Smarter customer engagement, an interactive customer service hub and streamlined knowledge management are some of the enhancements Microsoft will introduce to its Dynamics CRM platform in 2016. Microsoft Dynamics General Manager Bill Patterson gave Field Service News Editor-in-Chief Kris Oldland the low down on the innovations .
Having spent 2015 focusing on productivity improvements in Microsfot Dynamics, Microsoft is turning to customer service experience enhancements in 2016. "It has probably been one of the most significant areas in innovation and investment we've been making in Microsoft," Patterson states. "We see that organisations today are operating still like they were ten years ago. They are still trying to compete on the basis of price or on the strength of their product or service that they have for their offerings. But key data is really beginning to emerge that a lot of consumers today are largely beginning to stay with brands due to the customer experience and we see customer service playing a huge role in that realm of differentiation."
We have all been part of good customer services experiences but those that we remember oftentimes are the most extremely bad ones. What we are trying to do for enterprises today is really help them understand their customers, help them engage with their customers and help them empower their employees to really drive and centre that degree of engagement."
"While organisations may understand this dichotomy, the reality that they find themselves in today is that a lot of their tooling is dated, a lot of their systems have not been modernised to keep up with the needs of their customers and they are struggling with the proliferation and explosion of channels in the digitalisation of the service experience like never before."
The service agent today is mostly dealing with technology and screens that were built for the last decade of computing
This presents one of two key challenges for today's service-oriented organisations. While the challenge to deliver the level of service excellence is spread across a growing number of channels, simultaneously there is the challenge of overcoming high employee churn rates within customer service roles which Microsoft analysis of labour statistics around the customer service role both in the US and the UK has revealed as worryingly high at around 27%. "If you think that one in four of your team is turning over every twelve months increasingly it's a really struggling proposition to keep employees engaged and empowered to ultimately to deal with customers. "
"And that meta-trend - the ability to engage with customers and to empower employees - is really what's driving Microsoft, what's driving our innovation force behind our set of releases."
With their latest roll out their Dynamics platform, Microsoft is looking to resolve these challenges with three new elements that Patterson describes as being at the centre of that employee empowerment and customer engagement problem set for an organisation. Perhaps the biggest of these changes, and one that is likely the headline grabbing development, is a complete overhaul of the user experience.
"Most CRM systems have been built over time with this notion of the relationship and relationships take time to emerge and unfold for an organisation," explains Patterson. "So it's s oftentimes that a CRM system is designed with lots of data, lots of forms and lots of views. For organisations who need to keep up with high scale but low amount of data within an interaction there was a dichotomy between the optimised user experience and the user experience we find today in most CRM systems."
"So we went back to the drawing board and back to the core of the user experience itself and designed what we think is the most productive user experience for customer service agents on the planet."
A bold statement indeed. So what is the detail behind the hyperbole?
Interactive Service Hub
The UX Microsoft has introduced is called the interactive service hub. It has the ability to handle large screens of information, and to take a screen and easily turn it into an interaction. It's a technology that many will be familiar with in social solutions, Patterson readily admits. However bringing it into the customer service team at large to help them engage across all the digital channel - web, social email and so on - could be a very powerful tool.
There is a focus on building much tighter integration between Tier One and Tier Two agents.
That interplay between tier one and tier two today for most organisations is where you see the highest degree of latency in closing a business operation. It is our belief that if we can bring the tier one and tier two teams together in a way that information is continuous and seamless throughout a service funnel, then we could help teams react, respond and resolve issues much easier than before.
Smarter customer engagement
2016 will see the release of what Microsoft calls smarter customer engagement. It's an interesting concept that builds upon their own social engagement technology while addressing what is perhaps a key flaw. "What sentiment and social screens have proven is that it's a signal, a belief at a point in time but it may not get to the full unearthing of a customer perspective on things," Patterson begins. "So in addition to some advances we're making in the social engagement side we're introducing our Voice of Customer solution." This is based on some tech acquired last spring to go to the next level of voice-of-the-customer and feedback as part of the business process."
"When you combine the sentiment analytics with the enriched information on an interaction or on a survey perhaps, organisations can further understand their customers in a way that's not just only a point in time or what they might have said on a social network. The combination of these two is how we see organisations truly coming together to engage in new ways with their customers."
Knowledge capture and management
The third of the new developments particularly caught my attention as it is a tool capable of helping tackle a significant issue being faced by many, many field service companies: the challenge of capturing the knowledge, locked away in the heads of a workforce rapidly set to walk away from the business as they reach retirement age.
The challenge is two-fold: to capture of the knowledge and to make it easily accessible...
Microsoft's knowledge capture platform incorporates a WYSISYG designer to allow for simple and easy creation of content, as you'd expect, but perhaps more importantly they have also included social collaboration tools which allow companies to bring teams of people together to work in tandem on the creation of an article.
The upshot of this is that either each article becomes less disputed or you create fewer articles authored by individual experts who have distinct points of view. Either way it makes for a more streamlined approach to developing a knowledge bank and when the aim is to help deliver quicker understanding to your workforce and swifter resolution to customer problems, then quality should always trump quantity.
This is also something that Microsoft are acutely aware, says Patterson, pointing out that most knowledge management solutions have been built more as knowledge aggregators which end up taking in so much volume and so much data that agents really get lost in the cloud of information.
"Often what happens is an organisation will spend so much time indexing and not enough time thinking about the meaningful information that helps drive an interaction to a resolution. Over time the knowledge index becomes less and less trusted by the customer service team."
"So our focus was putting the knowledge into the core hands of the agents and the experts inside an organisation who can put the right information into the hands of the customer service interaction team so it can become a more thoughtful and ambient experience for an agent."
Supported by a powerful machine learning engine, the knowledge management tool analyses the content of what an interaction is about and pro actively surfaces and pushes the right knowledge into the hands of the agent whilst they are taking the call. This ability to place focused content intelligently in the right place at the right time could hugely improve resolution times within a service centre. However, the magic doesn't end there as the system essentially continues to refine itself through each interaction.
"Once that intersection between knowledge and interaction come together that binding, that fusion if you will, actually tunes the machine learning engine even further and enriches it even further this article solves this problem," enthuses Patterson.
Each of these developments are exciting in their own right but together it looks like Microsoft Dynamics 2016 is certainly shaping up to be an impressive update to the platform.
However, when it is bundled together with Office 365, Microsoft’s productivity suite, for a cost of between £40 and £95 depending on your own configurations, this becomes a platform offering fantastic value. Long may it continue.