Customer Service Integration

This week’s report is our 1Q2014 Customer Service Update. Briefly, 1Q2014 was a quiet quarter for customer service. Customer growth was down. Only Clarabridge improved significantly in both customer acquisition and repeat business. Product activity was light. Five of our suppliers did not make any product announcements. Company activity was light. Four suppliers did not make any company announcements. Most significantly, Verint acquired KANA. Clarabridge earned a Customer Service Star for 1Q2014 for outstanding customer growth, for significant company activity, and for earning an excellent product evaluation.

We observed one customer service trend—customer service integration. Very important. Customer Service Integration is one of the key criteria in all of our frameworks for evaluating customer service products. Customer service integration can reduce cost to serve and increase customer satisfaction. Integration expands and streamlines the customer service experience. It makes it easier for customers to get answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. It makes it easier for customer service agents to help customers.

For example, from our framework for evaluating virtual agent/virtual assisted-service products, we state, “Through integration with external customer service applications, virtual agent software product deployments can escalate to assisted-service chat or contact center telephone channels, deliver virtual assisted-service on social networks, and/or can answer a wider range of questions, questions that involve the data in cases and accounts, for instance. Integration makes virtual agents more powerful, creating a richer, broader, and deeper virtual assisted-service experience. Integration lowers cost to serve, deflecting/avoiding high-cost interactions with live agents.”

The important integration targets for several types of customer service applications are shown in the Table below. Our evaluation frameworks are the source.

Customer Service Integration
Customer Service Application Type Integration Targets
Virtual agent
  • Account management
  • Case management
  • Contact center
  • Knowledge management
  • Live chat
  • Social networks
Social customer service
  • Account management
  • Case management
  • Contact center
  • Communities
  • Knowledge management
Contact center/Case management
  • Account management
  • Communities
  • Knowledge management
  • Live chat
  • Social networks/Social customer service
  • Virtual agents

Table 1. In this Table we present the key integration targets for several types of customer service applications.

In practice, we’ve seen broad and deep customer service integration within CRM suites and customer service suites such as Oracle Service Cloud and Salesforce Service Cloud. For example, Salesforce Service Cloud and Salesforce Sales Cloud are both implemented on the Salesforce1 platform. Platform resources include account data so account management is built in to Service Cloud. The Service Cloud Console gives agents access to cases. Salesforce Knowledge, the firm’s knowledge management offering, Salesforce Communities, the firm’s internal communities offering, and Live Agent, the firm’s live chat offering, are Service Cloud features. Salesforce Social Hub, a feature of the Radian6 component of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which provides social listening and interaction capabilities, integrates social customer service. While many of these features are separately packaged and separately priced, all are very tightly integrated and that integration is “in the box.”

Individual customer service applications typically do not package integration with external customer service applications. We’ve heard from suppliers of these applications that integration can be accomplished by their professional services organizations, that it’s a “simple matter of programming,” and that they’ve written this code for many of their customers. That may be so, but professional service programming is not product. New releases on either side of the integration interface mean additional custom programming. Programming is never simple.

Alternatively, licensees of these products commonly do integration “at the desktop.” Customer service agents’ desktops have a window open for each of the applications they need to help answer their customers’ questions or solve their problems. Integration at the desktop is complicated. The integration burden is on agents.

This quarter, eGain, IntelliResponse, and Oracle announced new customer service integration. The eGain SAP Certified integration allows contact center agents to search and access the eGain Knowledge Base from the SAP CRM agent console using eGain’s FAQs, natural language and keyword search queries, topic trees, and guided help search methods. The IntelliResponse Virtual Agent (VA) for Salesforce integrates IntelliResponse VA with Salesforce Service Cloud, adding virtual assisted-service to the Service Cloud Console, the Customer Portal, and Service Cloud Communities. In the Oracle Service Cloud February 2014 release, the dynamic forms API for the Customer Portal enables developers to configure a page that asks the customer for additional information, dynamically, before submitting the incident.

We hope that more customer service suppliers will recognize the value in customer service integration. Customer service integration makes their offerings more attractive. It helps their customers create and deliver a better customer service experience, reducing cost to serve and increasing customer satisfaction. It makes it easier and faster for their customers’ customers to get answers and solutions. That’s’ a win, win, win, a no-brainer for sure.

