The Helpdesks: Desk.com, Freshdesk, Zendesk

We’ve added our Product Evaluation Report on Freshdesk to our library of in-depth, framework-based reports on customer service software. We put this report on the shelf, so to speak, next to our Product Evaluation Reports on Desk.com and Zendesk. The three products are quite a set. They’re similar in many ways, remarkably so. Here are a few of those similarities:

The products are “helpdesks,” apps designed to provide an organization’s customers (or users) with information and support about the organization’s products and services. Hence, their names are (alphabetically) Desk.com, Freshdesk, and Zendesk.

They have the same sets of customer service apps and those apps have very similar capabilities: case management, knowledge management and community/forum with a self-service web portal and search, social customer service supporting Facebook and Twitter, chat, and telephone/contact center. Case management is the core app and a key strength for all of the products. Each has business rules-based facilities to automate case management tasks. On the other hand, knowledge management and search are pretty basic in all of them.

The three also include reporting capabilities and facilities for integrating external apps. Reporting has limitations in all three. Integration is excellent across the board.

These are products that deploy in the cloud. They support the same browsers and all three also have native apps for Android and iOS devices.

All three are packaged and priced in tiers/levels/editions of functionality. Their licensing is by subscription with monthly, per user license fees.

Simple, easy to learn and easy to use, and cross/multi/omni-channel are the ways that the suppliers position these offerings. Our evaluations were based on trial deployments for each of the three products. We found that all of them support these positioning elements very well.

Small (very small, too) and mid-sized businesses across industries in all geographies are their best fits, although the suppliers would like to move up market. The three products have very large customer bases—somewhere around 30,000 accounts for Desk.com and Zendesk and more than 50,000 accounts for Freshdesk per a claim in August from Freshdesk’s CEO. Note that Desk.com was introduced in 2010, Freshdesk in 2011, and Zendesk in 2004.

Suppliers’ internal development organizations design, build, and maintain the products. All three suppliers have used acquisitions to extend and improve product capabilities.

While the products are similar, the three suppliers are quite different. Salesforce.com, offers Desk.com. Salesforce is a publicly held, San Francisco, CA based, $8 billion corporation founded in 1999. Salesforce has multiple product lines. Freshdesk Inc., offers Freshdesk. It’s a privately held corporation founded in 2010 and based in Chennai, India. Zendesk, Inc. offers Zendesk. This company was founded in 2007 in Denmark and reincorporated in the US in 2009. It’s publicly held and based in San Francisco, CA. Revenues in 2015 were more than $200 million.

These differences—public vs. private, young vs. old(er), large vs. small(er), single product line vs. multiple product line—will certainly influence many selection decisions. However, all three are viable suppliers and all three are leaders in customer service software. The supplier risk in selecting Desk.com, Freshdesk, or Zendesk is small.

Then, where are the differences that result in making a selection decision? The differences are in the ways that the products’ developers have implemented the customer service applications. The differences become clear from actually using the products. Having actually used all three products in our research, we’ve learned the differences and we’ve documented them in our Product Evaluation Reports. Read them to understand the differences and to understand how those differences match your requirements. There’s no best among Desk.com, Freshdesk, and Zendesk but one of them will be best for you.

For example, here’s the summary of Freshdesk evaluation, the grades that the product earned on our Customer Service Report Card. “Freshdesk earns a mixed Report Card—Exceeds Requirements grades in Capabilities, Product Management, Case Management, and Customer Service Integration, Meets Requirements grades in Product Marketing, Supplier Viability, and Social Customer Service, but Needs Improvement grades in Knowledge Management, Findability, and Reporting and Analysis.”

Case Management is where Freshdesk has its most significant differences, differences from its large set of case management services and facilities, its support for case management teams, its automation of case management tasks, and its easy to learn, easy to use case management tools. For example, Arcade is one of Freshdesk’s facilities for supporting case management teams. Arcade is a collection of these three, optional gamification facilities that sets and tracks goals for agents’ customer service activities.

  • Agents earn Points for resolving Tickets in a fast and timely manner and lose points for being late and for having dissatisfied customers, accumulating points toward reaching six predefined skill levels.
  • Arcade lets agents earn “trophies” for monthly Ticket management performance. In addition,
  • Arcade awards bonus points for achieving customer service “Quests” such as forum participation or publishing knowledgebase Solutions.

