With many consumers increasingly turning to their keyboards and keypads to conduct business, reach out for service, and just stay connected within their social circles, software companies are beginning to look at how they can jump into -- and take advantage of -- social networking. This includes RightNow Technologies, which recently unveiled the latest version of its CRM solution, complete with Cloud Monitor and Enterprise Analytics.
The release, May '09, aims to match the new ways in which consumers communicate, says Andrew Hull, RightNow's director of product marketing. "The customer conversations that are happening out in the social Web are just as important as the ones happening inside company walls," he says. "Being able to monitor the cloud for conversations happening outside [those walls] -- and determining when to proactively take action -- are hot topics for companies right now."
At its core, the Cloud Monitoring functionality in May '09 enables customer service representatives (CSRs) to follow discussions on social networking sites -- just Twitter and YouTube at the moment, with Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn planned for later updates -- and use RightNow Service to initiate next steps. Those next steps might include updating information on a Web site or creating an incident ticket to provide additional service. "We're all about making sure companies are offering as many choices as possible on how to interact with consumers," Hull says.
The decision to target Twitter and YouTube first was intended to set the tone, according to Hull. "The pick-up rate within Twitter especially is just astronomical," he says. "When we talked with customers, that one seemed to come up first over and over again."
Hull admits that YouTube may not at first glance seem the most logical choice as the second of RightNow's debut channels, but he says that it makes great sense for RightNow's customer base with a large B2C-oriented angle. "There are a lot of times consumers upload videos using [a company's] product or having problems with it," he says. "That is an area in which our customers felt it would be good to understand what's going on."
In this initial release of Cloud Monitor, Hull says the CSR must voluntarily go out and search Twitter or YouTube for specific terms or product lines. "The starting point is a manual process," he admits. "One thing we're looking at from a roadmap perspective is to have automatic searches."
Mary Wardley, program vice president at IDC, says that what's most fascinating is the fact RightNow was able to take advantage of the application programming interfaces (APIs) to deliver this productized capability into the core customer service application. "Yes, getting in early now is a good decision [for the company]," she says. "The thing with social media is that it's a very challenging set of technologies, with social mores constantly shifting. For application providers to read the tea leaves on this, despite an environment in which investment and development dollars are always contested, is challenging."
Also an instrumental part of the May '09 release is the release of Enterprise Analytics, which offers enterprise-class data warehousing and analytics capabilities on-demand. Hull says this is delivered through an original equipment manufacturer relationship with on-demand business intelligence provider Birst, but is being brought to market under the RightNow brand. "It fits well because Birst is built as an on-demand company natively, so it fits our business model perfectly and allows us to go the next step," he says.
Enterprise Analytics includes the following functionality:
- accessing data from external sources to deliver insight into the contact center;
- supporting advanced trending, time-slice analysis, predictive analysis, and complex metrics;
- providing a consolidated analytics solution including data warehouse; extract, transform, and load; and online analytical processing and reporting engines; and
- the ability to scale for large data volumes.
"This adds so many capabilities on the high-end side of analysis capabilities," Hull insists. "Long-term, more-complex trending can extend insights beyond RightNow data, including call-switch and advanced managerial analytics. So the solution is robust enough to immediately add a lot of the heavy analysis work necessary but still get the speed and quick time-to-market and [return on investment] with an on-demand solution."
Competitively speaking, Wardley says that she doesn't see the May '09 release as a direct response to Salesforce.com's Service Cloud. "RightNow and Salesforce.com don't usually compete head-to-head," she says. "While Salesforce.com has the customer service component, it is still very well known for its sales force module, while RightNow is enterprise, software-as-a-service, customer service.... This is it's focus."
That doesn't mean other vendors should breathe easy. "Companies better start adding words to marketing collateral and talking the talk," she says. "Almost any independent software vendor should be looking at how they need to move in this direction. I don't think anyone can estimate with any assurance how important any of the [social media] channels are going to be. But if you don't have some fort of facility to get in and understand the genre now it could hurt you in the long run."
News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.