Self-service done right--in the right enterprise--can return some real benefits. Here, a review of the five top vendors with robust, integrated solutions
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Once considered by some as simply another technology to hit the market for organizations looking to inflate their call-deflection rates and further their cost-cutting efforts, Web self-service has evolved from mostly serving as a source of static information into more robust tools that also allow customers to perform transactional activities.
Despite their progression, however, Web self-service applications aren't suited for all types of organizations.
Industry pundits agree that these types of tools are ripe for companies with an overwhelming amount of interactions that cannot be handled, and for firms with a sizable customer base and high number of repetitive inquiries. In contrast, organizations with small, specific, and sensitive customer bases may want to think twice.
According to Stephen Klein, CEO of conversational software provider Conversagent, self-service may not mesh with customers' needs in organizations where "it's not just about information, but it's information that's so human and personally sensitive to you that you expect a human being to be involved."
Moreover, David Galloway, group vice president of customer support at Business Objects, and Knova Software customer, warns organizations against assuming that implementing Web self-service will decrease customer inquiries. "Anybody thinking that the Web is going to make their case volume go down, I would say, is mistaken. You'll just do a lot more on the Web."
But for organizations that do decide Web self-service is essential to their customer service blueprint, vendors in the space are actively working to offer customer-centric firms solutions to help them make the Web the initial customer service source. In a market that Allen Bonde, president of consultancy Allen Bonde Group (ABG), maintains is generating $1.5 billion in sales, multichannel suite vendors, best-of-breed players, and even traditional CRM companies are all in competition.
While the Web self-service market has already grown sizably, industry consolidation is depleting the amount of Web self-service providers in the market. Consolidation, however, bodes well for customer companies, as it often creates robust, integrated solutions. That's why it may come as no surprise that Gartner already predicts that through 2007, 60 percent of users implementing e-service will demand an integrated, multichannel solution. CRM magazine takes a look at the five top vendors offering Web self-service solutions: ATG, KANA, Knova, RightNow Technologies, and Siebel Systems.
The Fierce Five
For ATG, known primarily for its strength in e-commerce and Web personalization, when it acquired Primus Knowledge Solutions gained access to Primus's knowledge management (KM) and customer-facing self-service capabilities. The acquisition, according to Esteban Kolsky, research director at Gartner, positions ATG as "probably the first to combine informational and transactional self-service." Bonde sees the acquisition as furthering the trend of consolidating technologies, processes, and capabilities "so that people are creating these solutions across the whole customer life cycle, not just focused on commerce or not just focused on support."
Already, ATG Self-Service guides customers toward completing the next steps--upgrading a service plan, buying a product, changing account information, adjusting investments, and more--says Bob Burke, president and CEO of ATG. "ATG is in the business of taking the concept of self-service one step farther by giving our clients' customers highly personalized answers to their questions, and even guiding them toward completing their own transactions without picking up a telephone."
So, don't expect the company to lose focus on its e-commerce side of the house. "That's where businesses are investing," says Joel Tanner, director of product operations. "As we continue to drive costs down inside of the support center there's only so many savings to be gathered there."
Companies like printing machine manufacturer Heidelberger Druckmaschinen are deploying ATG's commerce and self-service solutions, along with ATG Scenario Personalization, to offer personalized information to customers regarding their product purchases. As part of its online self-service project the manufacturer built a knowledge database giving customers access to information like current FAQs and operating and maintenance manuals for specific products. As a result, the company is decreasing support and transaction costs.
Bob Burke, president and CEO
Headquarters: Cambridge, MA
2004 Total Revenue: $69.2 million
Product Summary: ATG Self-Service, natural language processing search engine; ATG KnowledgeCenter, knowledge management technology; ATG Adaptive Customer Assistance combines an answer repository with multilingual natural language search and navigation capabilities to provide personalized service; ATG Communication Center provides response capabilities for email, Web forms, chat, mobile text messaging, and fax.
At the heart of KANA's offering is a KM functionality with solutions like KANA IQ, a single knowledge base that includes multiple authoring methods--search and retrieval methods like natural language questions, decision trees, case-based reasoning, expert modeling, and a learning algorithm--and integrates with existing knowledge and customer service systems. KANA Response is an email response management tool. KANA Resolution, geared for large contact centers, features integration capabilities with KANA Response and KANA IQ. In tow with KANA's offerings are the Web collaboration capabilities it acquired from Hipbone, a provider of online customer-interaction solutions.
Single integrated knowledge bases are growing in importance, especially as new service channels evolve. "Even though people don't traditionally think of email as a self-service component or capability, you need to have a single engine on the backside that has all the multifaceted and multichannel capabilities to provide email response, even a chat response," says Charles Isaacs, CTO at KANA.
