Tech Talk
with Mark Allen

Upgrading Teams to an Enterprise Digital Engagement Platform

Altigen Tech Talk

Altigen’s Tech Talk provides a deeper dive into the world of Teams communications. Featured in our Tech Talk blogs is Altigen’s Chief Technical Officer, Mark Allen, who discusses various ways in which Teams is driving the future of the modern workplace.

This week we sat down with Mark to discuss how Altigen’s solution, CoreInteract, extends the capabilities of Microsoft Teams phone system as a complete Enterprise Digital Customer Engagement platform.

Q: What is CoreInteract?

A: CoreInteract is a customer engagement tool for enterprise customers. We have extended Microsoft Teams capabilities and built routing and queuing, analyzing, and reporting to route multiple forms of communication in and out of Teams. Particularly when you have a many to one audience or you have a situation where you need to engage with customers, and you want everything nicely wrapped into Microsoft Teams. It’s an Omni channel customer engagement platform, so we add to what Microsoft Teams offers in voice and chat by integrating additional channels of communication.

Q: How does CoreInteract build on Teams Call Queues, or how is it different than Teams Call Queues?

A: Microsoft Call Queues are designed to cover the basics of what a phone system may need if moving to Microsoft Teams for telephony. It’s the basics of a traditional phone system. Basics meaning, simple hunt group, call queues, and some simple routing. This functionality works great for companies in a very basic form. However, any company that has a traditional phone system will soon find some functionality missing. Again, keep in mind that teams were designed as a collaboration platform and some basic voice functionality was retrofitted. Anybody coming off a true enterprise phone system realizes there are just some missing settings.

With CoreInteract, we’ve added some of those traditional voice routing and queuing configuration settings that might help someone where the basics don’t quite cut it. If someone is coming to Teams from Cisco or some similar telephony system you quickly realize some things are missing from a pure voice conversation. CoreInteract replaces call queues with the basics but also some supplemental pieces to allow customers to replace their old phone system. Some of the templated Auto Attendant and Call Queue features cover the basics but, there are always scenarios where you need to route calls in a more complex fashion.

Q: CoreInteract can handle custom routing requirements. What are some other areas CoreInteract can help?

A: Some of the other things that customers require include things like connecting to external data sources for customer routing solutions. Using a data source to help route calls is a common one. CoreInteract can connect to data sources to support ‘data directed routing’ scenarios. For example, if a customer calls about an open help desk ticket, CoreInteract can route the customer to the right team or agent based upon the data in the ticketing system.

Q: What types of companies and users would benefit from CoreInteract?

A: Unfortunately, many customers don’t realize they need CoreInteract until they’ve deployed Teams Phone System. Companies have found they’ve moved to a work from home or hybrid model, and they’ve lit up Teams Voice but found they have functionality gaps from their primary phone system. One typical scenario is where customers want to move to Teams Phone System, they utilize CoreInteract to make the leap. We see this in both large enterprises and smaller groups within a company. That said, the most common use case is related to enterprise-level routing for departments like sales, support, or order processing where you don’t necessarily need a full Contact Center solution to route calls. Basically, just groups inside a company that need more complex routing capabilities than just a basic phone system but, they’re not quite a call center either.

Q: Can CoreInteract cohabitate within an organization with Contact Center and other telephony solutions?

A: Yes, not only can CoreInteract be deployed alongside other solutions, but it also fits perfectly for those users sitting inside the organization that has extra needs. It’s not an all or nothing solution. It’s native to Teams and Teams operates as expected for other users who don’t have a need for CoreInteract. You may use Auto Attendant for the first ring and then send callers off to CoreInteract for routing to certain groups. It can work in basically any configuration.

Q: One frustration we hear is related to the lack of reporting in Microsoft Teams. What reporting capabilities does CoreInteract offer?

A: Today, Teams reporting primarily lists calls. In our experience, being in the voice space, we understand that the data is great but providing context around the data is more helpful. How long did I engage with a customer? Did they stop waiting for me to answer? How long did they wait to get an answer? These are metrics that may or may not be accessible from call queue data.

CoreInteract reporting is driven around customer experience. Because we already parse data out into text and database fields, we provide the raw data to help the customer understand their business better. Sure, we have some canned reports but, we expose the data for the customer to leverage Power BI and other tools to meet their needs too. Many enterprise organizations have staff assigned to retrieve, consolidate, review, and interpret data reports. We’re working to make that much easier and more intuitive.

Q: Does this also mean Microsoft Partners can build Power BI and Power Automate solutions around CoreInteract and the data?

A: Absolutely, CoreInteract is more than an application, it’s a platform. It has the functionality enterprise customers need as a product but allows for expansion into all kinds of scenarios. It allows customers and partners to customize solutions on top of CoreInteract and we encourage that. The reason this is important is that some of our competitors have long release cycles. If the feature doesn’t exist today, they need to wait until a future release. CoreInteract allows for the ability to develop together and extend the functionality.

