Microsoft is upping its A.I. battle with Salesforce

  • Microsoft has been incorporating A.I. features in its Dynamics customer service products.
  • Microsoft won't be doing high-touch engagements to help businesses boost customer service with artificial intelligence.
  • Instead, a ready-made piece of software is coming this fall.
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft
Getty Images
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft

Microsoft on Tuesday announced new easy-to-use cloud services that draw on artificial intelligence to help with certain kinds of work -- namely customer service and marketing.

The move could help Microsoft's Dynamics cloud business software become more competitive with Salesforce, which has begun offering premium AI features for its services. Amazon, Google and other companies are also making strides in these two areas.

Microsoft introduced Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service and Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights at an event in San Francisco. The former will highlight existing and emerging issues that agents face and help with the deployment of chatbots that can handle inquiries. The latter is meant to help marketers see what people are talking about on channels like social networks.

Earlier this year Microsoft introduced Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, which can provide deliver insights about individual salespeople and deals logged in Microsoft's Dynamics 365 sales relationship-tracking service. It can even display information about sales opportunities reported in Salesforce's Sales Cloud tool, or comparable systems from Oracle and SAP.

Salesforce's Einstein add-on provides its own suggestions based on information in Sales Cloud, and Einstein enhancements are also available for Salesforce's marketing and customer-service products. Microsoft's AI tools for marketing, customer service and sales will become available to customers in preview this fall.

Cutting back on high-touch engagements

Last year, Microsoft talked about how it worked closely with a handful of customers, like HP and Macy's, to build sophisticated domain-specific customer-service technology. Every PC that HP shipped even came with the resulting chatbot as part of HP's Support Assistant software.

But Microsoft won't be doing these sorts of high-touch AI engagements with customers for the foreseeable future, says Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president for business applications and global industry.

"When we think about those multi-year big contracts, when you're in-house servicing, we do that through partnerships with global ... as well as national and local system integrators," Taylor told CNBC in an interview.

Put another way, Microsoft will leave these big projects to its army of partners.

Microsoft effectively started and nurtured the program in its research group and turned it over this summer to Taylor's group, which developed a packaged-up product that's easier for customers to start using on their own. "We don't have enough engineers in our research team to serve every organization on the planet," she said.

"That was the design plan from day one," Taylor said.

Last year Microsoft added a reference to AI to its corporate vision. At this point, Microsoft is looking to help every company become AI-first, Taylor said.