Zoho boosts AI, analytics to unify sales and customer service

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright November 14, 2018
A new release of Zoho CRM adds AI, analytics and workflow automation to help unify the experience across sales and customer service

Zoho Analytics blended dashboard
Whatever size of business they're dealing with, today's customers expect a joined-up experience across all their interactions with marketing, sales and customer service. Today business software vendor Zoho takes a further step towards enabling this unified experience with a major update to its CRM Plus suite.

Traditionally, businesses have bought separate software packages to automate these three separate elements of customer relationship management (CRM). But that creates a disjointed experience when, for example, a customer calls customer service to change a sales order, or if customers tweet support queries in response to a social media marketing campaign. It also makes it more difficult for the business to monitor the overall customer experience. That's why there's a growing trend today for vendors to converge data and processes across the marketing, sales and customer service functions.

Zoho's cloud-based suite of products has a head start on responding to this trend, as it's built on a single platform with a unified data model, user interface and administration system. Today's announcements fill in additional cross-functional capabilities, introduce a unified customer experience platform, and bring significant enhancements to Zoho Analytics.

Cross-functional workflow

The new release brings cross-functional workflow and artificial intelligence to Zoho Desk, the vendor's customer service help desk application. The drag-and-drop Blueprint workflow automation tool and sophisticated Zia AI engine are now supported across all the main Zoho CRM Plus applications, enabling end-to-end workflow automation and chatbots.

As well as the Zia Voice chatbot, which supports natural language voice and chat interactions, the service desk application gains a number of AI analysis capabilities, currently available in private beta with a wider roll-out coming later. These include the ability to analyze the sentiment of incoming customer queries, automatically tag support tickets or knowledgebase articles for particular topics, or detect anomalous patterns in service metrics, such as a spike in support tickets or a slowdown in response times. Zia can also be customized to interact with third-party applications, for example to place or modify an order, and can be plugged into a website or mobile app to provide self-service contextual help.

Omni-channel experience

Zoho says the combination of AI and analytics across all of the CRM Plus applications has enabled it to offer a new unified customer experience platform that allows marketing, sales and service teams to work together and engage across all customer touch points. With updates to its social media marketing and sales performance management tools, Zoho now believes it can support customer-facing teams to share a single thread of conversation and deliver a seamless omni-channel experience. Instead of constantly switching between different user experiences to gather the information they need, agents and sales people can access all channels in one unified interface and see relevant notifications or information without having to leave the screen they're currently using.

The enhanced Zoho Social takes advantage of improved analytics to provide in-depth reporting on social audience demographics, reach, impression, engagement analytics, and overall performance. With integration to Zoho Desk, any social post can be converted into a support ticket from within Zoho Social, or users can view the support history for that social contact. It also adds improved integrations to Facebook Lead Forms and Google MyBusiness listings and reviews.

AI-enhanced analytics

The new release of Zoho Analytics adds automatic data blending from multiple applications, both across the Zoho portfolio and from third-party sources. The Zia intelligent agent is now part of the application and automatically converts natural language queries into back-end SQL queries that can span different business functions — for example "Give me the revenue per employee" blends data from finance and HR applications.

The new release also adds predictive analytics with forecasting capabilities and a major overhaul to visualization options including Geo-map charts, heat maps, dial gauges and more flexible dashboard layouts. New connectors include integrations to Facebook, Twitter and Bing and pre-built reports for metrics such as Twitter competitive analysis and Facebook Ads.

The new products are available as separate applications, or as part of the vendor's soup-to-nuts Zoho One suite.

My take

Zoho is cranking up its unified platform story in the same week that another SMB-to-midmarket vendor, Zendesk, has launched its own combined sales and service platform. It's only a few weeks since CRM leader Salesforce announced its own plan to converge data across marketing, sales and service, and just a year since it brought out its own Salesforce Essentials sales and service offering for the SMB market.

Each of these offerings takes a different approach — Zendesk Sunshine is designed to appeal to those who take more of a developer-led approach, Salesforce takes a very packaged line, while Zoho has a low-code/no-code customization philosophy. But one theme stands out clearly — customers want a joined-up experience and running marketing, sales and customer service functions on separate, disconnected applications is no longer the modern way.

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