Behind the Scenes: How Accent Computer Solutions Responds Faster and Improves Teamwork by Using Microsoft Teams for its After-hours IT Support Process
When the idea of using Microsoft Teams for handling after-hours calls came up, we were skeptical. After all, technology professionals know that it’s a lot easier to get an application to do what it’s designed to do, rather than ask it to do something that’s not its primary purpose. But after lots of investigation and testing, Accent has changed the way after-hours IT support calls are handled and has started using Microsoft Teams.
If you’re one of the many companies that have had employees working from home during the COVID-19 public health crisis, you may be familiar with Microsoft Teams, a software that provides a platform for communication and collaboration around different departments, projects or topics.
Why would we think that Microsoft Teams would be a good replacement for phone service? Turns out, there are many good reasons, but before we get to them, let me take a step back and explain why we were ready to make a change.
On-Call Process Using Cell Phone Was Clunky
We are available for our clients 24/7 for emergencies, which means someone must always be available to respond to issues after-hours and weekends. Our on-call staff rotates to share this duty and we had a cell phone that was passed around to whomever was working.
Whenever a client called in needing after-hours support, a voice message that went to the cell phone. The engineer listened to the message, returned the call to the client, and then initiated whatever response was needed.
This system worked very well for more than 10 years but it started to feel clunky.
Passing around the phone wasn’t that big of a deal when we were all working in the office, but when everyone dispersed, handing the phone around didn’t work as well. Also, three of the employees who take on-call shifts live in other states, so it was impossible to hand off the phone to them. In those cases, we would just forward to calls to their cell phone.
It also started to feel a little uncomfortable to have this call and response process totally isolated to one person. One of our core values is “Work & Win as a Team” and having part of the on-call activity invisible to the team was counter to the way we prefer to work.
Microsoft Teams Was Go-To Tool for Internal Communications
The idea to use Microsoft Teams for our on-call system stemmed from the fact that it was already our go-to tool for internal communications via instant messaging, voice and video.
One day, it dawned on us that we could build an improved on-call process inside of Teams and we started investigating.
Turns out, Microsoft Teams has an integration that essentially makes it possible for the platform to replace your phone system. You can make and receive calls, and it has all the functionality and features that you’re used to in your regular business phone system.
Note: There is some set up required and costs associated because you still need to get a license and access the public switched network (PSTN) with a calling plan.
On-Call Process Becomes Visible from Incoming Call to Outcome
We converted our on-call system to Microsoft Teams in less than a day.
Now, when a client calls our main phone line and hits “2” for after-hours support, it goes to a mailbox inside of Teams and kicks off a workflow that starts by transcribing the message into text.
The transcript is sent to the On-Call Team (not just one person anymore, but a team with escalation tiers), creating visibility into after-hours support requests for the whole team. There’s still one person who’s designated to respond and triage the message, but if something delays their response, it won’t go unnoticed. In fact, if it’s not answered, the new message will keep pinging everyone on the team until it’s answered.
And if the on-call technician needs help from a fellow engineer, they can easily reach out – again, with all the communication happening inside of Teams.
The whole process from incoming call to outcome is now visible in Microsoft Teams, but that’s not all that the on-call team has to handle. They also need to respond to automated alerts that come in from programs that are monitoring server performance, so we decided to point those alerts towards Teams as well.
Automated Alerts Linked to On-Call Process in Teams
Using another Microsoft app called “Flow” we created a workflow that would notify the on-call people in a similar way to how they receive after-hours phone calls, and we linked it to the ticketing system in our line-of-business software.
We’ve been using this system for a while now and it’s saved us a lot of time, as well as improving the experience for both clients and employees. We’re not only using different software tools, but we’ve improved our process. This new process is more efficient, gives us 100% visibility and it aligns much better with how we work.
Microsoft Teams as a Business Phone System Replacement is a Serious Option
We haven’t moved over to Microsoft Teams for all our office phone needs yet, but we have updated our Business Continuity plan to use Teams in the event that an emergency takes out our primary phone system. We’ll be watching to see how Microsoft continues to improve their phone service capabilities.
Microsoft did pretty well at absorbing the fast scale-up in their services when everyone sent their employees home to work. With their investment in data centers and internet connectivity, they’re going to be a phone option that deserves serious consideration in the coming years.
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About Peter O'Campo
Peter O’Campo is Chief Technology Officer of Accent Computer Solutions, Inc. He earned his B.S. in Accounting from Azusa Pacific University in 1996. Prior to working for Accent, he successfully grew and sold three information technology companies. In his role as Accent’s CTO, Peter is responsible for advancing technology and increasing efficiency for both Accent and its clients. He stays up-to-date on the IT industry, evaluates new technology to stay ahead of the competition, implements technologies and processes to make staff more effective, as well as reviews and refines existing processes for efficiency.