Microsoft have been in the customer relations management (CRM) game for a decade, and on July 28th their latest product, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, went into closed beta testing in preparation for a release sometime before the end of the year.

So, what can CRM users expect from the software giant? So far, of course, we only have Microsoft’s view, which is – as you’d expect – that this is going to be a fantastic product. Their last release was in 2011, and that system did indeed get good reviews in general.

Microsoft promise a ‘reimagined’ user experience that will put practical, useful information easily at hand and even claim that MS Dynamics CRM will ‘reignite the passion’ sales, marketing and customer services workers feel for their jobs.

Microsoft says Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 release has been based around five themes:

  • A cleaner, faster interface;
  • Processes that allow quick responses to changing circumstances;
  • On the go access;
  • Collaborative processes between departments;
  • Improvements to the user platform.

The upshot of all this should be that, “users recognise value, opportunity and insight immediately — either on the road or in the office,” says Microsoft.

The user interface should offer a single point of access to all information, with no pop ups or screen switching. Data entry and record creation is said to be super simple and customer records can be made more personal with images and map locations.

Users can now design processes and are guided through them with lists of options and with a clear idea of where you are going. Microsoft claims this is a breakthrough in CRM; a change from focusing on transactions to making outcomes the centre of the system.

You’ll get just one process already installed when you buy Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 along with samples, but new ones can be downloaded online. (See picture below, you can find more pictures here or here .

microsoft dynamics crm 2013

Everyone is going mobile these days and Microsoft have made sure this edition of Dynamics CRM is accessible from tablets and smart phones. There will be a slight lag between the release of the Dynamics CRM and its availability on phones.

Microsoft’s purchase of enterprise social network Yammer and Skype make sense now, as the use of both is integrated within Dynamics CRM 2013. Communications are a big part of this new release, which has (or soon will) email connectivity, the ability to Skype of phone call from within the CRM as well as chat and instant messaging. Webmail like Gmail and Hotmail will also be supported.

Microsoft also continue their shift towards cloud computing with regular updates which can be scheduled to suit users. Actions in the CRM can be created and edited even by non-developers.

Naturally, there is full compatibility with Microsoft’s office products with which the new interface shares many superficial similarities judging by the screen shots made available.

A release date for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 is yet to be confirmed, with two updates to complete some of the integration with email and phone systems due sometime in 2014.

As few people have actually got their hands on this new release, we shall have to trust what Microsoft is saying for now, but things sound promising and the interface shots look great. You can find out more and take a test drive here.

Customer Relationship Management is now considered something of a proven success. It’s all about making the right offer to the right person at the right time and if a system can help you do that, then you’d be a fool not to sign up surely.

Or would you? What about luck, what about learning from mistakes? Their role in forming strong, lasting relationships with customers could be being sacrificed at the automated altar of CRM.

Just over 59 years ago, Alan Turing, the pioneer of modern computing, tragically took his own life. His name lives on, not just in a shameful story of how a national hero was all but killed because of his sexuality but also in the Turing test.

The experiment is still the ultimate test of artificial intelligence. It basically involves a blind conversation between a machine and a person. If the computer can convince the person they are a human being then the holy grail of artificial intelligence will said to have been reached.

That, in an ideal world, is what our CRM systems should be doing. People like dealing with people.

No machine has ever passed the Turing Test.

Computer CRM works on a relatively simple model. What a customer did in the past, they are likely to do in the future. There’s logic – of course, these are computers – in that, but what about the flash of inspiration and the happy accident that a human can bring to these transactions? They are sadly lacking, and the way they work also limits the opportunities of customers to chance upon things they may really want.

Already, experts in education and philosophy worry that we’re living in a world where predictions rule the day. Google autocompletes your search query based on what you’ve already looked for. Will we end up going down the same well-trodden paths?

Marketing research from the University of Maryland’s Professor Rebecca Ratner confirms that humans remain reassuringly human. That is, infuriatingly unpredictable to the extent that subjects in her study often choose to do things they had no particular wish to, even when offered an alternative which they knew they preferred. We’ve all probably got memories of doing something out of duty or because we feel we ought to.

In marketing terms that’s possibly interesting, but almost impossible to work with. Until you discover that Professor Ratner’s team found that these less-preferred choices reinforced the pleasure of the preferred choice and made subjects more loyal to it for longer.

So, perhaps we should turn off the CRM occasionally and throw our customers a curve ball. What is your experience with the effect of CRM on customer relationships?

