Microsoft has revealed that it is updating its customer research management (CRM) software, incorporating the latest features of the technology.  

It has unveiled its spring wave of updates to its CRM solutions, which includes 54 updates operating in 42 languages. These are designed to work with a range of applications, with the company listing these as including Microsoft Office 365, Yammer, Lync, Skype, SharePoint and Power BI for Office 365.

Among the new services on offer are more widely-available Microsoft Dynamics Marketing and Microsoft Social Listening, while it has added a new unified service desk to its Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Microsoft noted that one of the most important elements of the CRM software is that it meets European Union privacy rules, with it being the only firm cut whose software is recognised as being fully compliant by the EU's Article 29 Working Party.

Commenting on the updates, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella remarked: “Microsoft Dynamics CRM has made unbelievable progress over the last few years, and the amazing capabilities in this release deliver significant value to our customers as an important component of the Microsoft Cloud for business.

“Through innovative business applications in the cloud, businesses can better meet their customers’ needs and thrive in a changing world.”

Bob Stutz, the corporate vice president for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, noted that the new releases were developed through a detailed programme that involved a design of the user interface, a six-month rapid release cycle, a number of new features and three company acquisitions.

The new Microsoft developments have come at a time when the sector has been growing substantially, according to data released by Gartner last month at its 360 Customer Summit.

It revealed the market was worth $20.4 billion in 2013, up 13.7 per cent from the 2012 total of $18 billion. Of this total, 41 per cent was delivered in the form of software as a service.

Joanne Correia, the research vice president at Gartner, predicted: "CRM will be at the heart of digital initiatives in coming years." 

Customer engagement white paper

Insurers need to improve their customer relationships in the UK market in a range of ways, a new report has indicated.

A study by KPMG has found that the general experience of British consumers is better than it was, but leaves much room for further enhancement – something online retailing may help achieve.

Its Customer Experience Barometer found only 16 percent of UK general insurance policyholders thought firms had improved in this area since last year, a figure that drops to 13 percent for life insurance. KPMG noted that most other countries have seen much more progress, with 39 percent of Chinese consumers happier with their service than 12 months ago.

The same pattern was apparent when it came to the overall level of experience, with only 34 percent of UK general insurance customers and 30 percent of life insurance policyholders rating this highly, again less than other countries.

KPMG said one way British insurers can improve is by increasing their focus on better personal interaction with customers, the use of digital channels and the adoption of a “retailing mentality”. It noted that those who retail online do best in the survey, with a 53 percent approval rating.

Global head of insurance at KPMG Gary Reader remarked: “The greatest opportunity for sustainable revenue growth does not come from new products or geographical expansion, but rather from their ability to deliver a high quality and differentiating customer experience.

“Those that get it right will not only capture a greater share of new customers, they will also be better placed to keep their customers and extend their existing relationships.”

CRM technology may help with this as it means companies can keep closer tabs on their customers and use the data available to offer better services more geared up to their needs.

The importance of providing a good customer experience was highlighted in the EY Global Consumer Insurance Survey 2012 report, titled Voice Of The Consumer.

It noted that insurance companies need to improve their quality of service, communicate better, be more transparent with their products and reward loyalty.

Owners of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been encouraged to invest in customer relationship management (CRM) software.

According to Nadia Finer, founder of, the amount of client data a business needs to manage will increase as it grows.

Writing in the Guardian, she suggested that SMEs might therefore benefit from seeking an alternative to "relying on lots of different lists and spreadsheets".

Instead, Ms Finer recommended they use a CRM system, as it will keep all their client details in one easily accessible location.

This, she stated, will eradicate the chances of files going missing, omissions and mistakes, as well as prevent unnecessary repetition.

Ms Finer also pointed out that SME owners will be driven to distraction if they try to remember every single person's contact details, as well as when certain people were spoken to and what was discussed during these conversations.

"Don't waste your brain power on this stuff – put a CRM system in place so you can focus on greater things," she commented.

Ms Finer described CRM software as a "handy tool" that enables companies to both manage and nurture their relationships with customers.

"A CRM can also help you grow your business and keep customers happy by keeping track of interactions and tasks – and giving you a clear view of your sales pipeline," she said.

SME owners were advised that strong client relationships are fundamental to the success of a firm, which means they could fall by the wayside if they forget to make a crucial call or follow up on earlier enquiries.

Ms Finer said a CRM can prevent these kinds of mistakes occurring as it will enable firms to remember key actions and deal with potential issues before they escalate into something more serious.

This, she said, will ultimately allow companies to deliver a great service and adopt a highly streamlined sales process.

Bosses were told that if they know which stage every lead is at, they can focus their efforts accordingly so they can close the deal.

