Dave Fowler, president of Kana, says the number one driving force in CRM purchases today is a move away from point solutions to something more strategic, “something that touches more places in their organization than buyers had originally expected.” As a result, Fowler says, “They’re looking to buy from a smaller number of vendors who have a broader set of solutions.”
And today, those buyers are asking about ROI before they let those vendors in the door. Says Fowler, “If you don’t meet their ROI criteria, you won’t even get your telephone calls returned.”
The purchase decisions are made higher up, too: “Because these deals are very ROI-focused and because they’re more strategic, they’re decided at the CIO and CFO level. We’re seeing emphasis not just on big ROI projects, but on big ROI projects with an immediate return.” No more high-concept, lifetime-customer-relationship pitches with subtle, intangible, or far-off payoffs.
Down To It
You can’t help but wonder if corporations ever really bought into the dreamier side of CRM, the part in which the corporation so obsesses on your future lifetime spending potential that it almost dismisses the current transaction. And where, to embrace the dark side of the dream, you were supposed to be found out and gracefully eliminated if you weren’t likely to be a good enough customer pretty darned soon. All this relationship talk – it was hokey when you were trying to score in college, and it’s still hokey now.
Not that we’re bashing CRM as a category. Sure, it’s possible to be a bit cynical about CRM right now. Big companies like Pivotal remain stubbornly unprofitable. Quintus simply flipped belly up (and Quintus won’t be the only one) and was bought out by Avaya in a kind of corporate mercy killing. The field is narrowing amid a spate of mergers and acquisitions. To make sure their offerings can handle multiple channels, companies are merging to combine their strengths.
Needless to say, in a soft economy, there are Darwinian forces at work as well. Data mining specialist DigiMine bought Co-Relation, Broadbase Software merged with Kana, configurator builder Firepond bought Brightware. Plus, skeptics were handed a bone when a Gartner study early in the year revealed that more than half of CRM implementations fail.
On the other hand, recent Hurwitz Group research says companies are planning to devote fully one-half of their IT budgets to CRM implementations. If both Gartner and Hurwitz are right, then we’re faced with the daunting thought that a quarter of the world’s IT budget is frittered away, wasted on a pipe dream.
What’s actually going on? CRM is getting real.
Our sense is that when IT managers look at their contact centers, they don’t think about developing relationships through ongoing customer interaction. Rather, they’re thinking it would be nice if they could hire fewer people to handle the phones, pay them less, and figure out how to deal with turnover so that fresh faces don’t represent the company badly. IT managers don’t want to be so efficient that the customer has a terrible experience, of course (though that’s certainly the result sometimes). But they’ve got to be hard nosed about what it costs to deal with customers. They’re looking both to corporate strategy and to technology to help them strike a reasonable balance between “your call is very important to us, please hold” and “no problem, we’ll take care of that right away.”
Increasingly, managers want to accommodate whatever medium the customer chooses. In particular, they want to handle customer email with aplomb, rather than losing inbound messages and never replying. By the end of next year, nearly a third of customer contacts will be made using something other than the telephone, according to a META Group estimate, so the email and IM angles are increasingly important.
Furthermore, several of the people interviewed for this story expressed a similar sentiment: The idea used to be just to make it possible for a customer to reach you using something besides the telephone. Adding point solutions to enable other channels, though, merely created the expectation among customers that the company would actually handle all the channels in a coordinated way.
It’s a problem similar to the abandoned shopping cart. Call it the abandoned confessional. Because it’s not quite a shopping cart, not yet – the customer hasn’t put his or her finger on any particular product yet. It’s just the part where the customer has handed over some piece of his soul, their identity, their preferences, their profile. Maybe she’s requested a white paper and filled in some basic info as the price of admission. Maybe he’s worked partway through a guide to help him select a video camera, and he’s come face to face with the question of whether price or functionality matters more to him.
Now he or she requests an agent callback on the telephone. The question is, will all these spilt beans be remembered when the agent places the call? Or will the agent have to say, in effect, “I have no idea who you are, you’re just another faceless customer I’ve been paid to call, can we start with your mailing address?”
Enterprises that buy CRM (and they really are buying – $23 billion worth last year, according to Gartner research, and headed for $76 billion in 2005) want their contact centers to actually work, to not make the company look heartless or inept, and they want customers to feel like they’ve been treated decently, maybe even with a little flair. If an agent can upsell a customer, fine, but mostly enterprises will be happy for now if they just manage not to bungle a basic contact scenario and annoy.
