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Don’t Let Automation Destroy Your Authenticity

One of the most effective ways to become more productive and manage your time is by automating low-value, repetitive tasks. Every week new apps are released that will connect to your online accounts and do some work for you. I’m a huge fan of this progress, however, I get concerned about these services having an unintended effect of trading some of your authenticity away just to save a little time.

There is a growing popularity of automation tools like Zapier, If This Then That (IFTTT), and Microsoft Flow, and it’s becoming easier and easier for average people to build their own personalized automations.

Even easier are tools like dlvr.it which will monitor sites and automatically post to social networks on your behalf. I’ll admit that I’ve tried dlvr.it for a couple of months and it has saved me time because I don’t need to remember a laundry list of sites that I want to further discuss on Twitter (it does the posting for me). Unfortunately, things got weird for me when people re-tweeted and responded to my tweets about articles I hadn’t actually read yet.

That crossed a line for me. As informal as social media can be, people do react to tweets, posts, and shares in a very personal way. As a result, I recently stopped using this automation and decided to find a middle ground I am comfortable with.

This made me reflect on the ways automation can impact the perception of your authenticity. As I weighed the arguments, I expected that my opinion would change if I considered it from the perspective of an individual (e.g. my personal Twitter account) vs. an organization (e.g. my company’s Twitter account). To my surprise, the answer stays pretty similar for both situations.

Be careful which kinds of human interaction you automate

Every year around the holiday season I get greeting cards from friends and family. I also get them from companies that I do business with. I’m never impressed with the generic holiday greeting cards from my insurance agent. It’s a great concept, but I can see that they were printed in bulk (with a mail-merge), include a laser-printed message and signature, and were sent from another state. How many people receive this kind of card and feel warm-fuzzies?

I like my agent, and I don’t think he’s even directly responsible for the cards (it’s the parent company that sends them out). Sadly, the card that’s being sent out on his behalf actually serves as a reminder that I’m not getting a personal card/call/email to wish me happy holidays.

I get plenty of other impersonal mailings from the insurance company, ones that I don’t mind at all. Who in their right mind would expect their billing statement to have a personal touch? The non-personal, but personalized, holiday greeting card is a perfect example of the wrong kind of interaction to automate.

Set appropriate expectations to maintain your authenticity

Take a moment and think about something as simple as an order acknowledgment email for a purchase you make online. Few people today would expect this to be personally crafted and sent by a live person. In fact, for me, and many others I know, that email should be in my inbox right away. It’s a tangible thing that makes me feel satisfied that the order I just placed is real.

However, 10-15 years ago (or maybe even less than that) most people wanted to know that there was a human being looking after their order. Why is this?

Expectations changed.

They may have changed for something like an email that confirms an order, however, the prevailing expectation I see on social media is that people expect (and believe) that posts are coming from real people hitting the Post button. Make sure your authenticity is not compromised by over-automating this kind of interaction.

Setting these expectations grows increasingly important “bots” become more mainstream. Bots (a.k.a. chatbots) are growing in their ability to handle requests for information (through a request from somebody) and automatically respond with an answer (or with a request for additional details or context).

In my experience I’ve seen bots with very wide differences in how successful they are–but little irks me more than a website offering me a live chat with an agent…but then it turns out that the agent is actually a bot.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to reiterate that I am by no means speaking ill of the services provided by dlvr.it, IFTTT, Microsoft Flow, or others. These are very exciting tools that can improve the productivity of individuals and organizations alike. There’s a line when it comes to communication, though, where automating for productivity could compromise your authenticity–and I highly encourage that you take the time to ask yourself where that balance is for you.

Do you automate communication tools like email or social media? Do you think I’m overreacting? Sound off in the comments below.

Identify Duplicate Column Names in Dynamics 365 Using Excel

Here’s a little how-to video that helps how to use Excel to solve the otherwise monotonous process of identifying duplicate column headers in Dynamics 365 / Dynamics CRM (or in any table on a web page). This addresses the underlying issue of the Failed to Generate Excel error message that shows up when clicking Export to Excel.

Background: Failed to Generate Excel

Microsoft Dynamics CRM (now Dynamics 365) has a great feature that lets you export to Excel very easily to use either Excel Online or Desktop edition to play with the data.. Unfortunately, it sometimes gives a nondescript error when exporting “Failed to Generate Excel”, which appears if two column titles (fields) in the export have the exact same name.

failed-to-generate-excel-error-duplicate-column-names

Seems a bit over-the-top for an issue with duplicate column names, doesn’t it?

