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.

The Helpdesks: Desk.com, Freshdesk, Zendesk

We’ve added our Product Evaluation Report on Freshdesk to our library of in-depth, framework-based reports on customer service software. We put this report on the shelf, so to speak, next to our Product Evaluation Reports on Desk.com and Zendesk. The three products are quite a set. They’re similar in many ways, remarkably so. Here are a few of those similarities:

The products are “helpdesks,” apps designed to provide an organization’s customers (or users) with information and support about the organization’s products and services. Hence, their names are (alphabetically) Desk.com, Freshdesk, and Zendesk.

They have the same sets of customer service apps and those apps have very similar capabilities: case management, knowledge management and community/forum with a self-service web portal and search, social customer service supporting Facebook and Twitter, chat, and telephone/contact center. Case management is the core app and a key strength for all of the products. Each has business rules-based facilities to automate case management tasks. On the other hand, knowledge management and search are pretty basic in all of them.

The three also include reporting capabilities and facilities for integrating external apps. Reporting has limitations in all three. Integration is excellent across the board.

These are products that deploy in the cloud. They support the same browsers and all three also have native apps for Android and iOS devices.

All three are packaged and priced in tiers/levels/editions of functionality. Their licensing is by subscription with monthly, per user license fees.

Simple, easy to learn and easy to use, and cross/multi/omni-channel are the ways that the suppliers position these offerings. Our evaluations were based on trial deployments for each of the three products. We found that all of them support these positioning elements very well.

Small (very small, too) and mid-sized businesses across industries in all geographies are their best fits, although the suppliers would like to move up market. The three products have very large customer bases—somewhere around 30,000 accounts for Desk.com and Zendesk and more than 50,000 accounts for Freshdesk per a claim in August from Freshdesk’s CEO. Note that Desk.com was introduced in 2010, Freshdesk in 2011, and Zendesk in 2004.

Suppliers’ internal development organizations design, build, and maintain the products. All three suppliers have used acquisitions to extend and improve product capabilities.

While the products are similar, the three suppliers are quite different. Salesforce.com, offers Desk.com. Salesforce is a publicly held, San Francisco, CA based, $8 billion corporation founded in 1999. Salesforce has multiple product lines. Freshdesk Inc., offers Freshdesk. It’s a privately held corporation founded in 2010 and based in Chennai, India. Zendesk, Inc. offers Zendesk. This company was founded in 2007 in Denmark and reincorporated in the US in 2009. It’s publicly held and based in San Francisco, CA. Revenues in 2015 were more than $200 million.

These differences—public vs. private, young vs. old(er), large vs. small(er), single product line vs. multiple product line—will certainly influence many selection decisions. However, all three are viable suppliers and all three are leaders in customer service software. The supplier risk in selecting Desk.com, Freshdesk, or Zendesk is small.

Then, where are the differences that result in making a selection decision? The differences are in the ways that the products’ developers have implemented the customer service applications. The differences become clear from actually using the products. Having actually used all three products in our research, we’ve learned the differences and we’ve documented them in our Product Evaluation Reports. Read them to understand the differences and to understand how those differences match your requirements. There’s no best among Desk.com, Freshdesk, and Zendesk but one of them will be best for you.

For example, here’s the summary of Freshdesk evaluation, the grades that the product earned on our Customer Service Report Card. “Freshdesk earns a mixed Report Card—Exceeds Requirements grades in Capabilities, Product Management, Case Management, and Customer Service Integration, Meets Requirements grades in Product Marketing, Supplier Viability, and Social Customer Service, but Needs Improvement grades in Knowledge Management, Findability, and Reporting and Analysis.”

Case Management is where Freshdesk has its most significant differences, differences from its large set of case management services and facilities, its support for case management teams, its automation of case management tasks, and its easy to learn, easy to use case management tools. For example, Arcade is one of Freshdesk’s facilities for supporting case management teams. Arcade is a collection of these three, optional gamification facilities that sets and tracks goals for agents’ customer service activities.

  • Agents earn Points for resolving Tickets in a fast and timely manner and lose points for being late and for having dissatisfied customers, accumulating points toward reaching six predefined skill levels.
  • Arcade lets agents earn “trophies” for monthly Ticket management performance. In addition,
  • Arcade awards bonus points for achieving customer service “Quests” such as forum participation or publishing knowledgebase Solutions.

