The 2014 CRM Rising Stars
Posted Mar 1, 2014

There are many praiseworthy customer service vendors that, unfortunately, go unnoticed. Perhaps it's because they are young in age or small in size. Or perhaps they were once high flyers that have fallen below the radar. The purpose of our Rising Star awards is to identify and honor some of these worthy companies. This year, we recognize six of them.

One company piqued our editors' interest for being 100 percent dedicated to social customer service. Another aims to simplify the migration to a multichannel customer service environment by offering its solutions through the cloud. We honor a 23-year-old company this year for creating a visual IVR designed for mobile devices. You'll find another industry veteran is recognized for creating a solution that not only quickly finds a customer service rep, but finds the most appropriate one available. Also in this venerated group is a company that promotes collaborative support. And, finally, we honor a young company that takes a novel approach to simplifying the customer feedback process.

All of these companies add significant value to the customer experience. And, because of this, they have the potential to soar. Congratulations to this year's group of high flyers.

Helping Customers Tweet for a Refund

Seeing an unfulfilled need, a company provides the tools to help move social support into the contact center<

Some companies might dabble in social media, but it's a rare few that bet their entire business on it. Conversocial is one of those few. The company brings social media into the contact center for a more unified customer experience.

Having a dedicated customer service team for social media is still a novel concept for most companies, but more are recognizing the need for dedicated social customer support. And Conversocial, just three years old itself, is at the forefront of this emerging market. ""This area has a lot of room to expand as companies mature their strategies and operations for social customer care," says Kate Leggett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

As social media developed, the marketing and PR departments in B2C companies took up the challenge, using the channel to gauge consumer sentiment and communicate to customers. Under this model, customer service requests are often handled by giving the tweeter an email address or phone number to call. Conversocial saw a better way.

"You can't community manage someone who needs a refund; you need to give them real customer service agents who can give them a refund. The only way companies could provide the level of customer service that was needed was to move social into the contact center," says Conversocial CEO Joshua March.

Moving beyond the initial social media monitoring or outreach campaigns commonly used by marketers and public relations professionals, Conversocial's technology is specifically designed for customer service interactions. The solution provides analysis for response times and average handle times as well as the ability to adhere to service-level agreements (SLAs).

"They have a robust agent desktop, supervisor tools, and reporting to manage and monitor social operations," Leggett notes. Conversocial can show how incoming content compares to average volume, or heighten the importance of requests made by influencers with a high number of followers. The product is "intended for customer service, so it has innate workflow, assignment, and prioritization. It's designed for social engagement, versus broader CRM applications which can be weighed down with legacy information," says Jenny Sussin, a Gartner analyst specializing in social CRM.

Using natural language processing and machine learning, Conversocial filters unrelated messages, identifying tweets that are most likely to be customer service requests. Now the development team is turning its attention to intelligently threading those conversations together. Over the past several months, the company has been building out a new tool, Conversations, that pulls together multiple tweets or Facebook comments into a single case. Conversocial also plans to build direct connections to CRM systems in order to better integrate with its customers' existing data ecosystems.

The company is growing fast, adding 60 clients in 2013, bringing its list to 150. Its customer mix leans toward B2C verticals such as retailers, banks, and travel companies. Clients include Tesco, Coach, BarclayCard, and Hertz. A former Hertz customer service executive recently joined the team, helping new client companies plan rollouts.

Conversocial's biggest challenge won't be building a compelling product, but encouraging companies to make the jump to handling social media in the contact center. "Social customer care in many companies is still under the purview of marketing, which lacks the operational discipline of managing incidents to SLAs that contact center personnel do so well," Leggett says."There aren't many dedicated social customer service platforms. We're keen to promote the space," March says. "We think we see a clear route, a progression of social maturity, where social starts out purely in the marketing department and moves into customer service. Part of our mission is to help companies get to that stage and push the market forward."