According to Gartner, there are currently more than 2,000 vendors in 50 sub-segments of the CRM market. These numbers almost certainly stretch the borders of CRM a little, but nevertheless, we had no trouble finding more than a hundred vendors with a credible claim, about 70 in what might be called “mainstream” CRM, and about 30 that actually wound up in the main section of this article.
Those 30 make products that run on desktops in front of agents, be they sales agents or customer service reps. They’re conventional tools for case history management, in other words.
That’s not to say, obviously, that we don’t recognize other vitally important sectors within CRM.
First and foremost, there’s the functionality that used to live within the ACD. Now that the call center is morphing into a multi-channel contact center, an ACD no longer quite cuts it. What’s needed instead is a bundle of hardware and software that handles the plumbing for the various channels (POTS, VoIP, IM, email, and anything else that any clever souls can think of), along with front-end IVR and chat “bots” that provide the text equivalent of IVR. Add to this feedback mechanisms that identify platinum customers and bump them up in the blended queue, and of course the blended queue itself.
For all of this, we think a new term is needed that conveys the idea that we’re trying to be smart about handling contact even before we’ve committed ourselves to dealing with it in the contact center. Our proposal for yet another industry acronym: CRL, for “contact routing layer.” Doing CRL well is hard, and no one does it well yet.
Another category that’s got traction in the market is analytics. Some of the mainstream vendors have real strength in analytics within their application suites – E.piphany, Siebel, and SAP spring to mind. We think the large vendors will increasingly add analytics as a way of competing on enhanced functionality.
But expect widespread use of the analytics part of the CRM package to come slowly, if at all. For now, we’ll see only the simplest sorts of deployments – basically just business rules with statistical weighting mechanisms that fine-tune how the rules are applied. A key use of analytics will be to provide feedback to CRL products, so that contact centers can determine whether to give a caller an expensive live agent or a far less expensive online alternative.
There were additional product category distinctions to be drawn. Some products are quite narrowly focused point solutions (for the most part ignored in this article). Then, too, there’s a whole clique of ASP providers of CRM. They’re collected in a sidebar of their own.
The computer software industry as a whole has had a tumultuous history trying to figure out which made more sense: the comprehensive suite or the integrated collection of discrete, best-of-breed applications. So it should surprise no one to learn that at least part of the CRM space is now embracing easily interlocking component pieces for building enterprise solutions.
Components are a compelling way to approach CRM objectives for a couple of reasons: First, components can be hooked together very quickly because their functionality is clearly delineated and the methods for bringing each component into an application are the same across an entire component framework (and there are only two primary frameworks here – Microsoft’s COM+ family on the one hand and Sun’s J2EE and JavaBeans on the other). Second, an open framework for open-standards components makes it possible to create fully integrated suites out of point-solution components, meaning that enterprises can hedge their bets on the suite-vs.-point-solution question.
Early component players include Delano Technology Corporation, Neteos, Nortel Networks, Pivotal, Red Celsius, and YOUcentric, each treated in the following pages.
Even after removing the routing layer specialists, the pure-ASP plays, the single-channel point solutions, the analytics companies, and the various data cleaners and snail-mail outsourcing companies that stake a claim in the CRM world, our list of companies that put multi-channel consoles on agent desktops is a long and varied one. If you’re thinking CRM and you’re thinking about keeping your contact center reps on the same (and not just the same, but the right same) page, then this is the list you want to be checking out.
Altitude Software (Milpitas, CA – 408-965-1700) offers a suite of applications called uCI (Unified Customer Interaction). The latest version of the application suite, uCI 2001, hit the streets in March, offering a set of touch-point managers for voice, email, web, web collaboration, and WAP communication channels. Intelligent routing and blending capabilities are monitored and logged to provide analysis and reporting across all channels. The platform, which runs on Windows NT and several flavors of UNIX servers, stores data on the usual RDBMS suspects, ranging from Oracle to Microsoft SQL server. Telephone switches supported include Alcatel, Nortel Networks, Siemens, Lucent, Ericsson, and Philips.