Arcade lets administrators configure Arcade’s points and skill levels. Its Trophies and Quests have predefined goals; however, administrators can set Quests on or off. The Illustration below shows the workspace that administrators use to configure Points.

arcade points

Freshdesk can be a Customer Service Best Fit for many small and mid-sized organizations. Is it a Best Fit for your? Read our Report to understand why and how.

Customer Service Integration

This week’s report is our 1Q2014 Customer Service Update. Briefly, 1Q2014 was a quiet quarter for customer service. Customer growth was down. Only Clarabridge improved significantly in both customer acquisition and repeat business. Product activity was light. Five of our suppliers did not make any product announcements. Company activity was light. Four suppliers did not make any company announcements. Most significantly, Verint acquired KANA. Clarabridge earned a Customer Service Star for 1Q2014 for outstanding customer growth, for significant company activity, and for earning an excellent product evaluation.

We observed one customer service trend—customer service integration. Very important. Customer Service Integration is one of the key criteria in all of our frameworks for evaluating customer service products. Customer service integration can reduce cost to serve and increase customer satisfaction. Integration expands and streamlines the customer service experience. It makes it easier for customers to get answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. It makes it easier for customer service agents to help customers.

For example, from our framework for evaluating virtual agent/virtual assisted-service products, we state, “Through integration with external customer service applications, virtual agent software product deployments can escalate to assisted-service chat or contact center telephone channels, deliver virtual assisted-service on social networks, and/or can answer a wider range of questions, questions that involve the data in cases and accounts, for instance. Integration makes virtual agents more powerful, creating a richer, broader, and deeper virtual assisted-service experience. Integration lowers cost to serve, deflecting/avoiding high-cost interactions with live agents.”

The important integration targets for several types of customer service applications are shown in the Table below. Our evaluation frameworks are the source.

Customer Service Integration
Customer Service Application Type Integration Targets
Virtual agent
  • Account management
  • Case management
  • Contact center
  • Knowledge management
  • Live chat
  • Social networks
Social customer service
  • Account management
  • Case management
  • Contact center
  • Communities
  • Knowledge management
Contact center/Case management
  • Account management
  • Communities
  • Knowledge management
  • Live chat
  • Social networks/Social customer service
  • Virtual agents

Table 1. In this Table we present the key integration targets for several types of customer service applications.

In practice, we’ve seen broad and deep customer service integration within CRM suites and customer service suites such as Oracle Service Cloud and Salesforce Service Cloud. For example, Salesforce Service Cloud and Salesforce Sales Cloud are both implemented on the Salesforce1 platform. Platform resources include account data so account management is built in to Service Cloud. The Service Cloud Console gives agents access to cases. Salesforce Knowledge, the firm’s knowledge management offering, Salesforce Communities, the firm’s internal communities offering, and Live Agent, the firm’s live chat offering, are Service Cloud features. Salesforce Social Hub, a feature of the Radian6 component of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which provides social listening and interaction capabilities, integrates social customer service. While many of these features are separately packaged and separately priced, all are very tightly integrated and that integration is “in the box.”

Individual customer service applications typically do not package integration with external customer service applications. We’ve heard from suppliers of these applications that integration can be accomplished by their professional services organizations, that it’s a “simple matter of programming,” and that they’ve written this code for many of their customers. That may be so, but professional service programming is not product. New releases on either side of the integration interface mean additional custom programming. Programming is never simple.

Alternatively, licensees of these products commonly do integration “at the desktop.” Customer service agents’ desktops have a window open for each of the applications they need to help answer their customers’ questions or solve their problems. Integration at the desktop is complicated. The integration burden is on agents.

This quarter, eGain, IntelliResponse, and Oracle announced new customer service integration. The eGain SAP Certified integration allows contact center agents to search and access the eGain Knowledge Base from the SAP CRM agent console using eGain’s FAQs, natural language and keyword search queries, topic trees, and guided help search methods. The IntelliResponse Virtual Agent (VA) for Salesforce integrates IntelliResponse VA with Salesforce Service Cloud, adding virtual assisted-service to the Service Cloud Console, the Customer Portal, and Service Cloud Communities. In the Oracle Service Cloud February 2014 release, the dynamic forms API for the Customer Portal enables developers to configure a page that asks the customer for additional information, dynamically, before submitting the incident.

We hope that more customer service suppliers will recognize the value in customer service integration. Customer service integration makes their offerings more attractive. It helps their customers create and deliver a better customer service experience, reducing cost to serve and increasing customer satisfaction. It makes it easier and faster for their customers’ customers to get answers and solutions. That’s’ a win, win, win, a no-brainer for sure.