Retail as an industry has been undergoing tremendous change over the last few decades. Retailers are continuously investing in digital transformation, especially during and following the global pandemic, which changed the face of the retail experience forever.
Now that the pandemic appears to be under control, shoppers are returning to stores, but with different expectations than before March of 2020. For example, they were exposed to new ways to buy online and pick up in-store and became more accustomed to self-checkout and mobile shopping using in-store apps.
Throughout this evolution, frontline retail workers have also evolved and become the "human side" of this transformation, driving investment in empowering those frontline workers and keeping them connected with corporate buying offices and more. But, not only are customer experiences (CX) being elevated – so are employee experiences (EX).
Microsoft Teams for frontline workers, with a customizable range of apps to improve engagement, efficiency, and productivity, "serves as a modern, intuitive, and security-enhancing solution addressing the needs of frontline workers at retail organizations," according to a Forrester Consulting Total Economic Impact study, commissioned by Microsoft. "Employees can access Teams on a wide range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, facilitating collaborative work within frontline teams as well as between frontline employees and the rest of the organization."
To better understand the benefits, costs, and risks associated with deploying Teams for frontline workers, Microsoft commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct this Total Economic Impact (TEI) study by interviewing decision makers from seven organizations.
The interviewees' organizations adopted Microsoft Teams to optimize the workforce experience for their frontline. Their organizations struggled with several challenges in their legacy environments, including:
- Lack of an efficient solution for real-time communication. Frontline supervisors were constantly busy responding to the demands of the ever-changing retail environment. The need to spend an additional 15-20 minutes searching for a specific employee or superior on the retail floor to respond to those evolving circumstances was an added burden. There was no channel for instant communication in place, causing frontline workers to feel siloed and disconnected.
- Limited access to knowledgeable sources to deliver an optimal customer experience (CX). Frontline workers often needed additional information through data documents or supervisor approval to respond to customer requests or determine the appropriate course of action. Their inability to access those resources on the spot hampered their ability to act.
- Difficulty relaying information from shift to shift. Interviewed retail organizations did not have a designated system for shift employees to leave instructions regarding unfinished tasks, changes in priorities, or new instructions for the incoming shift. This caused unforeseen errors and inefficiencies.
- Poor user experience and employee engagement. Interviewed executives relayed that their retail organizations used a myriad of communication and collaboration tools before Teams. However, these tended to pose technology and user problems in the frontline setting, which made real engagement difficult.
With this input from retail technology buyers, Microsoft continued to enhance Teams for retail transformation and attracted many large enterprises to adopt Teams as a unified, easy-to-use tool, including secure chat messaging, voice calling, video calls, and online meetings.
In tandem, retailers recognized the need for premium PSTN connectivity for Teams and either bundled connectivity with Teams implementations or put better connectivity in place after the core implementations were completed, using Direct Routing (DR) or Direct Routing as a Service (DRaaS) for Teams, provided by Communications Service Providers or Managed Service Providers, many of the original "Gold Partners" reselling and adding value to Microsoft products for decades.
"Microsoft Teams' collaboration capabilities enable companies to move beyond transactional messages and meetings and focus on the flow of work," said Kim Jones, AVP, Marketing, Kandy
Kandy provides Direct Routing as a Service, leveraging its experience in SIP Trunking as a Service and the support of cloud-first voice, video, collaboration, and messaging with its Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) offering.
"Microsoft Teams helps save time and money for the business by bringing together chat, calls, meetings, Microsoft 365 apps, and third-party tools in one centralized platform," Jones said, "but only if the quality of the experience is consistently excellent, including connecting to the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) to make off-net and mobile calls. This is where DRaaS comes in."
Connecting All Users Requires PSTN Access
While Microsoft Teams offers an assortment of enhancements, enabling PSTN access for conventional voice users brings challenges that have made some enterprises hesitant.
"Microsoft Calling Plans may be suitable for small enterprises, but many medium and large businesses require the benefits associated with keeping their existing carriers and voice plans,” Jones said. “In addition, they need help to integrate and support existing PBX services, call or contact centers, and legacy analog systems."
Kandy offers Microsoft Teams DRaaS through CSPs and MSPs as a white-label, cloud-based solution that is multi-tenanted and scalable to handle the largest multi-site retail environments.
"Service providers appreciate the ease of tenant setup, provisioning, and management of phone numbers, users, license packages, and voice plans using our intuitive digital portal," Jones said. "Our ability to integrate into carriers' networks and deal with legacy infrastructure, gateways, interfaces, and services in the enterprise customers' networks, enabling them to service their end-user customers with APIs, is a real differentiator."
Kandy's CPaaS platform forms the backbone of Kandy's Microsoft Teams Direct Routing as a Service solution and is designed to integrate with carriers' UCaaS and other third-partner communications applications that require number and user management, SIP Trunking, and other capabilities.
In January 2022, Microsoft revealed that Microsoft Teams was being used by more than 270 million users every month, and that number will now be more like 285 million, according to a Cavell Group forecast.
"That's a pretty startling figure as you only have to travel back in time to November 2019 for the first public user announcement when there were only 20 million users," Cavell reported in a recent blog post.
"Teams' success can be attributed to various factors including its inclusion within Microsoft's Office 365 productivity suite, and a global pandemic which radically boosted its relevance to everyday businesses and, in turn, its user numbers," Cavell continued, also noting that the one feature that isn't included – as standard – is telephony. Teams users need to enable PSTN connectivity through a growing number of options.
Currently, only a small proportion of Teams users globally have PSTN telephony enabled. Cavell Group's global data for the unified communications market and Teams telephony shows that the total number of Teams telephony-enabled users is around 11-13 million (this has subsequently been confirmed by Microsoft in its FY22 Q4 Earnings Release), which is less than 5% of the overall Teams user base. The vast majority, around two-thirds, of those users are deployed in North America and Western Europe.
The scope for growth in this area is huge. Cavell Group's forecasts for North America and Western Europe see the number of telephony-enabled Teams users more than quadrupling over the next five years to reach more than 25 million by the end of 2026.
Edited by Erik Linask