Just two weeks away from its 2014 Convergence Conference, Microsoft has started releasing details of the forthcoming upgrades to its customer relationship management (CRM) offerings. This year’s upgrades include smarter marketing capabilities, acute social listening and enhanced customer care based on the recent Parature acquisition.

What We Know Now

There are scant details available about the upcoming releases, but Microsoft has outlined the general principles and should further clarify them at  Convergence next month in Atlanta. The new releases will become available to customers in the second quarter this year.

According to Bob Stutz, corporate vice president for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the upgrades are a response to the ongoing attempts by businesses to transform the way they deal with customers through enhanced customer experiences. In a Microsoft Dynamics CRM blog post, he outlines the challenges as follows:

"Changes in consumer behavior are dictating a significant shift in what makes marketing effective. The ability to shop anywhere at any time, gather information about products and services and promote the social conversation means that across the board—whether you’re a consumer, citizen or business customer—you can have an impact on any brand you wish. Indeed, a study conducted by Adobe found that 76 percent of marketers think marketing has changed more in the past 2 years than the previous 50."

But we already saw that last month when we took a look at e-commerce. Customers now demand a perfect customer experience and will change sites as quick as a mouse-click if the site they are on doesn’t provide what they are looking for.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

The forthcoming upgrades are Microsoft's response to this ongoing shift, and look to provide organizations with the ability to match customers to the right products and services while engaging with them in a way that ensures the customer will come back.

According to Stutz, the new Microsoft Dynamics CRM update democratizes social listening, adds new marketing capabilities for more impact and enables businesses to deliver outstanding customer service. With this release, he says, “we are essentially changing the CRM game.”

That’s quite a claim, but there appears to be a greater chance that these initiatives won’t change CRM as much as change the way Dynamics CRM interacts with customers. There are three principal changes for the moment, although Microsoft will probably reveal more at Convergence.

Microsoft Dynamics Social Listening.jpg

1. Smarter marketing

For marketers, Microsoft has announced that it has overhauled the marketing-automation technology that it bought with MarketingPilot in October 2012. Part of that design was to make it available on Azure, as well as aligning it tightly with Dynamics CRM.

Microsoft says the new upgrades add marketing-automation functionality to Dynamics CRM and will provide users with insights that will help marketers work smarter and engage with customers more effectively.

In practical terms, this means that the new release has added useful new features such as a visual campaign designer, which enables marketers to design campaigns easier and quicker. It also provides new lead management and scoring abilities, scalable email marketing that can deliver millions of messages per day and deep marketing analytics to assess how effective marketing initiatives are. These new capabilities will be available in 10 languages and 35 markets.

2.Personalized customer care

It will also add new customer care functionality that is designed to complement the technology acquired through Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Parature, which provide it with a unified service desk for call centers, among other things.

The unified service desk will provide call center workers with single screen access to CRM and billing functions, and will enable them carry out multiple tasks while also automating repetitive tasks.

Although the deal with Parature only closed on January 31, the addition of this technology will enable Dynamics CRM users the choice of deploying customer service capabilities through support portals, Facebook, Twitter, Web chat or video capabilities depending on the preference of the customer.

3. Acute Social Listening

Microsoft Social Listening is a social-analytics application that can be used with Dynamics CRM Online, on-premises or as a standalone service, and is hosted on Azure.

According to Microsoft, this new service offers users the ability to analyze and act on market intelligence taken from a wide range of channels. It also enables users to track products, brands, competitors and campaigns globally and in real time.

Stutz says that in introducing this update, Microsoft has put social listening at the heart of its CRM strategy. This new release will make social listening accessible to everyone, not just to a few highly placed marketers at a very high cost.

Microsoft social will be offered as part of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online professional licenses at no additional charge, while on-premises customers can get Microsoft Social Listening for an incremental cost.

These are the details that Microsoft has released so far. New information won't become available until the Convergence conference, which starts on March 4.