Transforming 70 million calls at Microsoft with Microsoft Azure

Jul 7, 2020   |  

Microsoft’s call center was calling out for some major updates.

Originally designed over 20 years ago, the call center had grown into a complex patchwork of different systems handling over 73 million calls a year.

The result was a global network made up of over 20 separate phone systems, over 1,600 different customer-facing phone numbers, over 30,000 support agents, and a dedicated team per region to manage all this. In addition to the technical complexities, multiple platforms also resulted in inconsistent calling experiences for customers.

“Each time we came up with a new product, we’d spin up a new phone number and a new phone system,” says Matt Hayes, a program manager with Microsoft Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO), Microsoft’s IT and Operations division.

As some of the infrastructure started reaching the end of its life and required increasing complexity to support it, the CSEO team had a decision to make: update and replace the existing infrastructure, or overhaul the entire network?

It was then that employees in CSEO began exploring a more centralized model using cloud-related technologies. The new system promised to streamline operations and deliver a better customer experience for Microsoft customers around the world.

In 2015, Microsoft embarked on a journey to replace their legacy contact center infrastructure with a next-generation, digital cloud-based offering.

[Read about the transformation of Microsoft.]

A new system takes shape

Microsoft’s move to the new cloud system allowed it to retire most traditional isolated platforms, simplify its carrier networks, and provide huge cost savings.

“We have streamlined down to just a few carriers,” Hayes says. “It’s significantly more efficient.”

That kind of efficiency has also made it easier to monitor and troubleshoot network issues, resulting in dramatically higher and more consistent call quality.

What’s equally exciting are other innovations that CSEO has added on top of their routing cloud-based platform.

By integrating tools like Microsoft Power BI, Microsoft Azure AI, and Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services, Microsoft is driving efficiencies and unlocking insights across its call center network.

“Moving to a common platform in the cloud—and being able to innovate on that platform—has given us greater visibility into just about everything, which has led to some amazing improvements,” Hayes says.

Resource management moves into high gear

Microsoft’s customer call volume is constantly changing across different products and regions. This often overloaded one call center while another went underutilized. With the older system, it was difficult, if not impossible, to reroute calls from an overloaded center to one with more capacity.

Now, Microsoft customers go into global queues, making it easy to distribute volumes between suppliers and regions. Leveraging agents across regions during high call volumes reduces wait times and removes the burden on specific carriers and regions.

“If one supplier is overloaded, call volume simply shifts to another qualified supplier,” Hayes says.  “There’s no need to reach out to an IT service provider or supplier—it’s just part of the system.”

Call center managers can now also better forecast call volumes and provide these forecasts to outsourced suppliers, which they use for staffing plans. And of course, a more agile resource plan enables a smoother customer experience.

Just as calls and customers can be routed anywhere, so too can sales agents and supervisors be located anywhere, which includes remote sites outside a call center. This has proved particularly valuable during this period of remote working.

“We had to move all of our agents from call centers to physically working from their home, which the cloud let us do,” Hayes says.

More effective monitoring

Managers also have access to more holistic data. From the outside looking in, they can see exactly how customers move around the system. They can track how their customers are doing as they navigate through the support process, how long it takes to resolve an issue, and how agents are performing.

“We can provide a summary of every phone call that’s made, how a customer actually got to the agent, which agent they talked to, and all in one view, including both a recording and real-time transcription of the call,” Hayes says. “Better yet, we can bring up that call record in just a few hours, versus several days with the old system.”

Along with monitoring agent performance better, managers can use this data to customize coaching for great customer interactions. The system also helps ensure solid contract performance from suppliers via documented historical data.

Centralized reporting

One common cloud platform has produced one source of call center truth—which, in turn, provides a cohesive view of actuals and forecasts, as well as real-time access to key performance indicators like hold and handle times, disconnects, and even call sentiment.

This view also allows Microsoft to fine-tune the system more effectively over time.

For example, the team was able to drill into data detailing exactly why some callers were being transferred incorrectly. This led to changes in the system, which decreased transfer rates by over 48 percent.

Both invoicing and forecasting are more accurate with a single source of telephony data. And by automating many of the system’s auditing and compliance requirements, Microsoft has eliminated more costly and time-consuming manual processes.

With a move to the cloud, Microsoft’s call center operations are ready for the future.

“Ultimately for Microsoft, the shift of call center routing to the cloud has improved performance while creating exciting new opportunities for growth,” Hayes says.

Read about the transformation of Microsoft.

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