Customer engagement white paper

Across B2B and B2C channels, the rise of social media platforms has had a major impact on how companies connect with their customers. 

This is a great opportunity, allowing firms to offer around-the-clock, reactive support to the people who make their business a success – but it can also pose a host of challenges, especially for organisations without the infrastructure and talent in place to deal with it.

Topshop marketing director Sheena Sauvaire recently spoke to Retail Week about the role social is playing in its operation, highlighting the trendy clothing firm's use of Pinterest as a way of engaging with young, web-savvy consumers.

She said: "This gave us another insight into how crowd-sourced recommendations can drive purchase in the physical space. The results were positive and I think it shows how peer-to-peer influence continues to be a driving factor, particularly for the younger shopper."

As m-commerce begins to reach maturity, this will provide another data source – but also another challenge – for marketers keen to harness the power of customer information.

eBay vice-president of UK marketplaces Tanya Lawler told the news provider that 2014 will see a further drive towards integrating social, mobile and other platforms with overall engagement processes.

"There’s a huge opportunity for brands to capitalise on the sweet spot between utility and engagement," she posited.

Research from KANA Software recently found that consumers' 'expectation reflex', meaning how quickly they expect brands to respond to complaints and queries, has shrunk drastically in the social media age.

Companies need to combine utility and engagement in the way Ms Lawler suggests to work well with customers.

Of course, for retail brands this type of approach needs to be converted into sales if it is to have a tangible impact on the bottom line and provide a strong return on investment.

Customer engagement white paper

Locational data offers companies a way of using their customer relationship management (CRM) software in a smarter way, according to mobile phone network EE.

The firm has been using location data to establish that the London suburb of Surbiton is the biggest hotspot in the UK for young people checking out fashion websites and apps via their smartphones, the BBC reports.

It is an example of how the internet can be used by firms to establish the geographical areas in which particular products might be most – or least – popular. 

Geographical variations might be obvious in some places; for example, expensive cars might be much more popular in an affluent area and certain locations may have a higher than average number of people from particular ethnic or other minority groups. However, this new source of data means that further information may be available to marketers than was previously the case. 

Chief strategy officer at OOH agency Posterscope observed: "Thanks to location data we now understand the relevance and value of a particular advertising position compared with another.

"For instance, commuters at one station may tend to look at financial apps on their phones, whereas people travelling from another station may prefer fashion apps.

"Knowing this helps advertisers ensure their ads are relevant, which saves money and improves effectiveness."

The use of locational data may also mean individuals can be contacted using personalised marketing based on the common preferences of those who live in a particular area.

Of course, not everyone likes being marketed to on the basis of search data and other information they may regard as private, with a recent OpinionLab survey showing eight out of ten people don't want consumers to be tracked using smartphone data.

However, this information could be used in conjunction with CRM software in a way many consumers will welcome, as it could help establish the kind of products people may not be so keen on – and thus avoid the potential irritation to them of marketing goods that they have no interest in.

Customer engagement white paper

Although marketing automation has been a hot topic for some years, it appears that industry professionals do not yet feel that they have come to terms with the technology involved.

VentureBeat and RazorSocial recently found that only 48 per cent of companies that have implemented marketing automation would do so again, despite the fact that many of them have recorded a positive return on investment.

The benefits of CRM and automation are clear when they are implemented properly, but the sector remains somewhat cautious, reports Marketing Week.

Research firm SiriusDecisions’ 2014 report on automation suggested that it will only become more important in the future, noting that 80 per cent of the highest-performing firms it surveyed used the technology.

"By 2020, the marketer who doesn’t understand how marketing automation should be used to drive demand creation will be an endangered species," the study explained.

One firm that has embraced the possibilities of engagement is the Caravan Club, which feels it can drive up engagement levels among members and ensure they provide a good service across the board.

Head of member marketing Tony Lewis suggested that automation is a good way of keeping new sign-ups aware of the products and services the caravanning organisation offers.

"With new customers we must find ways to drive value without throwing the kitchen sink at them marketing-wise. We need to introduce them to services and benefits in a consultative way, when they need to hear about something and not before." he explained.

In practical terms, the Caravan Club's automated system ensures that new members receive a series of informative messages, pamphlets and emails to keep them up-to-date with the offers they can receive.

Mr Lewis pointed out that non-directed email can be as ineffective as old-fashioned junk mail, meaning that CRM is useful when it comes to targeting communications.

"Automation helps us to send time-appropriate messages and offers to the right people at the right time," he concluded.

Customer engagement white paper

Social media has become firmly established as a promotional tool for businesses and as a means of cultivating customer relationships.

Whereas some firms might once have questioned the wisdom of engaging with their target audience over sites such as Facebook and Twitter, today it is the accepted norm and consumers might start to question a brand if it doesn't have a social media presence.

