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The 2008 CRM Service Awards: Web Interaction Management
A new category covers multiple channels of customer support: email, instant messaging, click-to-call, click-to-chat, online forums, etc.; RightNow Technologies is the inaugural winner.
For the rest of the April 2008 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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The Market
A new category, Web Interaction Management (WIM) is increasingly key to the delivery of exceptional customer support: email, instant messaging, click-to-call, click-to-chat, online forums -- WIM even touches upon telephony interaction. There are very few standalone (say, email-only) vendors remaining, as the demand for an integrated, multichannel approach has become a strategic imperative. Companies are incrementally adding features rather than attempting overhauls that would divert resources to one vendor for an end-to-end solution. "[Integration] is not really a top priority for a lot of companies right now," says JupiterResearch Associate Analyst Zachary McGeary. "[They're] just looking to build out their strengths, trying to do what they're doing now really well before moving on to the next project."

Nevertheless, the mark of a successful vendor is having "both the ability and awareness to monitor what people are doing as well as the process to do something about it," says Allen Bonde, senior vice president of strategy and marketing at eVergance, a management consulting firm now wholly owned by Kana. How you successfully manage customer interactions across multiple channels differentiates this category from mere Web self-service.

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Ones to Watch
Despite not being "flashy or splashy" in the United States, eGain Communications has experienced significant worldwide growth -- particularly in Europe and India, markets other vendors are just beginning to tap into, McGeary says. Nevertheless, the company is focused on a platform of unified knowledge, unified reports, and unified tracking -- and McGeary says eGain is making some pretty cool feature-related moves. For one thing, eGain is building mobile and SMS technology into its solution; demand hasn't been high for that functionality yet, but companies have started to ask for it -- and getting ahead of the game is always a plus. "[EGain's] really focused on that end-to-end, 360-degree view of the customer," McGeary says.

Considered this category's only true standalone solution, LivePerson has made a name for itself by focusing solely on chat, email, and click-to-talk. Whereas competitors offer various other customer touch points, LivePerson maintains a more modest array of services, which to a certain extent is why the company gets "yanked down," Kingstone says. LivePerson's business strategy, however, seems to be working in its favor. "They're doing what they're doing very well," McGeary says. Although LivePerson has grown its client base tremendously in recent years, the company still maintains a close and intimate connection to each of its customers. In an industry where companies become interchangeable, "the only way you can survive is through client satisfaction," McGeary says.

The Leaders
After some strategic moves -- unveiling a new management team and acquiring consulting firm eVergance -- Kana is showing that it can offer more than just good technology. "They have a lot of the tools that a company needs to focus on the customer experience, from the agent desktop through service resolution and search. So if a company doesn't have anything today, [it] can get the whole suite," says Sheryl Kingstone, director of enterprise research at the Yankee Group. Whereas it used to piece together all its very modular offerings after the fact, Kana does face the challenge now of fully integrating them onto one platform, McGeary says.

Talisma offers what McGeary refers to as "proactive service," engaging customers through various channels and striving to tackle inquiries with an emphasis on real-time answers. After releasing CIM 8.0 -- a customer service suite for interaction management that includes email, chat, VoIP, phone, collaboration, and Web self-service -- and the introduction of new functions such as Proactive Chat, this leader is making significant strides, tying its new offerings together with previous achievements in knowledge management and other arenas. From here, McGeary sees Talisma moving into more industry-specific solutions, creating different templates for each vertical, based on best practices. Whatever Talisma's been doing, it seems to be working -- customers are "notoriously happy," McGeary says.

The Winner
With the top scores in company direction and customer satisfaction, it's no wonder RightNow Technologies has claimed another title in this year's Service Awards. As a hosted solution, RightNow is "well positioned due to the Web 2.0/services-oriented architecture story," says Esteban Kolsky, a former Gartner analyst. The company has landed the largest number of accounts and earns higher revenue than anyone in the market. "These guys are dreamers," McGeary says. "They think big. They have a huge, really bright, brilliant development team." RightNow benefits from having its longtime roots in an integrated approach, continually delivering on new solutions with a concentration on maintaining cross-channel functionality. McGeary admits having always envisioned big opportunities for RightNow: "They've exceeded anyone's expectations -- and we expect them to continue to do that."

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