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Microsoft Dynamics Customer Service Best Practices

By Ayesha Mirza, senior consultant at InfoStrat
One of the key initiatives of customer service is to make tasks easier for both the customer and customer service agents. Customers want to find information and customer service agents have the need to process, absorb and promote information requests in order to provide an adequate customer experience.
Streamlining this flow of information requires planning and a robust platform such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 to bridge the gap between the customer experience and agent activities.
This post describes our approach and best practices to consider while implementing Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service. ·         Strategy – Plan out your implementation from the start. Define purpose, scale, budget, baselines, promotion, delivery, maintenance and escalation methods prior to kick-off. This will aid in clarifying internal and business expectations and help keep costs and schedule as projected. The approach can be defined …

Learning About Microsoft Azure: What is Azure?

Microsoft Azure is one of the big three cloud computing services (along with Amazon Web Services and the Google Cloud Platform ) and has been growing rapidly for many years.  The following highlights key concepts for those who may be new to Azure.  These topics are geared toward a CIO or CTO rather than a network expert or developer who may be researching more advanced topics.

Many of the cloud computing concepts explored here apply to Amazon Web Services and the Google Cloud Platform as well.
What is Azure? Azure is the Microsoft brand for cloud computing services.  Some, but not all Microsoft Cloud products are purchased and managed through Azure.  The largest exception is Microsoft Office 365, the cloud version of Microsoft Office which is sold under its own brand and managed from its own console.  Similarly, Dynamics 365 runs in the Microsoft cloud but is not managed from Azure but rather from Office 365. Azure and Office 365 do overlap and interact to the extent that Azure offers…

Capture Management in CRM for Government IDIQ and BPAs

Government agencies often create blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) and indefinite date indefinite quantity (IDIQ) orders in order to simplify procurement, so that they can have a smaller number of bidders respond to requirements and to set prices for products and services that they know they will need in the future.

Tracking these BPA and IDIQ opportunities in your customer relationship management (CRM) system is a bit different from tracking an individual contract opportunity.  While many of the data elements you track will be the same, you do not know the dollar value of the contract until orders are subsequently submitted.

One decision for you to make in your reporting is to decide whether to include an estimated value for the BPA or to count it as zero dollars and assign the dollar value only to task orders.  If you choose to give the BPA a value and also each task order, some reports will end up double-counting the revenue because only won orders generate revenue.

You may also …

The Story of InfoStrat and Grant Management

I am often asked how InfoStrat became involved in grants management and why Microsoft chose InfoStrat to develop its grant management solutions Stimulus360 and Grants Manager Plus.

Since the late 1990s, InfoStrat has been working in grants management for state, local, and federal agencies.  In 2009, we were contracted by Microsoft to build the Microsoft Stimulus360 ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) Grant Management system which we deployed in the states of California, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, cities including Chicago and Seattle and counties such as Harris County, Texas, Los Angeles County, California and Cook County, Illinois.

Since then Grants Manager Plus has been adopted by grantors in many countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

In January of 2011, InfoStrat worked with Microsoft to launch the next version of Stimulus360 as the Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Accelerator. It was initially called Grants360.  We continue to maint…

Getting the Most Out of Dynamics 365 Upgrades

Microsoft has settled into a schedule of providing significant enhancements to Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) every six months, so all of us who use the product must adapt to being in a constant state of adopting new features and preparing for the next upgrade.  Microsoft is investing heavily in development of Dynamics, and pouring the fruits of research and development such as artificial intelligence and analytics into the product.

The question for my clients is how to get the most out of this cycle of constant integration.  They want to know how much an upgrade will cost and how long it will take.  Here are some considerations that may help you make the best trade-offs for your organization.

I divide upgrades into three types of changes.   The easiest are improvements in performance or changes in the user interface that require no action on our part.  If forms or reports run faster, or Microsoft adds a new item to a toolbar, these improve the product without asking for a trad…

Alternative Interfaces for Dynamics 365 (formerly CRM)

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a leading CRM package, and its web interface packs a great deal of power and flexibility.  But what if you don't like they way that it looks, or you want to streamline it a bit for some users or functions?
Although it may not be apparent to first time users, there are several interfaces to Dynamics 365 at your fingertips that do not require any coding or development.
Using the form editor, you can create form variations. This allows users to see only fields that they need and to change the field order where appropriate.  You can do this for mobile forms as well as forms to be accessed with a PC or Mac. If you don't like the way that Dynamics dashboards look, PowerBI dashboards provides quite different dashboard experience which may be desirable for some users https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7AAujMPEcwMicrosoft offers several mobile apps for Dynamics, all of which are available at no extra charge.  https://www.youtub…

Mining Your CRM Data Using Artificial Intelligence and Analytics

One of the hottest topics in information technology today is using artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics tools to help you identify patterns which can guide you in digital transformation efforts.

To make these efforts fruitful, your first hurdle is to identify data worth mining.  For many organizations, your CRM system is a great place to start.  If you have used CRM such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM), Salesforce, Oracle, Adobe, SAP or Siebel for several years, you are likely to have built up a repository of data which reflects your organization's customers, vendors, and stakeholders as well as your interactions with them through customer service, sales and marketing efforts.

The leading CRM vendors are in a race to add AI and machine learning to their products.  Microsoft claims that over 682,000 developers are using their Azure Cognitive ServicesAI features in CRM include automated responses to customer inquiries, alerts to sales staff, and segmentat…

Consider the Overhead Costs of Tracking Data

When I was meeting with one of InfoStrat's clients recently, we were discussing what fields to include in an online application form for a new system.  Over the years, the form had grown to 29 pages, including several pages of legal terms and conditions which required no user input but required review and acceptance.

