| By Chuck Schaeffer
Convergence welcomed newly acquired Parature to the Dynamics family. However, unlike prior acquisitions MarketingPilot and NetBreeze, Microsoft is taking a different tact and leaving Parature as a relatively independent operating organization.
Something else that bodes well for the Parature acquisition is the addition of Bill Patterson, a long time Dynamics CRM executive leader, who has relocated from Washington state to Washington DC to join the Parature team. Patterson now holds the Parature title of Senior Director, Customer Self Service Solutions. I had a chance to catch up with Patterson at Microsoft Convergence and it's clear he has a very solid vision of how Parature will continue as a best of breed contact center solution while in parallel continue a path that adds value to Dynamics CRM.
Parature’s customer service strengths include its self-service portal, social service integration (to Facebook), knowledge management, mobile customer care, chat and to a lesser extent survey and feedback systems.
The company seeks to empower the three primary goals of reducing contact center costs, enabling proactive reach out and contributing to customer loyalty. These are lofty goals but supported with specific enabling technology.
High value Parature software features include impressive search results display (with keyword stacking and meta tags (which are great for acronyms, slang and dialects), type ahead functionality and highlighting of common questions), making it easy to embed multimedia content (such as How To video tutorials, screenshots and diagrams) and an EasyAnswer function which offers a last chance for call deflection by surfacing answers as the customer prepares a query to send to the brand. These measures collectively aid contact centers in driving down call and email volumes. It's not lost on contact centers that the cost of service is generally $3 to $20 per agent interaction while self service interaction generally costs pennies or less. Even better, as reported by sqm group, "For every 1% improvement in First Call Resolution (FCR), you get a 1% improvement in customer satisfaction."
Parature's a solid customer support solution, but now that it's a Microsoft product it's going to be reviewed in a much different context. Weaknesses relative to the broader Microsoft target market include an small install base, which is somewhat over-concentrated in the public sector, and missing some key feature sets needed for larger contact centers (such as BPM (business process management), ACH (automated call handling), CTI (computer telephony integration), IVR (interactive voice response) and next-best-action or next-best-offer technology to name a few). The reporting environment is also described as weak and based on SAP BusinessObjects – something that we can expect to see changed in the near term.
Parature also has very limited geographic scale as about 90% of its just over 500 customers are based in North America. However, the Microsoft Dynamics channel will most certainly scale the products international reach in short order.
The product roadmap includes continued build out of customer self-service and knowledge management, social integration to more social networks and enhancements to its social monitoring tool. Parature has its own social media listening tool that monitors Twitter and Facebook, and has upcoming plans to monitor other social networks such as Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. How this tool will be rationalized with newly announced Microsoft Social Listening (formerly NetBreeze) remains an open question.
The company also explained its upcoming Omni Portal, a self-service portal that allows companies to use a single portal for multiple product lines or lines of business. This is clearly one of the many features needed to scale from small business to a larger target market. Another enhancement that will aid larger, multi-national companies is new chat technology, which will perform language translation in real-time to support live chat between agents and a global customer base. This is helpful technology, but in reality anybody who’s ever used these tools before will attest that machine translation is sketchy at best and is probably a few years away of delivering positive customer experiences.
Patterson also indicated Microsoft will be upping the data center and hosting infrastructure to meet Microsoft standards. This should improve data center uptime, application deliverability (including improvements in latency, jitter and performance – which are particularly helpful to customers outside North America) and deliver an improved Service Level Agreement (SLA).
In terms of integration with Dynamics CRM, we can expect to see web to case management integration, online chat integration and integration to the new CRM Unified Service Desk. While Dynamics CRM will benefit from Parature capabilities, the timing is still unclear, and whether Parature features can be extracted and leveraged for Dynamics CRM appears questionable at best. Parature will continue to operate outside of the Dynamics CRM platform, manage a separate release cadence and be available as a standalone product.
The Little Company that Could
13 year-old Parature was never a big company, in fact its 2012 revenues were $16.4M according to Inc. magazine, but it grew its customer count from about 65 organizations in late 2011 to about 500 by the end of 2013, which also represented growth from 35 million end users in 2011 to 70 million by the end of 2013.
Now under the Microsoft umbrella it has the opportunity to scale globally, leverage a mature Dynamics channel and become far more synergistic with Dynamics CRM. It even has the potential to contribute to far greater customer strategies and objectives such as Customer Experience (CX) Management, but that might just be my wishful thinking as I have yet to hear Microsoft speak substantively about CX.
Parature is also a very good deal for Microsoft. Dynamics CRM has clearly lacked in the Customer Service area, and this acquisition will steadily improve multi-channel customer support, eventually contribute to true omni-channel communications and hopefully enable customers to begin or continue their journey toward delivering consistent and rewarding customer experiences.