RightNow Technologies is trying to differentiate itself in the customer relationship management market by adding what it is calling multi-channel feedback features in its May '08 release of its on-demand CRM package.
RightNow Technologies, which released the May '08 edition on May 27, believes these features will help solidify its market approach as a top consumer-oriented CRM suite on the market, said Andrew Hull, RightNow's director of Marketing Operations.
The May '08 edition includes a new online chat feature that allows Web marketers to answer consumer questions or get immediate feedback on their experience dealing with a company's products or services. The new version also includes surveys that are integrated with the chat applications. These surveys can be launched immediately after a chat session with a service agent.
RightNow CRM can also launch surveys during phone calls, via e-mail as well as on the Web. Web surveys enable a Web marketing company to gather information from anonymous online consumers, such as those who have abandoned shopping carts.
The addition of the chat feature is an essential element in the company's strategy to position itself as the best available CRM package for business-to-consumer marketing programs, Hull said.
"For us to fill out a multi-channel feedback process that can work across e-mail, Web, voice channel as well as chat really helps us bring a really broad" product to the marketplace, Hull said.
CRM suites that now include the Web 2.0 elements of social networking with heavy user interaction with customers are being referred to by market pundits as CRM 2.0 products. The aim of these features is to keep in touch with what is on consumers' minds to get an early insight into how their needs and tastes are evolving.
But in RightNow's case, the question is whether this differentiation will allow the company to keep growing in the face of intense competition from the likes of Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Oracle, NetSuite and others. RightNow has continued to grow steadily, if unspectacularly, compared to Salesforce.com.
It hit a bump in the road early in 2007 when it disclosed that its fourth quarter revenue would be $4 million below market estimates because of a shift from perpetual to recurring licensing agreements. But it has since recovered from this reverse and analysts indicate that this appears to have been a one-time occurrence.
What remains to be seen is whether the addition of Web 2.0 features will give RightNow any market or competitive advantages.
While "it's a good thing" that RightNow is working to provide social networking elements in CRM Suite, "I think they still have some distance to travel in showing they really understand CRM 2.0," said Denis Pombriant, principal analyst with Beagle Research, which specializes in the CRM market.
"The enhancements are valuable for capturing customer input, but there needs to be some methodology attached to them, or they won't be completely effective," he said.
"As it stands, integrating surveys and offering enterprise feedback gives [RightNow users] the ability to show their customers that they are listening, but listening is not enough," Pombriant noted. "Listening is passive, and implicit in CRM 2.0 is the idea that a vendor needs to actively ask customers about their use of and experiences with products and services that a company provides."
"RightNow has to school its users in the art of asking things that may not be top of mind for a customer but are nevertheless important, such as attitude, biases and likes as well as needs," said Pombriant. The next step for RightNow is to "begin teaching their [users] about the importance of structuring their interactions with their customers."
By adding multiple feedback channels to their products, CRM companies are only responding to consumers' desire to use a variety of communications channels to communicate with businesses over the Web, noted Zachary McGeary, an analyst with Jupiter Research.
"Companies are increasingly leveraging customer feedback to inform and improve business operations, McGeary noted. "Generally, however, this collection has not been thorough or unified, as separate lines of business have often operated separate feedback collection initiatives. A multi-channel, end-to-end feedback initiative best parallels," what consumers are doing already.