This development has fundamentally changed people's attitudes to how they interact with organisations and what they expect from any communications. Many are moving away from more traditional methods, such as the telephone and email, and want to conduct their dealings with businesses over social networking sites instead.

But are brands responding to this accordingly? Simply having a presence on social media does not automatically mean they are using it effectively and doing a good job of managing their customer relationships.

According to research carried out by Forrester Consulting, the number of people using Twitter for customer service doubled to 22 per cent between 2009 and 2012.

However, figures also showed that many individuals were left dissatisfied by their experiences with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, when compared with their dealings conducted via email, websites, phones, text messages and instant messaging systems.

This was attributed to poor social media management, which was highlighted by statistics showing a large proportion of social customer service agents do not have a record of their conversation history with certain individuals. As a result, more than a third of these professionals have been forced to restart conversations with customers whenever they interact with them.

More than two-thirds of the companies polled agreed that social customer service is becoming more and more important, to the point where it is now the main short-term priority for contact centres in both the UK and the US.

So should companies be making more of a concerted effort to incorporate social media into their customer relationship management strategies?

There is one key aspect of social media that sets it apart from other means of engagement – the fact that any interactions with customers are so public.
As a result, brands cannot afford to ignore or mishandle a complaint that has been registered on their Twitter or Facebook page, since it will be visible to thousands and maybe even millions of customers.

On a slightly different note, web users could be hugely impressed if they see a customer make a query on a company's social media page and see them get both a swift and satisfactory response.

The point to stress is that, ultimately, how companies handle customers over their social media platforms can be hugely significant in both making and breaking their reputation.

As a result, it needs to be placed firmly at the heart of any customer relationship management strategy, with a dedicated and well-trained team of specialists on hand to deal with queries at all times and CRM software monitoring mentions of their company on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

This is a significant feature of the latest iteration of Microsoft Dynamics, which allows customer service specialists, marketers and sales teams to all find out what is being discussed on social media.

As a result, they can get valuable insights into what people think about their products, services, brand image and any other significant issues in real-time.

Case study 

Sealord, a worldwide sustainable fishing enterprise, is one example of an organisation that has benefited from using Microsoft's CRM technology to monitor social media conversations.

The company has found it a great way to keep up with talk from influential organisations and individuals in the sector, as well as understand the views of its partners and stakeholders on relevant issues.

As a result, it was well-placed to make a statement that resonated with its audience and the wider world when it spoke out on the issue of shark finning.

Alison Sykora, public affairs and communications manager at Sealord, said that without this technology, it would "not have had the opportunity to hear what was top-of-mind for our stakeholders and the community we serve – and ensure Sealord's work to be sustainable in these areas was understood".

Social media 'not just for young people'

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of British adults accessing the internet on a daily basis rose from 16 million to 33 million between 2006 and 2012.

By the latter year, some 58 per cent of adults in the UK were using social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

This included 62 per cent of 35 to 44-year-olds and 40 per cent of those aged between 45 and 54 – thereby disproving the notion it is only younger age groups who use social networks to communicate online.

Figures also showed that the UK has the second highest proportion of social networkers in the European Union, behind Sweden.

It is therefore clear this is a platform that needs to be harnessed by businesses effectively in order to engage with consumers in a relevant and meaningful way – and in a manner that enhances their reputation and standing.

Customer engagement white paper

Although an outsider might think of marketing as a 'creative' profession, the reality is that workloads and time management mean bread-and-butter tasks often take precedence over Mad Men-style spitballing.

A recent report from brand experience agency Jack Morton Worldwide, seen exclusively by Marketing Week, highlighted some of the problems facing professionals who wish to think creatively.

Worryingly, 41 per cent of respondents were unsure whether or not they have sufficient time allocated for creative thinking, with only 30 per cent feeling they did.

Barriers preventing marketers from producing creative work included a lack of training, corporate culture, the inability to prove a significant return on investment and the environment within their workplace.

By far the biggest hurdle, though, was lack of time – a third of respondents cited this as the biggest issue preventing them from engaging in creative thought.

Tim Leighton, joint head of creative at Jack Morton Worldwide, suggested that firms need to change their approach fundamentally if they are to engage effectively with consumers.

In the modern marketing landscape, customers – both in B2B and B2C businesses – expect a different approach than was seen even a decade ago, which requires innovative thinking from the firms providing them with a service.

"The workforce understands the challenges of today’s world and the fact that they need to be creative in order to address those challenges. The onus now is on corporate culture to catch up with this perception," posited Mr Leighton.

How can firms free up their staff to produce engaging, customer-focused content while still keeping pace with the various mapping and tracking tasks that are now a crucial part of the marketing function?

