The 2009 CRM Service Awards: Service Leaders -- Web Self-Service

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The Market
In a down economy, Web self-service is often expected to step up to the plate, says Sheryl Kingstone, director of Yankee Group’s Enterprise Research—but regardless of the economic climate, the technology’s real value isn’t in cutting costs, but in improving the customer experience through empowerment. Today’s self-service functionality, however, lacks uniformity from one Web site to another, resulting in a frustrating learning curve, says Zachary McGeary, an analyst at Forrester Research.

“You typically don’t use self-service unless you’re trying to…save some time by doing it yourself,” echoes William Pollock, vice president and principal analyst at Aberdeen Group. “If it takes you extra time, [or] it’s wrong or not clear enough, it becomes a problem on top of a problem.” The Web, Kingstone notes, is the first place consumers go to conduct research, yet only 25 percent of customer service is conducted there; 60 percent to 70 percent still default to the phone. Therefore, McGeary adds, “true success of a product is going to be along the lines of adoption and ease of use.”

Overall, vendors in this space still need to focus on tighter integrations, on top of providing easy-to-implement solutions that small and midsize businesses (SMBs) can use to improve their capabilities. With mobile access now on the immediate horizon, the task is far from complete.

The Leaders
Making its debut on the leaderboard, Consona (formerly Knova) tackles Web self-service from the inside out. Respondents say the vendor’s strength is a robust knowledge management (KM) solution; the result is very content-oriented. “They understand who [the customer] is, what they’re looking for, [and] what data they need to be satisfied,” says Len Goldman, senior manager at consultancy Customer Value Partners. The company endured what John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research at the Service and Support Professionals Association (SSPA), describes as a “tough year,” including staff turnover and customer-support complaints following the 2006 Consona-Knova deal. The rebranded suite of CRM products launched in October 2008 as Consona CRM, with a dedicated Web site unveiled this past January. The overall effort, Ragsdale says, positions the company as the “first full CRM package with embedded best-of-breed [KM] and search.”

With years of expertise in this space, Kana Software is recognized as “one of the great overall platforms,” Kingstone says, offering a full breadth of capabilities in Web self-service, but its forte lately has been email management. This focus, she notes, is primarily in response to the economy: “No one has the budget for marketing,” she says, so Kana’s going with its strength. A full-suite offering, however, is also one of Kana’s pitfalls. “The minute you get more functionality, customer satisfaction goes down because it’s harder to use,” Kingstone says, which explains Kana’s third-place ranking in customer satisfaction. Nevertheless, the company seems prepared for client-side bumps as it offers not only technological expertise but also business expertise from its consultancy arm eVergance.

The Winner
There are two factors working to RightNow Technologies’ advantage—it’s the only on-demand player in the space, and its customers love the product. In this economy, a company couldn’t ask for a better position. “The renewed focus on the consumer sector plays well to RightNow’s sweet spot,” Ragsdale says. With each quarterly release, he adds, the company unveils “increasingly sophisticated technology that, more importantly, continues to be fast and simple to deploy.” While no single vendor is breaking from the pack with any game-changing functionality, McGeary says, RightNow is focused on simply making it easier to get information to consumers. In late 2007, the company introduced a content syndication widget that allows clients to integrate their knowledge base with the customer-facing product page; the product listing, for example, dynamically changes to reflect product reviews. “It’s pre-empting customer needs,” McGeary says. “It’s delivering self-service at the right time, not as a method of last resort.” 

One to Watch
Committed to its Customer Interaction Hub, an all-inclusive platform, eGain Communications focuses on capturing any and all consumer touch points. Yankee Group’s Kingstone calls eGain a one-stop shop that compares to Kana’s offering with its traditional enterprise-level software and in-depth rule fulfillment. Having edged out InQuira as our One to Watch, eGain now needs to tackle the very business problem it seeks to address for its users: customer satisfaction. Still, the company’s impact hasn’t gone unnoticed, the SSPA’s Ragsdale says: A strong presence in the European market has earned the attention of big-name clients, such as Vodaphone and Virgin Mobile. —Jessica Tsai

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