Early this year, Altitude has focused on partnerships with SAP and Siebel. The SAP arrangement, announced this past April, boils down to mySAP.com’s certification of the Altitude Software Telephony Gateway version 1.0 for use with the BC-CTI SAPphone Interface for the Avaya and Nortel Meridian PBXs. Altitude’s partnership with Siebel had not been officially announced at press time, but sources inside Altitude say that a formal announcement was being withheld to follow Siebel’s first-quarter earnings announcement.
Applix (Westboro, MA – 508-870-0300) opened this year by shopping the non-CRM side of its business for a buyer and declaring a focus on CRM analytics. The Applix offerings for CRM are collectively called iEnterprise and feature applications for sales, customer service, and an analytic piece called iCustomerInsight. This gives a customizable, personalized visual display of real-time vital statistics known as iDashboard.
Astute (Columbus, OH – 614-508-6100) differs from most vendors in this roundup by focusing almost exclusively on B2C. Astute counts among its customers a lot of household names, including McDonald’s, Kroger, Levis, Dollar Rent-A-Car, and Dunkin Donuts. Needless to say, the sort of relationship you manage with a regular buyer of your one-dollar cup of coffee is considerably different from the sort of relationship that, say, Boeing builds up with an airline that buys its planes. But that’s not to say that McDonald’s doesn’t have relationships to manage. Explains Astute president and CEO Joe Sanda: “Many of the companies we’re dealing with have 800 numbers on their products and they get a tremendous number of contacts from consumers. How the company handles the customer’s call determines whether they retain or lose that customer.”
Astute makes the agent-facing console that a McDonald’s customer representative uses – it doesn’t make the contact center queue that gets the call routed and the screen popped. However, a recent OEM deal with Interactive Intelligence allows Astute to harness portions of II’s Customer Interaction Center to its PowerCenter eCRM.
PowerCenter is Astute’s consumer response database, tracking, and reporting system. Specific CIC applications included in the new PowerCenter are Internet text chat, automatic call distribution (ACD), IVR, unified messaging, contact management, email, and web response management.
With Customer Interaction Center routing calls and data, PowerCenter’s screen pop will enable agents to view a complete customer record on their desktop as soon as they receive a call from the customer. The customer record includes call control buttons so that agents can transfer, forward, and perform a variety of other interaction processing tasks without switching applications. ACD capabilities enable customers to be routed to the most appropriate agent via skills-based and other routing criteria.
Blue Martini (San Mateo, CA – 650-356-4000) is primarily known for its extensive (and expensive – starting at a cool million bucks) storefront and e-commerce applications. But those applications are driven by a powerful set of analytics and on-the-fly personalization tools. Furthermore, these same tools are hooked into a service application that includes a full-blown, agent-facing contact center. Sounds like multi-channel CRM to us.
In the first year it offered its Commence RM software package, Commence (Oakhurst, NJ – 732-660-1010) sold 13,000 seats worth of licenses. Not bad for a company focusing on small-to-midsize businesses. Larry Caretsky, the company’s president and CEO, says: “Although there are hundreds and thousands of users of single-user contact management systems such as Act and Goldmine, there was no good way for those users to migrate to a real enterprise CRM solution.” Even solutions that compete with Commence RM in the midsize niche, Caretsky says, cost in excess of a thousand dollars per seat for the software, usually with a considerable additional expense for customization. Commence RM costs $695 a seat and, says Caretsky, the whole point is that it’s ready to use. It comes out of the box supporting a broad range of business functions, including marketing and sales automation, customer service, call center, contact management, and project management. Though the range of functions supported is broad, it’s important to bear in mind when comparing Commence to other SMB offerings that this is desktop software only – there’s no integration to the phone or messaging layer.
Computer Associates (Islandia, NY – 631-342-6000) entered the CRM fray only last fall, but they made a convincing entry with a four-part Intelligent CRM Suite. The sales and marketing component is particularly geared toward supporting mobile field representatives (and yes, Virginia, it’s WAP-enabled, but the way that real people use it is with disconnected notebooks). Additionally, there’s an agent-facing customer service piece and a web self-service and chat add-on called Human Touch.
Delano Technology Corporation
Delano Technology Corporation (Markham, Ontario – 905-947-2222) was founded in 1998 and by now includes Ericsson, Charles Schwab, Nortel, i2 Technologies, Warner Music Group, Zurich Financial Services, and Macromedia among its customers.
