Wednesday, September 20, 2006

RightNow Talks The Talk

“Customer Experience Management” meets the two key requirements for a successful buzzword: it’s impressive (10 syllables!) and no one quite knows what it means. (My own definition, “understand and improve how you treat your customers,” fails on both counts.) Given these virtues, it’s not surprising that many firms have adopted Customer Experience Management as part of their marketing message. Since my own firm is among these, I take particular interest in watching how others use the term.

The issue here is scope. True Customer Experience Management—defined, of course, as what Client X Client does—extends to every way a customer interacts with a company and its products, including things like brand advertising, product use, repair, and financing. Most firms apply a much narrower definition that happens to match the scope of whatever it is they are selling.

This lets me play a little game, of testing how far I have to read in their marketing materials before they reveal the true scope of their offering. It usually doesn’t take long to find that, say, a vendor of help desk software defines the customer experience in terms of providing great customer assistance.

Which leads us to RightNow Technologies (www.rightnow.com), a provider of hosted Customer Relationship Management systems. RightNow has embraced Customer Experience Management in a big way: go to their Web site and just about every headline you see will include the phrase. But the positioning does not contain usual limitations. For example, the September 11, 2006 press release announcing their newest version, headlined “RightNow 8 Helps Companies Deliver Exceptional Customer Experiences,” defines customer experience in the first paragraph as “the sum of interactions with a company's products, people and processes”.

That’s a pretty good definition, and considerably broader than a conventional CRM offering. RightNow acknowledges as much in the press release, stating in the next paragraph that “conventional CRM solutions are narrowly focused on streamlining internal processes, rather than addressing the broader, more critical issues that define the quality of the customer experience.”

Now the game is getting interesting. Is RightNow, a CRM vendor, going to admit that CRM isn’t enough? Not bloody likely. The clue is the qualifier “conventional”. Apparently RightNow offers some form of unconventional CRM that overcomes the traditional limits.

Sure enough, the next paragraph reveals their intentions. We’re told that RightNow 8 “directly addresses the customer experience challenge by ensuring that the knowledge required to optimize the quality of every interaction is available in real time wherever and whenever it is needed.” So, RightNow’s definition of Customer Experience Management is limited to direct customer-to-company interactions: pretty broad, but still not including indirect contacts experiences such as product usage and brand advertising.

Whew! Three paragraphs to get to the real scope—that was a good match. And, to be fair , RightNow really does provide exceptionally scope in their new version, including an “experience designer” to manage processes that span sales, marketing and service departments; a “feedback” module to gather comments and survey results; and an “analytics” module to integrate data from multiple sources. Maybe that’s as close to full-scope Customer Experience Management as a CRM vendor can get.

I do remain skeptical of RightNow’s ability to deliver on its promises: it’s particularly difficult for a hosted vendor to integrate with internal corporate systems, yet such integration is essential for the process integration that RightNow is touting. There is nothing in RightNow’s published materials to suggest it has an unconventional solution to this problem. I expect to talk to them within the next few days to see if they can convince me otherwise. I’ll revise this post or make a new one if anything interesting turns up.

1 comment:

Kevin Hillstrom said...

Good job illustrating how some organizations mask what they really do via marketing-speak.

So far, so good with your new blog. I hope your readers appreciate your point of view.

Thanks,
Kevin
http://minethatdata.blogspot.com