Back to the Future in Customer Service

This week’s report is a product evaluation of V-Person, the virtual agent offering of Creative Virtual, a privately held supplier that was founded in 2003 and is based in London, UK with offices in the US, India, the Netherlands, and Australia. The report updates our September 19, 2012 evaluation. Since that time, Creative Virtual has made significant, attractive, and very useful improvements to V-Person. Personalization is the most significant, most attractive, and most useful set of capabilities.

Personalized Customer Service

Creative Virtual takes the familiar rules-based approach to personalization, matching customer profile attributes with attributes of knowledgebase answers. Personalization V-Person is the first virtual agent offering to implement personalization. This is a big step forward for virtual agent technology and a big step for customer service.

As we stated in our report, virtual agents that can deliver personalized customer service are especially attractive for account management scenarios in financial services, government, healthcare, telecommunications, and travel. JP Morgan Chase Bank is the first user of V-Person’s personalization. Here’s a screen shot. Note that Richard Simons is CEO Creative Virtual USA.

jpmc&co copy

Rules-Based Personalization

We first saw this rules-based personalization approach in ecommerce systems back in the late 1990s. Rules executed at runtime matched customer/account profile attributes with product attributes to select and deliver content. Ecommerce systems stored and managed all of this account and product data. The stored and managed web content, too. The challenge for analysts and administrators was to minimize the number of rules processed. Too many times, in their zeal to deliver exactly the right content, they would ask the ecommerce systems to execute dozens of rules for every customer interaction. The time needed to process the rules might slow response time so much (Remember that this is 1990s era processing speed and power.) that customers frequently abandoned leave the site. Analysts learned this lesson and reduced the number of rules. Personalization was still pretty good.

Customer service applications have a different challenge to perform rules-based personalization. While their knowledgebase answers or cases/tickets have plenty of predefined attributes, they do not store and manage customer/account data. The customer/account profile attributes needed for personalization are typically stored and managed in CRM systems, billing systems, or account management systems—systems external to customer service applications. Application integration is required to collect the customer profile attributes that personalization rules use to select content.

Customer service applications, particularly virtual agent applications, have not been so good at application integration. Most are missing high-level integration tools and/or packaged integration facilities. (Note though that IntelliResponse, whose IntelliResponse Virtual Agent is among the leading virtual agent offerings, just announced packaged integration with Salesforce Service Cloud. Major progress there.) Some don’t even expose web services or lower level APIs. That makes customer service application integration, the application integration necessary for personalized customer service, low-level programming work, work for the consultants of customer service application suppliers. That’s not a very attractive, very repeatable, or very cost effective approach.

Collecting Customer/Account Profile Attributes in V-Person

Creative Virtual offers two approaches for collecting customer/account profile data. The first is that low-level programming integration. Python scripting is V-Person’s integration mechanism. The second is cookies. Cookies can store the customer/account profile attributes collected by Python scripts in the first approach or analysts can use V-Person’s facilities to collect these attributes through a (virtual agent) question and (customer) answer dialog and then pass the data to web developers to set the cookies.

When use of virtual agent applications requires logging in to a customer support site, and it should for any account management activity, then online collection of customer profile attributes is a decent approach. Using cookies to store them has some advantages but, in this time of high sensitivity to privacy and security, certainly some disadvantages, too.

Back to the Future for Application Integration, too

Through its personalization capabilities, Creative Virtual has broken new ground and raised the bar for customer service. Props to them. The firm’s customers will be able to deliver a better customer service experience to their customers. That’s a terrific first step.

The next step has to be the application integration improvements to make the implementation of personalized customer service faster, easier, and more extensible. Programming by consultants within professional services engagements with customer service suppliers won’t cut it for the long term. What’s needed is exemplified by IntelliResponse’s new packaged integration with Salesforce Service Cloud—packaged integration with the leading CRM and account management products and higher-level integration mechanisms for integration with custom CRM and account management apps. Like rules-based personalization, packaged integration is widely used and well proven. Application integration standards have been around for years. Customer service application providers should go back to the future again.