In February, the company announced Delano Discovery Marketing, an analytical e-marketing package that’s the first phase of product integration following Delano’s recent acquisition of Digital Archaeology.
eGain (Sunnyvale, CA – 408-212-3400) products target web self service, web chat, email, and call center applications. The eGain Knowledge product suite aims to keep everyone on the same page, regardless of the channel they’ve chosen, and is built atop a database core called eGain Knowledge Central. This includes the Knowledge Author, a visual drag-and-drop authoring tool for creating and maintaining multi-language knowledge bases. A conversation-based Knowledge Agent helps call center reps by providing “case-based reasoning” drawn from the Knowledge Central piece. To package this same core material for direct use by customers on the web, Knowledge Self-Service generates targeted questions to narrow down possible responses to customer queries.
With the Knowledge Gateway, you can leverage content stored in existing unstructured information sources by indexing documents and creating a taxonomy to quickly find them when needed. You get, in other words, a single access point to Lotus Notes databases, Microsoft Office documents, HTML and PDF files, and emails.
E.piphany (San Mateo, CA – 650-356-3800) finds its strength in real-time analytics. Indeed, in an industry awash in blather about knowing what your customer is up to, E.piphany’s e.5 suite is one of the few options that lets you actually interpret and react to what your customer has been doing today. We covered E.piphany in some depth back in an April article on data analytics; director of product marketing Brad Wilson told us that “IT managers increasingly want to link websites and the call center.” If you’re using offline analytics, he notes, you don’t have an up-to-the-minute view of what the customer’s been doing. You need this, Wilson notes, because “the best predictors of behavior are what the customer did most recently.”
This past March, the company announced support for the “demand chain” paradigm with new applications designed to provide partner relationship management (PRM) solutions for businesses that sell through indirect channels.
eShare (Norcross, GA – 770-239-4000) is primarily a CRL vendor with a strong offering in its XChange communications server. But like a few other CRL competitors, eShare recently opted to provide an agent-facing application: NetAgent. This piece supports incoming phone calls and web callback requests on the same screen as email, text chat, and web collaboration. An interesting extra for web support is bi-directional co-browsing (in other words, the customer can push pages, too).
While Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto, CA – 650-857-1501) certainly sells a CRM solution (called Front Office), it primarily does so by dint of some smart reseller deals built atop its underlying Smart Contact call center package. The marketing component comes from Rubric, while BroadVision supplies e-commerce capabilities.
In September of last year, !hey software and icontact.com merged to form !hey inc. (North Andover, MA – 978-974-0800), a company that offers live web chat, traditional call center and speech-enabled IVR, automated Q&A, and email management. !hey clients include Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.
Kana’s (Redwood City, CA – 877-480-5262) recent big news is the acquisition of BroadBase. Part of this had to do with adding analytics to Kana’s multi-channel desktop. Another part had to do with pulling some cash into the business, which has fought a losing battle with profitability since its inception. The curiosity of the BroadBase deal was that, as Kana’s president David Fowler puts it, “we got $130 million for only $78 million.” It gave Kana some running room in a tightening market and broadened their customer base, which was already one of the most impressive in the industry. Kana has more than 850 customers, including eight of the top ten most-visited sites on the web.
Two-year-old startup Neteos (Waltham, MA – 781-466-0100) has focused on attacking one of the central points of CRM pain for midsize corporations, the murky and sometimes bottomless pit of customization costs. By midsize, Neteos means companies with revenues between $30 and $500 million. Marketing vice president Dave McNamara says the lynchpin of this strategy is the company’s drag-and-drop Design Studio, which allows end users and administrators to customize virtually any aspect of the product – business rules, workflow, screen layout, and even integration to third-party products. Control is so fine-grained that most of the development of the core product itself was done using the Studio.
Neteos announced its eRMNow! product about a year ago, spent “a fair amount of last year,” McNamara says, cultivating distribution agreements, and has just begun “active, aggressive selling.” Selling into the mid-tier, he notes, has required a good bit of customer education (and relationship building).
“When we talk to some of our prospects, we’re surprised to find that they often don’t understand the difference between an Act or Goldmine application that runs contact management on the desktop and an enterprise CRM application. Maybe 25% of the prospects understand it when we first start talking.