Founder/CEO: Joshua March

Founded: 2010

Headquarters: London and New York City

Revenue: Undisclosed

Customer Count: 150+, with 30,000+ responses made every month through the platform

Employees: 45

Driving Multichannel Cloud Experiences

With dynamic and cost-effective solutions, a contact center software provider helps treat customers 'like stars'

There's a lot of talk about merging traditional customer service channels with newer interaction channels, such as social media. Unfortunately, not many companies are doing this in a cost-effective way that leverages the cloud. However, inContact is one of the few that are.

As the cloud matures, so must cloud contact center software providers, says Mariann McDonagh, chief marketing officer at inContact. Since inContact's founding in 1997, the Utah-based provider of on-demand contact center software has transformed from a long-distance carrier to a company focused on contact routing and agent management applications. Today, inContact prides itself on delivering top-notch multichannel communication software through innovative, low-maintenance technology and ensuring that its clients treat their customers "like stars," McDonagh says.

"Customers don't care what channels you support—they only care that you are in the ones they are in. People start with inContact because they realize how important it is to provide customer support across all channels," Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says.

Last year was a big year for inContact. In February, the company released version 13.1 of its cloud software, headlined by the addition of the universal queue. The new feature, which automatically assigns tasks to agents based on their skills, availability, and customer priority, also facilitates channel interlacing, determining when active modes of customer communication, such as voice, should take precedent over passive channels, such as email. "When a high-priority communication comes in, the system can trigger an interruption of other activities and ensure that agents direct their attention to the high-priority item," McDonagh explains. "The system is intelligent and actually knows where agents' strengths lie, allowing it to route tasks accordingly," she says.

Within a month of its cloud software update, inContact announced that its universal queue will be expanded through a partnership with SoCoCare. The SoCoCare solution, which has been developed specifically for customer care agents, supervisors, and managers, will extend the universal queue capabilities to social interactions, enabling activity on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS feeds, blogs, and articles to be routed, skilled, and prioritized along with other contact center channel content. "The expanded multichannel queue creates an entirely unified flow of work," McDonagh says. "This makes the support process more consistent for the agent, and amounts to a better experience for customers," she adds.

In its second major release of the year, inContact launched its Personal Connection outbound solution, which uses patented technology to eliminate greeting delays for callers. "There's nothing more awkward than complete silence at the other end of a phone call, and it's when most call abandons happen," McDonagh says. The Personal Connection solution uses a pacing engine algorithm to eliminate the delay and connect agents more efficiently, she explains.

As the company evolves, McDonagh says inContact will continue "cocreating" with customers, identifying customer-centric strategies aimed at helping growing businesses thrive. "Most of our customers are growing businesses. That's why they choose the cloud," McDonagh says, citing customer Teleflora, a floral delivery company that relies heavily on the flexibility of a cloud solution. During peak times such as Valentine's Day, for example, Teleflora needs to scale up temporarily, and then scale back down. That's not something that an on-premises solution can provide, according to McDonagh. "Cloud has gone primetime," she says, "and as more and more companies turn to cloud-based solutions, we'll be ready with new offerings and increased availability via new channels."

CEO: Paul Jarman

Founded: 1997

Headquarters: Midvale, UT

Revenue: $110.5 million in 2012

Employees: 400+ (2012)

Customer Count: 1,300+ call center deployments

Intelemedia Communications
Putting Its Best Agents Forward

With its Leaders Choice Program, this company routes callers to the top-performing agents

Imagine a technology that not only connects customers to a live agent, but connects them to the best agent available. That's exactly what Intelemedia Communications' technology can offer.

Since 1993, Intelemedia Communications has provided outsourced contact center services and solutions for call center analytics, performance management, recording, reporting, scripting, and routing. Its newest offering, the Leaders Choice Program, is an intelligent routing system that identifies the best agents available in a particular queue and call center at a particular point in time and automatically routes calls to those agents. The technology tracks every call back to the specific call center and agent that handled it and identifies top performers based on predetermined criteria, such as sales conversions, service levels, customer satisfaction scores, average handling times, first call resolutions, or whatever other metrics the client wants to employ.

