EP 18: The Future of Customer Engagement: Microsoft's Virtual Appointments

In the latest episode of Tech UNMUTED, George and Santi dig into the advanced capabilities of Microsoft Virtual Appointments. They discuss how this innovative tool is transforming customer interactions, bridging the gap between face-to-face meetings and virtual engagement. With on-demand video conference calls and easy scheduling, the Virtual Appointments app offers businesses an efficient and personalized way to connect with prospects. The hosts explore its potential applications across various industries and highlight the AI-driven urgency behind its increasing demand. Don't miss this insightful discussion on the future of customer engagement.

Watch & Listen

Tech UNMUTED is on YouTube
Catch up with new episodes or hear from our archive. Explore and subscribe!

Transcript for this Episode:

INTRODUCTION VOICEOVER: This is Tech UNMUTED. The podcast of modern collaboration – where we tell the stories of how collaboration tools enable businesses to be more efficient and connected. With your hosts, George Schoenstein and Santi Cuellar. Welcome to Tech UNMUTED.

GEORGE: Welcome to the latest episode of Tech UNMUTED. On our last episode, we spoke about a couple of Teams Premium capabilities, and one in particular that I'll get to in a second, we're going to drill down into today. You've probably already seen it in the title. If you look at the history of interactions from a sales and marketing standpoint and how those teams engage with a prospect, you go back 20, 30 years ago.

It was personal face-to-face appointments, phone calls, those kind of things. That transitions. Internet came around. Email came around, so some of those actions, interactions started to take place on email, yet form fills that emerged. Go to a website, fill out a form, submit it. Somebody gets back to you. They might email you. They might call you. Chat came out.

Probably most prominently, I started to see it about 8 to 10 years ago. It became more and more important from an engagement standpoint. Where we seem to be moving now is to virtual appointment. Almost, the combination of a lot of those things that happened before, it has the feel of a face-to-face interaction. It has some of the elements of chat and phone. Santi, you want to drill down a little bit more on that from-- Again, we're looking at the Microsoft ecosystem specifically on this one.

SANTI: Right. We're referring to Microsoft Virtual Appointment application. Listen, that's a great description that you just gave it. I want to describe what it actually is and maybe talk about why we're seeing the shift and why it matters, right? Envision if you would that maybe you're on a website. Maybe you're on an e-commerce website. You have questions about a product that you're viewing right now, then and there, right?

Well, today, people would either click on a phone number to call it or maybe chat through some type of a chatbot or some type of a chat window. I'm here. I'm on the computer. I'm here right now. What if I just want to talk to somebody right now face to face? That's where the future is headed where, now, you can say, "I need to meet with you right now." Somebody will jump on this. It's like a video conference call with you.

The beauty of this is that while this virtual appointment app lives inside of Microsoft Teams, the person who's requesting the meeting does not necessarily need to have Teams installed, right? They're going to engage via a browser. The solution is brilliant, right? You get answers right now. Now, what's causing this shift? I think it's like anything else. I think people just need to get answers now. People want results right away.

Not to mention, when this whole-- I can't believe we still mentioned the pandemic. I wish I could never mention it again, but it comes up because it changed things. During the pandemic, even the medical field was conducting consultations. They call it telehealth or telemedicine, right? It was a hodgepodge video conference. Imagine having the ability for your patients to go online and schedule that meeting with you without having to call your front desk.

GEORGE: Even a live appointment, right?


GEORGE: I can get an on-call doctor immediately, not a phone call back, right?

SANTI: Correct.

GEORGE: I can see you on video. I can show you the cut on my arm.

SANTI: Exactly. I think that's one of the reasons why. Also, let's be honest. AI transformation is driving a lot of this innovation, right? At the end of the day, it is meeting and a rising demand for this type of urgency. By the way, sales. Can you imagine a sales team or a salesperson who's about to go into an actual sales meeting, but before they even get to that meeting, they had an opportunity to qualify this by having an instant face communication with a potential customer? This is just a hit no matter how you look at it, right?

Now, I will tell you, it is very easy to set up. Things are getting easier. Low code, no code, all this lingo you start here. This one, in particular, is actually very easy to set up, so that's a huge benefit. I'll tell you what's a real kicker is the queue. There's actually a queue. Let's say that we have five people who are responsible for customer engagement and setting appointments, right?

They're watching an active queue and they can see customers who are in the queue for an on-demand meeting or customers who have an upcoming meeting. Then whoever's available or first available can go ahead and grab that appointment and have that meeting, so that's a-- By the way, just for the record. If you want the queue function, that is a Teams Premium function.