“Act and Goldmine users are contact-centric; they don’t tend to be enterprise oriented. They’re either individualized or workgroup deployed. That lets them confine their scope, both in terms of the requirements to expand their functionality and to expand the levels of integration. As they move to the enterprise, even if it’s a middle-tier enterprise, you’re talking about a deployment that is not workgroup-based and often does require pretty substantial customization.” Companies have to reckon with the added difficulties of making databases accessible to applications throughout their organization, and it’s hard to foresee the added complexities when you’ve never undertaken that kind of project before.
eRMNow! is a desktop product, providing no CRL except for email, which is provided both through tight integration with Exchange and Outlook and, on the support side, with internally developed email elements for inbound and outbound email.
Neteos markets eRMNow! directly to end-user organizations, both as an on-premise server product and as an ASP service offering. Per-seat pricing for the ASP offering ranges from $50 to $150, depending upon the breadth of the service suite selected.
The big news at Nortel Networks (Saint John, NB, Canada – 800-466-7835), of course, is that there’s too much fiber-optic cable in the ground these days, nobody’s buying the stuff, sales growth expectations for this year have been slashed to 15%, and 20,000 jobs are on the chopping block.
Does fiber glut make the CRM side of the business look more or less appealing? Too early to tell, but expect some rough sailing. The basic setup for CRM at Nortel is rock solid, though, and Nortel is one of the large players who’ve opted to handle both CRL and CRM. For traditional contact center call handling, there’s Nortel’s array of well-known hardware, in particular the Norstar and Meridian lines. For more next-gen contact centers, there’s the Symposium line of tools for souping up Meridian-based call centers.
For CRM capability, Nortel’s late-1999 acquisition of Clarify has led to last year’s introduction of the Clarify eFrontOffice. This is yet another CRM tool that’s built atop a component framework, which Nortel has dubbed Clarify Business Objects. This set of components support both of the industry-leading object architectures – COM+/ActiveX for Microsoft Windows NT users, and CORBA/ JavaBeans for UNIX users.
Onyx (Bellevue, WA – 425-451-8060) received the blessings of the Redmond gods early this year, in the form of a multi-year global sales, marketing and technology development initiative. Onyx and Microsoft are aiming at specific vertical market segments, beginning with financial services.
The first of these solutions, Onyx’s Investment Management Edition, will leverage Onyx’s new Internet-based, native-XML platform running on Microsoft .NET Enterprise Servers to enable deep business process customization and extensive legacy application integration. The offering also will include industry-specific CRM strategy services from RevenueLab, a strategy-consulting firm recently acquired by Onyx.
Additionally, in late April, Onyx and AvantGo Inc. announced a strategic alliance to deliver mobile customer relationship management (mCRM) solutions to large, field-based sales and services teams.
Oracle’s (Redwood Shores, CA – 650-506-7000) value prop in the CRM space is blissfully simple. Says Kathy O’Leary, senior director for eBusiness Suite marketing, giving the customer a compelling experience requires providing a common face to the customer. To get that common face, you need synchronized data. “Who better,” she says, “to provide synchronized data than Oracle, with their integrated database/e-business suite.”
In February, the company also unveiled Support.Oracle.com to deliver the customer care applications of the Oracle eBusiness Suite as an online service. Support.Oracle.com can be accessed at www.support.oracle.com and will initially be offered free of charge. At the time the new service was added, company statements claimed more than 10,000 companies and 150,000 users are utilizing its predecessor, Sales.Oracle.com. More than 8,500 companies use its e-business software, Oracle said.
PeopleSoft (Pleasanton, CA – 925-225-3000) currently has its customer and trading partner pieces 100% web-enabled. With a new release that should be out as you read this, PeopleSoft 8 will have a web-enabled agent-facing CRM piece as well.
Daniel Kenyon, vice president of CRM communications industry strategy, came to PeopleSoft by way of the Vantive acquisition. He says the strength of the deal (which raised some analyst eyebrows at the time) lies in the fact that “Vantive has very loyal customers, and for the longest time has been very strong in the communications industry. I think the idea in bringing the companies together was to bring the customer bases together.”
Street apprehensions notwithstanding, Kenyon says the two companies “focused on the question of ‘what is the ultimate promise of bringing these two products together?’ ” And the answer, for PeopleSoft, is breadth of application coverage: “By having a CRM application that is integrated with a financial application that is integrated with workforce management, supply chain management, analytics, with field service – you really start to have a comprehensive story. Some of our competitors are talking about this story, but they’re talking about doing it with partners.
