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Web 2.0, multichannel tools found lacking in latest Gartner customer service rankings

Little has changed since Gartner last ranked CRM for customer-service contact centers. CRM vendors need to adapt to the changing customer service environment, Gartner warns.

In the year since Gartner last released its Magic Quadrant for CRM Customer Service Contact Centers, not much has changed. Oracle's Siebel application remains the sole leader, and Microsoft and remain visionaries.

In fact, there was little progress in the offerings overall.

"Not enough," said Michael Maoz, distinguished analyst with the Stamford, Conn.-based research firm and author of the 2007 and 2008 reports.

In particular, the Web 2.0, or social networking phenomenon, is proving a challenge to businesses that are already having difficulty meeting their customers' needs through the normal channels.

"Many of the challenges facing business are not, 'How do I rev up the customer service agent's application?' " Maoz said. "The bigger challenge is, 'How do I tap into the social networking trend?' " 

It is also a challenge for the software vendors.

"The things that enable social networking -- openness, sharing, searching and collaborating -- are all unstructured, and unstructured activity is not what packaged applications have been good at," Maoz said.

The challenge for CRM vendors over the next five years will be to understand that the focus of CRM has shifted from enabling the agent to enabling the customer, according to the report. And it's an area that businesses are focusing on. Customer experience and customer service were once again cited by CIOs in Gartner's annual survey as factors that will drive decision making in the next two years.

Decision makers are increasingly turning to Software as a Service (SaaS) or on-demand, but the model, which has seen so much success with sales force automation (SFA), has some limitations with customer service.

"As IT begins to modernize, they look at the next generation of enterprise application suite and ask, 'Do I do something different?' and as they get to 'something different' they get to Software as a Service," Maoz said. "They have to weigh IT modernization requirements with business agility and business improvement. But today, the line of business is stepping in and saying good luck with IT modernization. I'm going my way. I'm not asking your permission -- I may ask your forgiveness."

While IT has adapted to that scenario with SFA, SaaS customer service applications have yet to demonstrate viability for large, complex contact centers, according to the report.

Oracle's on-demand application is still immature when it comes to customer service and support, RightNow Technologies does not have the clout to reach the wider audience, and's service and support offering is primarily for smaller business-to-business operations, Maoz said.

Another area in need of improvement is support for multiple channels of communication and bringing communications into the CRM software.

"The contact center is not the call center," Maoz said. "The contact center is the way you make contact with the customer. It could be a formal call center, but it also means when they come into your website. Those supporting technologies that support multichannel interaction tend to be infrastructure players -- Genesys, Avaya. You don't have the business application as embedded in that communications application."

Organizations are relying on multiple applications to track customers, not just from social networks but from IVR and voice recognition. Companies like eGlue and InQuira, which are not included in the Magic Quadrant, are still providing value to the contact center by bringing customer insight to the agent desktop, but "there's no company that helps you in one way analyze all channels," Maoz said. "There are PowerPoint slides that say there are, but there really aren't."

Gartner places vendors in one of four quadrants -- challengers, leaders, niche players, and visionaries -- based on a number of factors, including viability, functionality, market responsiveness, customer support, vision, and customer experience.

The Magic Quadrant for CRM Customer Service Contact Centers lists Siebel as the sole leader and Microsoft and as the two visionaries. Amdocs was the lone challenger, and the rest of the vendors are niche players -- RightNow, Pegasystems, SAP, Graham Technology, Oracle's E-Business Suite, Chordiant, Portrait, Oracle's PeopleSoft, Infor, Jacada, and Astute Solutions.

The Magic Quadrant has its limitations as an evaluation tool, Maoz admits, and with the customer service market, organizations need to conduct due diligence when selecting software.

"On the face of it, it's difficult to see what the magic of the Magic Quadrant is," Maoz said. "In terms of the dots, they don't capture the richness of what's going on. What's going on is there's a set of issues that are playing out that are not well-captured by any one player."

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