RightNow Technologies adds voice features to its hosted customer relationship management suite and buys Convergent Voice, the privately owned software company that developed the new technology.
RightNow Technologies Inc. is seeking to vault ahead of hosted application service competitors by adding voice features to its customer relationship management product line.
has released eight voice-enabled application modules that will allow customers to supplement their Web-based CRM applications with voice interactions, said Joseph Brown, RightNows vice president of voice solutions.
The features include a voice interface to the RightNow CRM knowledge base, a voice interface to an incident reporting system; a location finder; voice surveys; call routing; order, repair or rebate status checking; password reset; and 24-hour customer care.
The company also announced that it has received a patent for the voice-enabled knowledge base technology, Brown said.
RightNow has been working with Convergent Voice Inc. since 2002 to develop the voice features. RightNow subsequently decided to acquire the privately held voice technology company based in Rochester, N.Y., and completed the acquisition this week, but did not disclose the financial terms.
RightNow acquired the Convergent Voice technology, intellectual property and related assets that have been integrated into a new RightNow Voice Solutions Business Unit, according to Brown.
David Lanning, Convergent Voices CEO, joined RightNow as director of voice solutions. Brown, former CEO of Edify Inc., another voice technology company based in Santa Clara, Calif., is another recent hire as RightNow builds up its voice business unit.
Two years ago voice technology "was still being used by the early adopter community," Brown said. Since then voice technology has "absolutely crossed the chasm" from the early adopter community to the point where "you are starting to see speech being utilized in many areas," he said.
Click here to read why industry experts believe enterprises have to deal with business processes and human factors to successfully implement CRM.
"Voice interactions still account for 60 percent to 90 percent of all interactions a company has with their customers, and yet CRM to date has focused either on internal processes or electronic customer interactions," said RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte in a statement. Gianforte contends that automating voice interactions in CRM applications increases customer satisfaction and significantly lowers operating costs.
The acquisition of these voice features was an important move by RightNow because none of the other major CRM vendors has provided built-in voice features, said Art Schoeller, senior analyst with the Yankee Group, in Boston.
"Its actually something that the other guys arent doing," Schoeller noted. "Salesforce.com is doing this thing through partnerships, while SAP was trying to build their own voice platform. Now they partner with someone else."
Siebel Systems provides a contact center system through its OnDemand CRM service, but it is a relatively simple interactive voice response system, not the scale of voice-enabled features RightNow has developed with Convergent, Schoeller said.
Read eWEEK Labs review here about a pair of the lower-cost CRM systems on the market.
Interactive voice is not an easy technology to implement, he said. It takes a lot of skill and specialization to develop this technology, and it will have give RightNow a leg up on the competition, he said.
The problem with most of the voice self-service systems on the market right now is that vendors "have to build the applications from the from the ground up or they are using packaged grammars or vocabularies." The features dont make it easy to extend or customize a voice-activated CRM system, Schoeller said.
Building a voice-activated CRM application, such as a flight status system, involves drafting response dialogs that are hard to build to match all the possible options, he said. RightNow is using a knowledge base as a place to start to manage the voice response dialogs.
RightNow was also wise in that it hasnt tried to cover a huge range of possible transactions at least to start, Schoeller observed. Instead it chose to voice-activate a select set of transactions that are supported by the CRM suite and the knowledge base, he said.
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John Pallatto is eWEEK.com's Managing Editor News/West Coast. He directs eWEEK's news coverage in Silicon Valley and throughout the West Coast region. He has more than 35 years of experience as a professional journalist, which began as a report with the Hartford Courant daily newspaper in Connecticut. He was also a member of the founding staff of PC Week in March 1984. Pallatto was PC Week's West Coast bureau chief, a senior editor at Ziff Davis' Internet Computing magazine and the West Coast bureau chief at Internet World magazine.