“As we integrate the Vantive product line completely into the PeopleSoft product line, we have a story that really shows that you can extend your workflow across previously unconnected application areas and you can deal with real, hard business problems in ways that you’ve never dreamed of before.”
Another outgrowth of the Vantive deal is a concentration of vertical solutions, beginning with the telecom industry. In April, PeopleSoft released its CRM for Communications solution. For today’s CLEC, “we see a mid-market target focus that combines various products from our product line – perhaps not the comprehensive products that former RBOCs would use, but slimmed-down products. The CLEC survivor needs all the same basic business operations, but can’t afford to shell out the millions of dollars that it costs for license fees and custom integration. They want something more tailored, prepackaged.”
Pivotal (North Vancouver, BC, Canada – 604-988-9982) calls the things it manages “demand chain networks.” Nobody else calls anything a “demand chain network” unless they’ve partnered with Pivotal. Roughly speaking, Microsoft, KPMG, and Pivotal use the phrase freely, as if it were common parlance. Over the past couple of months, Pivotal and Microsoft have undertaken a 15-city tour to explain “Demand Chain Networks: eCommerce, CRM and Something Beyond.”
This still leaves us wondering what a “demand chain network” might be. When we spoke with Bob Lunghi, chief marketing officer for Pivotal, toward the middle of last year, he told us “it’s the analogue of what companies are used to looking at on the supply chain side, but focused on the making of customers versus the making of products.” Having pondered this in the meanwhile, we think this means CRM plus PRM.
The product line for delivering a demand chain network is, not too surprisingly, the Pivotal Demand Chain Network software suite, which comprises three primary products. First, there’s ePower, which is essentially a web portal engine and development toolset. Additionally, the eSelling and eRelationship components provide a sales configurator for web shopping and a web interface for customer service agents, respectively.
The suite is completely XML-based and fully leverages Microsoft’s .NET Enterprise 2000 platform.
POINT’s (Dublin, Ireland and Wellesley, MA – 978-974-0800) e-point 5 is deployed in 18 languages across 35 countries, in mid- to large-size companies that range from Allianz to Virgin. You haven’t heard of them? That’s because they’ve largely played in the international market, where they’ve enjoyed a strong run since their founding (in Munich) in 1989. The e-point 5 suite is the descendent of a robust call center solution called TeamPOINT, this time with an architecture specifically geared for the multi-channel approach.
Red Celsius (Alpharetta, GA – 678-942-1300) figures their strength to be their firm foundation of J2EE components. But if that’s the strength, the obvious weakness has to be that they haven’t fully arrived with all their products yet. In particular, the contact center software hasn’t been finished yet (at press time, it was due out at the end of this month).
What is already finished is the sales force automation (SFA) piece, and the differentiator, says Karl Oleyar, director of product marketing, is that multi-channel capability “wasn’t done as an afterthought. The product was built from the ground up to support multiple communication channels.” For channels, Red Celsius has in mind the usual suspects (not IM, though), but the company isn’t positioning itself to provide the CRL, just the CRM. “The distribution and the routing are all going to be part of the function of embedding a third-party universal queue that handles every touchpoint.”
Also online: web self-help capabilities. These have proven sufficiently compelling that the company recently struck a deal with General Motors to provide the next round of machinery behind the GMBuyPower site. The upgraded site will be one of the largest-scale J2EE implementations to date.
Remedy (Mountain View, CA – 650-903-5200) comes, as the name implies, from the help-desk part of the world. While the company is still very strong in the help-desk niche, it has sensibly noticed that help desk is just a hop and a skip removed from customer service, and not all that far afield of SFA.
Remedy’s integrated CRM product suite includes Remedy Customer Support for technical assistance, Remedy Sales Continuum for SFA, Remedy Quality Management for product quality assurance, and Remedy Leads Management for opportunity management and telesales.
By way of keeping up with the rest of the field-support-crazed CRM community, Remedy went wireless in March with its Remedy Sales Continuum for Palm Powered Handhelds and Remedy Link for Palm Powered Handhelds 1.5. Global 2000 workers can now access the critical corporate data stored in Remedy CRM and ITSM applications via all Palm OS based handhelds.
