NLP in Social Monitoring, Analysis, and Interaction

Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology, frequently called text analytics technology, is key to analyzing what customers are saying about your company. So leveraging NLP in a big part of the best social-service products. NLP input is the content of customers’ posts, messages, and feedback, while NLP output is a tree structure that represents and contains their syntax, semantics, context, and intent. NLP processing performs tasks such as:

  • Corrects spelling
  • Parses content to determine parts of speech and their relationships
  • Extracts entities and facts
  • Resolves vague pronoun antecedents (anaphora)
  • Determines the meaning of unknown words using their morphological attributes
  • Identifies phrases
  • Identifies relationships between words and phrases

This week’s report is about Clarabridge Analyze, Clarabridge Collaborate, and Clarabridge Engage—the Voice of the Customer/ social-service offering from Clarabridge, Inc., a privately-held software supplier based in Reston, VA. Clarabridge Analyze listens, analyzes, reports, and alerts on customer conversations on social and on internal channels. Analyze’s alerts are sent to Collaborate for their assignment and management. From within Collaborate, facilities of Engage let agents respond to and interact with customers.

NLP is a core analysis component of Clarabridge Analyze and the key IP of Clarabridge, Inc. Clarabridge did not supply the details of the functionality of its NLP, certainly not its internals and not very much about its externals.

Clarabridge characterizes its NLP as “proprietary.” While the company owns a few patents, none of them is for its NLP. It protects this IP through minimal disclosure. Other VoC and social monitoring, analysis, and interaction products that we’ve evaluated have taken the steps to patent their NLP technology or have been willing to discuss the details of the technologies that they’ve used to analyze customer conversations. Patents protect the technology from competitors who might copy it but, at the same time, patents reveal the technology to those, like us, who evaluate the products that contain it and those who purchase and use the products. This revealing enables product comparisons and helps ensure that selection decisions address requirements.  (For evaluations of other text analytics-based social monitoring, analysis, and interaction products, we really have read the patents and the patent applications.)

On one hand, understanding what a product does and how it does it are critical to actionable evaluations. For VoC and social monitoring, analysis, and interaction products these are important factors for a product’s performance, throughput and scalability, accuracy, and consistency. Without detailed information on NLP, you’ll be buying a black box. That can be risky. Selection will rely on demonstrations, limited trials, and references.

On the other hand, we’re not language scientists. Our evaluations do not consider the internals of the algorithms that an NLP implementation uses for parsing customer verbatims or for extracting entities, facts, and relationships from them. But, we sure want to know that these products have facilities for automating the analysis of the huge and ever increasing volumes of customer conversations, for performing these analyses quickly and consistently, and for identifying which verbatims need follow-up actions. Clarabridge Analyze does have these facilities. Along with Clarabridge Engage, Clarabridge Analyze can help businesses deliver effective social-service.

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Aside

Our 4Q2012 Customer Service Update Report, we complete our ninth year of quarterly updates on the suppliers and products in customer service. Yes, we’ve been writing these reports since 2004, focusing on factors that are important in the evaluation, comparison, and selection of customer service products: customers, products, and company activity, staffing, and financial performance.

This quarter the suppliers and products are: 

  • Aptean                              Knova
  • Attensity                          Attensity Analyze and Attensity Respond
  • eGain                                 eGain Service
  • IntelliResponse                 IntelliResponse Virtual Agent (VA)
  • KANA                              KANA Enterprise, KANA Experience Analytics
  • Moxie                                Spaces by Moxie
  • Next IT                             ActiveAgent
  • Nuance/VirtuOz                VirtuOz Intelligent Virtual Agent
  • Oracle RightNow              Oracle RightNow CX Cloud Service
  • Salesforce.com                  Service Cloud, Knowledge, Marketing Cloud (Radian6)

Briefly, 4Q2012 was a very good quarter for customer service. Very good customer growth was the quarter’s highlight. Very good financial performance reflected customer growth. Product activity was up. Eight of our suppliers made product announcements. Mergers and acquisitions were once again the big company news as Nuance acquired VirtuOz.

How about a little historical perspective.

