Best Web Support: The 2019 CRM Service Leaders Awards

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THE MARKET

Leaders in the space continue to build and buy product technologies that leverage machine learning and other artificial intelligence capabilities, but this year, analysts rewarded vendors that excelled at delivering the basics—not just chasing after the latest and greatest features. From intuitive ticket management tools to seamless integrations, the web support players that thrive today are the ones that haven’t lost sight of the core value that they have to deliver to customers.

THE LEADERS

Our One to Watch in 2018, Freshworks made its way onto our leaderboard this year. Its value perception earned it a 4.7 for cost, and analysts applauded the vendor for its ease of use and strong core capabilities. “Clients love the intuitive ticketing management and self-service. It’s simply easy to use,” says Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. “It’s increasingly being adopted by support teams looking for fast implementation and strong functionality,” agrees John Ragsdale, vice president of service technology research at the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). Slightly more than a year after a big rebranding effort, analysts are also optimistic about Freshworks’ company direction, awarding it a 3.8.

One of Oracle Service Cloud’s key strengths, according to Forrester Research’s vice president and principal analyst, Kate Leggett, is that its web support tools can be extended via Oracle Knowledge Advanced. That product brings key capabilities of Oracle Knowledge Enterprise to the cloud, giving customers a robust set of features and capabilities, with simpler administration and a lower cost of ownership. Despite this powerful functionality, however, analysts have concerns about Oracle’s direction (3.4). “The new product head [executive vice president] Rob Tarkoff is rebuilding the team,” Wang says, which makes analysts unsure of where the Oracle Service Cloud is headed next.

Salesforce.com continues to shine as a customer company, Leggett says. And other analysts remain just as excited about the vendor’s direction, especially as Salesforce “continues to invest in bringing Einstein and advanced natural language processing capabilities into support,” says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president at Nucleus Research. As a result, Salesforce earned its highest mark in direction (4.3). Analysts continue to see its cost as a hindrance to potential customers, however, and Wang points out that the solution “could use more reporting templates.”

Though relatively small compared to some of the behemoths in this category, Zendesk has “started to show real scale and is now much more regularly handling support for brands with large agent populations and volume,” says Ian Jacobs, a Forrester Research principal analyst. Zendesk did well in customer satisfaction (3.9), and the vendor remains a “category darling,” Wang says. Zendesk has invested in artificial intelligence with its Guide Answer Bot, a preconfigured machine learning virtual agent, and continues to “bring advanced support to customers,” Wettemann says, contributing to its solid depth of functionality (3.6).

THE WINNER

Microsoft continues to dominate this category, winning for the fourth straight year. The company “brings the power of Azure and the broader Microsoft portfolio to bear on delivering value for customers,” according to Wettemann. The ability to connect data from partner platforms, such as LinkedIn, extends Microsoft’s capabilities as well, Jacobs points out. With a 4.0 in company direction, the vendor is seeing increased adoption by larger firms after doubling down on its strong community and search capabilities and expanding its AI-powered elements. Still, Microsoft has work to do. The vendor’s customer satisfaction score dropped from a 4.1 to a 3.8 this year, possibly “because partners and customers find it difficult to work with a new product team and head,” Wang says.

ONE TO WATCH

Nuance Communications slipped off the leaderboard this year, though analysts remain optimistic about the company’s direction. “Nuance has built out a full suite of artificial intelligence-fueled digital customer service solutions natively and via acquisitions from TouchCommerce. They have excellent vision, cutting-edge technologies and foresight, and provide differentiated experiences that go beyond what traditional CRM vendors offer,” Leggett says. The vendor has room for improvement, though. Its “web support capabilities still need a bit more polish and integration,” Wang recommends. The vendor’s cost score (2.3) hurt it as well, even though “Nuance is an enterprise play, and, as such, commands a high price tag,” Leggett points out.

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