In late April, SAP (Walldorf, Germany and Newtown Square, PA – 610-661-1000) announced an upgrade to its mySAP CRM suite. As one might expect, the upgrade focuses on more seamless multi-channel support and better analytics. Added by way of channels are web chat, email, and web callback. As for the rest, well, if it looks like a portal, that might well be because of SAP’s creation of SAP Portals Inc., a new company dedicated to developing and marketing comprehensive, open-enterprise portal and business intelligence products. The new company, which expects to employ some 700 people, is partly a result of SAP’s March acquisition of TopTier, an enterprise portal software vendor.
Saratoga Systems (Campbell, CA – 408-558-9600) recently added a web-based solution to its Win32-based flagship product suite, collectively called Avenue. The web version is iAvenue; both web and desktop versions are aimed largely at enterprises within the financial services, energy, and manufacturing markets.
The last time we checked in with Siebel Systems (San Mateo, CA – 650-295-5000), they had struck agreements to partner with Avaya and Quintus, both companies equipped to provide the multi-channel plumbing required to funnel customer contacts onto an agent desktop. Once on the desktop, Siebel was well equipped to handle things. Meanwhile, Quintus ran aground and was bought out of its bankruptcy woes by Avaya, so it’s all the same plumbing more or less by now.
In terms of its own product line, Siebel made a purchase of its own last October – online guided-selling tool maker OnLink Technologies. Folding OnLink’s products into the Siebel framework has resulted in the introduction of the Interactive Selling Suite. The idea, says Chris Melancon, senior product line marketing manager for ISS, is to push Siebel’s reach “beyond creating efficiencies internal to the organization” and outward “to add the ability to make the customers more efficient in dealing with the selling organization.” To do this, the Interactive Selling Suite essentially acts as a virtual guide or a questionnaire-driven configurator to “take customers through needs analysis, recommendation, tradeoffs, and ultimately pricing and ordering.”
Pieces gained from the OnLink acquisition have been added to pre-existing Siebel components such as Siebel’s eConfigurator. The current ISS lineup, then, is a quintet that begins with the eAdvisor, which guides the user through “questions that a call center person would ask a customer.” The eConfigurator handles complicated sales, say when a cellular company wants to guide a customer through selecting a cell phone and a service plan and configure the features of the phone, all online. To create a personalized storefront, there’s eSales. Finally, there are two further pieces that handle sticky pricing situations: ePricer and eAuction.
Siebel watchers (and companies in the personalized storefront business) should note that Siebel generally doesn’t enter a market that it doesn’t feel it can dominate. It’s looking for fifty percent of what might be called the “guided customer interaction” market.
Swallow Information Systems
In April, Swallow Information Systems (Beverly, MA – 978-867-6000) announced plans to build vertically tailored solutions for the retail, utilities, and travel industries. This builds atop the base product, called Charter Continuum, which is written entirely in Visual Basic, making it addressable within Microsoft’s COM object-oriented framework. Like POINT, Swallow has considerably greater name recognition in Europe than it does stateside.
Touch points integrated with Talisma (Kirkland, WA – 425- 897-2900) are email, chat, web forms, fax, web self-help, VoIP, IVR, and phone. Talisma threads all inbound interactions together into a single case to create a complete history of all interactions with a particular customer. The Talisma Interaction Management Engine (TIME) is the central queue for all this. Above the queue there are applications available across the whole CRM spectrum, including all the SFA and customer service chunks you’d expect – the interface across the board resembles Microsoft Outlook. There’s also a highly functional customization function so that each user’s view of the applications can evolve based on their use over time.
Xchange Inc. (Boston, MA – 617-737-2244) has existed under this name only since April of last year, but dates back to 1994 as Exchange Applications. In its former life, the company was a data mining and analytics specialist; it’s held fast to that specialization and is largely seen as an email campaign management tool. However, as an analytics heavyweight, it offers some of the same fast-reaction capabilities that E.piphany offers, to wit, it’s Xchange 7 software can alert call center reps to recent activities on a company’s website and offer suggestions for how to deal with the customer.
YOUcentric (Charlotte, NC – 704-643-1000) is part of the component crowd, building web-centric apps on J2EE and XML. The company has a broad coverage of the typical CRM arsenal within its components, including pieces for SFA, self-help, campaign management, PRM, and a full-blown, multi-channel contact center. Customers include Bank of America, FedEx, Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill.