Let’s say one of our partners has expertise in the voice space and wants to extend CoreInteract with Power BI. They want to write a value-add solution on CoreInteract and offer it to their customers. That is a very supportable scenario for us. In fact, some of our partners are already looking at some of that in the Dynamics 365 space and how they can take CoreInteract as a platform and add value through reporting or services on top of CoreInteract and take that to their customer base. I bring it up here because that’s usually where we’re seeing it in the reporting and data pieces where partners could come up with solutions, but that’s not the end. Just because we haven’t done it yet, doesn’t mean it can’t be extended. We’re looking at how carriers can offer solutions, different cognitive solutions from different providers, different AI solutions that aren’t fixed to the platform.

Q: Since you brought up Analytics, can you build on that?

A: Sure, reporting is typically around what happened. Analytics is understanding elements of why something happened. This is where it’s getting exciting. There are basically three aspects to customer interaction. First, what happened leading up to the interaction. Second, what happened during the interaction. Third, what was the result of the interaction. Most reporting speaks to time-bound information. How long did it take to do an action? We’re working on advanced analytics that looks at the guts of the conversation to identify the quality of the interaction. Things like inflection, the words used, sentiment. So now, you can go beyond saying something like, “my agents are busy 50% of the time”. Now, we’re able to tell that 25% of those interactions were negative and determine how improvement can be made. Today customers are thinking, “I think we could improve if we had them talk less or resolve an issue faster”, we’re able to start talking about positive conversations and identifying the traits of those interactions. Improving the speed of answer, abandon rates, call durations is all time-based. That’s not addressing the heart of the issue. We’re hoping our partners start to produce value by driving these kinds of solutions with customers. This allows them to have conversations about improving sales or legitimately improving customer support with actionable intelligence.

This also brings about automated call quality monitoring. This is also going to save time and be more effective. Imagine the ability to send an alert when incorrect information is given or a call is trending poorly. Rather than report on what happened and what you’re going to do about it, you can act right away.

This makes CoreInteract, as a platform, so exciting. We keep getting pulled into the direction of adding more call center specific features because people are getting excited about removing their huge call center expense by going to CoreInteract and we get that. Our challenge is to not lose focus that our desire to make customer engagement better.

Q: We’ve talked a lot about voice but let’s not forget the other modalities of communication this enables. How is CoreInteract addressing these other methods of communication?

A: Because CoreInteract is a platform, we’re able to leverage all the routing, queueing, reporting, and analytics of voice with tons of other modalities. We’re enabling our customers to communicate with their customers where they want to be met.

Here’s a quick story. I was at a phone carrier event in Vegas when in person events were a thing. The participants were all about learning which carriers were paying the most commission or best SPIFFs. One of the big providers brought in a panel of five millennial leaders. All executive level or higher in these trendy organizations. They put these millennials on stage and said, “we’re going to ask you guys’ questions. Please answer openly and honestly”. Keep in mind, this was a telephony related event. The first question was “What is the biggest irritation you have when dealing with a company you want to work with?” Immediately, all their hands went up. One of them said, “When you go to a website, and it has an 800 number and a webchat and that’s it.” All of them nodded and shook their heads and the hands went down because that’s what they wanted to say. Remember, you’re in a room of telephony people that sell 800 numbers and web chats. The room was just told by 5 successful millennials that are running today’s relevant corporations that only having 800 numbers and Web Chat as communication options irritates them and they don’t want that. What’s amazing is that after the conference none of them got the point.

The point was that customers don’t want to be pushed to your preferred methods of communication. They want to communicate where they are. They want to communicate via Instagram, Twitter, Messenger, or a plethora of 1,000 other messaging and voice applications. They want you to support the app they’re using so they don’t have to jump apps to get into your app. The reality is, is the world still hasn’t adjusted to support these scenarios but, it’s a growing pain that companies are thinking about. They’re thinking, “Oh, we’re being convenient by offering a webchat and an 800 number” but, they’re irritating the current customer base because they’re making them leave their tool to come to theirs, and so the idea of CoreInteract came about. By not changing a thing in CoreInteract, you could add support for WhatsApp. You could support SMS, etc. Just by adding a channel. Companies can differentiate themselves by meeting their customers where they want to be met. It’s mind melting to think about the first mover advantages of stuff like this.

Q: How scalable is CoreInteract?

A: We have solutions for enterprise and small customers that might not need complex workflows, it could be routing calls from an account to a specific sales rep or if someone calls in for a service issue and I want to route it to the support team. However, CoreInteract has the capacity to scale up very easily to help very large organizations that might have very complex ways of managing customers or ways to communicate with them.

We’re trying to be the middle ground for communication and getting those data points into the right person in the enterprise. It may even be internal communications. If you take Health Insurance Groups, you might have 50,000 employees and you may be trying to get something routed from HR data versus Dynamics data. Your customer might not be someone external, your customer calling in might be yourselves. Depending on what your role is, but taking HR as an example, your customer is your own employee.

Q: Thank you for your time, Mark and it was great to get a better insight into Dynamics, Teams, and CoreInteract.

A: My pleasure.

To find out more about CoreInteract, head to the page here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *