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On the Scene: Gianforte Talks CRM
The industry rebel -- and founder and chief executive officer of RightNow Technologies -- sits down for a chat.
For the rest of the November 2007 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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RightNow Technologies held its ninth annual user conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., in late August. During that 2007 RightNow Summit, CRM magazine Associate Editor Coreen Bailor chatted with Greg Gianforte, chief executive officer and founder of RightNow and the author of a forthcoming book, Eight to Great: 8 Steps to Delivering an Exceptional Customer Experience, which had not yet been released at press time. (Gianforte is also the latest inductee into the CRM Hall of Fame. See "The Lone Wolf," September 2007.)
Greg Gianforte
RightNow Technologies' Greg Gianforte What follows is a portion of their conversation. CRM: It's becoming increasingly clear that negative customer experiences are having an even bigger impact on a company's ability to strengthen customer loyalty. What are your thoughts on this? Gianforte: It goes back to the root of most bad customer experiences -- a lack of knowledge. Get that knowledge foundation in place. CRM: How are Web 2.0 types of technologies changing the customer experience? Gianforte: It used to be that companies could control the message. But the reality today is that the Internet has empowered consumers so that they can share information. Within every organization there is going to be a community amongst its customers, but the question is what role the company has in facilitating, and then participating in, that community -- because it's going to exist. A company that embraces the community and facilitates it should use some of the things that Paul Gillin [former editor-in-chief of Computerworld and founding editor-in-chief of TechTarget] outlined during his keynote: Never try to deceive, be completely open and honest, be humble, tolerate criticism. These are the sorts of things that don't come easily to companies. But when you focus on them, you're going to build higher loyalty and trust.
CRM: What's your take on the current state of the CRM market? Gianforte: The imperative we see emerging is really around customer experience. In a very real sense, distribution channels have collapsed. For example, if you went out and bought a camera 10 years ago, you would have gone to a specialty photography shop, you probably would've spent $2,000, and if you had a question you would go back to the shop. Today, you go online, you pay $200, and you have no expectation that Wal-Mart, Target, or Amazon[.com] is going to answer your question; you go back to [the camera manufacturer] directly. All organizations, even ones that have traditionally been B2B, have to develop some form of direct-to-consumer strategy -- if not for distribution, then at least for service and support. CRM: You've been creating vertical-specific versions of your solution. What is your vertical strategy? Gianforte: As we continue to push into large enterprises, vertical solutions become extremely important because one size does not fit all when you're talking about customer experience. The vertical solutions we started with are public sector, education, telecommunications, and retail. Those industries have lots of customers that they have to service, and we had between 100 and 200 existing clients in each of those verticals. It was a combination not necessarily just based on our opportunity in the marketplace, but also based on our ability to serve those verticals. That's the strategy we're pursuing -- we're looking at verticals where the direct-to-consumer element is critical and where we have domain expertise to bring to market a differentiated offering.
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