COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — In this rapidly changing business environment, companies and vendors alike are facing ever-evolving demands, and they must adapt if they hope to survive. That was the prevailing message here this week at RightNow Summit '09, the annual user conference of on-demand customer experience vendor RightNow Technologies — a message that applied not only to attendees, but to their host, as well.
For years, the Bozeman, Mont.–based RightNow had built its operations and its product strategy atop what it described as "four pillars" -- e-service leadership, multichannel contact center, consumer-centric CRM, and RightNow's Technology Ecosystem. Greg Gianforte, the company's founder and chief executive officer, centered his opening keynote on how that foundation had to be razed to make way for three new pillars — the Web, social media, and the contact center — and a new formulation of its flagship offering: "From this day forward," he declared, "our customer experience suite will be known as RightNow CX," a multichannel customer experience solution that offers specific functionality across those three touch points.
Gianforte — a past inductee into CRM magazine's CRM Hall of Fame — took great pains to explain the rationale behind RightNow's adaptation: The Web, social media, and the contact center, he said, "are [the] three experiences that matter." He also made clear that RightNow CX will maintain its predecessor's schedule of quarterly updates, and that the November '09 edition will arrive as promised, representing the full integration of the technology acquired with HiveLive, a social networking company RightNow purchased in early September.
[Editors' Note: For more information on RightNow CX, check out Tuesday's blogpost when CRM magazine first broke the news. The company's video overview of RightNow CX can be found here.]
"Our mission is to rid the world of bad experiences," Gianforte told the audience during his keynote. "This is an aspirational goal, and we want you to come along and help us." In a subsequent conversation, Gianforte re-emphasized the forward-looking nature of these announcements.
RightNow has always been known for the strength of its internal-facing processes. In fact, Gianforte characterized the traditional attempt to "manage" the customer as a strategy that had been flawed for quite some time, but that now, with the growing empowerment of consumers via social media, the failure to take into account the full life cycle of the customer would be catastrophic. "In a real sense, this is a new and unique problem that didn't exist five years [ago] in terms of the impact it can have on organizations," he said.
As a prime example, Gianforte cited the "United Breaks Guitars" viral-video mania that caught fire earlier this year: a music video posted to YouTube, recorded by a United Airlines passenger whose guitar had been damaged during a flight. The musician, Dave Carroll, put his personal grievance into the public domain — and after millions of streams in just a matter of days, the resulting publicity was blamed for a $180 million drop in the airline's stock value. "Social networking has given every one of our consumers a huge megaphone [with which] to speak," Gianforte said. "It can either tear you down or build you up." As if to underscore the point, he then brought onstage a surprise guest: Dave Carroll himself.
[Editors' Note: Managing Editor Joshua Weinberger blogged about the "United Breaks Guitars" contretemps when the story broke over the summer. You can find that blogpost here. Industry analyst Esteban Kolsky followed up this week with a blogpost of his own about the aftermath — followed by United's response. And, as if to bring the tale full-circle, Carroll had to fly United to attend the Summit this week — and the airline temporarily lost his luggage, a tale of irony captured by The New York Times here.]
Following Carroll's cameo appearance, Gianforte returned to his theme. What matters most, he said, is that social media not be allowed to form yet another organizational silo. What makes RightNow CX well-suited for the emerging business challenges, he added, is its RightNow CX Platform. "The secret sauce," he said, "is that [the platform] marries internal, horizontal processes with [the] way consumers interact with businesses through these experience channels."
The RightNow CX Platform has three foundational elements:
- integration; and
- mission-critical software-as-a-service (SaaS).
Ian Jacobs, senior analyst for customer interaction technologies at Ovum, says that both the change in focus and the product announcements are intriguing, but neither was the critical aspect of Gianforte's keynote. What he found most compelling, he says, was the formation of a team of client-success managers that do not work on a quota basis, indicating a willingness within RightNow to put more than just software into the game.
In a three-pronged commitment to RightNow users, Gianforte said his company will:
- relentlessly focus on business results;
- deploy expertise in every engagement; and
- deliver on the promise of SaaS.
"In a way, this is RightNow demonstrating it actually understands the social model: 'Drive success by what customers say success is,' " Jacobs says. "In other words, it's customer-driven and not vendor-driven. This will require some culture change inside of an enterprise-software vendor, since that type of company may occasionally listen to customers for product direction, but not often for understanding what defines customer success."
Jacobs adds that, while the vision is exciting and presents myriad opportunities, the execution and timelines are hardly guaranteed. He does believe, however, that the company has made a good start. "Although most people dismiss corporate mission statements, I think RightNow could not have chosen a better one with ‘Rid the world of bad experiences,' " he says. "The company is serious about it — and it shows."
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