Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service

Serious Customer Service Capabilities

In our more than 10 years of customer service research, publishing, and consulting, we’d never before published a report about a Microsoft offering. It’s not because Microsoft hasn’t had a customer service offering or that the company hasn’t had success in business applications. Since 2003, its CRM suite has always included a customer service app. And, its Dynamics CRM brand has built a customer base of tens of thousands of accounts and millions of users. But, Dynamics CRM had always been more about its sales app and that app’s integration with Office and Outlook. Customer service capabilities have been a bit limited. No longer.

Beginning in November 2015, the improvements in two new releases—CRM 2016 and CRM 2016 Update 1—and, in November 2016, the introduction of the new Dynamics 365 brand have strengthened, even transformed, Microsoft’s customer service app and have made Microsoft a player to consider in the high end of the customer service space.

Our Product Evaluation Report on Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service, published December 1, 2016, will help that consideration. These are the new and/or significantly improved customer service components:

  • Knowledge management
  • Search
  • Customer service UI
  • Web self-service and communities
  • Social customer service

Let’s take a closer but brief look at each of them.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management is the name of a new customer service component. Introduced with CRM 2016, it’s a comprehensive knowledge management system with a rich and flexible knowledge model, a large set of useful knowledge management services, and an easy to learn and easy to use toolset. The best features of Knowledge Management are:

  • Visual tools of Interactive Service Hub, the customer service UI
  • Knowledge lifecycle and business processes that implement and support the lifecycle
  • Language support and translation
  • Version control
  • Roles for knowledge authors, owners, and managers

For example, Knowledge Management comes with a predefined but configurable knowledge lifecycle with Author, Review, Publish, and Expire phases. The screen shot in Figure 1 shows the steps in the Author phase.

ish-knowledge-author-stage-stepsFigure 1. This screen shot shows the steps in the Author phase of the knowledge management process.

Note that Knowledge Management is based on technology from Parature, a Reston, VA-based supplier with a customer service offering of the same name that Microsoft acquired in 2014. Beginning with the introduction of Dynamics 365, Microsoft no longer offers the Parature customer service product.

Search

Search is not a strength of Dynamics 365. Search sources are limited. Search query syntax is simple. There are few search analyses and few facilities for search results management. However, with the Dynamics 365 rebranding Microsoft has made improvements. Categorized Search, the new name of the search facility in Dynamics 365, retrieves database records with fields that begin with the words in search queries and lets administrators and seekers facet (Categorize) search results. The new Relevance Search adds relevance and stemming analyses. Microsoft still has work to do, but faceting, stemming, and relevance are a start to address limitations.

Customer Service UI – Interactive Service Hub

Interactive Service Hub (ISH) provides several useful and very attractive capabilities in Dynamics 365. It’s the UI for Knowledge Management, one of two UIs for case management, and a facility for creating and presenting dashboards. For the case management and knowledge management UIs, ISH provides visual tools that are easy to learn and easy to use. The tools let agents perform every case management task and let authors and editors perform every knowledge management function. For example, Figure 2 shows a screen shot of ISH’s presentation of an existing Case—the Name of the Case at the top left, the Case information to display “SUMMARY | DETAILS | CASE RELATIONSHIPS | SLA” under the Name, the phases of the deployment’s case management process “IDENTIFY QUALIFY RESEARCH RESOLVE” within a ribbon near the top of the screen, and the (SUMMARY) Case information in the center.

ish-existing-caseFigure 2. This screen shot shows the Interactive Service Hub display of an existing Case.

In addition to tools for building dashboards, ISH also packages useful predefined dashboards, two for case management and two for knowledge management. The four help customer service managers and agents and knowledge management authors and editors manage their work. Figure 3 shows an example of the My Knowledge Dashboard. It presents information useful to authors and editors very visually and interactively.

my-knowledge-dashboardFigure 3. This screen shot shows an example of the My Knowledge Dashboard.

Web Self-service and Communities

We were quite surprised to learn that, prior to the May 2016 introduction of CRM 2016 Update 1, Dynamics 365 for Customer Service and all of its predecessor products did not include facilities for building and deploying web self-service or communities sites. This limitation was addressed in Update 1 with the then named CRM Portal service, renamed the Portal service in Dynamics 365. Portal service is a template-based toolkit for developing (web development skills are required) and deploying browser-based web self-service and communities/forums sites. It’s based on technology from Adxstudio, which Microsoft acquired in September 2015 and it packages templates for a Customer Service Portal and a Community Portal. Note that Dynamics 365 for Customer Service licenses include one million page views per month for runtime usage of sites built on the Portal service (licenses may be extended with additional page views per month).