This could be an issue if your organization has a custom field with the same name as an out-of-the-box field and both are included in the view.

The Problem:

Manually identifying duplicate column names is an annoying and often slow process unless the columns happen to be in alphabetical order (and they never are). It would be easy to sort in Excel though…

My Solution:

  • Take advantage of the fact that under the pretty interface, the grid is actually just a table
  • Click-and-drag the text to highlight the column headers in the web page.
  • Copy to clipboard, then paste into Excel.
  • Copy and “Paste Special”–making sure to “Transpose” (rotate) data from columns to rows in Excel
  • Sort this list alphabetically and review for duplicates, then remove duplicates from the CRM view

Note, this is something I use a lot for one-off applications–but there are better ways to do this for the same page on a frequent basis.

CRM 2015 – Quick Public Service Announcement For Administrators

Microsoft has released CRM 2015! In related news I thought I was losing my mind while I was setting up a test organization. I couldn’t find the User administration section. It’s been under Settings->Administration for quite a few releases now, but with 2015 it’s no longer there.

CRM2015Admin

Instead, take a look at the Settings->Security section where you will find Users along with some other items that moved: Teams, Security Roles, Business Units, Field Security, and Access Team Templates. Some new features can be found here as well, including Hierarchy Security and Positions. Both of these will come in handy for better accommodating things like selective access for regional or departmental management teams.

CRM2015Security

You can use the following link to sign up for a CRM 2015 online trial today:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/crm-free-trial-overview.aspx

You can download the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Server 2015 files here:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=45012

Three ways Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 Will Speed Up Quoting

During my time in sales operations, a constant frustration is that quoting can be a real hassle inside of any CRM system. There are some great tools that help with making certain aspects like configuration much easier, but at the end of the day this is an area that can always be improved (both as the person doing the quoting as well as the person managing what can be quoted).

The recent announcement of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015, which is scheduled to come out in December 2014, comes with exciting updates to quoting products or services. I’ve submitted a blog post Three Ways Dynamics CRM 2015 Will Speed Up Quoting to the Hitachi Solutions CRM blog.

I recently learned that reposting the same article content to multiple blogs can actually hurt your search engine rankings, so you’ll have to jump to the full article via the link (re-linked here) 🙂

Dynamics CRM 2015 Preview: Sales Process Enhancements

Anyone who has talked to me about the last two releases of Dynamics CRM knows that I am a huge believer in the Sales Process functionality that Microsoft has developed. I think back to my Sales Operations days and can only shake my head at how much screwing around could have been avoided if this toolset was available today (for sales reps and for my team).

The picture doesn't do justice to the concept...

The picture doesn’t do justice to the concept…but you can click to enlarge the image which will help a little bit.

The CRM 2015 release preview brings even more excitement, as there are even more strides in the ability to guide users through a business process flow. In the last release, we were still limited to a very linear process flow. If there were indicators on an Opportunity that certain stages should be skipped or handled in a different order, it took lots of time for a clever BA or some custom development from an IT pro to make that happen. If the business wasn’t willing to invest in that, then the burden fell to the salesperson to “just know” what was relevant (which meant some people filled in everything while others filled out nothing…garbage data).

Soon, a simple configuration will allow conditional branching to stages based on criteria specified by the process. This capability will be baked right into the 2015 process flow designer, To the right I’ve included an image from the preview guide showing this conditional branching, which should layer very nicely with the existing Business Rules to show/hide relevant fields..

What this means is an even more intuitive experience for the business development team. Fewer refreshes and flickers on the page. Ask only for what’s needed…automate the rest. Get the management team the detail they need for forecasting and decisions, without burdening the sales organization with a bunch of busywork. This is useful in a variety of situations, including:

  • Handling variations for different types of sales (inside sales, add-ons, contract renewals, etc.)
  • Time to productivity when onboarding new salespeople
  • Managing sales cycles that vary if they have a short-fuse or time-based incentives

Keep it coming Microsoft Dynamics CRM Team!

Note: In this post I discuss future products and features that have been announced publicly but it is always important to remember that this is subject to change with the final release

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Microsoft Announces CRM 2015 Details

Hot off the presses, Microsoft has announced Dynamics CRM 2015 and posted some pre-release information out to their CRM customer center website. This includes updates to both Dynamics CRM as well as Dynamics Marketing.

