• March 5, 2014
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

CRM Is in the Midst of an Expansion, Microsoft Execs Say at Convergence

ATLANTA—With its acquisition of Parature completed, Microsoft has reaffirmed its commitment to CRM in general and customer service in particular, Bill Patterson, senior director of customer self-service solutions at Microsoft, told CRM magazine during an exclusive interview at the Microsoft Dynamics Convergence user conference.

"CRM is a growing part of Microsoft's business," he says. "[Microsoft's] company strategy is to create a family of devices, products, and services that power high-value interactions across the customer life cycle. We want to create great solutions that fuel those interactions."

Microsoft Dynamics CRM, company officials reported, has delivered 38 straight quarters of double-digit growth for Microsoft, especially among online users. Cloud deployments make up 90 percent of new customer signings, and many legacy customers are moving to the online versions of the software, according to Jujhar Singh, general manager of Dynamics CRM products at Microsoft. The Dynamics CRM line currently has 4 million users at 40,000 companies around the world, he says.

The cloud, particularly deployments through the Microsoft Azure cloud environment, allows companies to pull together all the key elements of any customer interaction for better understanding and engagement, Patterson maintains.

"We are a better CRM application because the Azure Cloud exists," he says. "Customers can use the power and the flexibility to scale up or down as they need."

Without the cloud, Patterson says, companies are limited by the amount of data their existing on-premises hardware, software, and infrastructure can capture and store.

But regardless of whether it is deployed on premises or in the cloud, CRM in general has become "less about the solution and more about the outcome," Patterson says. "Outcome projection, not just interaction capture, will be big."

So, too, will be knowledge management and cross-channel capabilities, two aspects that made the Parature acquisition so attractive to Microsoft, according to Patterson.

"The whole team at Parature has done a great job of providing solutions that a lot of organizations do not have today," he says. "It's great technology. Our customers will love it. They've needed it for a long time."

And CRM systems can't be siloed any more, Patterson adds, noting that many CRM systems and components "are being harnessed and stitched together to deliver greater impact."

As an example, he says technologies to help companies listen to customer comments on social media sites are valuable, "but those that help them derive value from that listening have the most value to businesses."

And for Micrososft, this greater industry demand for solutions that are interoperable also requires the company to continue building solutions that work outside of the Microsoft Office framework. Also important is building across platforms to support multiple browsers, devices, and operating systems.

"CRM cannot just plug into Office 365," Patterson says. "At the end of the day, business productivity is enabled by tools like Office 365, but there has to be more synergy and less dependency."

Those synergies will also allow Microsoft to expand the reach of its CRM solutions, which many company executives have said will see greater inroads into ERP and other business systems. "All these loosely constructed pieces need to come together seamlessly," Patterson says. "At Microsoft, we have to think about the seamless fusion of apps together for CRM and [enterprise resource planning]. The ability to drive that fusion at the process level will be profound moving forward."

Dynamics Marketing is already taking advantage of that corporate mindset. According to Singh, the product suite that Microsoft gained during its acquisition of Marketing Pilot focuses on planning, budgeting, and execution in one place, and data can be passed between multiple apps seamlessly.

It also applies to customer service, where Microsoft has focused its attention on multichannel and omnichannel interactions. The unified agent desktop is a classic example of that, Patterson states.

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