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Voice being heard in CRM

With an acquisition and eight new modules, RightNow is investing in voice applications in CRM.

With the acquisition of Convergent Voice and the release of eight new voice applications, RightNow Technologies has become the first CRM suite provider to make a concerted push into the voice arena.

"Speech is no longer an interesting technology," said Joseph Brown, vice president of Voice Solutions for the Bozeman, Mont.-based company. "It's starting to move from early the adopter stage to an early majority market."

Brown, the former CEO of Edify, was brought in to RightNow to help lead the company's foray into the voice technology market. He is joined by David Lanning, the president and CEO of Convergent Voice, which RightNow has been working with to develop self-service voice applications since 2002. RightNow recently completed the acquisition of the Rochester, N.Y.-based company's intellectual property, core development team, accounts receivable and contract rights. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. It is RightNow's first acquisition.

RightNow is making eight new voice applications available around its Service module including voice access to the knowledge base, a voice incident management system, location finder, order status, repair tracking, refund status, password reset and customer survey tool. In the future, the company will roll out voice applications tied to the Sales and Marketing modules as well, Brown said.

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"We're piggy backing and focusing on our strength," Brown said. "Our CRM environment, our best practices -- we are voice enabling those CRM solutions now. What the voice vendors don't have is the strength or infrastructure of CRM software. We don't say we sell Web self-service or voice self-service--we sell self-service."

Despite the emergence of the online channel, voice interactions still account for 60 to 90% of all interactions a company has with customers, according to RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte.

"We're creating the ability for consumers to do anything they did on the Web on the phone," Brown said.

The strength of RightNow's offering is that it's based on the company's existing knowledge base technology, said Art Schoeller, senior analyst at the Boston-based Yankee Group.

"I think RightNow is being reasonably conservative about this," he said. "Here's a way they can extend their knowledge base into the voice channel. They're further down the road than building a speech recognition or [Interactive Voice Response] from the ground up."

Schoeller doesn't expect RightNow to compete for customers who are looking for stand alone voice applications, but he does see the benefit for customers who have already started down RightNow's knowledge base approach to CRM.

RightNow is offering the voice applications as hosted tools. Pricing comes in at $25,000 for the knowledge base and $15,000 for the application, plus a per minute charge based on volume.

It is the start up costs that have delayed the adoption of voice technology and RightNow is alleviating that by providing an on-demand alternative, Brown said.

According to Schoeller, RightNow's voice push should give it a leg up on the other CRM suite vendors who may not consider it as important.

"Voice is still tough enough that when people look at it and see what it takes to do productively, [CRM suite vendors] realize there are better revenue areas to chase," he said.

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