KANA is already leveraging the use of several channels to solve problems. Brian Kelly, executive vice president of marketing at KANA, says, "If we recognize there is a fairly complex problem, we'll not only return the results from a search, but also put the chat functionality on the screen." Kelly also says KANA is "integrating the knowledge base with the phone channel."
Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research, notes that KANA has focused on building out libraries and customer service response solutions for specific industries, citing financial services as a key vertical for the company.
Chuck Bay, CEO
Headquarters: Menlo Park, CA
2004 Total Revenue: N/A
Product Summary: KANA IQ, a KM solution with a single knowledge base, includes multiple authoring methods, and search and retrieval methods like natural-language questions, decision trees, case-based reasoning, expert modeling, and a learning algorithm. It integrates with existing knowledge and customer service systems. KANA Response is an email response management tool.
In May Knova Software announced the availability of Knova 6.5, its first solution since Kanisa and ServiceWare Technologies merged to form Knova earlier this year. The latest version of its service resolution management (SRM) suite features Knova Field Service for mobile support employees, and an enhanced natural-language search engine. The company also offers Knova Self-Service and Knova Forums, an application that enables users to help each other solve problems in peer service and peer support communities. "Integrating collaborative support and self-service at the process level is critical as it allows customers to escalate through forums to another channel when appropriate," says Bruce Armstrong, CEO of Knova.
Ben Kaplan, vice president of marketing, says that the company is seeing movement away from self-service as a standalone silo. "It's critical that the service resolution management and knowledge backbone cover not just self-service, but also the contact center, field service, and so on." He adds, "It's critical to blend the interests of sales and marketing with the interests of customer service and support."
In 2003 Kanisa acquired the enterprise software division of Ask Jeeves and in March 2005 IAC/InterActiveCorp announced that it would acquire Ask Jeeves. Kanisa's bid for Jeeves Solutions "was one of the first deals that we saw where a knowledge management company was acquiring an intelligent natural-language search company," Bonde says. "Even though they position around this service resolution management idea, they're broader than that."
Business Objects, a major player within the BI space, decided to trade in its three-prong, homegrown system to go live with Knova solutions in August. The company will deploy the applications as a vehicle to support the IT sect, which then supports a company's end users. According to Galloway, using one vendor's integrated tool set will let Business Objects do away with its piecemeal approach, while providing it with a platform that it can grow on.
As a result, he says, the company can act as an intermediary to connect customers with each other to find solutions to their issues. "Customers want to be more educated, more empowered, and they want to know: 'Can I talk to somebody with my particular expertise?'" he says. "Things like forums, knowledge base, and case submission over the Web allow us to be more seven by twenty-four, more global, and bring people together."
Galloway maintains that one of the critical points for selecting Knova was its analytics capabilities. "Anybody looking at Web self-service should pay particular attention to what the vendor captures for data points," he says. "If they don't build that into the app, it's really hard to capture it otherwise."
Bruce Armstrong, president and CEO
founded: ServiceWare, 1991; Kanisa, 1997
Headquarters: Cupertino, CA
2004 Total Revenue: N/A
Product Summary: Knova Self-Service includes resolution wizards and natural-language processing search, personalized portal, and knowledge authoring; Knova Forums allows users to help each other in peer service and support communities.
On the Scene With On Demand
Also indicative of the trend to create a multichannel suite is RightNow Technologies. With its beginnings as a best-of-breed e-service provider, the company has built out enough functionality to evolve into more of a full-suite on-demand CRM vendor.
"One advantage to going with a hosted solution is, we have excess capacity that we can make instantaneously available to a client when they have big spikes, not to mention that the hosted delivery allows you to benefit much faster. And, your total cost of ownership is about five times less," says Greg Gianforte, CEO and founder of RightNow. "We can typically eliminate fifty to seventy percent of the incoming emails, and ten to thirty percent of the telephone call volume...all while increasing customer satisfaction."
The on-demand vendor, however, is also looking to expand its voice self-service capabilities, and in June announced five additional applications in the voice self-service arena. According to Gianforte, the company deployed voice self-service functionality for the wireless business of a Fortune 100 communications company, eliminating 2,000 phone calls a day coming into its call center. "You don't want someone to call you on the phone and get one answer, send you an email and get a second answer, and go to your Web site and get a third answer," he says.
RightNow's on-demand model caught the attention of DYMO, a division of global office supplies provider Esselte, and a manufacturer of electronic label makers and PC-connected label printers. Although the company had previously established a Web site and was able to manage its customer email requests, its static FAQ pages and email system (comprising a mix of homegrown and an out-of-box application) needed an overhaul.