 

 

 

 

 

Voices of Customers

With this week’s report, the 4Q2013 Customer Service Update, we complete our tenth year of quarterly updates on the leading suppliers and products in customer service. These updates have focused on the factors that are important in the evaluation, comparison, and selection of customer service products.

  • Customer Growth
  • Financial Performance
  • Product Activity
  • Company Activity

Taking from the framework of our reports, for Company Activity, we cover company related announcements, press releases, and occurrences that are important to our analysis of quarterly performance. In 4Q2013, three of our suppliers, Creative Virtual, KANA, and Nuance, published the results of surveys that they had conducted or sponsored over the previous several months. All of the surveys were about customer service and the answers to survey questions demonstrated customers’ approach, behavior, preferences, and issues in their attempts to get service from the companies with which they’ve chosen to do business. The responses to these surveys are the Voices of the Customers for and about customer service. This is wonderful stuff.

Now, to be sure, suppliers conduct surveys for market research and marketing purposes. Suppliers’ objectives for surveys are using the Voice of the Customer to prove/ disprove, validate, demonstrate, or even promote their products, services, or programs. Certainly, all of the surveys our suppliers published achieved those objectives. For this post, though, let’s focus on the broader value of the surveys, the Voice of the Customer for Customer Service.

Surveys

The objectives in many of the survey represent the activities that customers perform, the steps that customers follow to get customer service from the companies with which they choose to do business. By getting customer service, we mean getting answers to their questions and (re)solutions to their problems. Ordering our examination and analysis of the surveys in customers’ typical sequence of these steps organizes them into a Customer Scenario. Remember that a Customer Scenario is the sequence of activities that customers follow to accomplish an objective that they want to or need to perform. For a customer service Customer Scenario, customers typically:

  • Access Customer Service. Customer login to their accounts or to the customer service section of their companies’ web sites, or call their companies’ contact center and get authenticated to speak with customer service agents
  • Find Answers and (Re)solutions. Use self-service, social-service, virtual-assisted service, and/or assisted-service facilities to try to help themselves, seek the help of their peers, seek the help of customer service agent for answers and (re)solutions.
  • Complain. If customers cannot get answers or (re)solutions using these facilities, they complain to their companies.

Here, in Table 1, below, are the surveys that examine how customers perform these activities and how companies support those activities. Note that these surveys are a subset of those surveys that were published by our suppliers. Not all of their surveys mapped directly to customer activities. Note that our analyses of survey results are based on the content of the press releases of the surveys. This content is a bit removed from the actual survey data.

Sponsor Survey Objective Activity Respondents
Nuance Privacy and security of telephone credentials Access Smartphone users
Nuance Telephone authentication issues and preferences Access US consumers
KANA Email response times for customer service Find answers and (re)solutions N/A
KANA Twitter response times for customer service Find answers and (re)solutions N/A
Nuance Resolving problems using web self-service Find answers and (re)solutions Web self-service users, 18–45 years old
Nuance Issues with Web self-service Find answers and (re)solutions Windstream Communications customers
KANA Usage of email vs. telephone for complaints Complain N/A
KANA Customer communication channels for complaints Complain UK consumers
KANA Customer complaints Complain US consumers, 18 years old and older

Table 1. We list and describe customer service surveys published by KANA and Nuance during 4Q2013 in this Table.

Let’s listen closely to the Voices of the Customers as they perform the activities of the customer service Customer Scenario. For each of the surveys in the Table, we’ll present the published survey results, analyze them, and suggest what businesses might do to help customers perform the activities faster, more effectively, and more efficiently.

Access

If questions and problems are related to their accounts, before customers can ask questions or present problems, they have to be authenticated on the customer service system that handles and manages questions and problems. Authentication requires usernames and passwords, login credentials. In these times of rampant identity theft, security of credentials has become critically important.

Nuance’s surveys on privacy and security of telephone credentials and on telephone authentication shed some light on customers’ issues with authentication.

  • 83 percent of respondents are concerned or very concerned about the misuse of their personal information.
  • 85 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with current telephone authentication methods.
  • 49 percent of respondents stated that current telephone authentication processes are too time consuming.
  • 67 percent of respondent have more than eleven usernames and passwords
  • 80 percent respondents use the same login credentials across all of their accounts
  • 67 percent of respondents reset their login credentials between one and five times per month.

