RightNow Embraces Web 2.0
RightNow Technologies launched RightNow November '07 early last week, the latest upgrade to its on demand CRM application. The release comes equipped with a set of new features, including 12 new languages and perhaps what the company considers most exciting, a "knowledge syndication" widget that enables companies to deliver relevant product information to the end user on any Web site that sells the product.
According to Suzy Meriwether, industry solutions manager at RightNow, the addition of more languages -- such as Bulgarian, Croatian, Estonian, Greek, and Hungarian -- is an indication of RightNow's global presence. The additional breadth also suggests the increase in overall demand for CRM solutions and the need to support customers whose businesses are developing abroad.
Another new feature is the availability of site-mapping technology. This allows search engines to access company pages for information that users may find helpful. As an example, Meriwether describes a potential customer using a search engine in an attempt to learn how to use a particular product; results that appear can lead directly into the manufacturer's Web page of frequently asked questions (FAQs). "With the Internet, anybody can put out whatever they want," she says, adding that information directly from the source can ultimately provide a better customer experience. The site-mapping technology in RightNow November '07 makes corporate pages more readily available to the so-called spiders that search engines use to catalog the Internet, Meriwether says, countering the threat of faulty information. This feature does not, however, directly increase the page's rank within a given search engine's results.
RightNow has also modified its user interface, in response to the some of the popular trends sweeping the industry. "We've made our standard out-of-the-box [user interface] more Web-2.0-looking: easier navigation, using icons, and rounded edges, which is very Web 2.0," Meriwether says. Customers are still able to modify the product according to the specific needs of their companies. Moreover, RightNow continues to offer the upgraded solution to its established vertical niches: telecommunications, retail, consumer electronics, higher education, and the public sector. Overall, she says, the product's "got a better look and feel."
Without wanting to overshadow the benefits of the other features, Meriwether admits her personal enthusiasm for the knowledge syndication widget. This application comes at no additional cost to RightNow users and is hosted the creator of the content -- typically the product manufacturer. Citing a study by Forrester Research, Meriwether says that 70 percent of all consumers research a product on a manufacturer's Web site before going to retail sites to compare prices. The knowledge syndication widget is built around the idea that with more information, customers are more empowered -- and more self-sufficient when making purchases; this creates the perception of better customer service and experience while reducing the expense of support resources, such as contact centers.
Meriwether says that rapidly advancing technologies ensure that, without sufficient information, consumers will simply keep moving. "If customers don't understand [your product] or their questions aren't answered, they're going to go somewhere else," she says. And there will be plenty of other places for them to go: Content providers can display the knowledge syndication widget on any Web site hawking their product or service. The widget, she adds, will provide access to FAQs alongside the product, rather than sending the consumer on a hike throughout the site -- or worse, off the site altogether.
Meriwether insists that it all comes down to enticing the customer to pull the trigger. "Who are you going to buy from?" she asks. "The retailer that answers all your questions and you're comfortable with, or the retailer that just slaps up a product spec page, doesn't give you any information, and just says, 'Buy now'?"
Because manufacturers are often unaware of what information is important, the software automatically ranks FAQs by factors such as "most viewed" or based on consumer ratings of how helpful the advice was. As a differentiator, though, the widget seems to give a competitive edge to the manufacturer, rather than to individual retailers who sell the product -- especially once multiple retailers offer the widget, providing access to the identical content, updates of which will be made available to all widget-enabled sites via RSS feed. To counter that somewhat, the knowledge base can support different "flavors" of widgets, selecting particular pieces of information to push out to specific sites.
The widget itself seems like "a cool and useful add-on," says Denis Pombriant, managing principal of CRM analysis firm Beagle Research Group. "Being able to pre-deploy relevant content to customer touch points is smart as it helps an organization anticipate customer need and be there with just-in-time information." Information, he notes, is only as valuable as it's perceived to be: "Ideally, having the ability to rate the content and ensure that the best or most relevant content bubbles to the surface is where you want to be."
Other features of RightNow November '07 include:
- on-premise platform support;
- Microsoft Vista agent desktop support;
- analytics, feedback, and workspace design enhancements; and
- voice enhancements.
The next quarterly RightNow upgrade is scheduled for February 2008.
Update: This article was updated to include analyst comments.
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