Going to the RightNow user conference feels like a trip to another world. Aptly called the RightNow Summit, the affair was held last week in Big Sky, Mont. at a lodge whose elevation is about 7,800 feet above sea level. At that elevation, you see nothing but tall pine forests and the occasional deer, elk, or moose. And, yes, it snowed, even in early October, like Mother Nature wanted to make a serious point — not that she needed to — when you first get there, climbing stairs carries its own admonition.
If your attention to on demand CRM has been focused on the sales and marketing side of the equation, RightNow comes as something of a surprise because this company’s origins focus on service and support — an important differentiator and well worth remembering as on demand vendors, including this one, continue to converge on the idea of an integrated suite. It’s important and probably good timing for RightNow that its focus has been on service since the market focus today is on customer loyalty driving return on customer.
Service and Support
There are really three approaches to on demand CRM and each has been successful. Salesforce.com is perhaps the best known of the bunch for its original focus on sales with its SFA offering. NetSuite may be less well known, but it offers an important value proposition in its integration of front and back office solutions. And RightNow, which started as an on demand service and support offering, approaches CRM from the perspective of the existing customer who is looking for service and/or support. Of course, many other on demand CRM vendors make up this market, but these three seem to be archetypical.
Regardless of each vendor’s current position or future direction, each vendor’s identity is still closely associated with its origins and that’s especially true for RightNow. Historically, customer service and its associated modules have been prized for their ability to hold down costs. Solutions like FAQs and knowledge bases tied to phone systems and Web sites have done a lot to reduce demand for telephone service mediated by a live person and hence to drive down costs.
But reducing costs is only half the equation — the other half involves maintaining or improving the service level so that the customer feels empowered and satisfied by the lower cost substitutes (if customers are not satisfied, they won’t use the alternatives). RightNow has done a good job taking care of both sides of the equation. I was intrigued speaking to customers about how they and RightNow have developed ways to embed support into their combined product offerings and one example in particular shows the creativity involved in bringing service to a new level.
I learned that RightNow has a significant position in the online game industry. If you’re like me, maybe you’ve heard of online games, probably through your kids or co-workers or maybe you’re just a young adult. At any rate, there are games you can play online with literally thousands of other people. The game establishes an alternate reality and you as a player can concoct an identity for that reality. The more you get into it, the more you realize there are myriad rules for playing and for constructing your persona.
At any rate, something that complex will drive even the smartest player a little crazy from time to time and as a player you might need help understanding the rules, checking on your account status, or looking for the cyber equivalent of a striped shirt when some other player does something “against the rules.” Guess where you would go in such situations? Yup, RightNow has embedded its FAQ and support engine right into certain games complete with escalation to higher authority when necessary.
On one hand, there is little about this approach to service that would raise an eyebrow if it was part of a washing machine service site. But, on the other hand, somehow knowing this is all connected to an online game, which is in its own way pushing an envelope, made me stand back and think “this is cool.” Perhaps I am easily impressed but maybe not. The idea of embedding support this closely into the customer experience is rather novel — service is part of the product. If the washing machine analogy were to hold true, there would be a button on your washer that brought you help when the thing acts up or when you need to work on a tough stain on a delicate fabric.
What I think I saw in Montana is the evolution of concierge service. It might be only in a game today, but as a future direction this idea has legs. Obviously, RightNow does a lot of other things, but so do a lot of other vendors who can offer on demand sales, marketing, service, support and call centers. An important part of RightNow’s future thought leadership might be in its ability to see service opportunities more clearly than some of its competitors. It might be a small idea, but like a snowball rolling down a mountain, it could start an avalanche.
Denis Pombriant is a well known thought leader in CRM and the founder and managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s latest white paper, Adding Sales to the Call Center Agenda, summarizes his recent research in the call center industry. In 2003, CRM Magazine named Pombriant one of the most influential executives in the CRM industry. Pombriant is currently working on a book to be published next year. He can be reached at email@example.com