Yikes! Consumers spend so much time and effort managing and, then, using their credentials. We’ve all experienced the latest account registration pages that grade our new or reset passwords from “weak” to “strong” and reject our weakest passwords. While strong passwords improve the security of our personal data, they’re hard to remember and they increase the time we spend in their management.

In voice biometrics, Nuance offers the technology to address many of these issues. On voice devices, after a bit of training, customers simply say, “My voice is my password,” to authenticate account access based on voiceprints and  voiceprints are unique to an individual.

Find Answers and (Re)solutions

KANA’s surveys on email response times for customer service and Twitter response times for customer service examine response times for “inquiries.” When customers make inquiries, they’re looking for answers or (re)solutions. In the surveys, KANA found:

  • According to Call Centre Association members, response times to email inquiries was greater than eight hours for 59 percent of respondents and greater than 24 hours for 27 percent of respondents.
  • According to a survey by Simply Measured, a social analytics company, the average response times to Twitter inquiries were 5.1 hours and were less than one hour for 10 percent of respondents.

While it’s dangerous to make cross-survey analyses, it seems reasonable to conclude that customer service is better on Twitter than on email. That’s not surprising. Companies have become very sensitive to the public shaming by dissatisfied customers on Twitter. They’ll allocate extra resources to monitoring social channels to prevent the shame. Customers win.

However, remember that these are independent surveys. The companies that deliver excellent customer service on Twitter might also deliver excellent customer service on email and the companies that deliver not so excellent customer service on email might also deliver not so excellent customer service on Twitter. The surveys were not designed to gather this data. That’s the danger of cross-survey analysis.

If your customers make inquiries on both email and social channels, then you should deliver excellent customer service on both. Email management systems and social listening, analysis, and interaction systems, both widely used and well proven customer service applications, can help. These are systems that should be in every business’s customer service application portfolio.

Email management systems help business manage inquiries that customer make via email. These systems have been around for way more than ten years, helping businesses respond to customers’ email inquiries. Businesses configure them to respond to common and simple questions and problems automatically and to assign stickier questions and problems to customer service staff. Business policies are the critical factor to determine response times to customers’ email inquiries.

Social listening, analysis, and interaction systems have been around for about five years. They help businesses filter the noise of the social web to identify Tweets and posts that contain questions and problems and the customers who Tweet and post them. These systems then include facilities to interact with Tweeters and posters or to send the Tweets and posts to contact center apps for that interaction.

Find Answers and (Re)solutions Using Web Self-Service

Nuance’s surveys about web self-service really show the struggles of customers trying to help themselves to answers and (re)solutions.

In the survey about consumers’ experiences with web self-service, the key findings were:

  • 58 percent of consumers do not resolve their issues
  • 71 percent of consumers who do not resolve their issues spend more than 30 minutes trying
  • 63 percent of consumers who do resolve issues, spend more than 10 minutes trying

In Nuance’s survey of Windstream Communications’ customers about issues with web self-service, the key finding were:

  • 50 percent of customers who did not resolve their issues, escalated to a live agent
  • 71 percent of customers prefer a virtual assistant over static web self-service facilities

The most surprising and telling finding of these surveys was the time and effort that customers expend trying to find answers and (re)solutions using web self-service facilities. 30 minutes not to find an answer or a solution seems like a very long time. Customers really want to help themselves.

By the way, Windstream’s customers’ preference for a virtual assistant is not a surprise. Windstream Communications, a Little Rock, AK networking, cloud-computing, and managed services provider, has deployed Nina Web, Nuance’s virtual agent offering for the web. Wendy, Windstream’s virtual agent, uses Nina Web’s technology to help answer customers’ questions and solve their problems. The finding is a proof point for the value of virtual agents in delivering customer service. Companies in financial services, healthcare, and travel as well as in telecommunications have improved their customer services experiences with virtual agents. We cover the leading virtual agent suppliers—Creative Virtual, IntelliResponse, Next IT, and Nuance—in depth. Check out our Product Evaluation Reports to find the virtual agent technology best for your business.

Complain

Customers complain when they can’t get answers to their questions and (re)solutions to their problems. KANA’s surveys about complaints teach so much about customer’s behavior, preferences, and experiences.

