Citizens Advice East Devon empowers volunteer home workers with a Microsoft Teams telephone system and unified communications solution.
Citizens Advice East Devon is an independent local charity that provides free, impartial, and confidential advice and information on a range of issues. More than 70 staff members and volunteers serve an East Devon population of 140,000 with branches in Honiton, Exmouth and Seaton, and outreaches in Axminster, Sidmouth, and Cranbrook.
Citizens Advice was already seeking a new phone system, but their requirements suddenly changed when COVID-19 lockdown forced their offices to close. While other businesses may have been able to work from home, it was not so easy for Citizens Advice as many of their advisors are volunteers and they were not set up to work from home as they usually rely on the branch facilities.
With COVID-19 having a dramatic effect on the economy and employment, the services provided by Citizens Advice were needed more than ever by its vulnerable clients. So as social distancing rules began to ease and branches began to open their doors once again, they needed to find a solution to suit the new work-from-home climate and to put them in a strong position when bidding for advice helpline tenders by having enough advisors on hand to take calls when required.
swcomms recommended Microsoft Teams as both a replacement telephone system and unified communications solution. Citizens Advice East Devon could use their baseline free charity Microsoft 365 licences and upgrade them to incorporate the Teams and Phone System apps.
Teams gives all staff and volunteers the tools they need to stay in touch with each other by using:
- Presence – to ascertain the availability of colleagues to decide on the best way to contact them
- Instant messaging – for a text-style quick response to individuals or groups
- Screen and file sharing – for instant and easy collaboration
- Audio and video calling – to facilitate virtual one-to-one and group face to face meeting
These tools can be accessed on a mobile, tablet, laptop or PC with or without headphones and microphone, depending on the user’s preference or situation. This means staff and volunteers can be easily contacted by another Teams user wherever they are working.
If they are working from home, the branches can invite their clients into the office so they can have a virtual face-to-face meeting with remote staff via the devices they have there, thereby facilitating a safe and socially distanced appointment.
While Teams is ideal for internal communications, it can also receive incoming calls and make outgoing calls via the Phone System app. Calls can be picked up by traditional desk handsets if required or via softphones, as chosen by Citizens Advice East Devon.
Calls can be put on hold, transferred with a caller announcement or forwarded to voicemail. Voicemails are also transcribed into text and sent via email for convenient retrieval.
This Microsoft Teams solution has replaced an on-premise telephone system, which was too old to offer any home working and collaboration capabilities while also using outdated telephone lines that are being withdrawn from service by Openreach. With the new solution, calls to UK landlines and mobiles are free via internet-based SIP phone lines.
Microsoft licence costs are billed on a subscription basis, so no upfront capital was required and monthly costs are fixed for easy budgeting.
swcomms’ Microsoft experts set up the entire solution to allay any stress around deployment. We provided them with 15 direct dial-in (DDI) numbers and ported their existing numbers to ensure continuity of service. Our project manager oversaw the whole process and was the client’s central point of contact for any queries.
“Working with swcomms on the roll-out of Teams with telephony has made a difficult transition that much easier.
“When we closed our offices in March and moved everyone to home working, there were lots of barriers in the way of our volunteers being able to support their community. With a great deal of commitment from our volunteers and staff, most of those barriers have been swept away.
“The biggest challenge unanswered was how to work as a team in real-time, like we would in an office: understanding what the client needs, allocating them to the most appropriate advisor, getting support from colleagues and supervisors, and being able to share paperwork and information with the client.
“The Teams telephone system has answered all of the questions - and more. As a scalable, flexible solution that needs minimal equipment and training, it cannot be bettered.
“Our volunteers can collaborate on calls, work from anywhere, get support from colleagues, and do so safe in the knowledge that personal data is being protected in the cloud.
“We can welcome out volunteers back into our offices, support them working from home, and mix and match – and that is hugely empowering.
“Our volunteers give their time and expertise to help some of the most vulnerable in our community. Thanks to the project management at swcomms and the intuitive functionality of Teams, they can spend more time supporting their community and helping those who need it most.”
Tim Bridger, CEO
Download the full case study here.