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RightNow joins CRM movement to extend customer service to social networks

CRM vendors are developing new capabilities to integrate customer service software with social networking and Web 2.0 sites. RightNow is the latest.

RightNow Technologies is the latest CRM vendor to add social networking monitoring capabilities to its service suite.

The Bozeman, Mont.-based company is this week releasing Cloud Monitor, a feature that allows companies to monitor and act on conversations about them taking place on Twitter and YouTube by integrating that information into their customer service software.

"We used to think of analytics within the confines of how customers interact with the business," said Andrew Hull, director of product marketing. "More and more of those conversations are happening outside the walls. Cloud Monitor allows us, within the agent desktop, to search Twitter and YouTube, and the agent can see the conversation threads within the agent console and tweet back from within the console."

The rapid rise of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and particularly Twitter has forced companies to think about how to reach, and service, customers in those channels. As of March, total Twitter users numbered more than 1 million, though there are many more registered users, according to TechCrunch.


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"You gotta go where the customers are," said Mary Wardley, analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "If this is what they're doing, you need to be there. Is it going to supplant all the other channels? I don't think so."

RightNow is not the first vendor to release capabilities integrating Twitter and its service suite. recently released the Service Cloud, which features integration between and Twitter, as well as Facebook. RightNow intends to add integration with Facebook and MySpace in the future but wanted to begin with Twitter and YouTube. The YouTube integration searches the comment fields of the popular video-sharing site. There is no video search capability involved, but RightNow has leveraged the "smart sense" technology it uses in its chat and email functionality to determine whether a person is angry or upset and rank those posts accordingly for agents.

"It's supporting existing channels we already have," RightNow's Hull said. "We really view it as the next support channel."

As more social networks evolve and conversations around the Web multiply, will there be an end to the number of channels that customer service organizations will ultimately have to support?

"I don't think we know how interaction is going to evolve with using things like Twitter and Facebook as our means of communication with organization," Wardley said. "It's the new form of bulletin board. We don't have bulletin boards and Twitter, we just have Twitter."

The development is welcome news for iRobot, maker of the Roomba and other robotics equipment and a RightNow customer that is already monitoring social media for mentions of its products. Currently, the company's technical support staff is conducting manual searches on social media sites and responding directly. RightNow's Cloud Monitor will save time and create efficiencies, said Maryellen Abreu, director of global customer service. While iRobot has not yet seen a need for full-time, dedicated social media monitors the way Comcast has, it is steering money and resources in that direction.

"I don't know if we have that much volume [for dedicated staff] -- that would be a good thing if we did," Abreu said. "Right now, we're looking at spending on this as a customer retention effort instead of on media marketing."

Data warehousing as a service?

RightNow also extended its analytics capabilities with its latest quarterly release. The new RightNow Analytics offers customers enterprise data warehousing via Software as a Service (SaaS). The analytics engine can tap customer service and CRM data, as well as sources external to the CRM system such as transactional data, to provide time-slice analysis and predictive analytics. RightNow provides the complete data warehouse, extract transform and load tool, OLAP engine and reporting engine. Extending to on-demand data warehousing is a natural step for RightNow, and other SaaS vendors, according to Wardley.

"As a company in the SaaS space, you have to wonder about long-term storage -- and a data warehouse makes sense," she said, noting that the product is an OEM agreement with Birst. "It moves into some of the more generally accepted options one would have with on-premise software such as archiving. A data warehouse for analytics speaks to requirements that, even in SaaS, these other requirements don't go away."

Pricing for the analytics capabilities is based on the amount of data involved, the number of users creating reports, and the number of people consuming reports, Hull said. Cloud Monitor comes included as a quarterly upgrade for customers using RightNow's Enterprise Suite and Enterprise Contact Center suite editions and is $40 per user per month for the Standard edition.

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