Best Web Support Software: The 2018 CRM Service Leaders

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THE MARKET

Self-service continues to be the name of the game in web support, and vendors continue to deliver solutions that enable consumers to handle many service issues on their own, without calling for help. Chatbots, virtual assistants, and other artificial intelligence–powered tools are providing companies with automation to scale and streamlined customer service, and their efforts are paying off. More than 80 percent of consumers say businesses are either meeting or exceeding their customer service expectations, according to the 2017 Customer Service Barometer study conducted by American Express, up from 67 percent back in 2014. 

THE LEADERS

Nuance Communications is back on the leaderboard thanks to acquiring TouchCommerce in July 2016, which enabled it to build out a full suite of AI-fueled digital solutions. The marriage of TouchCommerce’s web-based tools and Nuance’s voice and virtual assistant tools “provides a rich offering that covers the breadth of the self-service-to-assisted-service life cycle,” says Ian Jacobs, senior analyst at Forrester Research. Nuance also improved its depth of functionality score (3.7). Overall, Nuance has “excellent vision, cutting-edge technologies, and foresight, and provides differentiated experiences that go beyond what traditional CRM vendors offer,” says Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. 

Oracle earned its highest mark (4.0) in depth of functionality, which is not surprising since the company has been consistently adding tools and capabilities, “rolling out solid expansions, including a messaging support strategy, a visual engagement play, and a basic virtual agent approach,” Jacobs says. Mitch Kramer, senior consultant and senior vice president at the Patricia Seybold Group, notes that “its Customer Portal combines knowledge management, search, communities, and case creation and includes a [natural language]-based virtual agent.” Overall, Oracle has embraced cloud computing, making it its primary focus, Kramer says. 

Analysts are excited about Salesforce.com’s future, awarding it an unmatched 4.6 for company direction. “The expansion of the Lightning Service Console only means good things for Salesforce customers. It is easier to use and helps contact centers get agents to proficiency quickly,” Jacobs says. And while its depth of functionality score dipped slightly this year, Salesforce still offers far-reaching capabilities. “Salesforce Communities provides [core support tools] with chat as an add-on. It also enables users to implement configurable components and use visual tools to create and manage their implementations,” Kramer explains. 

Smaller than the other players, Zendesk nevertheless holds its own. It earned a solid 3.9 for company direction thanks to its impressive customer, revenue, and product growth. “More of Zendesk’s revenue is coming from larger contact centers. But many of the interesting things Zendesk is doing don’t just appeal to enterprises,” Jacobs says. The company earned a 3.6 for depth of functionality, with nowhere to go but up—analysts are optimistic about Zendesk’s Guide Answer Bot, a preconfigured machine learning virtual agent. 

THE WINNER

Winning this category for the third year in a row, Microsoft earned a 4.3 in company direction and a 4.1 in customer satisfaction. The analysts are somewhat divided on the extent of Microsoft’s web support emphasis. Leggett says that Microsoft is “less focused on web support and more on overall customer service,” but John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research at the Technology Services Industry Association, argues that the company “has made heavy investments in this area, developing strong social and multichannel options.” Nevertheless, its portal provides standard capabilities, including knowledge management, communities, search, case management, and AI add-ons for virtual agents, as well as predictive care, Kramer says, all of which create a wide breadth of solutions for customers. 

ONE TO WATCH

Freshworks, which rebranded from Freshdesk in June, had a big year. The company expanded its offering to include marketing, sales, and recruiting management without losing sight of its customer service focus. Though still small and relatively new to the market, its solutions are nevertheless “receiving rave reviews from users,” according to Ragsdale. And its cost, for which it earned an outstanding 4.8, is “clear, simple, and combined with smart packaging, which means that Freshdesk offers a real time-to-value ratio,” Jacobs says. Its depth of functionality is somewhat limited, but the company still offers fundamental capabilities, such as search, case management, knowledge management, communities, AI, and chatbots powered by machine learning. 


[Editor's note: The overall award rating is based on a composite score of analyst ratings for customer satisfaction, depth of functionality, company direction, and cost. For the cost score, analysts gave the highest marks to vendors with the lowest expected costs. Company revenues were also factored into the overall score, but these numbers are not included in the chart above.]

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