We go back to Teams, Microsoft, right? Their ultimate wisdom said, "Hey, we're going to offer you a premium level of Teams, and here's one of the things you get. You get a queue to go with that bookings calendar." It's important to know that the bookings calendar can work outside of Teams. If you want the queuing function and if you want the on-demand appointment function, guess what? That is part of Teams Premium for the queue. Of course, that's where the virtual appointment comes in.

GEORGE: This is an interesting dynamic. We spoke about this a little earlier today. We talked about, do we need another episode on this or not? A lot of organizations handle licensing, especially 365 licensing out of IT, so standard E3, E5, whatever it is. In this case, these may become business decisions.

SANTI: Correct, individual business lines.

GEORGE: ITs, they are to enable the business, right? That's their role, but this becomes even more of a partnership with a business unit where you may say, which is our case here, the premium licenses that our team uses, our current model is, we've budgeted for them within the marketing organization to enable that extra layer of service and have that extra feature I work with.

This is likely going to be a thing that emerges that changes the dynamic a little bit with how Teams at least ask for a service and potentially pay for a service. Core stuff, we pay for it. The license that relate to images, image developments, all kinds of other stuff. That's pure marketing. We've always paid for our marketing team. This is definitely a changing dynamic here. Can you show us any of this today so we can get a look at what some of this looks like?

SANTI: Yes, let me pull up my window. I'll share my window and then give you guys a quick little demo here. What I did here, I grabbed the browser because I find it's easier to work in a browser. I opened up Teams in a browser. I opened up the bookings calendar in the browser. Then just for the sake of show and tell, I opened up what the customer or potential customer would see the public-facing calendar.

I like this setup and I'll tell you why, George, because if I'm part of a group of agents that are watching this queue, I can watch this queue on the browser version of Teams but use my desktop version of Teams for any incoming inter-office messages. That way, I don't have to ever lose sight of the queue. I was just thinking about that the other day. I'm like, "What's the best way to manage this?"

I would do it this way. Open up the queue in the browser and then use the desktop version of Teams for everything else, right? What you see here in the queue is you see the queue split into two sections: on-demand and scheduled. Obviously, there's nothing currently scheduled. If somebody went on to the public-facing calendar and said, "Hey, I want to meet with somebody now," it would show up here and it would send me an alert in Teams.

One thing to point out. The queue and analytics has a little diamond next to it. That is an indicator that these are premium features. You get this as part of Teams Premium. That's how you know. This is what the agent view would look like. Now, granted, if they went to the schedule, they can see the schedule here, but what I prefer to do is I like to keep them separate. I like to keep the queue open because this is where the incoming calls are about to hit your meeting queue.

Whereas with the bookings, I can keep the bookings calendar open separately in case I want to review any open spots. By the way, the agents can also schedule, proactively, a virtual appointment with somebody. This is your bookings calendar. Bookings is a separate application. It's separate from virtual appointments, but it works. It's the underlying technology that powers virtual appointments.

Then from here, you can do everything as far as assigning your staff members, so the people who are going to work the queue, your services, and I'll show you what that looks like in a minute. Your business information, everything that has to do with configuring your calendar is here. Here's what's cool. The public-facing calendar and this is just an example. I stood up briefly. You can name it whatever you want. I named it Public Bookings Calendar. You can name it whatever you want. When I said "services," this is what I meant.

Over here, you can select a future date or you can meet now. For example, if I say I want to meet with somebody now, it gives me two services or two options: a 30-minute walk-in meeting or a 50-minute walk-in meeting, right? I get to choose which one I want to have and then you fill out the information. That will literally set up a video conference call. Once you submit that, it hits the queue. The agent accepts it. Now, you're talking to somebody virtually on demand.

Whereas, of course, it's self-explanatory, but the scheduled offering gives you-- Again, I chose to a 15-minute scheduled meeting or a 30-minute scheduled meeting. Same concept. You choose the date that works for you and then you go to book your meeting. Now, this is a public-facing link and there is some customization that they allow. For example, I can change the logo. I can change a little bit of the color scheme. That's about it, though. You're not going to get the exact look and feel of your corporate website. I think it's acceptable.

GEORGE: Good enough. Yes, absolutely. Good enough.

SANTI: That's acceptable. That just gives you an idea. It's a combination of those things, right? A public-facing calendar that you set up for potential customers, the virtual appointment queue, which is what the agents will see on this end, and then the bookings calendar, which is just a way for you to set up your calendar and all your calendar features. By the way, you can shut off people. For example, let's say that I didn't want Santi and George to work the counter at this point in time. I can just shut them off and then assign somebody else, so it's that easy.

