Posted tagged ‘customer support’

RightNow’s Acquisition of HiveLive: Industry Implications

September 10, 2009

My first day back from vacation was a very busy one with RightNow’s announcement on Tuesday that they had acquired social platform vendor HiveLive.  I can’t remember the last time I had this many calls and emails from the press and other industry folks about an announcement, and it is no surprise:  this is big news.  Why? Not only did RightNow show the importance of communities as an emerging customer channel with this transaction, they also paved the way for a new round of industry consolidation–today’s end to end customer service platform must include community features.

I remember attending a regional RightNow user conference in Santa Clara a few years back, and I had an opportunity to spend time with Greg Gianforte, RightNow’s CEO, before the general session.  This was in the early days of Web 2.0, and none of the customer service/CRM vendors had a community strategy yet in place.  Greg said customer demand for discussion forums was just beginning.  Then we walked into the general session, and there was an uproar from the audience pushing for community features in an upcoming release.

Perhaps because RightNow is a pure SaaS product its customers were ahead of Web 2.0 curve.  But I had not seen a group of customers demanding so much so early, and I think this user conference played a role in RightNow’s early selection of Lithium as a community partner and building a really tight integration that defined what “best of breed” integration between self-service knowledgebases and communities should be.

By bringing a full community solution in-house, RightNow is again ahead of the Web 2.0 curve for customer service and CRM vendors.  This acquisition has large implications for our industry, including:

  • Partnering is not enough. Companies may buy one channel at a time, but they shop for a vendor that can support all their channels down the road.  By adding ‘best of breed’ community capabilities as part of their customer service and knowledge management (CS and KM) platform, RightNow has set a standard for end-to-end channel support including communities.  Their CS competitors who have relied on loose “Barney” partnerships for communities, or who have developed low-end community features as a stop-gap measure, will have to up their game.  And for the CS/KM vendors who don’t even have a community strategy in place, you are really behind the 8 ball now.
  • Beyond search integration, to process integration. Companies struggling with community and social networking today are being stymied by process, not technology. For example, how do you begin involving customers in content creation without losing control? RightNow knows the search and data integration points between CS, KM and communities, but what about process integration? How do you transition struggling community users to assisted support? How do you automate taking popular forum content and instantiating it into a knowledgebase? Creating process integration between these two worlds provides ample room for innovation, and I expect we will see some early examples from RightNow and HiveLive by the end of the year.
  • Consolidation begins…again. Let’s face it, there are an over abundance of vendors offering customer service, knowledgebase, intelligent searching, and social networking.  With much of the functionality maturing, there is less differentiation between products than ever before:  most, if not all, can solve your business problems.  Between big CRM vendors (Oracle, SAP, Consona, Netsuite, FrontRange, Epicor, Chordiant, etc.), the CS/KM/search vendors (KANA, nGenera, Consona, eGain, RightNow, InQuira, Q-go, noHold, etc.), the community vendors (Jive, Lithium, SocialText, WetPaint), and the new breed of CS/community vendors (Fuze, Helpstream, Parature), there is a tremendous overlap of functionality, with too many vendors competing for each deal, and discounting driving down profitability. I forsee a great deal of consolidation in the months to come.

What do you think? How important is pre-integrated KM/CS and community? Who did invent knowledge in a cloud? Please add a comment or drop me an email. And as always, thanks for reading!


What I heard: Trends from the SSPA Best Practices Conference

May 13, 2008

Having spent the majority of last week at our Spring Best Practices Conference, I’ve thought a lot about the conversations I had and have tried to come up with some top trends/issues to share.  These are still a bit raw, but I need to write up a formal research report on the topic so consider this the draft!  Here goes:

