By John Ragsdale, VP of Research, SSPA
Innovation is a boardroom-level topic these days, with companies looking for an advantage that will enable them to leapfrog the competition. The service and support industry has a long history of innovation, quickly leveraging new tools and channels to deliver stellar support by non-traditional means. As 2006 draws to a close, I’d like to bring your attention to some SSPA technology and consulting partners who are delivering innovative solutions.
With SSPA benchmark data showing interaction volumes increasing dramatically and service levels across channels dropping, clearly innovation is needed to meet and exceed customer expectations in this era of rapidly escalating technological complexity. In order to identify innovative technology providers in the service and support industry, SSPA Research launched the Recognized Innovator program at the Fall 2006 Services Leadership Conference in Washington D.C., held November 12-14. Services Leadership Conference exhibitors were invited to submit proposals on how their products and/or services are innovative in three categories:
Technology Innovation. While many areas of customer service and CRM technology are beginning to mature, a few vendors continue to deliver pure technology innovation, creating software or hardware that changes the way companies provide support. Recognized Innovators in this category offer patented technology inherent in the product or service that solves an old problem in a new way, or provides a solution to an emerging business problem.
Customer Experience Innovation. In more industries, companies are realizing that delivering an exceptional customer experience is the greatest competitive differentiator they have. Recognized Innovators in this category enable unique, differentiating experiences for both business and consumer customers.
Optimization Innovation. While much of the industry buzz focuses on new channels and bleeding edge technology, innovation is still needed for customer service and support optimization. Recognized Innovators in this category provide innovative approaches to cutting operational expenses and increasing productivity for technical support and field service agents.
SSPA Research received 39 applications, and 13 technology partners were selected as Recognized Innovators. I led guided tours of the winner’s booths in the Technology Showcase, allowing SSPA members to see a demo of each innovation.
Recognized Innovators for Technology
In the area of Technology, the following partners were selected as Recognized Innovators:
Apparent Networks. In a major step forward for multi-vendor support challenges with enterprise software, Apparent Network’s AppCritical Technical Support can quickly detect network bottlenecks at a customer site automatically, remotely, and with a very small footprint, to diagnose poor application performance as a network issue, not a software issue. No more dispatching a TAM with a network “sniffer” every time a customer complains your application is running slowly in their environment. www.apparentnetworks.com
Imera Systems. Imera TeamLinks has harnessed ‘presence awareness’ inherent in the IP stack and merged it with expertise tracking to create a full expertise management and collaboration suite. Don’t know the answer? Just click on the designed subject matter expert (SME) or engineer and drag/drop them into a live collaborative session. SMEs can even be external to your organization, but linked into your expertise network. www.imera.com
Citrix Online. With success of self-service on the decline according to SSPA benchmark data, offering seamless access to live support is critical for an excellent customer experience. Citrix GoToAssist uses rule based or customer initiated escalation from self-service to assisted service, providing an excellent customer experience and keeping the customer in their preferred channel—Web. www.citrixonline.com
Numara Software. CRM and IT support products offer ‘best practice’ workflows that apply to many business problems in an organization. But, if you want to use your existing tool to automate a different type of issue tracking you have to buy another application instance from the vendor. FootPrints from Numara Software allows you to create ‘projects,’ segmenting the application and data model so that you can run completely different applications (different users, different customers, different process flows) all on a single application instance, meaning a single tool can be leveraged across the enterprise by just adding additional user licenses. www.numarasoftware.com
Recognized Innovators for Customer Experience
In the area of Customer Experience, the following partners were selected as Recognized Innovators:
Art Technology Group (ATG). The ATG Wisdom-enabled Service Suite provides a single, modular platform for efficiently resolving all forms of customer service interactions with process-based personalized attention. In the latest release, additional Web 2.0 capabilities were added, including ATG Outreach for proactive service, ATG Forum and ATG Live Chat. The recent purchase of eStara for click to call adds even more icing on the cake. www.atg.com
