If there is a common thread connecting the four winners in this category, it is their embrace of social CRM. By definition, rising stars either lack a long history or are repositioning their organizations or product lines to compete in a changing market. As a result, it’s incumbent upon these companies to strive for innovation, to take risks and to anticipate the future direction of market dynamics.
In a testament to their early success, two of the four have been called leaders by analysts, one in community platforms and the other in social CRM. A third from our group is based in Glasgow, Scotland, but has forged partnerships, expanded its Chicago office, and hired a contact center veteran in a bid to penetrate the U.S. market.
Our fourth rising star is relying on an all-in-one search solution that is designed to dramatically improve the user experience. The product also includes an agent desktop that blends queries from Facebook, Twitter, and forums with those from traditional customer service channels.
Whether these four companies will keep ascending and ultimately join the leaderboard remains an open question. By focusing on where customer service is headed, they are on the right track.
THE ONE-STOP SHOP
eGain, a provider of customer service and contact center software for in-house or on-demand deployments, captured attention this year for the launch of a social customer experience management solution.
The next generation of eGain Social Experience Suite, which empowers contact center agents and community managers to handle inquiries across traditional and social channels, was released in October. Included is a social-blended agent desktop, integration with Facebook to complement available integrations with Twitter and Web search, and a single-sourced knowledge publishing capability for proactive social engagement.
eGain Social Experience Suite consists of three offerings:
• eGain Social, which allows businesses to listen to conversations on social networks for customer queries, analyze and route them intelligently, and post a response. Also included are analytics and the ability to move a potentially explosive social conversation to a more private channel for discreet one-on-one resolution. The agent desktop blends queries from Facebook, Twitter, forums, and blogs with queries from traditional customer service channels, such as phone, email, SMS, and chat. As a result, agents get a 360Plus view of the customer, context, and knowledge.
• eGain Community, which permits businesses to include forums in their customer interaction hubs. Posts can be federated into knowledge base searches, and useful posts can be harvested for the trusted multichannel knowledge base, maintained by the business.
• eGain Social Adapters, which let eGain monitor social networks through integrations with Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo.
The Mountain View, Calif., company followed that with Multisearch, an all-in-one search technology for Web self-service and the multichannel contact center. eGain Multisearch will boost the relevance of search responses by culling information from corporate databases, agent interactions, social media, hosted community platforms and forums, partner databases, and online public knowledge. Multisearch puts the combined power of knowledge access methods—keyword, metadata, natural language and intent-based search, question-matched search, and case-based reasoning—behind a simple search box.
Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of ThinkJar, says the search products will let eGain remain competitive. The company, he adds, “has evolved its product to include a new model of search that allows it to deliver better service to users. They can find information faster and easier and with a better overall experience.”
In addition, eGain plans to add analytics, but those capabilities are limited in their scope. For example, the solutions can’t mine phone calls. Nor can they work with data older than three months. To add muscle to the offering, eGain should look to partner with a strong analytics provider, analysts suggest.
Much like Sword Ciboodle, eGain has spent the past few months rapidly expanding its business in new markets and territories. First it welcomed to its partner program, eGain Econet, seven new reseller partners: Cameo Solutions, CDW, INX, Nexus, Presidio, Universal E-Business Solutions, and VoiceRite. Those partners will help boost eGain’s presence in North America. That will come in handy as it not only shifts focus to delivering multichannel customer interaction management solutions but also seeks to attract more clients in the mid-sized market.
In addition, eGain has been extending its channel network across Europe with strategic partnerships with Customer Xs in Benelux; Scholand & Beiling in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland; and Novabase in Spain and Portugal.
In 2010, Jive was thrice named a leader by Gartner in social CRM, externally facing social software, and social software for the workplace.
Jive Engage, the company’s community service platform, was described by Melissa Parrish, Forrester Research analyst and author of the Forrester Wave report, as “court[ing] not just the marketer, but the whole enterprise, seeking to usher in the era of social collaboration inside the enterprise, outside with customers, and everywhere in between.”
