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C-level CRM involvement is increasing, says RightNow's Greg Gianforte

6th Aug 2009
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C-level execs are focusing more on managing and enhancing the customer experience, according to the CEO of RightNow Technologies - which is bringing contact centres, social networking and software as a service to the fore.

There's a higher level focus on CRM, reckons Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow Technologies, with C-level executives taking a keener interest in how their organisations manage and enhance their customer experience strategies.

“So far this year, I have personally visited over 75 customers and partners across the globe. One of the things that I track to understand how discussions have shifted are the titles of the people I met with - interestingly this year, a meeting with more CEOs and COOs than ever before. What this tells me is what we are doing for companies is gaining in importance,” says Gianforte. “Senior execs in the world's largest consumer organisations are not taking these meetings because they like taking meetings but because customer experience is flat and centre on their agenda. And software as a service (SaaS) is front and centre as well.”

This is leading to new opportunities driven directly from the top of a client organisation rather than out of the IT department. “We had great win with Jackson Hewitt tax service. They have a mandate from the CEO's office to improve customer experience. So we ran a pilot at the height of the busy taxes in Q1, demonstrating our scalability during peak times,” recalls Gianforte. “We converted the pilot in Q2 and they are now using our solution for eService and more than 200 seats in their contact centre. Once fully deployed, our solutions will provide a consolidated customer view, empowered consistent interactions across all channels and reduce operating cost. Also note that this was a replacement of their PeopleSoft system.”

Under heavy scrutiny

That said, it's still taking time for deals to come through. “We continue to see heavy scrutiny around deal approvals,” admits Gianforte. “That being said, we believe our pipeline is healthy and we have executed well on this tough environment. We do however remain cautious in our outlook through the rest of the year and we plan to continue focusing on taking care of our customers and expanding profitability.

"SaaS is front and centre with senior execs in the world's largest consumer organisations."

 Greg Gianforte

“Nobody is spending money if they are not solving a problem and that is the headline," he adds.  "There has to be a problem. An organisation facing a Siebel maintenance payment - that is a compelling event. It is not hard to find a Siebel deployment when the customers are not happy. These maintenance payments are large and I think if they can find an alternative solution that actually meets their business requirements, there is willingness to spend there.

"We also see an uptick in alternative agents. By that I mean both work-at-home agents and offshore agents. Traditional client server contact centre solutions do not support work-at-home agents very well. You need a Cloud-delivered solution that just requires an internet connection.”

A new calling

Call centre deployments are still the sweet spot for RightNow. “The bulk of contact centre seats are in B2C organisations and they tend to be in larger enterprises,” notes Gianforte. “If you look historically at the bulk of the revenue in the space today, it goes to the Oracle Siebel platform with others like Vantive, Scopus, Remedy. All of that adds up to about $3.5bn a year. We believe the disruptive nature of SaaS should significantly increase the size of that marketplace because we can serve 30, 50, 70-seat call centres where that would have crushed under the weight of historical Siebel product.

“We believe our focus on large consumer-centric organisations gives RightNow a unique position and an opportunity in the marketplace because the bulk of contact centre seats in the world are in fact in B2C organisations,” he notes, adding that providing CRM for such organisations demands particular characteristics. “A CRM solution in a consumer centric-organisation has fundamentally different requirements than a CRM solution in a B2B organisation. Consumer-centric organisations have thousands if not millions of consumers with millions of interactions. These organisations are managing large complex contact centres, often in multiple countries and in multiple languages.

“This is why customer service initiative gets challenging in a B2C organisation. How do you satisfy millions of inquiries 24/7 while maintaining customer satisfaction and containing customer service cost? The secret sauce is empowering consumers in developing a solution that originates from their perspective. This is in stark contrast to other CRM vendors that typically sell into B2B organisations where CRM is really about large direct sales forces, fewer customers and far fewer interactions. We are simply solving a different, more complex problem.”

Customers are also becoming more demanding, he suggests. “Companies need strategies to address these rising consumer expectations without driving up cost,” he says. “Empowering consumers to resolve their own issues is the key strategy and communities are one effective tool. We are seeing open communities arise everywhere, FaceBook, LinkedIn, MySpace are just a couple of examples. Companies must develop methods to monitor and participate with these communities as to become more main stream. Additionally, creating company-sponsored communities presents an opportunity to build loyalty with consumers and leverage enthusiast to reduce customer service cost, build loyalty and capture ideas from the consumers.

“We provide the most comprehensive end-to-end multi channel consumer experience platform in the SaaS industry. Our multi channel capabilities empower consumers to choose how they engage within organisation whether it be the web, cell service, email, chat or phone call or Web 2.0 technology such as blogs or services like Twitter and YouTube. The ability to integrate all of these interactions helps manage consumers' qualifications and transforms the customer experience.”

Innovating around the customer experience

One of the other benefits of the SaaS approach to deployment is the ability to add-in new functionality on a more regular basis than is possible with on-premise solutions. “One of the keys to maintaining and enhancing our competitive edge is our constant attention on innovating around the challenges of the customer experience,” argues Gianforte. “RightNow May 2009 focused on business insight including enterprise analytics and Cloud monitoring. Being able to monitor and capture data driven by consumers in the Cloud allowed organisations to make data from social media actionable, enables organisations to proactively address customer needs and concerns.

“RightNow August 2009 will focus on business process management in the contact centre This functionality is designed to enable organisations to do a number of things. First, capture the best practices of the best ages. Secondly, standardise them with a visual workspace design tool and, third, lift the overall efficiency and productivity of the contact centre as well as overall consumer satisfaction. In RightNow November 2009, in addition to other new features, we are making considerable improvement in accessibility for disabled users, both for agents and end-users. For many organisations, especially our government customers, accessibility features for the disabled are in essential capability.

Looking beyond that, Gianforte believes the customer experience will not solely be owned by the customer care division, but will be an integral part of an organisation's identity. "We see organisations shifting from a mentality that asks 'how do I answer my consumer's question?'  to more of a mentality about consumer empowerment," he adds. "Instant messaging, texting, Twitter are contributing to the heightened consumer expectations, increasing the need for immediate responses to their questions.”

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