  • In KANA’s survey on usage of email or telephone channels for complaints, 42 percent of survey respondents most frequently use email for complaints and 36 percent use the telephone for complaints.
  • In KANA’s survey of UK consumers on communications channels for complaints, 25 percent of UK adults used multiple channels to make complaints. Fifteen percent of their complaints were made face-to-face.

The surprising finding in these surveys is the high percentage of UK consumers willing to take the time and make the effort to make complaints face-to-face. These customers had to have had very significant issues and these customers were very serious about getting those issues resolved.

The key results in KANA’s survey about customer complaints by US consumers were:

  • On average, US consumers spend 384 minutes (6.4 hours) per year lodging complaints
  • In the most recent three years, 71 percent of US consumers have made a complaint. On average, they make complaints six times per year and spend one hour and four minutes resolving each complaint.
  • Thirty nine percent of US consumers use the telephone channel to register their complaints. Thirty three percent use email. Seven percent use social media.
  • Millenials complained most frequently—80 percent of 25 to 34 year old respondents. Millenials are also most likely to complain on multiple channels—39 percent of them.
  • Survey respondents had to restate their complaints (Retell their stories) 69 percent of the time as the responsibility to handle their complaints was reassigned. On average, consumers retold their stories three times before their issues were resolved and 27 percent of consumers used multiple channels for the retelling.

The surprising findings in this survey are the time, volume, and frequency of complaints. Six and a half hours a year complaining? Six complaints every year? Yikes!

No surprise about the low usage of social channels to register complaints. Customers want to bring our complaints directly to their sources. They may vent on the social web, but they bring their complaints directly to their sources, the companies that can resolve them.

Lastly and most significantly, it’s just so depressing to learn that businesses are still making customers retell their stories as their complaints cross channels and/or get reassigned or escalated. We’ve been hearing this issue from customers for more than 20 years. Customers hate it.

Come on businesses. All the apps in your customer service portfolios package the facilities you need to eliminate this issue—transcripts of customers’ activities in self-service apps on the web and on mobile devices, threads of social posts, transcripts of customers’ conversations with virtual agents, and, most significantly, case notes. Use these facilities. You’ll shorten the time to solve problems and resolve customers’ complaints. Your customers will spend less time trying to get answers and (re)solutions (and more time using your products and services or buying new ones).

4Q2013 Was a Good Quarter for Customer Service

By the way, Customer Service had a good quarter in 4Q2013. Customer growth was up. Financial performance was up as a result. Product activity was very heavy. Nine of our ten suppliers made product announcements. Company activity was light. Five suppliers did not make any company announcements. Most significantly, KANA was acquired by Verint. And of course, three suppliers published customer service surveys.

A Good Quarter for Customer Service in 3Q2013

This week, continuing our tenth year of quarterly updates on the suppliers and products in customer service, we published our 3Q2013 Customer Service Update Report. Just a reminder, these reports examine customer service suppliers and their products along the dimensions of customer growth, financial performance, product activity, and company activity. We currently cover ten leading customer service suppliers. They lead in overall market influence and share, in market segment influence and share, and/or in product technology and innovation.

3Q2013 was a good quarter for customer service. Customer growth was up and improved customer growth resulted in improved financial performance. Product activity was light. Six of our suppliers did not make any product announcements, but remember that third quarters are summer quarters. They’re usually never big for products. Company activity was also on the light side but what company action we saw was highlighted by expansion into new markets by four of our suppliers. That’s a key customer service trend and a solid indicator of customer service growth in the quarters ahead. Here’s a bit more detail:

  • On July 17, IntelliResponse and BolderView, a Melbourne, AU-based consultancy specializing in virtual agent solutions for large enterprises in utilities, banking, technology, higher education and government markets, jointly announced that BolderView had become a value-added reseller of IntelliResponse VA for Australia and New Zealand. Within the release, IntelliResponse also announced the opening of its own office in Sydney, AU.
  • On September 5, KANA and Wipro jointly announced a partnership that will apply Wipro’s consulting, systems integration, and insurance industry expertise and experience to accelerate deployments of KANA Enterprise for large global insurers and financial services providers. The companies will form a dedicated, joint deployment team to work on customer deployments.
  • On September 17, Clarabridge announced the expansion of its global operations into Latin America. A sales team will use Miami, FL offices and will leverage Clarabridge’s partnerships with Accenture, Deloitte, and Salesforce.com initially to focus on opportunities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.
  • On September 25, Moxie announced the expansion of its operations in Europe. The expansion includes opening an office in Reading, UK, forming partner ships with Spitze & Company in Denmark and IZO in Spain, and appointing Andrew Mennie General Manager for EMEA.