Here are some particulars of note:

  • A specific release date has not been described, however they have specified “before the end of this calendar year”
  • CRM Online customers will be able to drive the specific timing of the upgrade for their organization. This is similar to the 2013 update for SP1 and they point toward the same technet article on how this works
  • CRM On-premise customers will be able to apply the update as they normally would (assuming they have software assurance)
  • Dynamics CRM functionality updates hit the sales process, mobile (tablet) experience, product detail, case management, Outlook, and the help system
  • Dynamics Marketing functionality updates will provide several updates around what will be a more collaborative experience for users

As a partner and member of the CRM community, I’d like to offer this reminder to folks: back when MS announced the CRM 2013 Service Pack 1 (Spring 14 release) they also mentioned that there will be several changes in what the platform supports “for the next release” which they were terming the Fall Release, but is now (which is now called CRM 2015). Read the details over on the Dynamics CRM Blog to make sure you’re aware of some prep-work that may need to take place before upgrading to CRM 2015.

Spring 14 Update is here

Microsoft has released the Dynamics CRM Spring 14 update (AKA Dynamics CRM 2013 Service Pack 1) and my team has been playing stump-the-chump with each other on all of the new features. PS, there’s a lot of them.

In a previous blog I covered the Microsoft increased focus on the CMO. Dynamics Marketing and Social Listening both drop with this release, but it doesn’t stop there. Below are a few other teasers of the new functionality.

Timers

There have been many situations, particularly in a customer service setting, where we need robust timers that can help manage expectations and highlight the good, bad, and sometimes ugly situations caused by delays.

The great part is that timers can be used all over the place. A couple of sales examples include managing response time and escalation for reseller quote requests or deal registration.

Customer Service Functionality

Microsoft isn’t banking on Parature for all of their Customer Service workload improvement. Far from it. The offering that comes with the spring update brings several key features that have required customization and configuration in the past:

  • Entitlements-This is the logical replacement of “Contracts” in Dynamics CRM (though Contracts haven’t disappeared) that I like to refer to as “Contracts on steroids”
  • SLAs-Set SLAs based on factors such as issue type and time zones
  • Timers-covered above 🙂
  • Routing Rules-Escalation/workflow based on entitlements, timers, and SLAs. Dynamics CRM now builds the workflow automatically!
  • Personal Queues

Other Tidbits

Plenty of detail on Microsoft’s CRM updates website, which I must say has been much improved over the course of the last year or so. A couple of nuggets are the improved integration of the InsideView product (now renamed “Insights” for Dynamics CRM Online customers) and the updated Solution file versioning.

Additionally, Microsoft has released Unified Service Desk, which is a companion to Dynamics CRM to help in specific customer service settings.

Very cool stuff and I’m excited for more.

Microsoft Announces: Dynamics CRM Spring 14 update is coming

Just a couple of days ago, while many Dynamics CRM customers getting ready for Microsoft Convergence in Atlanta, Microsoft dropped a press release as well as a Bob Stutz blog post about some forthcoming functionality in the Dynamics CRM Spring release. Microsoft is making good on their more frequent release cadence for Dynamics CRM 2013.

Highlights include:

  • Increased focus on the marketing side of CRM, targeting the CMO (strong message in Bob’s blog post)
  • Marketing enhancements via the Dynamics Marketing product (next step after the Marketing Pilot acquisition last year)
  • Social listening capability native in Dynamics CRM, which will be at no additional cost to CRM Online customers similar to the strategy with InsideView Social Insights functinoality
  • Customer care improvements…separate from the recent Parature acquisition announcement

I’ll be curious to get a pulse on the reaction of folks at Convergence, but at face value this is going to be a great update.

Microsoft’s Acquisition of Parature Announced

Microsoft has announced as of January 30, 2014 that is has reached an agreement to acquire Parature to help strengthen the customer service and service portal capabilities in the Dynamics product family.

At the beginning of 2013, Microsoft and Parature announced an alliance to deliver solutions. While there hasn’t been a lot of chirping around that relationship, the offering must have had some good appeal to warrant an acquisition.

Bob Stutz, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, has a blog post to offer his thoughts that accompanies the press release.

Tough to say at this point exactly how much Parature they’ll be showing at Convergence here in a month, but there will certainly be a buzz about it.

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