In case you missed the big news last week, Microsoft has acquired a company called Parature. Similar to the two marketing related service providers MS has bought earlier, Marketing Pilot and Netbreeze, this latest acquisition is intended for expanding the footprint of Dynamics CRM on the customer service side.
It’s been no secret that this was the next area where Microsoft was looking to build up some new capabilities for Dynamics CRM. Thinking about the existing feature set for customer service scenarios in the product, we basically haven’t had any significant enhancements to the service module since CRM 3.0. Sure, the recent platform enhancements on the process automation and UI side can be leveraged in customer service as well, but in terms of specific out-of-the-box functionality that would be aimed at helpdesk scenarios, it’s been pretty quiet so far. Case management and queues for email routing have been very useful features for many organizations using Dynamics CRM. Service scheduling and knowledge base articles… well, not so much.
The world around CRM software has changed quite a bit from 2005 when CRM 3.0 came out. Not only have online service portals and support content websites become incredibly affordable for any company to set up via cloud based services like Zendesk, but the customers of those companies have also been given a whole range of independent social channels to reach out to one another. These days the customers are in charge of the conversation, which means that if you don’t offer a forum for them to submit feedback and questions, they’ll just set one up for your brand on GetSatisfaction on their own. Regardless of how many 1-to-1 contact points you offer them, they’ll still go and share their frustration over on public channels like Twitter.
This is obviously not a world where back-office applications like traditional CRM systems that mainly offer features to your employees instead of the end customers provide a very comprehensive solution for customer service management. Sure, integrating with the customer account details, managing the support ticket process and collecting information about past interactions are all essential components of customer service in the new world, too, but they are becoming relatively less and less significant factors in the processes needed for delivering great customer experiences. When the customers no longer pick up the phone to call you when they have a problem but rather use it to search for answers on their own, call center automation software isn’t the area you should primarily be looking to invest in.
Integrating the customer facing components of modern online customer service solutions to the internal CRM systems has been the way to build systems that are up for the challenge presented by the age of the social customer. While system integration is a natural part of any CRM implementation project, requiring each organization to come up with their own solution of how to put the pieces together isn’t perhaps the most effective way forward. For example, Parature had already launched their integration with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online back in 2009, but how many people were actually aware of it? I might have stumbled across Parature a few times before, but they certainly didn’t occupy a space on my top-of-the-mind list for possible solutions to suggest to companies using Dynamics CRM. Merging these services into Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM offering is certainly going to expose them to a potential customer audience of a completely different scale.
Microsoft hasn’t been the only one who’s gone shopping for SaaS services to build up the capabilities they can offer under their own CRM umbrella. The social CRM arms race between Salesforce and Oracle that started to heat up back in 2011 has lead to a “buy, don’t build” market where everyone’s mainly waiting to see who gets acquired next and how many figures there are in the price tag. Even with Microsoft we can see that 5 out of the last 15 companies they’ve acquired now integrate with Dynamics CRM: Skype, Yammer, Marketing Pilot, Netbreeze and now Parature. (No, I’m not counting Nokia, as the integration on their devices comes via the Windows Phone OS, but naturally mobile CRM features are critical for the Dynamics team, too.) Since I’m not familiar with Parature as a company and have no qualifications to assess the financial side of the equation, I collected some of the reactions from news sources and analysts into a Storify story on Microsoft’s Parature acquisition and Dynamics CRM:
The question on everyone’s mind who’s working with Dynamics CRM must be: when and how is Parature going to show up as a component that existing CRM customers can take advantage of? Microsoft has stated that Parature will continue to be offered as an independent service for existing and new customers without any Dynamics CRM investments. There’s an existing integration available for connecting CRM with Parature already today, which I’m sure will be promoted as an intermediate solution for customers, until Microsoft builds some more extensive features to link Dynamics CRM data with the channels that Parature’s sevice portfolio covers.
Being a SaaS based solution, it’s unlikely that there will be much Parature components included into the core Dynamics CRM platform that would interfere with on-premises deployments. As for the schedule, judging by the time it has taken for previously acquired services like Yammer & Marketing Pilot to become a part of the official Dynamics CRM story, I’d imaging it will easily take a year or more before a unified commercial offering will be in place to fully take advantage of the new possibilities that Parature brings to CRM customers. Still, with the earlier announcements on new customer service related features being introduced in the “Leo” release planned for CRM Online somewhere around Q2 2014, there’s bound to be quite a lot of buzz around the customer service theme during Convergence 2014 in March. Let’s hope a roadmap will be shared by this time that will allow customers to identify what benefits they can expect to receive from this latest addition to Microsoft’s business applications portfolio and how it may affect their usage of other existing services and the integration of these with the central CRM database.