This expansion is a win for customer service suppliers, a win for their customers, and a win for their customers’ customers.

It’s already winning for customer service suppliers. For example, Moxie claims to have doubled its European customer base in the last six months. New customers include Allied Irish Bank and the British Army. IntelliResponse and BolderView recently launched “Olivia,” their first joint virtual agent deployment. Olivia is the virtual agent for Optus, Australia’s second largest telecommunications provider. And, Creative Virtual, a UK-based virtual agent software supplier that we’ve been covering in our quarterly reports for the past four quarters, recently announced Sabine, the Dutch-speaking virtual agent for NIBC Direct, the online retail unit of The Hague, NE-based bank. Sabine’s deployment is supported from Creative Virtual’s new Amsterdam office. See Sabine at the bottom right of NIBC Direct’s home page, below.

nibc png

Expansion demonstrates the strength and viability of customer service suppliers. Their products have reached the level of maturity and reliability that their deployment “far from home” carries little or no risk. They have the resources to open offices and hire the staff to promote, sell, and support their products in new markets. And they recognize the potential for new and additional business in those markets.

Our suppliers’ customers and their (end) customers in Australia and New Zealand, Latin America, and Europe benefit, too. Customer service applications like Clarabridge Analyze, a CEM (Customer Experience Management) app, Creative Virtual V-Person and IntelliResponse VA (Virtual Agent) virtual agents apps, and Moxie Social Knowledgebase, a social customer service app have been proven to lower cost to serve and to improve customer experiences. Companies in expanded markets that deploy these apps will have more satisfied, more profitable customers. These apps will help answer customers’ questions and solve customers’ problems more quickly and more easily.

We’ve been ready for this expansion. Language support has long been a criterion in our frameworks for evaluating customer service applications. We examine the languages that the apps support for internal users and the globalization/localization facilities to deploy the apps to end customers. Generally, we’ve found that most customer service apps can be localized to support locale-specific deployments. On the other hand, the tools and reporting capabilities for internal users tend to be implemented and supported only in English.

2Q2013 Customer Service Stars

This week, continuing our tenth year of quarterly updates on the suppliers and products in customer service, we published our 2Q2013 Customer Service Update Report. These reports examine customer service suppliers and their products along the dimensions of customer growth, financial performance, product activity, and company activity. We currently cover eleven leading customer service suppliers. They lead in overall market influence and share, in market segment influence and share, and/or in product technology and innovation.

For 2Q2013, overall customer service performance was mixed but three of our suppliers—Clarabridge, IntelliResponse, and Salesforce.com—earned Customer Service Stars for the quarter. Very briefly, Clarabridge is a privately owned firm based in Reston, VA that was founded in 2005. Clarabridge offers a suite of VoC applications. IntelliResponse is a privately owned firm based in Toronto, ON that was founded in 2000. IntelliResponse offers a suite of virtual agent products. Salesforce.com is public (NYSE:CRM) firm based in San Francisco, CA that was founded in 1999. The company has a broad product that includes Salesforce Service Cloud, which provides case management, knowledge management, contact center, and web self-service applications.

So, what’s a Customer Service Star? Well, since 2009, we’ve been awarding Customer Service Stars for excellent quarterly performance balanced across those dimensions of customer growth, financial performance, products, and company activity. (Since 2010, we’ve also been awarding Customer Service Stars for the year—same criteria across four quarters.) It’s not easy to earn a Customer Service Star and we take awarding them pretty seriously. Here are the award criteria:

  • Customer growth: We examine significant quarter-over quarter acquisition of new customers and additional business from existing customers.
  • Financial performance. We examine quarterly revenue improvement as reported for public companies or as we estimate for private companies based on customer growth, customer base, and pricing.
  • Products. We examine new products, new versions in a quarter.
  • Company activity. We examine new M&A, partnerships, branding, patents, organization, and facilities in a quarter.