Social Customer Service

Microsoft Social Engagement is a separately packaged and separately priced social customer service offering that Microsoft introduced early in 2015. Social Engagement provides facilities that listen for social posts across a wide range of social sources (Instagram, Tumblr, WordPress, and YouTube as well as Facebook and Twitter), that analyze the content and sentiment of those posts, and that interact with social posters. In addition, Social Engagement integrates with Dynamics 365 for Customer Service. Through this integration, the automated or manual analysis of social posts can result in creating and managing customer service Cases. It’s a strong social customer service offering. What’s new is Microsoft bundles Social Engagement with Dynamics 365 for Customer Service. That’s a very big value add.

All This and More

We’ve discussed the most significant new and improved capabilities of Dynamics 365 for Customer Service. Knowledge Management, Interactive Service Hub, improved Search, the Portal service, and bundled Social Engagement certainly strengthen the offering. Although not quite as significant, Microsoft added and improved many other capabilities, too. For example, there are language support improvements, improvements to integration with external apps, new Customer Survey and “Voice of the Customer” feedback capabilities, and the use of Azure ML (Machine Learning) to suggest Knowledge Management Articles as Case resolutions automatically based on Case attribute values. Bottom line, Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service deserves serious consideration as the key customer service app for large businesses and public sector organizations, especially those that are already Microsoft shops.

Advertisements

Who You Gonna Call?

Apologies to Ray Parker Jr. While your question or a problem may not be about ridding your neighborhood of ghosts, “Who You Gonna Call” to get the answer or solution that you need?

Getting help on the Internet or on your mobile device is easy—type it into the search box of your favorite Internet search engine or ask Siri, now Alexa and Cortana, too, but it’s not always easy to get an answer or a solution to complex, detailed, or involved questions and problems. Who You Gonna Call with those?

Questions and Problems

Over the past several months, your blogger has had quite few questions and problems for which answers and solutions were not so easy to find. Here are some of them:

  • My Whirlpool electric dryer doesn’t heat (or maybe it overheats before it doesn’t heat).
  • My Toro gasoline powered lawnmower is hard to start and stalls when it does start.
  • My new iPhone 6s doesn’t pair with the Bluetooth audio system in my car.
  • Which should I buy: an electric induction cooktop, a standard electric cooktop, or a natural gas cooktop?

DIY Answers and Solutions

Getting answers and solutions to these question and problems involves getting your hands dirty, literally or figuratively. These questions and problems are about what things do, how things are put together/assembled, and the way that things work. I want the inside information that I can use to get to explain the answers and apply the fixes myself. I’m a DIY (Do It Yourself) kind of person, a DIYer. I’m willing and eager and I have tools. I enjoy the challenge and I revel in the satisfaction of getting the answers or fixing the problems myself. I’m not looking for a pro to do the work for me for a fee.

So who was your blogger gonna call to get answers and fixes to the list of questions and problems? Let’s take a look at these possibilities:

  • Social networks
  • Communities and forums
  • YouTube
  • Brand sites
  • Build and repair sites

Social Networks

Crowd sourcing answers and fixes from the members of might not work for these kinds of questions and problems. While many of my friends and followers are DIY kind of people, too, the most I expect from a crowd-sourced approach is a reference to a web site or to an expert. Very helpful to be sure, but a step removed from what I need.

Communities and Forums

Communities and forums let members post questions and problems within topics in the hopes that other community members will reply with comments that contain answers and solutions. There are two types of communities and forums. Communities of the first type are hosted and moderated by the brand about which customers ask questions or pose problems and receive answers and solutions from other customer as well as from subject matter experts (SMEs) who may also be customers or may be on the brand’s customer service staff. These communities can be very helpful, especially so when the brand’s employees monitor and moderate customers’ questions and problems. Brand employee participation ensures correct answers and solutions. They’re not so helpful when their answers and solutions lack detail or when their topics do not include the subjects of questions and problems. We’ve seen communities for ISVs that seem only to suggest consulting services as answers and solutions. We’ve seen communities with topics only about making suggestions for product or service improvements or only about customer experience with a brand.

The second type of community or forum is hosted and managed independently of the brand that is the subject of its topics. Posts on these communities commonly contain complex, detailed, technical questions and problems. Comments frequently contain exactly the answers and solutions in the level of detail that DIYers crave. On the other hand, many of these communities have no moderation or monitoring by SMEs. They exercise no control over comments. For example, below is a post from acuraworld.com that accurately represents my question about Bluetooth pairing a new iPhone. The comment contains an unmoderated and unappealing answer.

iphone acura bluetooth

© 2016 Acuraworld

Perhaps this answer does solve the problem, but I would never “Reset All Settings” on my iPhone to solve it. A better answer lists the steps to establish a new pairing in the car, a pain for sure because voice tags are phone-specific in my car’s system. Be careful with communities and forums.