In the article "Does Social CRM Need Gartner’s Seal of Approval?" (CRM, September 2010), Nathan Rawlins, the senior director of product marketing at Jive, stated that the overall value of social CRM gets lost in strict segmentations. “It’s important for businesses to look beyond just the Social CRM Magic Quadrant and look at social business across…employees, your customers, and the broader social Web,” Rawlins stated in the article. “It just doesn’t work to do it in one area and not the others.”
Ian Jacobs, customer interaction analyst at Ovum, agrees, explaining that Jive Software has taken a studied approach to marketing by appealing to the whole enterprise through various groups. “It’s still a little bit complicated and technical,” he adds.
Jacobs noted that Jive is not only proficient in customer experience and word-of-mouth marketing, but the company is also “doing great things to the contact center,” allowing customers to answer one another’s problems in “edge case scenarios.”
In July 2010, Jive Software received a $30 million investment from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia
Capital to accelerate Jive’s social media thrust. The funding shows that “investors are giving them a lot of road ahead, a lot
of room to maneuver,” as the industry expects quite a bit from the enterprise, Jacobs observes.
Since the investment, Jive has improved and expanded. In December, it hosted the first Social Business Developer Summit at its headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., announcing the Jive Apps SDK beta and new features for the Jive Apps Market. The Jive Apps SDK beta was based on open standards and included OAuth and OpenSocial to help developers reduce the development time and effort to build business applications.
“Jive is committed to supporting open source and open standards,” said Matt Tucker, Jive cofounder and CTO, in a statement regarding the Jive Apps SDK beta. “We believe that the future of enterprise is open and social and have architected our products and platforms around these two key attributes.”
Jive’s business apps were founded on the idea that traditional enterprise applications were becoming “feature-rich” and, therefore, too difficult to use. Jive’s new model was founded on the 80/20 rule, which means that 20 percent of software features deliver 80 percent of the value. According to Jive, using the 80/20 rule would focus more on the user experience.
Shortly after the calendar had turned to 2011, Jive announced two major executive appointments: a senior vice president for product management and a senior vice president for business management. Both were intended to focus on strategy, the “partner ecosystem,” and product developments within the Jive Apps Market.
In terms of making Jive’s reporting on the community appeal to marketing, Jacobs says the enterprise still has a ways to go.
Lithium Technologies has debuted a social suite and an awareness solution, deployed by Sephora, during the past year, but the company most famously was recognized as a leader in community platforms.
A Forrester Wave report on community platforms identified Lithium’s Social Customer Suite as an all-around winner for customer engagement, ease of deployment, and the matching of community results to business goals. Lithium has expertise in community management and a strategy that “focuses on the marketer with laser-target exactness,” Melissa Parrish, a Forrester Research analyst, said in the report.
Lithium also eats its own dog food. In the article, “Most Vendors Embrace Social CRM” (CRM magazine, January 2011), which featured Evoke CRM Partners’ list of vendors that sell and use social media, Lithium was ranked as an “early mover and maven.” Katy Keim, chief marketing officer at Lithium, said in the article, “We have to be the best in social. For us, one of the things you’ll hear from clients is Lithium does what they say and we are very trusted by our customers. For us to be out talking about the benefits of social without doing it ourselves, it would be a terrible place for our brand to be.”
Ian Jacobs, a customer interaction analyst at Ovum, agrees, saying that Lithium “has customers that really, really love them…they have customers who evangelize for them.”
However, Jacobs also notes that Lithium is shifting to a customer service-focused environment from “a heavy focus on interactive marketing.” That move is evidenced by Lithium’s integration with Parature, a partnership aimed at delivering better customer service. The integration boasts a 15 percent to 40 percent reduction in support cost by redirecting customer interactions to the community. This redirection also increases the effectiveness of agents because they don’t have to handle as many inquiries, and community questions are converted into support tickets. Supported solutions are published back to the community; complex questions, such as billing, generate a Parature service ticket.