Typically, we award one Customer Service Star for a quarter. Frequently, we award none. Three in a quarter is a big deal, especially when many of our suppliers did not have good quarter. Here’s how Clarabridge, IntelliResponse, and Salesforce.com earned their Customer Service Stars for 2Q2013:

Customer growth and financial performance

  • On a base of approximately 250 customer accounts, Clarabridge acquired 10 to 15 new customers and did additional business with 55 to 65 existing customers, driving excellent financial performance
  • On a base of approximately 160 customer accounts, IntelliResponse acquired eight new customers and did additional business with six existing customers, driving very good financial performance.
  • On a base of approximately 165,000 customer accounts, growth in subscription and support revenue indicated that Salesforce.com acquired approximately 21,000 new customer accounts. We estimate that something around 20 percent of them licensed customer service products. Total revenue increased by more than seven percent to $957 million.

Products

  • Clarabridge made one product announcement in 2Q2013: Clarabridge 6.0, a major new version of its VoC application suite.
  • IntelliResponse made two product announcements in 2Q2013: OFFERS, a marketing application that delivers targeted offers within a virtual agent’s answers and VOICES, a Voice of the Customer analytic application. Both apps integrate with IntelliResponse Virtual Agent, “IR’s” virtual agent offering.
  • Salesforce.com made four product announcements: Salesforce Mobile Platform Services, mobile application development tools and programs for building and deploying Android, iOS, HTML5, and hybrid applications, Social.com, a new social advertising application, Salesforce Communities, a community application, and a suite of G2C (Government to Citizen) solutions for federal, state, and local agencies all built on Salesforce.com general-purpose apps.

Company activity

  • Clarabridge made three company announcements: a new corporate logo, web site, and brand for its products, a new general Counsel, and a partnership with Brandwatch for collection and analysis of social data.
  • IntelliResponse was awarded a U.S. patent for its answer matching technology.
  • Salesforce.com made three company announcements: an agreement with NTT to build a cloud-computing data center in the UK, the acquisition of ExactTarget, a marketing automation/campaign management supplier, and the appointment of a new President and Vice Chairman.

Props to all three for an excellent quarter!

We know all three of the companies and their current customer service product offerings very well. During 2013, we published a product evaluation of Clarabridge Analyze, Clarabridge Collaborate, and Clarabridge Engage against our Framework for Customer Social-Service on March 28, 2013. We published a product evaluation of IntelliResponse Virtual Agent (VA) against our Framework for Customer Virtual Assisted-Service on May 9, 2013. We published product evaluations of Salesforce Service Cloud against our Framework for Customer Cross-Channel Customer Service on January 24, 2013 and our evaluation of Salesforce Marketing Cloud Radian6 against our Framework for Customer Social-Service on August 1, 2013.

The three suppliers also made it easy for us to do our research for these product evaluations. All three gave us trial versions of their products as well as access to product documentation. For Clarabridge and IntelliResponse, we also read their appropriate patents and patent applications.

We usually publish our Quarterly Customer Service Update reports early in the third and last month of calendar quarters. IntelliResponse and Salesforce.com run on fiscal years that end on January 31. Their fiscal quarters end a month later than calendar quarters.

In a few weeks, we’ll begin research on our 3Q2013 Customer Service Update Report. Third quarters are summer quarters, quarters when the software business (and many other business) typically, shall we say, relaxes. But, we hope that a Customer Service Star or two will shine.

IntelliResponse VA

Accurate Answers with Fast and Easy Deployment

We’ve just published our Product Review of IntelliResponse Virtual Agent (IntelliResponse VA), the virtual assisted-service offering from IntelliResponse Systems, Inc., a privately held supplier founded in 2000 and based in Toronto, ON Canada. The report completes our latest research series on virtual agents/virtual assisted-service.

We’ve published evaluations of the four leading virtual agent offerings:

  • Creative Virtual V-Person
  • IntelliResponse VA
  • Next IT Active Agent
  • Nuance Nina Web (VirtuOz Intelligent Virtual Agent when we published. Nuance acquired VirtuOz earlier this year.)

