Can Microsoft Teams Really Replace Your Phone System?

When I am asked if Microsoft Teams can really replace a client’s phone system my answer is always “maybe.” This question is like asking someone if a blue car could meet all their needs, it doesn’t address what features they’re looking for. Here at Ovatio Technologies, we love Microsoft Teams. We use it for collaboration, file storage, and… a phone system. For our telephony needs, it works. Yes, Microsoft Teams advertises as a fully functioning phone system and while they are not lying, any traditional VoIP provider or PBX administrator would certainly disagree that it offers the full functionality of a traditional phone system. To address the reasons why our administrator friends are not ready yet to accept Teams as a phone system replacement, let’s start by examining the telephony features of Teams.

What are the features of Teams as a phone system?

Auto Attendants
Teams Auto Attendants are now a viable usable platform and have been moved to the Teams portal (previously only in the Legacy Skype for Business portal). They can utilize recordings and dial inputs (think ‘press 1 for sales’) as well as timeframes and holidays. They can route to an operator, people, another auto attendant, or a call queue.

Call Queues
Call Queues in Teams work, but poorly. There is a well-documented delay in picking up a Teams Queue Call 4-10 seconds from when it is answered to when 2-way audio works. The delay has been around since Call Queues were introduced, and some say it existed back in Lync Server. Users could be trained to work with the delay but reteaching a lifetime of call answering behavior due to a technical problem is not wise. However, there is a fully functional workaround utilizing Group Call pickup.

Call Queues rely on Office 365 groups and adding
members is not quick; there are long delays from the time a user is added to a
group, to when they are included in a call queue, to when they actually receive
calls.

Group Call Pickup
Group Call Pickup is an excellent feature and also the main workaround to the performance issues of Call Queues. Group Call Pickup allows a user or an administrator to assign up to 25 people to receive a user’s phone calls. It can be set to ring simultaneously or in a defined order after a period of time a call goes unanswered. This feature can be ideal for a collaborative team or an executive/executive assistant relationship.

Caller ID Policies
Caller ID Policies provide the ability to change the outgoing caller ID to any service number (non-direct dial). This can now be done from the portal. Previously, this was only possible with PowerShell.

Call Park
Users can place a call on ‘park’ to be answered by another user or by another device. This functionality is convenient when you need to move a call from a desk phone to a conference room phone, or to your mobile device.

What phone features are you looking for?

"We only need a simple Auto Attendant and Company Directory."

Good News! You can really have these features with Microsoft Teams – replacing your phone system IS an option.

All users require is the appropriate licensing and they will have all the flexibility of using Teams as their complete phone system. This is great for organizations without complex requirements, especially those that are already using Teams for collaboration and are outside of a brick and mortar location. Remote teams will love the flexibility and functionality of having their phone anywhere they have an internet connection.

Important tips to note:

All users need to have the phone system license set up to forward calls to a cell phone (or any outside number). The ability to forward calls does NOT work without a license.

Currently, there are no phone extension numbers in Teams; the caller must say the desired person’s name to reach them from the directory (simply have the auto attendant explain/state this).

The cell phone app is convenient but should not be relied upon for heavy calling use. If you are a receptionist or a support group fielding incoming daily calls, the cell phone app is not ideal.

Opting for a desk phone is still highly recommended and configuration of the phones is much easier than other phone systems.

"We need recording, Call Queues, IVR’s, and more.”

Bad News! You can’t really have these features with
Microsoft Teams so replacing your phone system (likely) ISN’T an option.

Additions of Call Queues and IVR’s (Interactive
Voice Recordings)
makes implementation much more difficult. Understandably,
these features are required for a larger modern call center to operate as expected.
And, if you’re looking for call recording to meet compliance and quality
control requirements as of today, it remains unavailable – even from a 3rd
party solution. Right away, this is a deal-breaker for anyone in stringent compliant-regulated
industries.

Teams Call Queues struggle to work the way they should; the delays and difficulty managing them makes for a negative user experience. Currently, there is no way for a call in the queue to be notified of their position in line and there is no native way to incorporate a dashboard of calls in the queue. Utilizing the workaround with Group Call Pickup will limit your ‘queue’ to 25 users.

IVRs, like for entering account information or verifying identity
are not available out of the box. However, 3rd party vendors have recently
made them available. For a period this was not possible due to limitations in
the API. Now a large opportunity exists to utilize Bots for phone calls, but
these are completely built to suit... again, there are no Bots directly out of
the box.

There is a new release coming for a Teams calling API that will allow 3rd party contact centers to enter the market, hopefully providing some of its missing functionality, but until then certain use cases just won’t work.

Still not sure if Teams is a good phone replacement? Please don't hesitate to give me a shout. Or, if your organization is completely new to Teams, check out Plan and Deploy for more information.

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