Microsoft released Dynamics CRM 2016 today. The goals for this release include improved integration with Office 365 and Azure machine learning; new customer service capabilities; continuation of mobile; inclusions of the recently acquired FieldOne and FantasySalesTeam applications; and a list of new CRM enhancements that includes tighter integration with Excel/Word and some improvements to the Outlook client (i.e. ability to add Contacts from Outlook and more Outlook support for Macs.)
From what I’ve seen so far, the new features likely to get the most utilization include offline mobile and tighter integration to Excel and Word templates. This later feature continues Microsoft's 'productivity' theme and will facilitate common use cases such as the creation of proposals or the export of pipelines to Excel, Pivot tables or Power BI. I also think the improved integration with Cortana and Azure Machine Learning looks promising, but is still in early days.
Customer Service Improvements
Microsoft's prior release of the Unified Service Desk (USD) – a configurable framework for integrating what is often a plethora of contact center applications so that agents can get a unified view of the customer – signaled its intention to put much more emphasis in its customer service application. The Dynamics CRM 2016 release continues the customer service evolution with updated forms and a dashboard it calls the Interactive Services Hub.
I like this as it is helpful in managing multiple tier support environments. A tier 1 Interactive Services Hub can be designed to facilitate the high volume of short duration incidents and push more complex cases to a tier 2 hub that benefits from different configuration, workflow and reporting.
Customer service also includes improved knowledge management and the beginnings for insight driven recommendations based on integration with Azure Machine Learning. Microsoft plans to integrate its recently acquired Mojo Surveys application in a subsequent release which will add basic Voice of the Customer capability and further continue the customer service software progression. The Unified Service Desk combined with the Parature and FieldOne acquisitions gives Microsoft a platform for assisted service, self service and field service.
Marketing software updates received very little notice, however, there’s some small additions that can add big value to intelligent campaigns.
Microsoft Dynamics Marketing now permits Short Message Service (SMS) text message campaigns. This can add value for retailers and other B2C organizations who are discovering that properly run geo-based and SoLoMo campaigns are delivering low double digit conversions – something most marketers have never achieved. Inbound SMS campaigns can use keywords to acquire opt-ins while outbound SMS campaigns can enhance multi-channel and nurture campaigns and identify those customers who favor mobile engagement.
Unfortunately, I suspect like most new marketing technologies we'll see too many novice marketers use this new feature because they can and not because they should. Sending unwanted SMS texts to your customers' mobile devices is more likely to infuriate them than generate marketing conversions. People have less tolerance in receiving spam on their mobile devices than their email, so opt-outs, unsubscribes and negative customer experiences are far more prevalent with unwelcome SMS.
Microsoft CRM has taken a queue from the Parature product and introduced knowledge management. A new content editor along with an adapted process guide enables smooth creation, curation and publishing of knowledge articles. This is initially targeted to customer service use cases, but the underlying technology is semi-extensible to other areas.
My Wish List Continues
I was hoping to see a substantive improvement to Microsoft Social Engagement. That didn't happen. The new release does deliver some minor improvements, but in my opinion the biggest holes are that the social listening searches very little of the Internet (i.e. it doesn't scan most blogs and popular social networks such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+ among others), the social engagement lacks one-to-many engagement capability and the sentiment analysis remains crude. Microsoft social engagement remains a work in progress.
Microsoft CRM continues to lack of a business process management (BPM) tool that can automate even simple routing and approval processing. This remains a significant competitive weakness against competitors such as Oracle, SAP CRM and Salesforce.
Mobile CRM did include some advancements and the offline capability is a welcome addition. However, I'd like to see a lot more progress in the areas of mobile customization and extensibility. I just finished creating a custom Dynamics CRM mobile app for an airline company and found the mobile customization limitations overwhelming. Microsoft claims to pursue a mobile-first software strategy but unlike competitors who support the same claim with forward thinking mobile software, Microsoft's claim appears to be much more of a marketing tag line.
Microsoft CRM pricing is getting more complex and the differences between CRM Online and on-premise are growing. This increases buyer complexity. I'm hopeful that Microsoft will steer pricing back toward the simplistic model which it helped pioneer and bring parity to the online and offline solutions.
Why This Release Matters
This release is really a collection of incremental updates. However, a more frequent release cadence and key improvements in areas that matter to customers are putting Dynamics CRM into position to become the number 2 CRM vendor. As shown in the most recent CRM market share report, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP CRM are nearing equal market share position. However, while Oracle and SAP CRM are in decline, Microsoft is demonstrating an upward trajectory. A continuation of this trend will show a clear number 2 CRM vendor in the year ahead.
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Microsoft, Oracle and SAP CRM are nearing equal market share position. However, while Oracle and SAP CRM are in decline, Microsoft is demonstrating an upward trajectory.