InQuira. We know that returning hundreds of possible results for a knowledge base search, using text searching a la Google, is the wrong way to solve customer self-service problems. InQuira’s ability to understand customer intent means that the correct answer is returned, not just anything that matches the question text. Additionally, InQuira has developed “Intent Libraries,” with hundreds of intent rules per vertical that cover 70% of questions asked out of the box—one of the first real example of eService verticalization. www.inquira.com
KANA Software. KANA’s Response Live is one of the most robust web collaboration suites on the market, and the latest version includes agent to agent chat as well as transfer/conference enhancements. The Response Live engine allows very granular rules to be written to detect when customers are struggling online using self-service, so you can proactively prompt them for assistance, offering seamless integration from self-service to assisted service with a proactive twist. www.kana.com
Satmetrix Systems. As technology companies found in the push to Japan a decade ago, “customer satisfaction” means different things to different cultures. Satmetrix has created the Net Promoter Cross Cultural Benchmark to interpret international loyalty survey results, identifying where cultural biases may be getting in the way of satisfying customers. www.satmetrix.com
Recognized Innovators for Optimization
In the area of Optimization, the following partners were selected as Recognized Innovators:
KNOVA Software. Traditional knowledge management is hard and costly, requiring highly trained authors to write content in a specialized and complex structure. Furthermore, search tuning rarely delivers the desired results and requires skilled experts. KNOVA integrates structured and unstructured content from across the enterprise by leveraging patented auto-classification and segmentation methods. With KNOVA, agents can capture new knowledge as a natural part of their resolution process, streamlining content creation. www.knova.com
Lithium Technologies, Inc. Lithium InterActive enables online customer communities that reduce customer care costs and create loyal customers. Lithium InterActive extends traditional online customer communities by incorporating a wide range of interaction channels including forums, chat, blogs, search, polls, surveys, and private messaging. These channels leverage both company-generated and customer-generated information to create low-cost, high-value dynamic content for the web site, and deflect agent assisted interactions. www.lithium.com
LogMeIn, Inc. Using patent-pending technology, the LogMeIn Gateway brokers connections between remote PCs and then hands off that connection directly between the two computers. As a result, the LogMeIn service requires less infrastructure and LogMeIn’s costs are lower than alternatives. Also, connections are faster: traffic flows directly between two computers, without hopping between servers. A large outsourced IT customer that recently switched to LogMeIn Rescue stated that file transfer rates have been reduced from 60+ minutes down to just 10, reducing costs exponentially by shortening support sessions and enabling reps to handle more incidents in the same or shorter timeframe. http://secure.logmein.com/home.asp
QuickArrow. We are thrilled to have a partner from our sister association, TPSA, among the SSPA Recognized Innovators. With their bi-directional web-services API set, QuickArrow is redefining Professional Services Automation (PSA) by allowing real time, 2 way integration to CRM, SFA and ERP applications, solving the age old PSA challenge: forcing everyone involved in a project to track all content related to the project within the PSA application. Now users associated with a project can work within the PSA solution, or continue to create, read, update and delete information in any enterprise application, and QuickArrow will offer a ‘virtual view’ of the project, including data from wherever it is stored. For SSPA members, learning about innovation in PSA will help you work more effectively with your service providers, and give you ammunition to push for additional visibility into services projects. www.quickarrow.com
Talisma Corp. Email response management is perhaps the most underutilized tool in all of eService, particularly within technical support environments. With 25% of total interaction volume coming via email, tools to better classify incoming emails, auto respond when possible, and auto-suggest responses to agents to streamline email processing is more important than ever. Leveraging IBM’s Classification Module for WebSphere Content Discovery, Talisma Answer can accurately assess and respond to inbound customer emails, and the system continuously ‘learns’ correct responses over time. www.talisma.com
Thanks to all of you who joined me for the Innovation Tours in Washington D.C., and thanks to all the SSPA partners who participated. We are gearing up to offer the program again for the Spring 2007 conference, with new innovation categories. Stay tuned for more information, and keep on innovating!
About John Ragsdale……………………………………………………
John Ragsdale is Vice President of Research for the SSPA. Ragsdale spent 10 years managing tech support operations before moving to Silicon Valley where he held product management and marketing positions at eService and CRM vendors. He spent 5 years at Forrester Research as VP and Research Director before joining the SSPA.