In the field of customer experience (CX) innovation, Microsoft has emerged as a vanguard for organizations that are striving to differentiate themselves at every stage of the customer journey.

CX has come a long way from the traditional call center that relied on standalone technology solutions which had limited scope. Over time, the modes of CX-related communication have expanded from human-to-human to include human-to-machine and machine-to-machine. Modern contact centers are increasingly equipped with systems that can evolve as customer and business needs change, and make intelligent, automated decisions. These systems can also be integrated with other parts of the business.

A new layer of CX innovation

At the start the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations had to find a way to enable their employees to work from home while keeping their contact centers up and running. The result was a big migration from legacy CX and employee experience (EX) tools to cloud-based communication and collaboration products like Microsoft Teams.

Now, three years on and with hybrid working and new AI applications a fact of life, organizations want to add a modern CX approach to what they are already getting from Microsoft Teams – and Microsoft’s Azure Communication Services (ACS) can act as the enabler in this context.

Where on-premises contact centers had limited connectivity and functionality, a cloud-based approach supported by ACS delivers benefits that include complex call flows and AI functionality, leading to a range of solutions that can be tailored by industry.

I recently took part in a panel discussion on the future of the communications platform as a service (CPaaS) with ACS, alongside representatives from Microsoft and communications software maker AudioCodes, with moderation by Kevin Nethercott and Rob Kurver, Managing Partner and Founding Partner, respectively, of the CPaaS Acceleration Alliance. You can watch it online, but I’ll summarize the highlights of our discussion in this blog.

CPaaS refers to a cloud-based service delivered by a provider like NTT that adds real-time communications capabilities – voice, video and text – to an organization’s applications. There’s also a big focus on ongoing management and innovation beyond chat and traditional voice, including AI and IoT.

Then, there’s programmable communications: a software-driven framework for managing organizations’ various communications channels faster, more cheaply and with less complexity. Our clients want this type of enhancement offered as CPaaS and integrated with Microsoft Teams.

Every Teams user can now be a customer-service agent

Using CPaaS to improve communications includes adding the ability for customers to talk to employees beyond the contact center. For example, they might be chatting to a bot on a website or a mobile app, but that contact can now escalate to a service number that connects the customer to a human agent working from home or at the office.

In this environment, ACS delivers more functionality and better real-time communications than traditional unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and contact center as a service (CCaaS). In fact, Microsoft is positioning ACS as a CX “hyperscaler” that enables partners like NTT to build out these winning scenarios for their clients.

For example, some legacy PBX solutions like receptionist consoles need to be integrated with Teams to support a migration to the cloud. We have used ACS to build new workflows for our clients that include receptionist consoles in ACS.

In a dispatch or manufacturing setting, an AI-enabled bot or an IoT sensor can automatically escalate a problem or an alert to a human who can pick up the call in Teams, either from a contact center or elsewhere in the organization.

So, every Teams user in an organization becomes a potential agent, which opens up a world of new possibilities, including in terms of analytics. Think of a sales team that traditionally received calls on a variety of channels, including their private mobile phones –now, managers can track sales calls and trends in these conversations more closely. The same goes for EX-focused areas such as HR, IT and travel desks with a high volume of interactions. ACS lets us deliver modern CX capabilities to this EX universe.

AI: the new frontier

Amid the rise of ChatGPT and other AI applications, organizations are realizing the power of interacting with machines using natural language.

And, because ACS is part of the overall Microsoft ecosystem, an organization that deploys ACS as part of CPaaS is just a quick step away from integrating the latest AI-driven tools and services from the likes of OpenAI and Azure Cognitive Services.

These tools are different from their predecessors because they typically tap into a range of data sets, not siloed databases, to provide intelligent answers based on insights aggregated from multiple data sources.

Sooner or later, every organization will have these tools answering everything from consumers’ product questions in the CX environment to employees’ leave and pay-slip queries.

Importantly, with Microsoft 365, the new AI approach also helps apply organizations’ security policies and profiles across the stack to make any new technology compliant for any type of employee.

Most organizations stand to gain from these changes – provided that they have access to the expertise and support offered by a partner like NTT. We have a long-standing partnership with Microsoft, and Microsoft Teams is our preferred cloud-collaboration platform.

CX and EX are entering a new world of technological efficiency and innovation, and we see this as having huge potential for our clients in all industries.