YouTube

YouTube has a huge library of DIY videos. Find the video that answers your question or solves your problem by searching within the site. YouTube’s videos are posted by brands, by repair pros, and DIYers. YouTube does not monitor or moderate their content. So, DIYer beware. Be careful of whose advice you take.

A YouTube DIYer video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ni-rdRyxA0, contained the fix to my starting/stalling lawnmower problem. I found it after searching independent communities for the problem symptom and learning that my problem was somewhere in the lawnmower’s fuel system, likely the carburetor. Note that Toro.com, the brand site for my lawnmower, was similar to Whirpool.com, offering downloads of product manuals.

Brand Sites

Brand web sites of brands may contain the level of information that answers detailed questions or that fixes problems with their products. For my dryer problem, I went to whirlpool.com, clicked the Owners tab, and clicked the Support tab to get to this site:

whirlpool support

© 2016 Whirlpool

I followed the Manuals tab/Find Manuals link then enter the Model number. For my model, Whirlpool provides three downloads:

  • Owners Manual
  • Installation Instructions
  • Parts List

The Owners Manual is a “Use and Care Guide.” Its content is not model-specific or even specific to dryer type—electric or gas. It does contain an If You Need Assistance or Service section that provides some high-level troubleshooting information as well as telephone numbers and mailing addresses (It’s an old dryer.). The Parts List contains numbered schematics and corresponding lists of parts numbers and brief description or names of every single part of the dryer. This information is essential to every fix because every fix usually requires replacement of broken parts and parts numbers are the mechanism for their identification. The Parts List manual also provides an idea of how the dryer is assembled and of how it works. The heating element, thermostats, and fuses are the causes and effects of not heating and overheating. These are parts are numbers 6, 7, 8, 15, and 17 on the schematic for Bulkhead Parts shown below.

whirlpool parts

© 2016 Whirlpool

Looking at the schematic, it’s difficult to visualize an assembled dryer and the locations of and accesses to the heating element, thermostats, and fuses. Mechanical/electrical aptitude and actual repair experience are required for that. You’ll have them after a single repair, but don’t call a pro yet. More online help is available.

Repair and Parts Sites

Repair and parts sites are exactly that online help. My fav is repairclinic.com. Go there, enter your model number and you’ll see an extremely helpful page like this:

repair clinic 2

© 2016 RepairClinic.com, Inc

In addition to a list of parts with pictures and descriptions, Repair Clinic also provides a list of Common Problems on the left of the page. Click “Dryer overheating” to reach this page:

repairclininc

© 2016 RepairClinic.com, Inc

Now the fix is very close. This page contains everything you’ll need to understand how dryers work, how/why they break, diagnose and verify the problem, identify the part causing the problem, and order the part to fix the problem. The ordered list of likely causes with descriptions and videos is especially helpful. I love this site. It contains similar information for lawn equipment, heating and cooling, and power tools as well as appliances. But, repairclinic.com is not the only site that provides diagnostics and parts for fixing these types of problems.

SearsPartsDirect.com contains information similar to RepairClinic.com and not just for Sears’ products. ThisOldHouse.com the web site for the long-running PBS series contains a wealth of answers and solutions to a wide range of home improvement and repair questions, problems, and projects. Answers and solutions are easy to understand videos presented by the show’s experts. The video library is continually growing.

Cooktops

The last item in my list is a product research question about cooktops and a tax question about annuities. Regarding cooktops, I was ready to replace my 30 something year old electric cooktop with a gas cooktop. My product research started, as it usually does on ConsumerReports.org. It’s a subscription site. I’ve been a subscriber and a member for many years. First, I looked at the Buying Guide for cooktops where I learned about electric induction cooktops. The description and analysis changed my mind about gas. Then I went to product ratings of electric induction cooktop products. Consumer Reports rated GE Profile products highly and my wife and I have been very happy with the other GE Profile appliances in our kitchen. That’s what we bought. Of course, I installed it.

Recommendations

The Internet is a wonderful resource for getting DIY answers and solutions. The challenge for DIYers will be identifying the correct and most usable answers and solutions from a myriad of reasonable possibilities. Who You Gonna Call? Generally, we recommend:

  • Brand sites
  • Moderated and monitored communities
  • Build and repair sites
  • YouTube

More specifically, RepairClininc.com and, especially, ConsumerReports.org are our favorites. Your subscription and membership fees to Consumer Reports will be paid back many times over with the best product research.