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At SugarCon, SugarCRM Adds Data Enrichment, Machine Learning, and Intelligent Agent Technology
People and technologies need to come together to let customers design their own experiences, speakers suggest.
Posted Jun 17, 2016
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SAN FRANCISCO — At its SugarCon annual user conference on Wednesday, SugarCRM introduced an intelligent virtual assistant named Candace and Sugar Intelligence, a service that will combine data from external sources with company CRM data to provide a single view of the customer. 

Sugar Intelligence is currently in development and is due for release in early 2017, according to Rich Green, SugarCRM's chief product officer. Once available, Sugar Intelligence will use predictive analytics to make intelligent recommendations for next-best actions during customer interactions.

Green, during a morning session at the conference, called the Sugar Intelligence Service "the next step in the evolution of CRM." 

"In the near future, we plan to give Sugar users the ability to gather and analyze customer intelligence from a broad range of sources so that people spend less time entering data into the CRM and more time learning from it," he said.

"In the CRM world, we now want to understand everything about the customer," he stated.

Green also introduced SugarCon attendees to Candace, an AI-powered intelligent agent that guides and assists users in interactions with customers, helping them plan meetings, build deeper connections, recommend best actions, and respond to late breaking developments as relationships evolve. 

Predrag Jakovljevic, principal analyst at Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC), called the new product introductions "impressive" and said that SugarCRM is finally proving itself to be a "great alternative" to Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

"Sugar is not going to displace Salesforce or Microsoft, but it's a good alternative to them now," he said.

According to Green, Sugar Intelligence and Candace both build on technologies that SugarCRM gained during its acquisitions of Stitch and Contastic.

The two products also respond to SugarCRM's outlook for where the CRM industry in general is heading, according to Green. Among the trends he cited were the growing use of machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, digital assistants, and predictive and adaptive technologies.

This was a sentiment shared by Catriona Wallace, founder and CEO of Flamingo Customer Service, the keynote speaker for the conference's second day. 

Wallace cited ambient computing, the rise of platforms as replacements for individual applications, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, and predictive analytics as the key technologies that will shape the future of customer service.

"We're moving beyond segmentation, even beyond personalization, into this concept of individualization," she said. "We're having the customer involved in designing the experience. Collaborative customer interfaces are the next wave of customer experience."

And for now, much of that experience will involve machine learning and artificial intelligence, according to Wallace.

By 2020, virtual assistants will handle 40 percent of all interactions, and 5 percent of all transactions will take place outside of human control or knowledge, Wallace said.

Also by 2020, 50 percent of all fast companies will have more transactions done by machines than by humans, she added.

To prepare for this future, Wallace urged companies to do the following:

  • get more agile in the planning process;
  • choose digitally savvy executives to lead them;
  • look into collaborative customer interfaces;
  • build around platforms;
  • invest in machine learning;
  • make privacy and ethics a priority; and
  • put the conversations back in business dealings.

Remy Malan, chief customer officer at SugarCRM, agreed that customer service has become "a collaborative effort," and so he urged companies to take a look at their customer service "from the outside in."

Customer journey mapping, he added, "can be a very powerful tool," but the ultimate goal should be to weigh everything against positive customer outcomes. "The customer outcome should always be the metric you use," he stated.

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