Microsoft Updates Parature With New Engagement Functions and Deeper Search Capabilities

Since acquiring self-service support platform Parature in January 2014, Microsoft has acted quickly to integrate its tools with other Microsoft products, including Dynamics CRM and Office 365. Analysts praised the vendor's first major update to Parature back in January of this year, and just four months later, Microsoft is at it again. The latest updates echo much of the emphasis on agent productivity that permeated earlier releases, and several new features take existing tools, including the well-received above-the-queue insights product, to the next level.

So far, Microsoft’s pace of integration and innovation has been impressive when it comes to Parature, Brent Leary, partner at CRM Essentials, says. "Overall, I think they've got a good job of integrating Parature, especially because it's been only a little over a year since the acquisition. It has already filled in some key gaps for Microsoft, especially [in the area of] adding social channels. Parature makes it easy, which is important as social becomes more [prevalent]," he says. For example, one of the features added earlier this week is a support platform for Instagram, which few other vendors currently offer, Bill Paterson, general manager of Parature from Microsoft, points out.

Though Microsoft rolled out a number of enhancements, the most significant improvement was made to the Parature engagement portal. While Parature has long offered an engagement portal for customers, the previous version required heavy coding to customize the solution and "make it usable for customers," Paterson says. The new portal facilitates configuration via point and click, meaning users don't have to write much code. The solution can still be specifically tailored to the brand, Paterson explains, and users can now also create a single portal to connect multiple support departments "under the covers." The changes were directed at unifying the support experience for customers, according to Paterson.

"Often you'll have different support teams that work on different products, and they’ll have different support processes or escalation rules. The new engagement portal allows users to connect all those into one experience. Brands no longer have to set up separate portals for each distinct service desk," he explains.

Microsoft also made a number of updates to Parature’s knowledge base search capabilities. The search function has been revamped to be more efficient, enabling users to search using more filters, such as content type, recency, and customer rating. Customers that interact with content now have the ability to rate it; subsequently, Parature takes each piece of content's composite rating into account when delivering search results, and content that has a higher rating is likely to appear higher up on the list. This function demonstrates the synthesis between self-service and agent support in Parature's ecosystem, Paterson says. "We’re helping brands stay closer to the needs of customers. If they've found a piece of content particularly helpful and gave it a good rating, that's impactful content, and that's the content that agents should be using as well," he says.

The search function has also become faster, which is an important effort to note, Leary says. According to the 2014 Social Customer Engagement survey, which Leary analyzed, slow search is one of the biggest challenges that support agents face, so adding velocity to search is crucial. "Agents have to be able to get to content quickly," he says. "It doesn't just improve the experience for a customer who's waiting, but it also makes it easier for support agents to do their jobs."

Other changes to Parature's products took previous innovations further. For example, the above-the-queue insights function, which arms agents with contextual information about customer journeys and actions that take place before those customers actually reach out for support, now draws insight from more channels. While the previous version pulled data primarily from Web site interactions, the current version also analyzes chat and social requests.

Additionally, Microsoft has expanded Parature’s existing language capabilities with more options and better translation management. There's now an added chat translation service that conducts customers and agents who speak different languages through a translated chat in real time.

More integrations and updates are on the horizon, and Microsoft plans to keep the momentum moving, Paterson says. As the company continues to innovate, Leary says the next phase should be developing solutions for predictive support experiences that use data collected throughout the customer journey to anticipate what customers need before they reach out with a support issue. The above-the-queue insight tool is rife with potential for this kind of offering.  Ideally, "companies won't have to wait for a customer to have problem because there will be a better understanding of what customers are doing in apps or online," he says. That way, he adds, issues can be handled in real time, before they arise. As for this this set of updates, Leary says that so far Microsoft is on the right track.