Consumers don’t want to be restricted in how they interact with a company, forcing companies, in turn, to supply multiple channels of interaction. Social media has only accelerated this trend, breaking down the silos within customer service. Web interaction management (WIM)—including agent-assisted handling of traditional points of contact such as email, click-to-chat, click-to-call, and instant message—remains distinct from Web self-service, but analysts see the lines blurring. “Companies aren’t going to think about this in segmented ways anymore,” says Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Ovum. “Buying a bunch of siloed tools and then [trying] to stitch them together isn’t the best recipe for engendering the best customer experience.”
Popularized by its live-chat solutions, LivePerson has since expanded its offerings, earning it a very solid score (3.7) for company direction. However, analysts are mixed on their reviews of the attempt to break into this space. Jacobs suspects that opening up to various industry-specific solutions, in addition to separate solutions for sales and service, may be distracting from LivePerson’s holistic strategy. LivePerson, he says, caters more to a multichannel strategy, as opposed to cross-channel. Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of customer service consultancy ThinkJar, notes a dearth of use cases, but the company has “rounded out their chat offering with a couple other channels”—earning it a low depth of functionality score (3.2).
After acquiring Talisma in 2008, nGenera was viewed warily, but has since earned its spot on the leaderboard. “This was a really good year for them,” says John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). Kolsky says that nGenera has done a good job piecing together a strong offering, especially after the Talisma CIM suite was rebranded as nGen CIM last February. This jibes with satisfactory scores in depth of functionality (3.5) and company direction (3.6), but some analysts hope nGenera’s recent $10 million funding round goes toward expanding its collaborative enterprise management offerings. Kolsky says that market penetration is still in its early stages, which may explain the company’s relatively low 3.3 in customer satisfaction.
Recognized as one of last year’s Rising Stars, Parature makes it onto the leaderboard this year. The company bursts out with a 3.7 in customer satisfaction, second only to RightNow Technologies, and backs it up with what Ragsdale notes is an impressive list of results-driven case studies. The firm also ranks second in depth of functionality (3.7), and is expanding beyond the gaming industry. Contrasting a relatively low score in company direction (3.4), Ragsdale calls Parature “smart” about marketing; it’s clear, for example, that “@Parature” is trying to stand out on Twitter. “Maybe that’s not a 10-year strategy,” Ragsdale says, “but it’s the right strategy for right now.”
Speaking of “right now,” after a slight setback last year, RightNow Technologies reclaims the top of this category, in part because it was the only contender to land an overall score above a 4. At its annual user summit last September, the company rebranded its customer service suite as RightNow CX, with the intent to merge the Web, social media, and the contact center. Impressed by what he calls a renewed emphasis on the customer, Ragsdale says he’s “really pleased” with the company, admitting that he’s been a tough critic in the past. Financial analysts, he notes, continue to praise the company’s sharp focus, financial success, and happy customers. While the firm received a 4.6 for company direction, up from 4.2 last year, ThinkJar’s Kolsky notes that, as forward-thinking as RightNow is, the vendor’s also one of the “granddaddies” of the WIM space. “They created this market,” he says.
ONE TO WATCH
A 2009 Rising Star, Helpstream just missed the leaderboard, but a 3.8 in company direction is promising. TSIA’s Ragsdale says Helpstream is getting a lot of attention because it’s the cool new kid, with Web 2.0 capabilities such as forums and wikis. Allen Bonde, managing partner at Evoke CRM Partners, calls the company more of a “crossover player” between WIM and Web self-service. “Customers tend to be pretty happy,” he says, validating a 3.5 satisfaction rating, “because Helpstream tends to be pretty innovative.”
Where’s last year’s winner, Kana Software? Concerns for the company were linked to its late 2009 acquisition by private-equity firm Accel-KKR. As a result, Kana received the lowest scores in customer satisfaction (2.9) and company direction (2.4). With a 3.6 on depth of functionality, though, Kana isn’t completely out of sight. Some analysts are calling it bad timing; they expect the former leader to bounce back next year.