As companies continue to look for ways to increase customer loyalty while at the same time trimming expenses, customer self-service applications have taken on the appearance of being in the right place at the right time.
The push by many government officials in the United States to lend a greater transparency to governmental bureaucracies through technology has also led many governmental agencies to explore self-service applications. Riding high on that crest of interest is RightNow Technologies, a small e-CRM firm headquartered in Bozeman, Mont.
RightNow's core product, eService Center, offers website visitors the ability to enter natural language queries, which are then checked against a knowledge base of frequently asked questions and what the company calls a self-learning knowledge base. This knowledge base is typically populated with just a few seed questions and answers when first deployed. As Web site visitors begin to interact with the application, all new queries and their answers are inserted into the list. The product uses several methods to determine the usefulness of answers and places the most useful at the top of the results lists. It also lets customers escalate their queries to customer service agents if they cannot unearth the answers to their question.
RightNow's CEO Greg Gianforte told the451 the company will announce a new version of this product next week. While the official unveiling has yet to happen, the product has been available to the company's existing customers for a while, and eight customers are up and running with the new version.
The upgrade includes increased support for multiple languages -- an important consideration for multinational customers such as Lufthansa. In the past, Lufthansa was forced to implement separate German and English versions of each knowledge base; the new version lets the airline store various translations of the information in a single repository. The application will also automatically detect what language the initial support query was written in and then assign an agent with the appropriate language skills to the case.
To explain the reasoning behind another new feature, Gianforte cited research that shows that customers who have a problem that is quickly and satisfactorily resolved have a higher level of customer loyalty to that vendor than customers who have never had a problem. The feature, called Smart Sense, attempts to detect when customers are angry or dissatisfied, allowing companies to give a higher level of service to those folks.
RightNow has been rolling along steadily, even during down economic times. The company added 95 new customers last quarter to a list of about 1,200. Gianforte said he expects sales this year to almost double from last year's total of $26 million. The company's biggest areas of growth have come in foreign markets, particularly in the U.K. and Australia, and from the government sector. RightNow's partnership with Siebel will likely help it compete with other e-CRM specialists such as Kana and Responsum's Answers.com.
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