The technology also enables Intelemedia to match specific call types and media types to each agent's individual skill set, route calls to specific agents based on the caller's propensity to buy a specific product, and identify repeat callers, and, through historic databases, predict if a specific caller is having difficulty resolving an issue. The system tracks the caller's activity and determines if he should be routed to a specific agent based on that activity.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, notes that this is possible largely because "Intelemedia has executed some great partnerships that allow them to expand into new verticals and to augment analytics as well as A/B testing."

Steve Trifelos, vice president of customer care call management at Intelemedia, says the program "is all about getting a higher percentage of calls to the best agents in the best call centers" within the company's network.

Leaders Choice, Trifelos says, "shifts everything for the industry because of the impact clients will see on performance."

Often in contact centers, performance and great customer service are at odds, but Trifelos says the Leaders Choice Program brings the two together.

Also as part of the Leaders Choice Program, each contact center in a company network sees what all of the others are doing in real time. According to Trifelos, this encourages competition that drives them to perform better.

Intelemedia works closely with those call centers that aren't performing well, creating improvement plans for individual agents or entire facilities. If after those efforts the facilities are still not performing well, they risk being cut from the network.

"It's about giving our clients access to only the truly best contact centers," Trifelos says.

In the year or so that Intelemedia has been actively promoting the Leaders Choice Program, it has picked up at least 12 big-name clients, and Trifelos says more are in the works.

Among the customer signings so far are AIG, Time-Life, Dyson, Nautilus, Teeter Hang Ups, and Lunada Biochemical. "Most customers using Intelemedia love the quality of the customer agents," Wang says. Customers have reported increased sales ands conversion rates, better call handling, fewer abandoned calls, shorter calls, and quicker answer times.

President and CEO: David Schreck

Founded: 1993

Headquarters: Plano, TX

Revenue: undisclosed

Employees: 60

Customer Count: 50

Seeing a New Path with Visual IVR

Customers can touch their way through mobile interactions

Jacada is not a newcomer to the customer service arena. The 23-year-old company has a long history as a provider of Web, mobile, and self-service solutions, agent desktops, and contact center process optimization technology. However, Jacada has made a name for itself in the past year as a pioneer in the development and advancement of visual IVR technology.

First introduced at the close of 2012, Jacada Mobile Agent is a self-service product for smartphones and other mobile devices that visually maps out the steps of the customer service interaction. The company's visual IVR also supports data entry and can proactively mine knowledge bases for information and retrieve or update customer information in real time. For calls that require agent assistance, Jacada Mobile Agent provides a seamless transition to the voice channel. Once the call is connected to the agent, all of the steps already taken by the customer, as well as any data entered, are visible to the agent.

In April, Jacada followed this release with Visual IVR Plus. Designed to use a company's existing IVR scripts, Visual IVR Plus presents users with a graphical, menu-driven interface that enables them to simply touch their way through the IVR. "Navigating a traditional IVR is tedious and cumbersome, waiting to hear all of the options to make sure that you select the right one. Just as pushing buttons replaced the rotary dial, touching selections on a screen is replacing the push button," said Guy Yair, co-CEO of Jacada, in a statement at the time. "Your IVR should keep up with how your customers are using their communication devices, and Visual IVR Plus enables that to happen by allowing them to communicate with customer service in a modern, less frustrating fashion."

Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group, agrees. "Jacada has done something smart here," he says, calling the Visual IVR solution "a brilliant way of dealing with one of the most frustrating service problems that a company has--'kludgy' audio menus."

The app, Greenberg adds, recognizes that "contemporary customers are increasingly mobile," and that "human beings respond more effectively to visual cues than audio ones."

Traction is already building for Jacada's visual IVR technology. In September, the company partnered with Vocantas, which is offering the visual IVR capabilities to its healthcare, higher education, and utility customers.

