Dynamics 365 Customer Insights: CDP + AI = Huge Potential

Microsoft’s Customer Insights promises to democratize the power of artificial intelligence to create a holistic view of the customer.
An example of a customer profile pulling data together from website visits, customer service, CRM, online orders, and retail purchases

If you have not yet heard the term “CDP”, get ready to start hearing it a lot more in your conversations with customers and others in the CRM space. CDP stands for Customer Data Platform, a term that describes the ultimate goal of most customer relationship and marketing platforms: providing a unified, holistic view of your customers, regardless of where information is stored about them and their interactions with your business. Once unified, businesses – and especially marketers – want to use this data to define more accurate segments to target for initiatives like lead acquisition and retention campaigns.

For example, many businesses will have siloes of data that represent customer purchases and payments, website visits and marketing interactions, customer service requests, relationships to other customers and vendors, social profiles, and more.

It is not uncommon for traditional CRM deployments to make a valiant attempt to provide this 360-degree view of the customer through a combination of data migrations, integrations and mashups. But this approach involves a high level of complexity to implement and requires difficult decisions about which system will be the “system of record” for a customer. It also means that data quality issues in each silo and legacy system need to be addressed before a reliable and useful view can be cobbled together. Further complicating this effort, the mapping of customer data between systems is often difficult since each system may have different identifiers like customer numbers, email addresses, and other record IDs.

Enter Dynamics 365 Customer Insights

Microsoft is uniquely positioned to address the challenges that CRM and CDP systems face in presenting a truly unified view of the customer, and launched Customer Insights in 2019 to showcase their unique take on the CDP problem. By using a pre-built AI model, Customer Insights can ingest massive amounts of data from separate systems and leverage fuzzy matching strategies to show total lifetime value, churn risk, and more. The AI behind Customer Insights will automatically make decisions for you about whether Bob J. Anderson, who completed a “Contact Us” form on your website last year is the same person as r.anderson@contoso.com who had a customer service ticket this week about a widget purchased months ago in your brick-and-mortar store using a loyalty card with member ID #003498.

Few other CDP vendors can match Microsoft’s AI capabilities that make smart decisions to pull together customer data from your different sources. And Microsoft also layers on proprietary data to enrich the customer profile.

A dashboard in Customer Insights showing aggregate measures based on data from many different systems

Beyond unifying your disparate profile data, Customer Insights can be configured to automatically enrich it using brand or category keywords, pulling from an enormous stock of Microsoft-proprietary data that consists of sources like social media and web activity. The profile is further enhanced through a timeline of activities drawn from your transactional and relationship systems, so instead of just unified demographic data, you can have a bird’s eye view of the customer’s interactions across your business landscape.

Measures can be defined to give a view of the health of a customer relationship or to score their interactions across platforms. Customer Insights unlocks the ability to create segments or lists of customers based on parameters from any of the connected data sources. Segments can be exported as CSV files so they can be used in, for example, an external marketing application, or directly to an instance of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement for Sales.

The process of adding new data sources to continually build out the customer profile has been simplified to a point and click approach, eliminating the need for costly, complex and error prone integrations. And the user can schedule periodic refreshes of source data to keep Customer Insights up-to-date.

Customer Insights choosing a data source
Choosing a data source in Customer Insights

In the initial release of Customer Insights, Microsoft provided a pre-built model for profiling individuals, or Contacts, making it a natural fit for B2C scenarios. But their plans for the second release wave of 2019 include expanding this same type of functionality to the company/account level to address the compelling use cases that B2B scenarios present.

Already, Microsoft has provided an integration with their CRM product, Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (CE), so profile cards can easily be inserted on the Contact form in CE. Extending the functionality of Customer Insights can also be accomplished using a connector for Power Apps and Flow, meaning that changes to the unified customer can easily be incorporated in nearly any business process. And a Power BI connector allows the profile data to be analyzed and visualized in ways that previously would have required massive enterprise-wide reporting efforts.

Conclusion

Over the last decade, many CRM projects relied on integrating and migrating data from ERP and other systems of record in order to provide useful information for sales, service and marketing users. But CRM systems are not well-suited to also serve as data warehouses, even if that is how they have often been deployed. I foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when Customer Insights replaces a lot of this complex, heavy data moving work that currently goes into CRM deployments. The holy grail of getting the “true” picture of your customer and leveraging that for intelligent business may not be so far off after all.

Published by Matt Wittemann

MVP, Microsoft Business Applications Senior Solution Architect Author, speaker and trainer

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