Let’s go back five years to our 4Q2007 Customer Service Update Report. We stated in that report that customer Service suppliers closed out 2007 with a very good fourth quarter. Customer growth was the driver and $1 million+ deals made the quarter. Only two suppliers made significant product announcements. Company activity was low. In 4Q2007, the suppliers and products that we covered were:

  • ATG                                 Self-Service, Commerce
  • eGain                                 eGain Service
  • InQuira                              InQuira 8
  • InStranet                           Contact Centers In-Line
  • KANA                              KANA Service Solutions
  • KNOVA                           KNOVA Application Suite
  • RightNow                         RightNow CRM

A couple of points to compare customer service at the end of 2007 with customer service at the end of 2012.

We mentioned, ” $1 million+ deals made the quarter.” In 2007 only one of our suppliers, RightNow, offered subscription licenses for what we called at the time SaaS deployments of its products. All of the other suppliers offered perpetual licenses with one-time fees for on-premise deployments. By the way, RightNow also offered on-premise deployment but was working to phase them out in favor of the cloud.

Today, subscription licenses and cloud computing deployment have become the norm. For customers, cloud computing means much lower initial investment, much lower initial effort, few dependencies of environmental factors like server operating systems, web infrastructures, and databases, and much lower maintenance effort as suppliers typically provide automatic updates for new versions and releases. For suppliers, cloud computing means more stable financial performance without the worry of those $1+ million deals slipping out of quarters. It also results in easier and lower cost maintenance as every customer pretty much runs the same version of their software, Note that many of our suppliers still offer perpetual licenses and on-premise deployment as an option.

There are similarities and differences in the rosters of our suppliers. While many of the names are the same, only eGain is the same supplier 4Q2012 as it as was in 4Q2007. And, eGain Service today is just a new and (much) improved version of eGain Service in 2007.

Oracle has made the biggest impact on our roster suppliers, acquiring, ATG, InQuira, and RightNow. In products, Oracle ATG Commerce is Oracle’s key ecommerce offering. Oracle ATG Self-Service is gone. Oracle InQuira, paired with Oracle Siebel, is Oracle on-premise offering for customer service. Oracle InQuira provides search and knowledge management capabilities, still at the same level of functionality (but that’s a story for another time). Oracle RightNow CX Cloud Service is Oracle’s customer service offering for cloud deployment. It’s been integrated with Oracle Fusion marketing and sales applications to create a cloud based CRM suite. Most significantly, as we’ve mentioned in each of our quarterly Customer Service Update Reports since the acquisition closed in January of 2012, Oracle RightNow continues to introduce regular quarterly releases of Oracle RightNow CX Cloud Service. The offering is stronger now than it was before the acquisition.

InStranet was acquired by Salesforce.com in August 2008. InStranet Contact Centers In-Line has become the technology foundation to Salesforce Knowledge, the knowledge management component of Salesforce Service Cloud.

KANA, a public company in 4Q2007, was taken private in October 2009. KANA Service Solutions, a suite of customer service applications, have, for the most part, been removed from KANA’s product set. From 2008 to 2010, KANA made a huge investment to build a process oriented customer service offering called Service Experience Management (SEM). SEM is part of the current KANA Enterprise. KANA Experience Analytics is based on technology that came to KANA in its 2011 acquisition of Overtone.

KNOVA, the supplier, was acquired by Consona Corporation in 2006. Consona Corporation merged with CDC Software in October 2012 to become Aptean. KNOVA, the knowledge management application was a strategic offering for Consona. At the moment, Aptean is trying to figure out where it fits within its very broad and overlapping product set.

In 4Q2007, customer service applications were case management applications, knowledge management applications, or email response management systems. We’ve never covered case management or email response management. Even when we started our customer service research ten years ago, we felt that these apps had become commodities and that we could offer little value add in evaluating and comparing them.

In 4Q2012, the customer service application portfolio has grown and customer service has become much more efficient and effective. Mobile, social, and the continual pressure to lower cost to serve have been the drivers. Only Knova remains a traditional knowledge management system. eGain Service, KANA Enterprise, Oracle RightNow CX Cloud Service, and Salesforce Service Cloud have all added mobile and social capabilities. Attensity Analyze and Attensity Respond provide social monitoring, analysis, and interaction. IntelliResponse, Next IT, and Nuance offer virtual agent products. Virtual agents are a major refinement of knowledge management applications. They deliver a single answer or solution to customers’ questions or problems rather than hundreds or maybe thousands of knowledge items from which customers are expected to make a selection.

Pretty amazing. Customer service has come a long way in five years—new companies, new technologies, products, and applications, new channels, and new ways to license those applications. Progress for sure.