"Continuing to offer the best in IVR technology is a job we take seriously at Vocantas, and visual IVR is the best new offering available today," Gary Hannah, Vocantas' president and CEO, said in a statement.

The first Vocantas product to incorporate Jacada's visual IVR technology is the Vocantas Utilities OnCall solution, which became available in October. With it, utility customers can pay bills, record meter readings, and check account balances. They can even include photos of their meter readings or send the utility their GPS coordinates when reporting an outage or service interruption.

Jacada has also partnered with Cognizant Technology Solutions, which in September began to incorporate Jacada's customer service solutions, including the visual IVR offering, into its global delivery network. Hari Raja, head of Cognizant's CRM practice in the Americas, at the time called Jacada's visual IVR product a "path-breaking solution," adding that it "will fit into Cognizant's customer solutions strategy of advising and delivering next-generation customer experience solutions to our customers."

Also in October, Jacada's Visual IVR Plus product was certified compliant with Avaya's Aura Experience Portal 6.0, a unified voice and self-service offering. Jacada's Visual IVR Plus, as well as its Workplace Agent Desktop and Agent Scripting solutions, are now available through the Avaya Dev Connect Select Product Program.

Co-CEOs: Gideon Hollander and Guy Yair

Founded: 1990

Headquarters: Atlanta

Revenue: $10.8 million

Employees: 88

Customer Count: N/A

Delivering Customer Service Through Collaboration

A Web-based application enables better communication among customer service teams

Driven by frustrating interactions with customer service professionals in the B2B space, Robert Johnson founded TeamSupport with Eric Harrington with the goal of fostering effective communication to streamline support. With functionality reaching past that of a traditional ticketing system, TeamSupport is a Web-based help desk and service desk application that offers a complete customer support suite to facilitate collaboration between internal team members, other company employees, and clients.

In July 2013, the company introduced a feature designed to prevent "ticket collision," an issue that arises when multiple representatives work on the same customer ticket. "When companies rely on customer support software that doesn't update in real time, they're creating a potentially embarrassing situation for themselves," Johnson, the company's president and CEO, explains. "It's very frustrating for customers when their trouble tickets don't contain the most recent information, and it's frustrating for the support representatives as well. They can't do their jobs if they don't have the most up-to-date information," he says.

Using the new feature, customer service professionals can see who else has worked on the same ticket or is working on it in real time. "This doesn't just apply to multiple customer service team members looking at one ticket," Johnson clarifies. "The feature extends to other teams, too, meaning that if a sales representative is looking at the ticket, it will show up as well." The feature also boasts an internal chat capability, which allows employees to discuss the problem and then attach the saved conversation to the ticket.

In addition to "best of breed" (such as knowledge base) and multichannel tools including chat, self-service, and social tools, TeamSupport offers a number of other "compelling features," such as a screen capture functionality, John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research at the Technology Services Industry Association, says.

"TeamSupport has been the first to incorporate video into their support as an 'out of box' feature in their platform," Ragsdale says. "Now customers can use video to capture the precise problems they're having, and employees can troubleshoot with video tutorials. Imagine how much easier that is," he adds.

Throughout the past year, TeamSupport has worked to improve its integration capabilities with other marquee business tools, including Jira, Oracle Cloud Marketplace, and Salesforce. In May, TeamSupport became one of the few help desk software suites to integrate extensively with Salesforce. With the two systems synchronized, any help ticket created using TeamSupport's software will automatically create a case on Salesforce's end, and vice versa. The integration reaches much deeper than just the ticketing process, however. "We aren't a full-fledged CRM system," Johnson says, "but this connection to Salesforce will allow businesses to build a more well-rounded view of their customers as they pull data in from Salesforce to populate the TeamSupport database."

