Microsoft's Office 365 Business Voice will target SMBs

call centre

Microsoft's recently announced Business Voice communications system is being used by UK resellers to target small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Although Microsoft has had voice functionality in Office 365 for some time, this was never available as a service for its small business customers. The news means that resellers are now able to repackage and repurpose various enterprise-grade tools for a swathe of smaller customers.

The Business Voice package has been released with a slew of new tools that integrate call functions with chats, meetings, calendars and email. The software also deploys artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically transcribe voicemail messages and translate chat messages, as well as adding captions to meetings in real-time.

Microsoft partners are hoping the new functionality in Microsoft's flagship cloud suite will help to drive Azure and Office 365 uptake among customers in a voice market that's traditionally tough to crack.

For one of Microsoft's leading UK cloud distributors, Vuzion, the hope is they can act as an effective middle-man between Microsoft and its partners. With a relationship with around 500 resellers, the wider aim is to help them integrate modern voice technology into SMB customers' existing Microsoft portfolios.

"It really is the two worlds of IT and telephony coming together," Michael Frisby, MD of Vuzion, told Channel Pro.

"You've got two very different worlds coming together, and to make sure customers get a great experience, you need somebody to help partners, in the middle, who can help bring IT and those telephony worlds together."

He added that it's completely up in the air as to what uptake could be like, but his company was expecting around a 15% attach rate in the first year.

Directing these existing enterprise tools at SMBs, meanwhile, has also necessitated a change in pricing.

Where the technology was previously available at around £30 to £40 per user, per month, for SMBs this is now available at around £20. There are also some technical changes to the SKU design because the original enterprise plans were specific to the US market. Business Voice, meanwhile, is being made available in the UK and Canada.

Sales are sure to be helped by the expanding pool of Microsoft Teams users, rising more in recent months particularly after the software was bundled into the wider 365 suite. The likelihood of customers buying an Office 365-integrated phone system was around 57%, Frisby continued, but this figure jumps to 90% for Teams users.

"One of the biggest growing areas of opportunity for resellers is around driving adoption and change management, and usage of Teams, within their customer base," he added. "And then once you take advantage of that opportunity, you can then start to layer on the voice opportunity."

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.