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RightNow CEO Foresees End of Software Dinosaurs

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Posted September 23, 2003 By Kevin Newcomb     Feedback

The hosted customer service and support solutions provider is on a mission to take over the agent desktop in the contact center.

Hosted customer service and support (CSS) solutions provider RightNow Technologies is a company with a clear mission: to take over the agent desktop in the contact center.

To accomplish this goal, the Bozeman, Mont.-based ASP on Monday unveiled RightNow 6.0, a multi-channel service suite that includes over 200 new features and adds a new e-mail service-and-support module, RightNow Outbound.

"If you think about where we fit, we've traditionally been in e-service. But with the merging of the e-service silo with the contact center silo that has traditionally been served by people like Clarify, Vantive and Remedy, in the last six months, we've started to displace Clarify, Vantive and Remedy," RightNow CEO and founder Greg Gianforte told ASPnews.

According to Gianforte, displacing the CSS mainstays will not be as difficult as one might think. "Honestly they've abdicated any kind of leadership role, because they've all been bought and sold two or three times. Their clients have been somewhat affected."

Clarify was acquired by Nortel Networks in October 1999. In November 2001, Amdocs bought Clarify from Nortel, and now offers the product as Amdocs ClarifyCRM. Vantive was acquired by PeopleSoft in October 1999, and its products were rolled into PeopleSoft CRM. Remedy was acquired by Peregrine Systems in June 2001, and then bought by BMC Software in September 2002. Remedy is now operated as a unit of BMC with products for IT Service Management and CSS.

"When we talk to clients, it's not a matter of 'Will I displace those obsolete client-server implementations for a thin client solution?'. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. We're working with them. This significant release brings us a step closer to doing many more displacements," Gianforte said.

It certainly will not be an easy sell, he said. The biggest challenge he faces is finding a compelling event to get a company to decide now is the time to switch over from an existing system. Generally that event is a new product launch or an initiative around quality of service, he said. "The drive to getting one view of the customer and really deploying a multi-channel customer service solution, that is the motivating factor to shut off the light on Remedy, Vantive and Clarify."

RightNow works with its clients' customer service organizations to help them with all the ways they touch their customers -- over the phone, by e-mail, through a web site, or in a live chat and collaboration setting. When that's done well, the client ends up with a repository of all of its customers interactions, which Gianforte said adds up to more than just a record of e-mails and phone calls.

"Embedded in there is a record of all of your customers wants and desires," he said. This is particularly striking due to the fact that the customer service department has traditionally been seen by executives as a cost center, a necessary evil. And yet, the customer service department has more contact with customers than any other department in the company, he said.

As the economy has softened, Gianforte said a trend is happening -- executives are beginning to notice, and they are putting pressure on the customer service department to get more value out of a department that talks to customers all day long.

Gianforte calls RightNow 6.0 is the biggest release in the company's 6-year history. "We've almost doubled the size of our engineering group this past year. This is really the beginning of the fruits of their efforts," he said.

Major features in the release include an integrated agent workspace, a web services framework to link into ERP and other systems, a queuing mechanism with sophisticated routing capabilities, an integrated search for both the company's web site and its support areas, and service-level agreement (SLA) monitoring.

A new analytics module was added, which allows a company to monitor SLAs in real time, as well as do custom reporting or data trending to forecast support loads, Gianforte said. "Because it's integrated, when a piece of work shows up on the desktop of an agent, they have inline analytics that tell them how close they are to expiration on that service level agreement."

A manager can develop a service level agreement compliance report and schedule the system to run the report every hour and only distribute it if there's an exception outside of the normal range.

The analytics engine provides a way for a manager, marketer or executive to go in and mine the data in the records of client interactions. For example, a new support offering can be advertised to customers who have recently contacted the company with those specific problems.

New in RightNow 6.0 is RightNow Outbound, an e-mailing mechanism that allows marketers to take action on what they learn about customers through the analytics engine. Gianforte expects this product to compete with offerings from Responsys and Digital Impact, but said there are two main reasons to choose RightNow -- integration with support operations and the way RightNow handles test cells. Integration with support operations maintains high levels of service, so that any customer contact from a marketing standpoint is maintained in the same record as service and support data.

In other systems, each mailing has to be set up separately, while RightNow Outbound simplifies the process to copy the first mailing, make changes, and send out the next test mailing, Gianforte said. "In most of these other systems, that whole process is manual, so every time you add a test cell, you add overhead. It's very difficult to do lots of test cells, but that's exactly what the marketing person wants to do."

As an ASP, RightNow sees typical advantages gained by the model. Implementation time is cut to 35 days, compared with months for other CRM implementations. RightNow has built a system that's highly configurable that does not require customization, although they can do customizations if they wish, Gianforte said. This allows clients to get up and running very quickly, and smoothes out the upgrade process, he said.

RightNow's Hosting Management System allows customers to schedule upgrades on their own timing and even to skip upgrades if they don't want to implement the latest software. This adds to RightNow's infrastructure requirements, but Gianforte said the systems are in place to handle it.

"We offer a fully multi-tenant and fault-tolerant environment, so we can put hundreds of clients on a common hardware platform. As a result, we don't charge for hosting. We offer our software both hosted and non-hosted. Our cost to host a client is less than our cost to provide tech support to someone who runs it internally. Each one of our data centers probably cost over $1 million to set up, but when you amortize that cost over the number of customers, it's noise compared to tech support costs you might incur. This is just the value proposition of ASP."

RightNow's business has traditionally been in middle market, although today, half of its business comes out of middle market and half comes out of divisions of global 2000 companies, Gianforte said. Of course, certain sectors are slow to adopt new technology, and ASP is not any different, Gianforte said. High tech was the first one to adopt, while the financial and insurance sectors are slower to embrace the model.

"We really believe this is the model people will consume software through. These big, obsolete, legacy software vendors are mortally wounded, they just don't know it yet. It takes a while for a dinosaur to die. There are some myths that are promulgated by the dinosaurs," he said. "They say it's not secure. They say you can't do customization. They say you don't have control over operations, you can't do diagnostics. Slowly we're dispelling all those myths, but endangered species do desperate things."

RightNow has been recognized as a Top 20 Provider on the ASPnews.com Top 50.


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