With companies such as AT&T, the National Basketball Association, FujiFilm, and Walmart on its list of clients, the Dallas-based company is one of the "best kept secrets" of the customer service field, according to Johnson. Yet, after being recognized with 10 industry awards in 2013, TeamSupport's secret is out. Most notably, the company was honored by the Association of Support Professionals for having one of the year's 10 Best Web Support Sites and, in September, won bronze in the Cloud Computing/SaaS Innovations category at the 2013 Golden Bridge Awards. Still, Johnson says the company is just getting started.

"We've got a lot of exciting things happening in 2014," Johnson says. "Stay tuned."

CEO: Robert C. Johnson

Founded: 2008

Headquarters: Dallas

Revenue: Undisclosed

Employees: 15

Customer Count: 1,000

Combining User Feedback with Customer Service

Calling feedback 'a gift,' a company gives clients the tools to make better products and satisfy customers

There's a lot of insight that can be gleaned from customer feedback; however, conventional methods for collecting this information are often cumbersome and ineffective.

UserVoice combines customer support with user feedback tools that are designed to make it easy for users to share their opinions of a product. The company has recently gone after the mobile market, developing mobile support and the capability to ask for feedback from customers in-app. Instead of launching a browser or requesting a customer fill out a five-minute survey, UserVoice keeps things simple. Via a quick pop-up window, a user may be asked to answer two five-second questions, with the option to say more if they'd like. Not having to leave an app to give feedback has led to dramatic increases in response rates. "We're built with the idea that getting feedback is a gift," says UserVoice CEO Richard White. "You need to construct it as a win-win." UserVoice aims to be a win-win for its customers, too, giving its clients the tools they need to both retain customers and influence product development.

The company first gained traction among small and medium-sized software companies that were already close to their customers and understood the value of getting their feedback. Large companies came later, and now include Bing Ads and Yahoo! Mail and Weather. "It's only in the last eighteen months or so that large companies have come around to this idea," White says. "Social media has taught them that large-scale engagement is not only possible, but necessary." As business has picked up, so has recognition. UserVoice won the 2013 CRM Idol competition, which showcases promising companies in the CRM space.

For small to medium-sized customers, UserVoice provides a full customer support solution. They can build a self-service knowledge base, with analytics to see which areas customers are actually going to. A dashboard tracks how quickly agents are responding and monitors the support backlog. UserVoice's larger clients tend to have their own contact centers, and use the start-up primarily for its feedback functions. Integrations with CRM and marketing systems help UserVoice sync with companies that have more built-out IT solutions.

Besides adding mobile support and feedback tools, White cites the addition of analytics as another game-changer for the company, calling it "a huge innovation that allows us to tell an ROI story." Clients can segment out their customers, figuring out what the biggest issues are among customers who spend $100 or more a month on the app, for example, compared to those in a free trial stage. "Smarter segmentation lets customers grade and rate feedback better in a more efficient timeframe," notes Brent Leary, a partner at the CRM consultancy CRM Essentials. Or they can see if customer satisfaction scores go up or down after contacting the customer support team. "We're giving product managers and support managers reasons to say why they need investment," White says.

While it's easy to find a contact number for most Web companies, the same is not true for products that live on mobile devices, something UserVoice is trying to change. "Mobile customer care is about three to four years behind the Web, both in terms of vendor tools and penetration. Mobile support remains a relatively untested field," White says.

Leary sees UserVoice positioned ahead of the curve. He offers the example of Amazon's mayday button, which takes users to customer support with a single tap, as an example of how user expectations of mobile support are changing. "Things like that will put a lot of pressure on companies to do a better job building customer support and user experience into these mobile devices." Feedback remains UserVoice's biggest asset. "That's where UserVoice has an opportunity to step up and become a big player," Leary says.

CEO: Richard White

Founded: 2008

Headquarters: San Francisco ?(with offices in Raleigh, NC)

Revenue: Undisclosed

Customer Count: Undisclosed, ?but 160,000 UserVoice sites exist online

Employees: 20