As customers continue to shy away from agent interactions for basic services, web support is in ever-increasing demand. The social web has also made customer support a collaborative effort, offering new online tools that empower customers to find their own answers and help one another. Still, while self-help and community forums can be an integral part of a total support package, companies can’t afford to overlook the power of direct engagement, analysts advise, and should look to blend online and offline support wherever possible.
As was the case last year, small vendors have been successful in this category by offering streamlined solutions, but big vendors continue to dominate. Regardless of size, the companies here have all secured their positions with customer-first approaches.
Nuance Communications’ TouchCommerce unit posted a strong score in customer satisfaction (4.3) and solid ones in company direction (3.7) and cost (3.5). Analysts are wary about its acquisition by Nuance Communications last July. TouchCommerce on its own “offered a broad set of omnichannel capabilities and a reputation for being a very customer-focused and customer-centric company,” but that could all change with the acquisition, says Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Nevertheless, Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at Constellation Research, says that the vendor “increases in relevance for having an integrated approach.”
Oracle Service Cloud earned strong marks in depth of functionality (4.1), company direction (3.9), and customer satisfaction (3.9). According to Wang, the vendor’s “new [user experience] continues to delight customers, as they are pleasantly surprised.” Rebecca Wettemann, vice president at Nucleus Research, commends Oracle for continuing to invest in its Service Cloud, noting it “has one of the leading knowledge base capabilities in the industry.” Ian Jacobs, senior analyst at Forrester Research, points out “it is hard to top Oracle’s solid maturity model for customers,” as it “helps them plan out investments in a sensible and purposeful way.”
Salesforce.com Service Cloud posted strong scores again this year, with a 4.2 in depth of functionality, a 4.7 in company direction, and a 4.4 in customer satisfaction. The vendor “continues to shine as a customer company,” says Leggett; she adds that “the product is bolstered by strong system integrator relationships, a large developer network, and a very broad marketplace via its AppExchange, all of which increase its market penetration.” And the company “extends the power of its products with a partnership with Coveo for advanced search and knowledge discovery, and with Cisco for queuing and routing omnichannel inquiries,” she notes. Wang adds that the vendor’s Einstein analytics “will be the hot new feature for this year.”
Zendesk earned strong scores in cost (4.3) and customer satisfaction (4.0). It “led the way with its benchmarking service,” says Jacobs, who adds that the company is “all about simplicity, usability, and low cost of application ownership.” Leggett agrees, saying that Zendesk “offers a simple, highly usable web support solution for simple customer service scenarios.” She also credits Zendesk for refocusing its midmarket efforts.
Microsoft wins this category for the second year running. The company had strong scores across the board, posting a 4.3 in depth of functionality, a 4.2 in company direction, a 4.1 in cost, and a 3.8 in customer satisfaction. According to Jacobs, the vendor’s “product design remains strongly focused on usability, with a reputation for a better cost structure than much of the competition.” Furthermore, its road map “shows a strong commitment to customer experience–focused developments.” Leggett says Microsoft’s web support solution has matured, noting too that it “offers strong process guidance, good omnichannel capabilities, and robust knowledge management at an attractive price.” She adds that it has “an exciting product direction focused on embedding intelligence and prescriptive advice into its core solutions.” Microsoft’s focus on its Enterprise Cloud Division, though, has given some analysts cause for concern. Wang notes that the shift toward Dynamics 365 “has teams distracted,” but he says the company’s “overall capabilities still remain strong.”
ONE TO WATCH
Freshdesk is this year’s one to watch based largely on its category-leading cost score (4.7). “Although Freshdesk just raised its prices, the product remains a very good deal,” Jacobs says, adding that “time to value is quick, and the modern interface is very simple to use.” Leggett agrees, calling its web support product “a simple solution with core, basic capabilities for small and midsize customer service teams.” She does worry that Freshdesk “may be diluting its efforts with its focus on Freshdesk CRM and FreshSales.”
[Editor's note: The overall award rating is based on a composite score of analyst ratings for customer satisfaction, depth of functionality, company direction, and cost. For the cost score, analysts gave the highest marks to vendors with the lowest expected costs. Company revenues were also factored into the overall score, but these numbers are not included in the chart above.]