you said to the company on Twitter, the survey you filled in on their website, the email you sent and the fact that you’re a long-time member of their loyalty program, so that you don’t have to repeat all of that every time you talk to them.

“Regardless of what channel the conversation takes place on, the agent experience is going to be consistent and connected. [Customer support] agents can receive the full context of the call and the customer interactions that they’ve had across all the channels and that is going to result in personalised experiences,” Brenda Bown, general manager of business applications at Microsoft, told TechRepublic. “We truly believe that it will provide a more reliable fully connected and safe and secure customer experience.”

In fact, Microsoft is so confident that it’s moving all Microsoft customer service and support over to the Dynamics service. Similarly, Microsoft tested the MSR (Microsoft Research) prototype that became the Dynamics chatbot support service — which can answer simple questions and hand more complex requests off to a human agent — by using it for customer support, before providing it as a service to organisations like HP.

Integrated from billing to data

Customer service isn’t just nice to have, Bown points out. “Customer service is one of the most important factors determining an organization’s success today. A good experience obviously leads to more recommendations and increased conversion, and a poor experience — no matter how small that poor experience is — leads to customer dissatisfaction: they basically stop buying your goods and services altogether.”

Although customers talk to companies on social media and in text messages and email, about 80% of customer service interactions are still voice calls. “But all these voice calls are frequently disconnected from the core business data in the customer service platform,” says Bown.

The appeal of adding voice to Dynamics 365 Customer Service is that it’s much easier to set up than voice services from a telco — or even using developer telephony APIs from Microsoft or an alternative like Twilio — because voice calls are now data on the same system.

Bown calls it a ‘one stop shop’: “The setup and admin experience is going to be way more seamless than any of our competitors. It can be adopted and deployed in just a few steps, and we are very confident that no other vendor can deliver that. Organizations are going to be able to consistently manage all the solutions with one setup and with one admin experience. The IT folks that normally have the challenge of bringing all those channels together… we’re solving that for them.

“Typically, customer-service organisations manually integrate a lot of standalone telephony and CRM solutions that result in a lot of fragmented experiences for your agents and customers across a lot of engagement channels,” Bown adds. That means multiple contracts to negotiate and manage, complicated setup and integration processes, while scaling out to more lines or more territories can mean doing the same integration work over and over again; troubleshooting can be more complicated as well.

But if voice calls aren’t stored and analysed in the same platform as other customer service interactions, it also creates data silos. This means you’re losing out on insights covering 80% of customer interactions and agent performance.

“Now, we’re able to track trends across all the channels so you can quickly identify factors to improve that overall customer experience, accessing insights and customer interactions,” says Bown.

That includes using AI to analyse calls and make live recommendations to agents to help fix a problem quicker, using sentiment analysis and knowledgebase article recommendations, as well as call transcription that makes the content of the conversation available for tracking trends (or referring back to).

You can also use Power Virtual Agents that you’ve already built to answer questions and hand off conversations to live agents in chat channels, in voice calls as well. That gives you intelligent routing for voice, with automatic call distribution that sends a call to the most suitable agent, and capacity management for a call centre.

Voice calls will be useful in other Dynamics applications for field service and remote assistance. For example, before the pandemic Mercedes Benz had started a pilot with Dynamics 365 and HoloLens for remote vehicle maintenance. Now it has rolled that out in production as a way for customers to phone in and speak to the person working on their car. “The technician can show them exactly what’s going on in the garage where they’re actually attending their vehicle, while they’re at home or in the dealership waiting room,” Bown says.

Starting with US English

Although the Azure Communication Service preview is starting immediately, the voice features in Dynamics 365 Customer Service will come as part of the next release of Dynamics, and they will be available in a limited preview starting in October, in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. When the application reaches general availability in the first half of 2021 (likely in the spring, based on previous Dynamics releases), that will include more regions as well. However, it will be limited to regions that have both Dynamics 365 Customer Service and Azure Communication Service, and there isn’t yet a region list covering the latter.

The real-time AI support (for knowledge articles, cases and conversations) during the limited preview will also be limited to English content only, and you have to have the base language for your organization set to English. Again, more languages will be supported when the application is generally available.