We went through the form page by page to determine which fields were needed, and identified many fields which had become obsolete due to changes in business rules and requirements.

This reminded me that there are hidden costs to adding more information to forms, even though storage may be cheap and it's easy to add new fields. This cost is recognized in industry and government. The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) of 1995 requires that U.S. federal government agencies obtain Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval before requesting or collecting most types of information from the public.

Here are some questions that can help you identify and eliminate unneede…

Five Ways to Ensure Compliance with Your Grant Management System

As a grantor or a grantee, your organization is responsible to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of the funding that you receive.  My company InfoStrat has implemented grant management systems for U.S. government agencies and non-profits for over twenty years.  Here are some of the principles that we follow in order to help clients achieve compliance and accountability as efficiently as possible:

Focus on your system of record.  Having a central system that is the authoritative source of information on your grants is essential for high quality data and accurate reporting.  Try to eliminate and discourage additional "side" systems such as spreadsheets and Access databases which may lead to inconsistent data or calculations.  Respect your data. Keeping your database clean is a constant process, but is the only way to meet your compliance goals. Encourage users to take care in data entry, and create validation where possible to capture errors.  Audit reports can b…

Cloud Services Shift Roles for System Administrators

Cloud computing has shifted many tasks away from system administrators who were previously responsible for managing servers which were located on premises or in dedicated data centers.  Many system management tasks such as all hardware upgrades, repairs and replacements and networking issues are now handled by cloud providers (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft,  Google and others).  In most cases, security and other patches to the operating system are performed by cloud providers as well. Cloud providers have been successful in meeting their service level agreements, and set the standard for managing data centers at a large scale with the latest hardware, facilities, and best practices.

Cloud databases do not require the same database administration (DBA) activities, at least for some lower level tasks, but there are still requirements for DBAs to monitor and correct performance and improve data quality. It can be challenging to determine the cause of a database performance issue becaus…

Microsoft Master VAR Velosio Signs Reseller Agreement with CRM Vendor Nimble

Today social sales and marketing CRM vendor Nimble, based in Santa Monica, California, announced that they signed Microsoft Partner Velosio as a global reseller for their cloud-based contact management solution.



I spoke to representatives at Nimble to learn why this is important news to the Microsoft channel.  Velosio is the result of the merge in December 2017 of Socius and SBS Group -- two of Microsoft's medium-sized U.S. resellers.

Nimble is a CRM product which is less expensive ($9-$19 per user/mo. for annual subscriptions) and less complex than Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) and Salesforce.  Marketed as "Simple CRM for Office," Nimble is targeted to small and medium-sized businesses who are currently using spreadsheets to track their contacts and who have not yet adopted a CRM.  Nimble was founded by Jon Ferrara who was the founder of Goldmine, an early CRM for the PC released in 1990.

Although Nimble can run on its own, the product is integrated wit…

Microsoft Dynamics 365: So Many Apps, So Little Time

I have been working with Microsoft Dynamics 365 since it was called Dynamics CRM.  The product was so successful that Microsoft took what was once three CRM products in one (sales, marketing, and customer service) and broke it into separate solutions along with introducing new apps including Field Service and Project Service.  Microsoft also brought its preferred accounting products Dynamics AX and NAV into the cloud Dynamics 365 world.

I have written in other posts about each of these apps and how to understand pricing the individual apps and bundles.  This blog post is not to complain about how the products have been renamed, sliced and diced into new offerings.

My topic today is how the proliferation of cloud offerings, even from a single vendor such as Microsoft, has created a need for more business analysis to determine which subscriptions, apps and features you should include in your implementation.  When you add the ability to integrate cloud services from other vendors such as…

Migrating from Parature to Microsoft Dynamics 365: Part 3

The discontinuation of Microsoft Parature is just over two weeks from now, so presumably nearly all customers have chosen a new software platform for customer service and migrated to that platform.

Many customers likely chose Microsoft Dynamics 365.  They may have picked Dynamics 365 because it comes from Microsoft, and they can receive credit from Microsoft for any Parature subscriptions which were purchased but cannot be used due to the discontinuation of service.  They also may have chosen Dynamics because of the integration with Office 365 and other Microsoft products.

It may have come as a surprise to some customers that Dynamics 365 is not at all similar to Parature, even though Microsoft progressively implemented new features in Dynamics 365 to replace the functions that Parature provided.  Here are some of the ways that they are different:

Dynamics 365 is a broader platform than Parature.  In addition to customer service it offers sales, marketing, field service, project manage…

File Storage Options for Dynamics 365 Portal

Microsoft offers Dynamics Portal as a way for external users to access information in Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM). Portals are included in some Dynamics 365 subscriptions, and are used in scenarios such as customer service, employee self-service, online communities, and supplier portals. Dynamics Portal is also applicable for xRM solutions such as grant management, eligibility determination and other forms of case management.

In portal scenarios, you may have a requirement to allow users to submit or view file attachments such as grant or credit applications, presentations, photographs and other files.  This blog post introduces some options for where and how these file attachments are stored and accessed.

Microsoft supports two methods for storing file attachments in the Dynamics Portal.  They are as file attachments in the Dynamics entities and Azure Blob Storage.

Store File Attachments in Dynamics

Storing file attachments in the Dynamics Notes entity or other entities is th…