Lithium Service, which is based on the idea that “the customer knows more about your products than you do,” connects online communities, Facebook, and Twitter in a single network in which consumers answer one another’s questions. The Lithium Community Platform rewards customers who supply the best answer and directs support issues to either an agent using the solution or a deemed expert customer in the community.
The Tribal Knowledgebase is the first knowledge base, other than Wikipedia, to be maintained by users and customers. Information can be tagged, edited, republished elsewhere, and shared among consumers to keep abreast of changes or product innovations.
This method of “the customer as customer service,” as Esteban Kolsky of ThinkJar put it, is said to be not only cheaper but also more effective. And Lithium has attracted companies both in the United States, such as Hewlett-Packard, and abroad.
For example, GiffGaff, a mobile carrier in the United Kingdom, has found that its service issues are resolved in an average of three minutes by other customers. GiffGaff has also seen customer satisfaction eclipse 90 percent.
Jacobs says that customer service “remains an area of development for them,” primarily because Lithium has siloed sales and service in the past. But given Lithium’s early mover advantage, CRM magazine considers it a Rising Star in the community platform space.
THE MARKET PENETRATOR
2010 was a busy year for Sword Ciboodle. Its recent feats have included the launch of a social CRM solution, partnerships that incorporated the latest in customer intelligence tools to create richer interactions in the contact center, an expansion of its presence outside its European base, and a flagship deployment at Sears. The company is headquartered in Glasgow, Scotland, but its moves should give it market credibility and brand awareness on this side of the pond.
Sword Ciboodle teamed with SAS to incorporate the Ciboodle One intelligent desktop solution into SAS’s Real Time Decision Manager, an offering released in June to let organizations maximize, leverage, and personalize customer interactions in the contact center. The combined solution analyzes customer interactions and adapts as interests change, enabling agents to use real-time dialogue.
Following that partnership, Sword Ciboodle inked a collaboration deal with Capgemini Consulting to launch Love Your Agents, also built on a Ciboodle One solution. Love Your Agents lets agents choose the user interface that best suits their unique learning styles and preferences. Some might work better with a graphical interface, while others might prefer text.
The Ciboodle One solution set is new this year, too. It contains several modules to meet the demands of the changing customer through the Customer Engagement Continuum, which empowers organizations to promote choice by letting customers do business on their own terms through whichever channels they select. The set includes:
• Ciboodle One, which provides a 360-degree view into the customer for call center agents and back office experts;
• Ciboodle Flow, which manages all customer interactions from end to end and links them to relevant documents, previous call notes, scanned images, transcripts, and other customer information that can be referenced with the click of a mouse;
• Ciboodle Live, which offers self-service capabilities through such Web offerings as online chat, Web forms, and click to call; and
• Ciboodle Crowd, a social CRM product created to service social customers on their terms, via social communities and forums where they can interact directly with the organization and each other.
“It’s all about customer choice,” Paul White, CEO of Sword Ciboodle Americas, said in a statement when the Ciboodle One offering was released. “Whether the customer wants to interact over the phone, Internet, or in person, we have tapered the process and made the experience rewarding.”
To help it reach that goal in the Americas, Sword Ciboodle has doubled the staff of its Chicago office and named 15-year CRM and contact center industry veteran Mitch Lieberman the vice president of strategic marketing. Lieberman, who was vice president of strategic solutions at SugarCRM, will be tasked with maintaining and expanding Sword Ciboodle’s marketing efforts and customer, analyst, and partner engagement programs in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.
His job should be easier now that Sword Ciboodle is establishing a name. “It’s a company whose promise and potential is enormous,” says Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group. “They have the resources to make a real splash in the U.S., and they are visible now, where two years ago no one [in the U.S.] really heard of them.”
He adds, “It’s a company whose focus is built around how to help you do your job better rather than throwing a lot of features and functions at you.”
For the year ahead, the company must keep attacking the market and growing its partnership ecosystem, analysts say.