• April 1, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The 2008 CRM Service Awards: Contact Center Search

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The Market
Contact center search (CCS) is another category you haven't seen before, as it replaces the old agent-facing universal desktop category. Over time, the previous category became less a question of best function and more of best integration of other technology. Seeing that, we shifted our focus back to basics: What does a contact center agent need in order to find the best information that helps the customer in the shortest amount of time? The relationship to knowledge management (KM) is clear, and the vendors that take the honors this year reflect the customer focus therein; they might not be the biggest players in the KM space, but they help frustrated customers and the reps who serve them.

Usability currently trumps innovation in this corner of the industry, according to some analysts. "I'm not impressed with the company direction of any company," says Alan Hubbard, senior vice president of Aberdeen Group's customer service and support unit. "We haven't seen a tremendous amount of innovation in this space, beyond improved user interface and usability." If any vendor is going to change the playing field, we expect it will be one of the ones listed here.

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Ones to Watch
Autonomy, parent company of etalk (among others), earns a respectful gaze this year as One to Watch. Where the company goes from here in terms of CCS, though, remains to be seen. "[Autonomy has] great technology, but they are more general-purpose tools, not optimized and focused solely on support," Ragsdale says. At the moment, it's up to customers and VARs to turn those tools to the purpose of CCS. Should Autonomy bring that focus in-house, the company may well become a true contender.

Talisma got some good comments and reviews, but none of the experts we interviewed were confident putting it on the leaderboard. "Talisma is a KM platform with a contact center focus; [the company provides] enabling technology," Hubbard says. "They were down, but are building back up." While he believes Talisma's CCS offering is functionally weaker than others, "its breadth adds value."

The Leaders
Consona is a proud adoptive parent, having acquired Knova as part of a bid to consolidate several brands into a CRM powerhouse. Knova's experience in KM still holds strong; "Knova's industry-leading search, analytic platform, and complex capabilities such as microsites and upsell/cross-sell are well respected and highly adopted within the technology industry," says John Ragsdale, vice president of research for the Service & Support Professionals Association. "[Its] challenge now is to overcome the growing pains and loss of expertise following the Consona acquisition." Others echo those sentiments. "[Consona] has had less than a year to figure out how to market and sell the Knova technology," says Ian Jacobs, senior analyst with Frost & Sullivan. "It seems to have taken a very pragmatic approach, which will open up lots of possibilities down the line."

French company Kaidara Software flies below the radar for many of our readers, and analysts agree that not many people are talking about it. When the company does come up, however, the talk is positive; its rating in customer satisfaction is the best of this year's finalists. "Kaidara excels at taking that concept of 'service resolution via knowledge management' and marrying it to deep domain knowledge," Jacobs says. "The flip side of that approach: Companies that fall outside of Kaidara's vertical markets are not likely to know much about the company." Hubbard agrees Kaidara isn't well known, but adds the company has "nice partnerships, and has gone after some different industries, like automotive, medical, and transportation."

The Winner
This year's winner has depth not only in agent-directed KM, but in Web self-service, content management, and analytics as well. The combination of these disciplines helped drive InQuira to this year's title. "They get it," Hubbard says. "InQuira has taken agent-assisted and Web self-service and blended them well, understanding the differences between the two. They understand the marketplace." Ragsdale adds, "InQuira offers very sophisticated tools for not only finding the information you need, but also helping you create and maintain content, with tools like content-gap analysis at the concept level." But to Jacobs, the company's strength is its reporting and analytics. "While it's nice to have a well-structured knowledge base and solid tools and workflows to add, edit, and refine the knowledge in that database, enterprises will find significantly greater value when they can use tools to get at some form of understanding of customer intent," he says. "That is the direction in which InQuira is going."

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