Like I said, if there's one thing I liked about this platform is how easy it is to set up. Sometimes you have other applications or other platforms that you're trying to set up. It could be a little bit of a challenge. Man, this one's really straightforward. All you need is the licensing piece, the premium license, and then maybe spend 10 minutes really focused on the bookings calendar to get all your little information in, your details, your people, but then you're off to the races. It's like really straightforward.

GEORGE: It's seamless, right? It's built-in integration with Microsoft. It's built into the existing calendars if it's a future set meeting. It's a really clean, crisp setup to implement. In fact, we're implementing it, right?

SANTI: Yes, we are.

GEORGE: We've gotten licensed for a couple of more folks on our team, on our business development team. We're going to launch this in the next couple of weeks. Test it first a bit, verify the functionality. Maybe we'll come back on another future episode and either do a completely separate one on what we've learned from actually using this in the real world or at least give an update, right?


GEORGE: We expect again. You think of that continuum of where the world has gone. It was, in a way, back in the day. People were knocking on doors, right? It was the opposite of the outreach to the prospect at their place of business or it was phone call, then it was the email, then it was the form, then it was the chat.

SANTI: We're dating ourselves, George.

GEORGE: We are. It's what was part of the past in a virtual environment that should enable a little different level of connectivity. This has so many uses across different industries.

SANTI: Oh, yes.

GEORGE: A repair organization might be able to do a real-time chat with somebody now where the client can call in and say, "I've got an issue with my air conditioner," or "I've got an issue with whatever it is in the house," and be able to actually show the company on the other end, "Hey, here's my issue," and then maybe do a little bit of rediagnosis and understand what they need to do to get out there, or even you could be a designer who designs kitchens.

If your initial conversation is a direct outreach with an on-demand virtual meeting, you can get live access to somebody and see as the business owner or the businessperson what exactly they're dealing with. There was a conversation. I don't know if you remember. It was one of the panels at the HubSpot conference last year and they talked about-- I think it was a design shop that did kitchen design actually that they had profiles of the individual people listed on the website so that the prospect coming in-- and at the time, it wasn't five meetings, right?

It was a little overview of three or four people where somebody maybe designs modern kitchens. Someone designs classical kitchens or whatever and it had their background. You can make a selection of-- I not only want to-- In this world we're talking about, I don't only want a meeting immediately, but I want the meeting with Santi because it has a description of your background. You feel like that background aligns best to the business needs you have. That's the rep that you would want to talk to, right? You put some control.

SANTI: It does put some control. I'll tell you, the Virtual Appointments app allows for that. There's a couple of different settings. I actually like this. One, you can actually have individual people as part of the selection so that the prospect or the customer can say, "This is the person I want to speak to." You can have that and schedule it with that person specifically, but they have another feature, which is called No Staff. In other words, there is no staff assigned, meaning there is no calendar that it's bumping up against to see what availability there is.

No, it is an open calendar. You book it and every agent watching the queue and whoever's available first grabs it. You can go either way, right? It's a matter of how you configure it. Yes, you can actually choose like a person. Then in that case, they'll look at that person's working calendar and show you the open spots so you can book time with them. I'm telling you, there's a lot of cool stuff coming up from Microsoft. This is one of the coolest in my opinion.

GEORGE: Yes, this really is, yes.

SANTI: Aside from avatars and the power of virtual agents, okay, this is like the next coolest one. Yes, I'm excited about just trying to implement it and using it ourselves. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

GEORGE: Yes, definitely.

SANTI: Well, folks, I hope you enjoyed this episode where we took a quick glance at, well, virtual appointments, right? The future of connecting with customers. This is a good time to remind you to go ahead and subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Don't forget. We're also available on YouTube where you can watch this podcast instead of just listening to it. Until next time, folks. Remember this. Stay connected.

CLOSING VOICEOVER: Visit www.fusionconnect.com/techunmuted for show notes and more episodes. Thanks for listening.

Episode Credits:

Produced by: Fusion Connect

2023 TMCnet Best Tech Podcast award winner

Expert insights, exclusive content, and the latest updates on Microsoft products and services - direct to your inbox. Subscribe to Tech ROUNDUP!

Tech UNMUTED, the podcast of modern collaboration, where we tell the stories of how collaboration tools enable businesses to be more efficient and connected. Humans have collaborated since the beginning of time – we’re wired to work together to solve complex problems, brainstorm novel solutions and build a connected community. On Tech UNMUTED, we’ll cover the latest industry trends and dive into real-world examples of how technology is inspiring businesses and communities to be more efficient and connected. Tune in to learn how today's table-stakes technologies are fostering a collaborative culture, serving as the anchor for exceptional customer service.

Get show notes, transcripts, and other details at www.fusionconnect.com/techUNMUTED. Tech UNMUTED is a production of Fusion Connect, LLC.