"With the Web FAQs we were using, it was not easy to make changes, particularly quick changes," says Michael Morris, call center project manager at DYMO. "We weren't able to track email correspondence from customers that easily and general reporting on the applications we were using wasn't very good."
To enhance its Web self-service capabilities the company implemented the RightNow Service module, as well as the company's metrics surveys functionality, on June 23, 2004. According to Morris, DYMO's customers "get standardized answers so you don't get one agent telling them one thing and another agent telling them another." In fact, Jeff Crystal, call center operations manager at DYMO, recently informed Morris that a comparison of May 2004 to May 2005 revealed the company experienced a 24 percent drop in call volume. As a result of deploying solutions from an on-demand vendor, the manufacturer is alleviating itself of any headaches associated with upgrading. "They do it for you basically," Morris says. "We're not on an island having to support ourselves."
Greg Gianforte, founder and CEO
Headquarters: Bozeman, MO
2004 Total Revenue: $61.8 million
Product Summary: RightNow Service, a multichannel solution built on an integrated knowledge platform; includes knowledge management, call tracking, CTI integration, email response management, FAQs, voice self-service, live chat, and satisfaction surveys.
But the on-demand model doesn't come without concerns. Bonde notes that on-demand "can deliver a lot of solutions at relatively low cost of delivery," but the challenge of that model is that "solutions are more difficult, potentially, to customize."
CRM vendors, including Oracle, SAP, and Siebel, are also offering self-service solutions. Siebel, for instance, added to its online self-service functionality with its acquisition of electronic billing systems provider edocs in January 2005. The acquisition places Siebel squarely in the Web self-service arena. According to Tim Walsh, director of marketing for Siebel Self-Service and eBilling, the company combines transactional and informational self-service capabilities, but approaches it from an account and billing foundation. He estimates that 60 to 80 percent of all inquiries that come into a company are billing or account related.
Walsh says CEO George Shaheen takes a comprehensive approach to Web self-service. "First impression is everything and if you offer self-service and it does not meet the customers' need, they're not going to go back there [or] they're going to use it very sparingly," Walsh says. Customers usually turn to Siebel for self-service when they've had prior experience within the self-service, e-billing area, as was the case for Independence Blue Cross (IBC). The health insurer started by developing ibxpress, a group portal created to provide its group administrators with the ability to carry out transactions like adding new employees and making changes. After achieving these abilities, e-billing "was a logical next step," says John Janney, senior director of e-business at IBC.
IBC implemented edocs' eaDirect and eaPay solutions (now Siebel eBilling Manager and Siebel ePayment Manager). According to Janney, IBC has decreased its administrative costs and has seen "a marked decrease in call volume."
The company has also changed how a customer interacts with the company on his or her bill with the late 2004 introduction of its e-billing reconciliation capability--a change from its paper-based process. "We wanted to come up with something that was more customer-friendly," Janney says. "Today, we allow our customers that use our e-billing reconciliation capability to go online, view their bill and roster, and make corrections directly online to their register." The company, which has more than 13,900 groups registered for ibxpress and has processed more than half a million transactions via its portal, has about 100 customers using its e-billing reconciliation functionality. "They like the control. That is really what it is all about," Janney says.
George Shaheen, CEO
Headquarters: San Mateo, CA
2004 Total Revenue: $1.34 billion
Product Summary: Siebel eService,
Web-service portal solution that enables users to receive self-service or assisted service via the Web; Siebel BrightWare eService offers email response management, KM, and chat management functionalities; e-billing and payment solutions including Siebel eBilling Manager, Siebel ePayment Manager, Siebel eStatement Manager, and Siebel EasyPay.
What's In Store?
The Web self-service sect also includes a crop of promising players. Vendors including InQuira, iPhrase Technologies, and Kaidara Software each earned slots in ABG's Top 10 Key Players category. InQuira received a Positive rating in Gartner's "MarketScope for Web Self-Service, 2004," iPhrase received a Positive rating, and Kaidara a Strong Positive rating. While these vendors have been praised for their existing efforts, ABG's Bonde expects to see more Web self-service vendors incorporate more voice functionality.
As these solutions improve, so will the adoption rate. Wettemann anticipates customer companies will leverage the knowledge base across different areas and integrate the channels. "There can be some real top-line benefits," she says, adding "we're going to see a lot more chat, instant messaging--more presence technology--take over."
Contact Assistant Editor Coreen Bailor at cbailor@destinationCRM.com
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