Microsoft Teams: Unified Communications Platform
Microsoft Teams is a unified communications (UCaaS) service that, like other such services, aims to provide businesses with a suite of collaboration and communication tools. Most often, as is the case with Teams, these tools take the form of business instant messaging, secure file sharing, video conferencing and voice calling.
Though the focus for the majority of these tools is internal communication and collaboration (that is, voice calls, file sharing etc between colleagues within a company, rather than with anyone external to the company), the unified communications service might have a business phone system component. A good business phone system will connect staff to the PSTN, enabling them to make and take business phone calls from right within the UCaaS provider’s software.
Teams provides such a phone system component via the Microsoft Phone System add-on license. With this, Teams users can be assigned business phone numbers and called directly, as well as call out to clients and customers.
What Makes Microsoft Teams Stand Out as a UCaaS Platform?
Microsoft Teams’ principal selling point is its tight integration with other Microsoft products and services. From Onedrive file storage to Microsoft’s Office apps like Word and Excel, plus Outlook email servers, Teams users can effortlessly glide between all of these services from a single app window. Files are easily created, edited, shared, discussed and stored - all within Teams. This removes the need for having many applications open at once, making for a much more efficient workflow.
This more efficient workflow is bound to save your staff time and improve their efficiency and productivity; the primary aim of any UCaaS platform. The fact that Teams has managed to offer more efficiency and productivity for staff in a way that many other services simply can’t certainly helps to elevate it above some of the alternatives.
Teams also executes well the services unified communications platforms typically offer as standard. Native video conferencing and business instant messaging make setting up and conducting meetings, sharing and discussing documents and firing off quick queries easy, no matter where members of the team are located. For the modern workplace, where flexible and remote working are more common than ever, these are must-haves.
Where Does Teams Fall Short as a UCaaS Solution?
Phone System Features
Even the best solutions in any space will struggle to do everything perfectly and Microsoft Teams’ Achilles heel is, to the chagrin of many companies, its business phone system offering. Microsoft Phone System, as it’s known, is restrictive in its feature-set and calling plans.
Having grown out of Microsoft’s legacy Skype for Business service, the backend of Microsoft Phone System centres around ‘virtual users’, though not in the way those familiar with typical SIP users will understand. Each of your call queues in Teams, for example, are assigned to virtual users. It’s the same for any auto attendants or audio conferencing services you create too. For Microsoft Phone System, there is very little qualitative difference between a person in your business and a call queue.
This feeds directly into the restrictive nature of Teams’ features. Conference calling, call queues and auto attendants are the extents of the business phone system features you’ll have available in Microsoft Teams, along with some rudimentary call statistics reporting.
Here are some examples of these shortcomings.
Auto Attendants (IVR Menus)
Auto attendants can only go one level deep, meaning there is no way a caller can press '1' for sales, then press '2' for the London branch (a two-level IVR menu). This kind of intelligent call routing simply is not possible with Teams. The first level in the ‘tree’ is all you get.
When it comes to call routes, there is no tool in Teams like Yay.com’s modular call route creation panel. Rather than give you complete control over every feature the service has to offer and allowing you to easily implement different features at different points in your customers’ caller experience, you have to set up simple call queues, auto attendants and voice routing policies in isolation. There is little flexibility here.
Teams-Compatible Hardware Only
If you’re looking to use your UCaaS solution with your existing VoIP phone hardware, you’ll first need to carefully determine whether or not your existing hardware is compatible with Teams. This is because Microsoft Teams simply will not work with a lot of VoIP phones out there. This kind of device-locking is understandably frustrating to many businesses since it represents an additional (often unnecessary) cost.
Call and Video Quality
Despite Microsoft Teams generally delivering a solid user experience, the quality of video and voice calls is often shaky on weaker connections. If you’re a school or college, or really any business without the latest and greatest internet connection, you could well find your Teams calls dropping. The same goes for your users who are working remotely. If their internet connection isn’t great, they’re likely to experience issues. For calls and meetings between staff, this is frustrating. For calls and meetings with business partners and valued customers, however, this is unprofessional and potentially damaging.
Teams’ calling plans are very restrictive. The most inclusive plan in the UK offers 1200 domestic minutes or 600 international minutes per user per month (whichever is hit first). 1200 minutes across four weeks won’t be nearly enough for a sales or recruitment agent making outbound calls all day. Such businesses are immediately forced to look elsewhere for plans with unlimited minutes included.
Microsoft is not known for its excellent customer service. It’s not uncommon to be waiting on the phone for up to an hour if you want to speak to someone that can help you with a query. In many cases, users of Teams are left on their own to figure out how things work and to configure the platform in a way that’s best for business. Online ‘training’ is available in the form of Wizard-style walkthroughs and tours of features, but there is no real open forum for asking questions. For those coming from a different style of communications platform or phone system, migration is likely to be a bumpy process.
Alternatives to Microsoft Teams
Given the shortcomings of Microsoft Teams’ phone system, you might be interested in some alternative unified communications services.
Teams Direct Routing
Given all the things that Teams does so well, it’s a shame that it falls down when it comes to external communication. Fortunately, it’s possible to hold onto all of the internal communication and collaboration features native to Teams, including the Teams user experience, but replace Microsoft Phone System in the backend with a third-party service whose business phone system offering you prefer.
This can through a Microsoft Teams Direct Routing solution. You’ll need to pay more overall for the combination of services, but for many companies already married to the Teams ecosystem, Direct Routing represents an excellent workaround solution.
Third-Party UCaaS Providers
The second option is to break ties with Microsoft Teams altogether and to go with a third party for your ‘single pane of glass’ collaboration/communication solution. Unless you’re utterly enamoured with the Teams user experience, all you’re really missing out on by going with this option is the excellent integration with other Teams products and services.
UCaaS platforms provided by companies other than Microsoft are still likely to offer stellar business instant messaging, secure file sharing, voice and video calling and everything else that you need. What’s more, providers like Yay.com won’t force you to use a particular brand of hardware, giving you the freedom to work the way you think best.
Conclusion: Who is Microsoft Teams For?
Microsoft Teams is a great unified communications service in many ways. Everything you need is there, but larger companies will find themselves frustrated with its underpowered phone system.
Microsoft Teams is a good choice for businesses that already use Microsoft's products and services, or are looking to begin using such services, and want a Unified Communications service that integrates well with these services.
For businesses that do a lot of outbound calling, need a phone system with a lot of powerful features and customisation options, or simply need voice and video call quality and stability they can rely on, Teams is, unfortunately, unlikely to do the job all by itself. A Teams Direct Routing solution could be the perfect workaround here or, if you’re looking for a similar service free of the restrictions inherent with Microsoft Teams, a unified communications service offered by a third-party could be just what you need. Check out our guide on how to choose a UCaaS provider here.