In the past, well-integrated CRM systems have shown that they have the potential to free staff up from administrative tasks, leaving them with more time to work in a creative, innovative fashion.

CRM also makes it easier to target specific consumers, which can increase the impact of creative campaigns.

Customer engagement white paper

For all the hype over engaging with customers over social media, problems still remain with the platform, not least the fact that many Britons are uncertain whether they can trust an interaction they have over Twitter or Facebook.

Naturally, people can be dishonest in the flesh, but when speaking to someone in an official capacity the tendency is to trust them.

Over the web this bond disappears, as recent research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) revealed.

Almost half (44 per cent) of survey respondents said they find it difficult to trust brands over social networks, reports Marketing Week.

People within the industry agreed that change needs to take place if consumers are to engage with their material over Twitter and Facebook. More than half (52 per cent) agreed that the channels will become devalued if brands spread dishonest or erroneous information online, while 51 per cent admit to having seen companies behave in this way in the past.

Interestingly, almost all respondents said they had never engaged in this kind of practice.

While this may simply represent an understandable embarrassment at admitting to sharp practice of some kind, it also suggests that many of the problems that occur on social media come about due to mistakes, lack of information or a failure to unify content strategies across different platforms.

Margaret Jobling, marketing director at Birds Eye, said: "Marketers have to figure out a way to live in this space comfortably without trying to be something they’re not as a brand."

One way of managing a series of social media accounts comfortably, while ensuring that staff have access to the information they need to avoid any discrepancies or inaccuracies, is to install a CRM system to help with the process.

Social CRM can have a major impact on how brands connect with consumers.

Customer engagement white paper

Engaging with people as individuals and targeting groups based on their unique tastes and preferences has become a critical part of marketing in recent years.

However, it seems many organisations are failing to bear this in mind when they are trying to engage with older people.

Whereas other groups are defined by their interests, habits, behaviour and suchlike, it seems over-55s are being defined solely by their age – with no regard for the fact people in this age group are just as diverse as their younger counterparts.

This point has been flagged up by Steve Moncrieff, client strategy director at ewe agency, who believes brands are making a mistake if they adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to engaging with older people.

Writing in Prolific North, he pointed out that companies spend millions of pounds on engaging with certain age groups and demographic profiles, such as "cool kids, the John Lewis parents, the fun-loving 20s [and] the free-spending 30s".

However, he said they often fail to apply the same logic to people aged over 50 and simply lump them into a single category.

"The over-55s are not a homogenous group, as mentioned, who reach a certain birthday and morph from individuals into convenient consumer stereotypes," Mr Moncrieff commented.

"There are several generations between the ages of 55 and 100, and the individuals defy traditional segmentation. The Rolling Stones have an average age of 72, meanwhile, 55-year old Madonna continues to shock to the pop and fashion world."

Attitudes to age have evolved

Mr Moncrieff argued that age is a relative concept that has altered a great deal in recent years. For instance, he noted that over-55s still harbour a desire to be "cool" so will step out wearing trendy clothes, use smartphones and tablets, holiday abroad and shop online.

Despite this, Mr Moncrieff said businesses and marketers often treat this segment of the population with disdain, even though they hold 80 per cent of the UK's wealth and have much more disposable income than younger generations.

He has therefore called on companies to change their approach and adopt a more data-driven relationship with over-55s, so they can gather information on their preferences and behaviour and use it in a way that adds value and helps them understand these people better.

"What does this audience want from companies and brands?" Mr Moncrieff asked.

"They want products and services that are designed around the needs of their lifestyle. Whether financial services, travel, luxury goods or online dating, one thing's for sure – no one likes to be called old, retired or be referred to as over a certain age, or being shown older than they are or believe they are."

Mr Moncrieff advised marketers to see how their campaign appears from the perspective of a customer aged over 55, as this might encourage them to move away from the idea of defining them by their age.

Audience should be defined with precision

Mr Moncrieff suggested that marketers should treat over-55s exactly the same as any other demographic group by understanding what they like about a certain product and what might be stopping them from making a purchase.

Communications can then be designed with these insights in mind, so they are targeted and relevant, without being patronising or insulting.

Businesses were also urged not to limit their marketing efforts to traditional media platforms, as older people are increasingly embracing outlets such as social networking sites.

Mr Moncrieff said they would then be able to combine online and offline profiling tools in order to identify the many groups that make up the over-55s.

He pointed out that with innovations such as big data and marketing personalisation, brands can engage with customers in a "more personal and effective way than ever before", as they have garnered real insights into their experiences and brand journeys.

As a result, people aged in their early 50s can be treated very differently to those in their 60s and 70s, with marketing activities no longer restricted by people's ages and incomes.

Customer engagement white paper