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On-demand CRM answers the call for customization

RightNow is releasing a major upgrade this winter providing an improved user interface and smart client technology. Meanwhile, is also focusing on customization of its product.

The march toward improved customization of on-demand CRM applications continued this week as two vendors detailed upcoming features.

Following a $25 million investment and two years of engineering, RightNow Technologies Inc. will be releasing version 8 of its CRM product.

It's a major investment for the Bozeman, Mont.-based company as it fights for its share of the market for on-demand CRM or Software as a Service (entrance this year.

San Francisco-based this week also detailed some of the features coming out in its Winter '07 release. Both companies are placing an emphasis on usability and customization.

While CRM systems have traditionally focused on internal processes, RightNow 8 taps into its core strength, the customer service side of CRM, extending the customer focus across departments, according to RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte.

"The only way companies can differentiate themselves is with a quality customer experience," he said. "RightNow 8 is all about delivering an exceptional customer experience. We put knowledge at the point of customer interaction."

RightNow 8 features a Customer Experience Designer that lets users design business processes around the customer via a modular workflow engine and a drag and drop design tool. For example, companies can design the experience of welcoming new customers and have that process span service, sales and marketing.

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A new product, RightNow Feedback, collects customer feedback in real-time, measures and routes it to the correct department. For example, customer comments on products are sent to design teams who can follow up for more information.

The new release also features an analytics package with customizable reports and historical trending, a workspace designer that allows end users to customize their desktops and packaged vertical solutions for business-to-business, business-to-consumer and government organizations.

"With RightNow 8, they've done a number of things that are going to hit the sweet spot within their customer base, particularly those who started with a customer service focus," said Mary Wardley, analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "The things that jump out at me are analytics and the change in the user interface to a drag-and-drop Microsoft smart client. This allows their customers to really create a customized solution that answer their needs. We can downplay the user interface but it really is important."

Microsoft Outlook will also be embedded into the new user interface.

The Microsoft smart-client technology is a major step for the company's enterprise on-demand architecture, said Gianforte.

"Where you have a mission-critical deployment, AJAX and Web-based technologies have fallen short," he said. "It's fine for casual tasks like simple SFA and employee expenses. RightNow 8 is still network delivered. We believe this puts us about two years ahead of the industry in terms of serving the needs of large enterprises, particularly in mission critical applications."

Boyd Beasly, senior director of customer support for Electronic Arts Inc., the Redwood City-Calif.-based game maker, is looking forward to the release. Electronic Arts is already integrating the RightNow knowledge base into its support system for its online games and, as the company expands customer service operations across the globe, needs the thin client technology.

"We rely heavily on reports, surveys and metrics to drive business for us," Beasley, who has about 300 RightNow licenses said. "RightNow Feedback is very exciting to us. A dedicated team runs those reports now."

RightNow is detailing the new release at its annual user conference and the Gartner CRM summit next week. The product will be available in December.

Not to be left out, offered a glimpse of what it will highlight at its upcoming user conference. The Winter 07 release will upgrade its AJAX-based user interface, a customizable desktop and "Salesforce Anywhere" with a Lotus Notes edition. Additionally, has launched a Web site it calls the Ideas Exchange, which allows customers to comment on new features, present ideas and collaborate with the development team.

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