In the days of old, CRM (or customer relationship management, for the benefit of anyone who has been living on Mars for the last four years), used to be a luxury enjoyed only by the behemoths of the Fortune 500. For mid-market companies, the products and services that existed to bring the entire organization's customer service, sales and back-office functions onto the same platform were economically hopelessly out of reach, leaving them to try and manage their customer-facing operations with a patchwork quilt of hit-or-miss processes.
When Microsoft decided to enter the market via its Great Plains Business Solutions division, one might have expected it to devote its energies to CRM for the largest of corporations: giants speaking to giants. Recognizing the need that mid-market companies have for usable CRM solutions (as we all know the earliest invocations of CRM were anything but usable, which led to the trendy but mythical concept that CRM is a failure), Microsoft devoted its energies to developing a solution that could be placed within reach of this middle layer of businesses. A typical deployment of Microsoft CRM serves contact centers between 15 and 150 seats.
According to Holly Holt, senior project manager for Microsoft CRM, in the course of developing Microsoft CRM, the company discovered that only approximately 10 percent of mid-market companies already have a comprehensive CRM solution in place ' most of these medium-sized companies use 'home-grown' programs using Excel or Access.
Microsoft CRM is Microsoft's first .NET application, which facilitates the easy connection of systems and enhances solutions with external Web services such as credit checking, analytics and marketing automation services that extend the core functionality of the product. It was specifically designed to make it easy for employees to share information across teams and departments, eliminate redundant data entry and help ensure superior sales and customer service support. A nice feature of Microsoft CRM is the clean design and simplicity of use, as users are not presented with a bewildering array of button and tabs that will, in most cases, not be used. It is sold exclusively through channel partners and is comprised of two separate modules: Customer Service and Sales.
Microsoft CRM Customer Service
Microsoft CRM Customer Service helps enable service representatives to track customer requests, manage support issues from initial contact through successful resolution and provide customers with consistent, efficient service. The Customer Service module offers a complete view of all accounts, including sales and order information, to identify top customers and better understand specific customer needs. Customizable workflow rules allow companies to automatically route service requests and cases to the appropriate representatives or queues for resolution, escalation or reassignment. Agents can maintain a more accurate record of customer-related communications, with automated tracking of customer e-mail that associates those e-mail messages with appropriate customer records. A unique feature is that this module can easily create and maintain service contracts within Microsoft CRM. When a support case is resolved, relevant contract information is updated automatically.
Microsoft CRM Sales
Accessible from Microsoft Outlook and the Web, Microsoft CRM Sales was designed to help sales people manage leads and opportunities, measure and forecast sales activity, efficiently track customer communications and automate stages in the sales process ' helping ensure a shorter cycle, higher close rates and improved customer retention. Sales opportunities can be tracked and closed consistently and efficiently, with workflow rules that automate the stages of the selling process. It includes selling methodologies that can be customized to meet specific sales processes. Workflow rules automatically assign leads to salespeople based on territory, product or any other criteria, and route service requests to the appropriate representative, team or queue for faster resolution or escalation. Workflow rules and templates were designed to make it easy to generate and send auto-response e-mail messages in response to customer requests.
Microsoft CRM can be altered to suit particular vertical markets, and will be offered in a hosted format via several Microsoft partnerships. The flexible licensing model allows companies to purchase what works best for them, allowing them to choose Sales, Service or Suite licensing at 'standard' or 'professional' levels of functionality.
With total cost of ownership (TCO) becoming an increasingly important measurement in this flat economy, Microsoft CRM was designed to be rapidly deployed, easily customized and scalable to adapt to expanding and contracting needs. Company representatives explain that the product can be up and running within a matter of days or weeks'faster than most other CRM applications, which contributes immensely to keeping down the TCO. (Representatives that visited with us in TMC's offices offered a notable anecdote about a user that had it up and running in two hours, though they stressed that this was an unusual case.) Additionally, it integrates with financial and business-management applications to help give businesses a more complete view of customers and customer interactions, and includes integrations to Microsoft Business Solutions' enterprise resource planning (ERP) products.
The suite will be available in multilingual formats beginning with English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Danish and Dutch, with other languages in the planning down the road. Microsoft CRM will be available as a standalone product as well as an integrated solution to Microsoft Great Plains Dynamics, Solomon and eEnterprise. Delivery and implementation through certified Microsoft Business Solutions partners includes hands-on assistance with the setup and maintenance process, as well as 24-hour access to Microsoft Technical Support Services.
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