Box Eats Agent
Traditionally, customers with routine needs are handled by IVR today being extended to multiple communication channels (email, IM, etc.). But what about customers whose needs are routine, but who have difficulty navigating through fully automated systems? What about callers who require human assistance for one transaction, but are happy to perform others via automation? What about saving human agents’ time, with automated aids?
Edify (Santa Clara, CA – 800-944-0056) has gone perhaps farthest of all communications-automation vendors in using this technology – not just to fully automate self-service, but to speed up and enhance interaction with human agents. The solution, according to Joseph G. Brown, Edify CEO, is Edify’s new virtual CSR (vCSR).
“I view customer self-service as an integral part of CRM strategy,” Brown says. “When we formed in 1990, our initial focus was faxback. We then quickly added IVR, then voice, then web, then wireless, and so, from day one, we’ve been building a multi-channel platform,” Brown says. “What we’ve learned over the last eleven years is that, on average, we can automate about 30% of customer interactions.”
This means, of course, that the other 70% requires an agent. There’s no denying that any kind of self-help capability has to be an adjunct to the contact center. Which Edify fully realizes: “So while our focus up until now has been self service, in February we announced a new product for assisted service,” Brown says. Read: agent-facing application.
While the assisted-service piece is “essential infrastructure,” in Brown’s view, “our true value comes in a new piece of technology we’ve introduced called Edify Natural Language. We now have the ability to understand what people say and what people type into a website.”
It’s this language parsing capability that underlies the vCSR, Brown says. And it doesn’t work via recognition best guesses, Brown says. “We know when we know what they said, and we know when we don’t know.” For email and web chat within a specific business domain, says Brown, “we believe that we can answer on average between 30 to 50% of all questions.”
It’s early days, though. The vCSR has only been deployed with a half dozen or so early adopters (most notably the British division of Kraft foods).
From Customer Contact Management to Contact Routing Layer (CRL)
This month’s look at CRM focuses on vendors that supply agent-facing software: the customer/process-managing part, as opposed to the contact-routing part. But that’s by no means meant to imply that the CRL part of the package isn’t important. Indeed, the ability to route and queue multiple contact channels – what you might call an ACD on steroids – is an absolutely essential foundation for a state-of-the-art call center and it’s something we think merits a future article of its own.
Pending upcoming coverage, though, note that the field (key players listed below) features representatives both from the traditional world of large-scale ACDs and from the all-IP world, almost all of them names you’ve heard of because they’ve been around a while. A few examples:
Avaya is the spun-off continuation of the Enterprise Networks Group at Lucent. Their product history stretches back to the industry’s initial realization that there needed to be some way to distribute inbound calls round-robin fashion. Nowadays, of course, they offer a broad range of products for contact centers, including their core Definity switches, CenterVu for intelligent call routing, and an overarching CRM Central product for tying the pieces together in a CRM context. Genesys Labs, another key early player in the traditional ACD market, offers a full suite of interaction management tools in the G6 platform they released late last year. Additionally, Genesys and its owner Alcatel announced plans to acquire CallPath (and its approximately 500 customers) as we were going to press. Even having handed over its well-established core ACD asset, IBM makes several products that might be termed “voice middleware” (in addition to having a top-notch service organization for implementing large-scale contact centers). The products include the Websphere Voice Server, WebSphere Translation Server, and DirectTalk.
Interactive Intelligence is an example of what might be called “pure play” CRL, insofar as their Customer Interaction Center (CIC) brings voice and data communications together in one scalable, unified architecture running on a Windows NT or Windows 2000 server. Gone are the separate boxes for PBX, ACD, IVR, voice mail, fax server, and so on.
Rockwell Electronic Commerce makes the well-established Spectrum enterprise-class ACD, which in field use has processed some 40 million calls a day for more than six years. Additionally, Rockwell Electronic’s Transcend product targets midsize, multi-channel contact centers with an award-winning, CT Media-based solution.
All these vendors deal with the nuts and bolts of making the actual contact with the actual customer. One could argue that this process of routing and queuing incoming contact from customers isn’t really CRM proper, but on the other hand, it’s the moment of contact that defines the relationship a company is trying to build, not the database that helps us remember who the customer is, or the analysis that helps us decide whether we like this or that customer.
San Jose, CA
Basking Ridge, NJ
Brampton, ON, Canada
By: Robert Richardson
San Jose, CA
San Francisco, CA
White Plains, NY
Rockwell Electronic Commerce
Wood Dale, IL