The 2009 CRM Service Awards: Service Leaders -- Web Interaction Management

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The Market
Examine the term and it’s not hard to understand the significance of Web interaction management as companies embrace the digital age. The number of customer touch points has increased dramatically, enabling contact across a variety of both on- and offline channels. From the most basic (the Web site) to the more sophisticated (click-to-chat), what’s critical to a strong Web interaction management solution is a strong knowledge base, says Suresh Vittal, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. The knowledge base is where customer behavioral data is collected, stored, and utilized for what Sheryl Kingstone, director of Yankee Group’s Enterprise Research, says is the “sexy new role of monitoring Web sites and reaching out to potential prospects online right then and there,” allowing companies to be proactive in their service. Vendors still struggle with integration across the Web, but as companies get more sophisticated, analysts anticipate that there will no longer be a need for this category. Companies will inevitably need a channel-agnostic approach for managing every customer interaction—whether on- or offline.

The Leaders
Despite what John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research at the Service and Support Professionals Association (SSPA), describes as a “very crowded” space, eGain Communications continues to forge ahead—in the marketplace as well as on this year’s leaderboard. Its solid score for depth of functionality, second only to those of Kana Software, is a testament to what Kingstone says is probably one of the most sophisticated offerings in this area. Its Customer Interaction Hub is supported by core knowledge-base tools that “are also more applicable for complex technological support than many competitors’,” Ragsdale says. To some analysts, however, the concept of a true hub has yet to manifest. “In theory, it’s great,” says Zachary McGeary, an analyst at Forrester Research. “They have all these solutions to build all that [customer] information into one place, but they still have to integrate it with the overall ecosystem and make sure…it’s supported.”

Despite losing the top spot in this category, RightNow Technologies remains a leader. As the only vendor on the list offering a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, RightNow has the economy on its side. “Capital budgets are what they are,” Kingstone says, giving weight toward SaaS solutions, but RightNow proves that less overhead does not mean less capable. The company’s heritage is in service, Kingstone says, which explains why the company earned the highest score in customer satisfaction. Forrester’s Vittal commends RightNow’s improvements in its user interface and its platform’s ease of use. Moreover, the SaaS model has allowed the company to build tighter integration with other enterprise software, such as business intelligence from Birst and community offerings from Lithium Technologies. “They’ve really thought about their role in this space,” Vittal says.

The Winner
“The largest of the e-service players, Kana [Software]’s feature-rich applications always put them on the short list for companies needing scalable, flexible solutions,” Ragsdale says. Being the 800-pound gorilla may have tipped the scales in Kana’s favor. “Like in the old days, when people said, ‘You’ll never get fired for buying an IBM,’ Kana’s the same way,” says Len Goldman, senior manager at consultancy Customer Value Partners. Incidentally, Ragsdale suggests that Kana’s codevelopment plans with IBM will give Kana what he calls an “edge on architecture” that will produce “some very dynamic Web 2.0 solutions” this year. For one thing, Ragsdale says, the robust solution still lacks an embedded intelligent search engine. In the aftermath of a tumultuous period of layoffs driven by the 2001 recession, McGeary says the company is rebounding from what he calls “near disaster.” Kana is pursuing a services-oriented model (aided by its IBM partnership) that will allow customers “to plug in applications much more efficiently than they’ve been able to in the past,” he says. 

One to Watch
Acquired by Web 2.0 solution provider nGenera in May 2008, the company direction of the former Talisma is viewed with uncertainty. According to the SSPA’s Ragsdale, nGenera’s “Web 2.0 consulting messaging doesn’t play well with business users looking for real-world solutions for real-world business problems.” Even so, Customer Value Partners’ Goldman says that though he is also unsure where nGenera is headed, “given the company’s track record, technology-wise, they’re fine.” Compared to other vendors, the nGenera solution is considered “less sophisticated…offer[ing] enough functionality at a relatively lower cost point,” Yankee Group’s Kingstone says. Certainly no stranger to this space, the company brings to its new position a “highly referenceable customer base,” Ragsdale notes, and a “strong suite that even includes a basic discussion forum.” —Jessica Tsai

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