nGenera's Nine Lives

Social media is turning the traditional knowledge base on its head. With the rise of Twitter, online forums, and ratings and reviews, to name a few, consumers are asking questions in new places and their paths to finding the answers are different than ever before. The old approach of a company publishing and storing a set of solutions for the masses is quickly dissolving.

Customer Interaction Management (CIM) vendor nGenera, named one of CRM's Rising Star in 2008 Market Awards, has in recent times, tried to differentiate itself as "powering the collaborative enterprise." With today's launch of nGen CIM Suite 9, the company wades further into the social media pool, integrating various elements of community, crowdsourcing, and monitoring into its suite. The release adds two brand new channels -- nGen Community and nGen Social Media -- to the CIM offerings and enhances nGen Knowledgebase, nGen Email, and nGen Chat.

Tara Sporrer, nGenera's vice president of marketing and sales operations insists that the Bellevue, Wash.-based company remains devoted to the contact center and is clinging tightly to the CIM acronym in this particular release. In terms of branding, nGenera has had a fairly foggy 18 months since it acquired CRM and CIM vendor Talisma. Back in May 2008, nGenera was describing itself as "an on-demand platform for business innovation." It sold the CRM and higher education business unit of Talisma to Campus Management Corporation in November 2009, and has since been playing along side the contact center with its heels dug deep in the knowledge base, Web self service, and other customer interaction solutions including live chat and email. The branding transition, Sporrer says, has not seemed to affect business. In fact, the company reports that in 2009, nGenera CIM signed on 70 new customers and reaped additional business in nearly half of its 600 existing customers.

The vision with nGen CIM Suite 9, says nGenera CIM's vice president of products, Nikhil Govindaraj, was all around the "social customer" and how that connected individual will impact a company's customer service strategy. Rather than tacking on new social feeds or conversation triggers, nGenera is bringing in Community and Social Media to its CIM Suite, demonstrated visually as a closed loop of interaction channels including the phone, email, live chat, and others.

Allen Bonde, consultant and partner at Evoke CRM, notes that with nGen CIM Suite 9, it's obvious that nGenera has put a lot of effort into end-to-end integration of its tools and filling out its suite with new products. With Talisma, he notes that the company had a lot of solid and compelling tools, but they were a bit disparate. "The end-to-end integration is really important," Bonde says. "For the most part, people assemble ... multiple products and these solutions are complicated. If you can take out iterations it's going to help the company vision."

Here's a break-down of the new nGenera CIM modules:

  1. nGen Community: The vendor's attempt to socialize the knowledge base allows customers to create, share, and consume content within a self-service environment. Community members can vote on the usefulness of a solution or post, and can interact and add content on a wiki. The community is then integrated with the nGen Knowledgebase so that the community-generated content can be used by a customer support agent and consumed and shared through channels such as the phone, email, or chat. 
  2. nGen Social Media: The CIM suite is now taking on monitoring and listening to conversations across popular social networks. With the listening capabilities nGen Social Media applies sentiment technology that assigns a score to various nuggets of consumer chatter. If the item receives a sentiment score indicating that a consumer needs support, it is routed to an agent just as if the individual called into the contact center or sent an email.

Enhancements to the CIM Suite include:

  • nGen Knowledgebase Search:  Using search technology from Autonomy, nGenera has honed its search capabilities, now allowing social content to be searched.
  • nGen CoBrowse:  Through a partnership with LiveLook, nGenera allows its users to co-browse with a customer's screen. This can be initiated simply through a chat session to solve particularly complex or technical problems. According to nGenera, it is the only co-browse solution offered both on demand and on premise.
  • nGen Survey: Although survey management is nothing new to the contact center, nGenera is making dissemination of personalized surveys easy for users. According to Govindaraj, this was a huge demand from users. Chat agents can give out surveys in a session -- ones unique to that customer's problem or inquiry.
  • A new customer experience portal: Companies can now easily customize their own self-service interfaces. It's crafted on an open API, so users can apply the colors, fonts, and styling they want in engaging with customers. Govindaraj calls it "Facebook-like" and conveys that the portal has been rebuilt with scalability in mind. "We work in these sometimes challenging infrastructures and in distribution models," he says. "We have redone the model to make sure can work in these environments. This is where we believe we have a unique standing in the marketplace today."

Bonde says the listening component to the nGen Social Media module is particularly interesting to him. "Traditionally companies have had to use separate tools for that," he says, naming Visible Technologies, Radian6, and several others. "From a practical deployment you having that capability built in [to the nGen Suite], shortens the time to get that data and work it into the strategy." As demonstrated by nGenera's Govindaraj, social media in the CIM suite is treated as just another channel. "We are giving companies the ability to find out what's happening, filter through the noise, and integrate that with the agent desktop, so you can route and allow contact centers to take control and respond back," Govindaraj explains. "With social media, [agents are] provided with the tools and the framework they are used to in dealing with the other channels."

Bonde says he thinks the social elements are fairly complete and seem to now position nGenera with the likes of RightNow Technologies, a company steadfast on social customer service. "It's a pretty complete offering and given where they come from, I think it's significant," Bonde says of CIM 9. "The knowledge management coupled with community is a lot further along than previous versions and a lot more compelling." He notes that the only piece he would like to see expanded upon in later releases would be analytics and reporting.

Govindaraj emphasizes that nGenera's approach is to make it easy for customers -- both new and current -- to embrace new stuff that's out there. "Perhaps you first leverage it internally then, when you are ready, expose the forum on a Web site or to a particular group of customers. You can adapt to the new model at a pace you the customer are comfortable with," he explains. "You can decide how far you want to push the envelope."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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