This is very much a beginner’s guide to technology in customer service, often called CRM or customer relationship management systems. If you’re looking for the answer to the most basic questions (including what is crm), you’re arrived at the right place.

What is CRM?

At Redspire, we like a long yet all-embracing CRM definition as follows: CRM is “the aggregation of customer-centric strategies which drive new functional activity not only for sales, marketing and service, but often back office functions such as accounting, production, and shipping which demand reengineered work processes for everyone affected which require technology support to implement“. That’s pretty exhaustive but don’t worry – if the theory sounds overwhelming, you can look at the more practical side of CRM below.

What do you need to do when customers contact you?

  1. You need to ‘capture’ the enquiry. This now means dealing with telephone calls, email, texts, Tweets and Facebook comments and emails. Customer queries can also come in from web forums and customer self-service systems.
  2. Once the enquiry has been captured it needs to be sent to the right people to deal with it.
  3. The agents need to set up a file for the enquiry that links it to the customer’s record on your system.
  4. Now we’re on to actually answering the question, which can bring into play a whole host of other systems which hold customer data.
  5. The answer is then communicated to the customer.
  6. Finally, the file is completed with notes on the outcome of the query and closed.

In order to complete this complex process, the following technologies are used:

  1. Multichannel communication. There are a whole host of these systems today. Telephone call distributors, telephony integration, speech recognition, email response systems, chat and virtual assistants. Social media has a range of its own systems and mobile services are growing in importance too.
  2. Knowledge management. The encyclopaedias of information that customer service staff need to answer client questions are in this category. These resources can also be made available to customers directly for web self-service customer care. Databases, knowledge management software and communities and forums as well as video production systems can be considered in this class.
  3. Agent productivity solutions. The systems that allow agents to see a query through to its conclusion. This will include monitoring their performance for consistency and scheduling systems. Case management software, unified agent workspaces, workforce management, quality monitoring and process guidance systems belong here.
  4. Customer service analytics. To serve a customer well, it’s necessary to know as much as possible about them. These technologies – next best action and interaction analytics for example – facilitate this knowledge.
  5. Voice of the customer. Customers often solve their own problems and then share this advice. Voice of the customer systems keep an eye on this important information, including social listening platforms and enterprise feedback management systems.

Have you heard any other useful definitions of CRM? What is CRM for your business?

In content marketing one-size-fits-all is not always a successful approach. Particularly in business to business marketing, clients are looking for answers to their problems and we all have our own very individual problems. You need to develop a number of ways of talking to your audience.

One way you can learn the right language is to look at so-called ‘social buyers’ who make full use of online resources as they make their purchasing decisions. The conservative estimate is that these buyers are spending six-and-a-half hours-a-week researching their choices.

This is your chance to reach them, and develop personas that will allow your content to speak more effectively to them. Here’s how:

  1. Ask the right questions
  2. Social media is more revealing, so it’s more valuable to marketers and also infinitely more complex than the old age, location, income bracket way of segmenting a potential market.

    Demographics are still useful to the definition of your marketing personas, but you need to go much deeper. This can be an almost endless process if you’re not careful, so try to keep focused. The key questions include: what problem are they trying to solve, where do they find the information they trust and can they make buying decisions?

    If you have a strong relationship with some customers then don’t be afraid to ask them directly.

  3. Use your data
  4. The marketing gurus reckon you should be able to find five customer personas to match five marketing voices you can adopt in your content.

    Of course, people aren’t as simple as that, but it’s a useful exercise, and you’ll find that outside the strict lines of the five persona model you will find cross-overs of interests and problems which will allow you to tweak content slightly to speak to different groups.

  5. Expand your brief
  6. Persona development is a function of marketing, but it’s much more than that. You’ll certainly need to speak to the people in your organisation who have the most face-to-face or phone contact with customers to learn what makes them tick.

We all are B2C customers with our own set of expectation about vendor’s business processes. We don’t tolerate ‘hiccups’ well unless the particular company happens to be our preferred provider.

When it comes to the B2B market, this is somewhat similar but a lot more complicated. The stakes are much higher, and the higher rationality of B2B relationships is a double-edged sword: customers are more reasonable but it also takes plenty more effort to persuade them.

