For Microsoft, it's all aboard the social CRM bandwagon. Last week, the software giant announced a service update to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, which includes new, integrated social collaboration tools at no additional cost to existing customers.
Brad Wilson, general manager of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Product Management Group, said in a statement that businesses will be able to expand their relationships with customers "by bringing together new social collaboration capabilities in Microsoft Dynamics CRM with familiar collaboration technologies such as Office, SharePoint and Lync."
Activity Feeds, Micro-Blogging
The new social capabilities include activity feeds, micro-blogging, conversations, automated activity updates, and mobile activity feeds.
Activity feeds offer real-time notifications about relationships and business events, through a view of micro-blog posts that are combined with interactions, whether for an individual or a sales opportunity. Customers and employees can subscribe to specific feeds.
Micro-blogging provides notifications to users through simple updates, and conversations allow users to collaborate among themselves to get feedback from others or to locate information. Activity updates post information to an activity, using configurable business rules, such as when a given sales opportunity has been closed. Mobile activity feeds are designed for Windows Phone 7 devices.
The new update to Dynamics CRM Online also includes unified cloud service management for both Dynamics CRM and Office 365, as well as improved disaster recovery.
'A Standard Practice'
Microsoft social collaboration additions are part of a major trend among CRM vendors, including Salesforce, SAP, and Oracle. Last week, for instance, Oracle announced it was buying RightNow Technologies for about $1.5 billion. RightNow, which provides cloud-based CRM, has been recasting itself as a "customer experience management" provider, with new techniques for customer interaction, including the use of social media.
Salesforce.com has been the leader in this move toward the use of social media in customer service. Among other social media additions, last month it bought Assistly, a company that enables corporate customers to quickly provision socially-based customer service as needed.
The Assistly social customer service allows small companies and emerging businesses to establish socially-based customer service in minutes, with what Salesforce described as "zero-touch outboarding." Companies can then engage with customers in real-time through a variety of channels via a single interface. The channels include Facebook, Twitter, Web chats, e-mail, and phone.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said the CRM industry was recognizing the value of social media, both internally and externally, and it's "becoming a standard practice."
With social media techniques such as internal blogs or news feeds, he said, "the knowledge from employees can be quickly leveraged" to solve a problem. Social media tools can also be used by customers to find out their own answers among themselves, as well by businesses to conduct "a bi-directional conversation" with customers.
The next stage in this rapid adoption of social CRM, Shimmin said, will probably be tools by the major providers, or third-party developers, to integrate the "many silos of information" created by the variety of social media.