  • Customer support application boundaries have erroded.  It used to be easy when someone asked me to recommend technology for a specific business problem.  It isn’t any more.  Intelligent search vendors offer knowledgebase but not channel management; channel management vendors offer knowledgebase but not intelligent search; automated attendants include knowledgebase and search–but only to be used with the automated attendant; knowledgebases are included for free in CRM suites, but once the data is in there you can’t do much with it. Large companies have a complex ecosystem of products, with increasingly overlapping modules.  When they need to fill one functional hole, what can they do?  No one sells just one piece anymore, and members end up with a short list of vendors who all have completely different core competencies.  And from what I’m hearing, vendor salespeople are so immersed in pitching their platform vision that it is hard to get details on any one module.  What a mess.
  • Merging of IT Service Desk/Customer Support.  There are three drivers to this one.  1) ITIL, formerly only a topic for IT service desks, is now becoming common for external support.  2) Customer support technology created for IT service desks remains strong within our external-facing member base.  As an example, 13% of SSPA members are using Remedy for incident management. 3) Proactive support means external support teams are now monitoring equipment at customer sites, doing similar to work to IT teams monitoring internal systems.  Defining SLAs, premiere support, and the role of technical account managers (TAMs) is much more difficult when support ‘crosses the firewall’ into customer operations, and new systems and processes are needed to do this successfully–with companies often taking best practices from IT operations.
  • Ownership paradigms for content have to change.  I’m treading lightly on this one.  To grossly simplify, I heard 2 schools of thought at the conference, one who says customer authored content is dangerous, the other saying companies should “get over” their ownership issues on knowledgebase and procedural documentation.  As you can see in the discussion on a previous post, I think there is obviously room for content authored by both company and customer, and collaborative efforts where both are involved.  But this opens the door to bigger issues:  who owns the IP on documentation, controlling access to documentation for non-customers, piracy and loss of IP, etc.  I don’t have the answer–I don’t think anyone does yet–but clearly the ‘old’ rules need to bend, if not change, in a Web 2 world.  And with members adopting Wikis faster than I expected, I guess we will learn by doing.

For another look at trends emerging from the conference, check out Esteban Kolsky’s post on the eVergance blog, where he talks about the 3 trends he encountered.

Thanks to all of you who attended, and those who have emailed and commented on previous posts about the conference.  If you have any thoughts on these trends/issues, please let me know as I begin writing up the formal research note.  And as always, thanks for reading!

Masking process dysfunction: Support’s role as customer ombudsman

April 30, 2008

Last month I had the misfortune of having a credit card hijacked for fraudulent online purchases.  Citibank was wonderful, detecting the activity and stopping it immediately.  I had direct billing from several places going to that account, and I quickly set about switching those to a different card using online self-service.  All went well for my electric bill and NY Times subscription, but when I tried to change the direct billing for my home land line, Internet and satellite TV, which are combined into a single monthly bill, things went seriously wrong.  As luck would have it, that month’s direct billing was set to process the next day, so I felt a sense of urgency in getting it moved to a different payment source.

The telco would only take direct payment online by Visa, so I couldn’t use my Amex and wouldn’t have a new Visa number for a week.  I could have it directly billed to a bank account, but that would take 2 weeks (!) to setup.  So I called customer service.  I knew I was in trouble when the billing IVR asked me to “press 1 for land line, 2 for Internet, 3 for satellite TV” but had no option for converged billing.  I spoke with 6 people at 4 different 1-800 numbers before resolving the issue, and it took over 2 hours of my time.  One lady told me I could use Amex to make a payment by phone.  Wrong.  I tried making a payment using a debit card, but to do so I had to enter the 18-digit account number for my phone/internet/satellite bill.  And where do you get that?  Turns out the ONLY place to get your 18-digit account number is on your paper bill, which I don’t receive because I have paperless online billing.  My account number isn’t shown online “for security reasons.”  What a debacle.

All 6 people I spoke with had one thing in common:  the attitude that this wasn’t their problem.  And that, my friends, is the reason for this rant today.  (more…)

Best Practices for Talent Managment in India: Report Live 5/5

April 21, 2008

I’m thrilled to report that the long-awaited whitepaper, “Talent Managment in Emerging Markets: Best Practices for Attracting, Developing and Retaining Talent in India,” is now complete, and a press release dropped today announcing it.

A committee of SSPA members, many based in India, have been working on this project for nearly a year, including participants from Symantec, Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft, Oracle, MeritTrack, EMC, Sun and other companies.  The report will be released at the SSPA Spring Best Practices Conference on May 5th, and a presentation on the findings and recommendations will be given by Dheeraj Prasad, Director, Developer Support, Microsoft Global Technical Support Center, at 10:45am on the 5th.

Here are some findings of the study. (more…)