So how is your company doing when it comes to success in building customer relationships? Look at our quick checklist below and assess if the following statements apply to your own business:

We act up because we realise the person dealing with us is risking their career and the whole company is risking their reputation – for us. We do everything so they look great in front of their customers.
We know we’re the experts and our customers look for solutions, not products. That means we keep improving our product and/or service based on previous feedback so the clients have increasing confidence in our abilities.
We keep the quality of our service consistently reliable rather than over-delivering in some tasks and failing in the others.
We sometimes act selflessly: we act humble and human because we know people buy from real people and this boosts our chances to get recommended.
We treat our customers as individuals: before and after the sale. We target our campaigns specifically to them and we use a single business funnel for each customer.
We understand our customers’ business and environment: we know what troubles them and why they came looking for us. It’s about them, not about us.
Our sales reps have personal responsibility for their sales: we follow up even after we make the sale.
Our sales reps know all about our product and the competition too.
We deliver unique value: we go the extra mile and deliver more than the client would be able to source or create themselves.

So how did you do today?
There is always room for improvement.

And remember: actions speak louder than words and solely measuring customer satisfaction is not enough. You need to be proactive and deliver what they want before the smile fades away from their faces.

How to Measure CRM Effectiveness

Many companies now view customer relationship management (CRM) tools as an important part of their business, because of their huge capabilities. CRM’s are like an extra member of your team – providing reports, analysing and collating data, identifying sales opportunities, automating marketing processes (such as autoresponders, follow up e-mails etc.), plus much more.

They are also, of course, there ultimately to manage your relationships with your customers and potential customers. And one of the major benefits of this part of the software includes keeping all the customer information in one place, with easy access from other parts of your organisation, if needed.

CRM effectiveness and customer service

This means that if a customer has answered questions previously, or has expressed a certain dislike or like of a product or service, this will form part of their profile. Communications can be customer-specific and targeted to the individual, so they are not alienated by receiving non-relevant, ‘spammy’ communications and offers.

It is the seemingly little things like this that make a customer feel valued, and will encourage their loyalty. And increased loyalty means increased revenue.

Tracking CRM effectiveness

But are you making the most of your CRM system? It could be that you are not taking full advantage of what your relationship management software offers. Or, it may need a ‘tweak’ in the sort of rules you set up within it.

So, how can you measure your CRM effectiveness? There are many ways to track and work out just how hard your CRM tool is working for you.

For marketing, look at activity such as:

  • The number of new contacts;
  • The number of opens
  • The numbers of interactions, etc.

For sales, it can be data such as:

  • Sales volume;
  • Additional sales;
  • Cross sales;
  • A tangible increase in revenue that can be directly attributed to your CRM tool etc.

Once you have carried out this exercise, you will be able to see how your CRM tool is helping your business. If you feel it could be doing more for you, or that you are not using it to its full capabilities, then you may benefit from speaking to a specialist for help and guidance.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that many information technology systems, whether customer-facing or back-office, were designed on what is sometimes called a vertical basis.

That can be a serious problem for an organisation, unless CRM (customer relationship management) systems and techniques are implemented to deal with it.

Why is that a problem?

Historically, information technology systems were designed to reflect organisational hierarchies. As these were essentially vertical silos, such as Accounts, Shipping, Customer Service, Procurement and so on, systems were designed to support those functional requirements.

The net result is that information relating to an individual customer, may be scattered across a range of systems that have little in common with each other in terms of design objectives. That information is also typically used fundamentally differently by the owning organisational silos.

This means it is sometimes difficult or even impossible to obtain a single horizontal customer view cut across the organisation as a whole. Those organisations that have one customer with multiple customer numbers are a good illustration of the problems that can arise.

That is sometimes a critical inhibitor to optimal product development, behavioural analysis, cross marketing and customer retention activities. Typically these functions are horizontal in an organisation and not vertical – so they will need integrated data in order to support their objectives.

Modern approaches to data management

Today, enlightened organisations design their processes and supporting systems on a matrix rather than vertical silo basis.

CRM systems and techniques are instrumental in helping to make that happen, for example, by having a single integrated repository of information relating to a customer.

CRM achieves a single customer view, primarily through two things:

  • Making sure that all interactions with the customer, through whatever channels, conform to a single integrated process relating to data storage and eventual use;
  • Being able to integrate information coming in through new customer-facing processes and systems, with that held about the same customer on existing possibly vertical legacy systems (e.g. back office).

The benefits of this to the organisation are potentially staggering.

Not only does it avoid embarrassing and potentially highly-damaging errors in terms of customer engagement but it also provides a fundamental platform for things such as productivity improvements, product development, cross-selling, customer retention and in some cases, customer or market disengagement where things are no longer profitable or viable. What are your insights on customer data management?