Integrated Contact Centers for Microsoft Teams: Connect – Extend – Power

Microsoft offers three different models for integrating a contact center with Microsoft Teams – Connect, Extend, and Power. In this blog post, we’ll look at the different approaches and discuss their benefits and pitfalls.

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Microsoft Teams is a powerful unified communications (UC) platform that excels at providing communication and collaboration tools. For organizations that also require advanced contact center capabilities, there is an option to extend the platform with third-party contact center integration. Microsoft offers a range of certified solutions that are differentiated by their integration model – Connect, Extend, and Power.

The Three Integration Approaches: Connect, Extend, and Power

Many contact center vendors claim to offer ‘fully integrated’ or ‘teams-native’ solutions. However, because these terms are not clearly defined or are used incorrectly, the best way to differentiate between levels of integration is to look at the Microsoft-defined integration models of Connect, Extend, and Power.

Connect Extend Power
Summary Contact center solution connects to Teams phone system infrastructure using SIP connectivity Contact center integrates with the Teams client through the Cloud Communications API in Microsoft Graph The contact center directly accesses Teams functionality using Teams SDKs
Integration SIP trunking, presence API Cloud Communications API in Microsoft Graph Microsoft Teams SDKs (not available yet)
User client Standalone client or third-party app in Microsoft Teams Microsoft Teams Microsoft Teams
Call connectivity/ PSTN Direct routing (SBC) Direct Routing, Operator Connect, and Calling Plans Direct Routing, Operator Connect, and Calling Plans
Call handling The call arrives in the contact center solution via the SBC. The contact center solution locates the right user in Teams and sends the call to Teams via a SIP trunk. The call comes directly into Teams and stays within the customer’s Teams tenant. The contact center doesn’t handle the call; it simply tells Teams which user to send the call to. The call comes directly into Teams and stays in the customer’s Teams tenant. The contact center solution can access all call functionality directly in Teams and connect callers to the right user.
  • Can connect to different communication systems (e.g., Cisco, Slack)
  • Teams is the central communication hub
  • Access to the entire Microsoft Azure ecosystem
  • Media stream stays inside Teams
  • Works with all Teams modalities
  • Highest audio and video quality, minimal latency
  • One –app and one-screen contact center experience

Connect: Loosely Integrated Contact Centers Using SIP Connectivity

Connected contact centers, which connect to Teams through direct routing and certified SBCs, are a quick and easy way to quickly integrate an existing contact center solution with Teams. Such contact centers often act like a conductor orchestrating a symphony and are a good option for organizations that want to harmonize different communication systems such as Teams and other communication platforms or telephony systems in a single solution.

Connected contact centers can take one of two forms:

  1. The contact center solution is a standalone client or website with proprietary calling and other modalities, such as video or screenshare. It only uses the connection to Teams to retrieve the employees’ presence status.
  2. The contact center solution is a third-party application within Teams that uses the standard Teams voice calls. It leverages Teams as a telephony solution, allows any Teams user to be a contact center agent, and makes it easy to find and engage internal experts in customer service.
Call Handling With a Connected Contact Center

Because Conntected contact centers provides only a single point of connection between the contact center solution and Teams, the call first arrives at the contact center solution, which then retrieves the presence status of employees in Teams. The call can then be handled in one of two ways, depending on whether it is a standalone client or a third-party application.

In a standalone client, the contact center solution routes the customer interaction to an available employee in the standalone contact center client. Any modality that the solution offers (e.g. voice, video, chat, screenshare) can be used. These are not Teams-modalities but proprietary interactions within the contact center solution. Standalone clients are most often seen in traditional contact centers.

In third-party applications in Teams, the contact center solution sends the customer interaction to Teams using Direct Routing. The employee receives a normal Teams call. This is especially useful for informal agents, such as internal help desk or call groups, who receive customer calls on an irregular basis. Optionally, the solution provider can provide a dedicated Teams application for users with additional functionality, such as information about the current call, a streamlined user interface, or a 360-degree customer view.

In both cases, the call, and therefore the audio stream, first arrives at the contact center solution (managed by the solution provider) and either stays there (standalone solution) or is sent to Teams (third-party application). The solution provider must provide security and encryption for the calls on its solution. It’s also important where the solution provider has hosted its service geographically, which should be considered in terms of GDPR, internal data policies, and voice quality.

User Experience With a Connected Contact Center

In standalone clients, the communication platforms are independent of each other. As a result, users can receive a contact center call and a Teams call at the same time. Solution providers can provide a better user experience with a third-party application. In this scenario, employees use Teams as their only client and can only receive calls through Teams, eliminating the possibility of multiple calls.

But whether you use a standalone client or a Teams application, call handling is managed by the contact center solution and routed through multiple systems and locations. This can lead to latency and poor call quality, such as delays and jitter. Connected contact centers with third-party applications also can’t switch modalities to video calls or use chat or screen sharing from within Teams; interactions are limited to voice calls.

Extend: Deeply Integrated Using Cloud Communications API

Extended contact centers for Teams offer a deeper API-based integration. They fully integrate into the Teams calling infrastructure and client platform using the Cloud Communication APIs (part of the Graph API) and use the Teams framework for all call and contact center experiences including presence status, call handling, call functionality, and more. Think of Extended contact centers as being in a finely choreographed dance with Teams, where every move the contact center makes is met with a precise response from Teams. For organizations that want a simple and streamlined experience right inside Teams, Extend is the best integration model.

Call Handling With an Extended Contact Center

Extended contact center solutions never “touch” the call; they simply tell Teams what to do with it. That way the call and media stream remains within the customer’s Teams tenant. Because the solution provider doesn’t need access to the call, everything from security to encryption is covered by Microsoft and the call handling is already covered by the company’s approved GDPR and internal data policies. Because everything runs within Microsoft Azure and the customer’s Teams infrastructure, latency, and jitter are minimized, and the highest audio and video quality is ensured.

User Experience With an Extended Contact Center

Extended contact center solutions streamline the admin and user experience in Microsoft Teams. This includes single sign-on, call handling, and presence status. Everything is consolidated within the familiar Teams environment, which means little to no training is required. Users can make normal Teams calls and easily switch between communication modes, moving seamlessly from a voice call to screen sharing.

Power: Directly Accessing Teams Functionality Through SDKs (No Certification Available Yet)

The Power integration model holds great potential for solution providers to add Teams functionality directly into their contact center solution using Teams SDKs. In this approach, Teams functionality can be thought of as puzzle pieces that contact center vendors can embed directly into their application. A Power Contact Center promises to deliver a one-app, one-screen contact center experience. However, Microsoft does not offer official certification for this integration method, and the technology is limited in availability.

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