Virtual agents implemented on all four can deliver a single answer to a customer’s question on web, mobile, and social channels. Expect the answer to be correct about 90 percent of the time.

Virtual agents deliver bottom line benefits. They can lower cost to serve as compared to live agents and they can improve customer sat by improving the speed, accuracy, and consistency of the answers to customers’ questions.

 Contrast virtual agents with search and knowledgebase approaches that deliver many answers and leave it to the customer to pick the correct one. This single correct answer makes virtual agents useful for answering many kinds of customers’ questions, certainly customer service questions but also questions about your business and about your business policies, processes, and practices, about your products, and everything about your customers’ relationships with you—accounts, orders, bills, and passwords, for example. They can be your agents for marketing, for sales, and for service.

 Like your live agents, it takes time and effort to get virtual agents ready to engage with your customers. You have to give them the knowledge about the business areas that they support. You have to train them to understand your customers’ questions and to correlate or match those questions with the correct answers. The knowledge is contained in/represented by the items in their knowledgebases, their store of predefined answers. Anticipate the questions that your customers will ask, specify the answers, and store them in the virtual agent’s knowledgebase. All four virtual agent products have knowledgebases and provide tools and facilities for creating and managing answers. Your customers’ questions will change and evolve with their relationships and with changes to your offerings of products and services and to your business. Virtual agent’s knowledge has to keep up with those changes (just like live agents’ knowledge).

Training virtual agents to understand your customers’ questions and to correlate/match them to correct answers is the harder part. Virtual agents use very sophisticated and complex technology to analyze customers’ questions and to match them with the answers in their knowledgebases. Analysis and matching is the core processing that virtual agents perform. Analysis and matching technology is the virtual agent supplier’s core IP, its secret sauce. Each of the four has patented some or all of this technology. The suppliers want you to appreciate the sophistication and power of the technology. They don’t give you much detail of what it does or how it works.

(We describe and evaluate how a virtual agent analyzes and matches questions in our product review. We actually read many of the suppliers’ patents to help us understand the technology. In our reports, we describe it a bit, but we focus on what you’ll have to do to use it effectively.)

Creative Virtual V-Person, Next IT Active Agent, and Nuance Nina Web use Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology for their analysis and matching. Each has its own NLP implementation. NLPs perform computational linguistic analyses on customers’ questions, parsing for subjects, verbs, object, and qualifiers, extracting entities, identifying actors and roles, and codifying relationships. This is sophisticated and complex processing.

For a successful virtual agent deployment, you provide critical input to your virtual agent supplier’s NLPs, for example:

  • Words that your customers will likely include in their questions
  • Misspellings, typos, slang, idioms, ad stems for those words
  • Conditions/rules/expressions for how your customers combine words into phrases
  • Parameters for configuring the NLP processing

If you don’t specify the actual words and their various alternative forms that your customers use in their questions, then your virtual agent cannot deliver answers. Complete specification of your customers’ vocabularies is critical. Virtual agent products help considerably with packaged dictionaries of common industry and application terms, but it’s on you to provide the vocabulary specific to your business and your products.

Virtual agent suppliers also provide consulting services to help the NLP specification. These services are essential for a successful virtual agent deployment. These services are also essential for ongoing management of your virtual agent. Remember that customers’ questions are always changing. So is your business.

IntelliResponse VA uses machine learning technology for its analysis and matching. Machine learning is an algorithmic approach. The algorithm learns by training it with sample data in a controlled environment. It applies its learning when it goes live. The sample data that you provide to train an IntelliResponse VA virtual agent are the typical questions that you want it to answer, not the words and phrases in those questions, not various forms of those words, not the relationships between them, just the questions. IntelliResponse VA can do the rest of the work, even to accommodate the ongoing changes in customers’ questions and in your business. IntelliResponse VA virtual agent deployment is easier and faster than NLP-based deployments and delivers answers with the same level of accuracy. Read our report for the details and note that IntelliResponse can also provide those consulting services to help you deploy and manage virtual agents. The details of the work will be a bit different and there will be less work to do, but the objective will be the same—deploying virtual agents that answer customers’ questions.