Arcade lets administrators configure Arcade’s points and skill levels. Its Trophies and Quests have predefined goals; however, administrators can set Quests on or off. The Illustration below shows the workspace that administrators use to configure Points.

arcade points

Freshdesk can be a Customer Service Best Fit for many small and mid-sized organizations. Is it a Best Fit for your? Read our Report to understand why and how.

Salesforce Service Cloud

Evaluation of Service Cloud Winter ’15

This week’s report is our evaluation of Salesforce Service Cloud and its collection of tightly integrated but variously packaged and priced features and add-on products—Service Cloud, itself, for case management and contact center support, Salesforce Knowledge for knowledge management, Live Agent for chat, Social Studio for social customer service, and Salesforce Communities for communities and for customer self-service. Winter ’15 is the current release of the offering and the release that we evaluated in this report.

The offering earns an excellent evaluation against the criteria of our Framework for Customer Service Applications. We found no areas where significant improvement is required.

We had last published an evaluation of Service Cloud Winter ’13 on January 24, 2013. Winter ’15 is the sixth of the regular cycle of Winter, Spring, and Summer releases since that date. Every new release has included significant new and/or improved capabilities.

Salesforce Communities – a New Platform for Customer Self-Service

Salesforce Communities is one of the new capabilities in Winter ’15. It packages an attractive set of facilities, facilities that let customers perform a wide range of collaboration and self-service activities and tasks. However, none of these facilities use new technology; all of them have been existing features of Salesforce applications. What’s new and what’s innovative is their use as the platform for customer self-service. With Communities, Salesforce.com has extended the customer service provider-centric, web content-intensive self-service of portals with social and collaborative self-service that lets customers (and customer service agents) answer and solve customers’ questions and problems. Here’s what we mean.

Customers can use Communities’ packaged, portal-style facilities to perform these self-service tasks:

  • Search a Salesforce Knowledge knowledgebase to find existing answers and solutions for similar questions and problems
  • Browse a hierarchy of “Topics” to find existing answers and solutions to their problems in the knowledgebase or within community content.
  • Create new Service Cloud Cases when they can’t find answers and/or solutions via searching or browsing a knowledgebase, or by browsing Topics and community content.
  • Note that during the case creation process, Communities uses Automatic Knowledge Filtering, a Salesforce Knowledge feature, that automatically suggests knowledgebase Articles relevant to the content of the fields of the new Case.
  • Contact support for escalation to assisted-service

Customers can also use Communities’ packaged social and collaborative facilities to perform self-service tasks.

  • Post their questions or problems on a threaded, post-and-reply forum to solicit answers and solutions from other customers or from customer service staff members who monitor community activity. Note that Communities’ threads are implemented with Salesforce Chatter Feeds. Feeds are Twitter-like stacks of posts and replies/comments.
  • Search post-and-reply Feeds to find existing answers and solutions or previously posted questions and problems and replies/comments about them.

You may have read these lists of bullet points and said, “So, what. There’s nothing new here. We already have these facilities on our portal and on our community.” Exactly right, but that separate portal and community approach forces customers to go to two places to find answers and solutions, and, based on the experience that you’ve given them, they go to one place or the other depending on the type of question or problem they have or the quality and usefulness of answers and solutions that they’ve found. Salesforce Communities gives customers one place to go for self-service answers and solutions. One place not two makes it easier and faster for them to do business with you and makes it easier and more efficient for you to do business with them.

community.seagate.com

For example, Seagate Technology LLC, the provider of hard disk drives and storage solutions based in Cupertino, CA, has a Salesforce Communities-based self-service site. Its home page is shown in the screen shot below.

seagate blog1

As a Mac user needing some advice on drives for backups, I clicked on the Mac Storage Topic and was taken to the Mac Storage products page shown below in the next screen shot. This page presents a list of combined questions, (Salesforce Knowledge) Articles, Solved Question, Unsolved Questions, and Unanswered Questions in the center with a drop-down at top of the list to filter the presentation. Links to product-specific pages are at the left.

seagate blog 2

At the bottom of the Mac Storage Product Page are links to additional customer service facilities, including, “Get Help from Support.” We show them in the screen shot below.

seagate blog 3

The Seagate community offers a complete set of easy-to-use self-service facilities. Community-style self-service gives customers everything they need for customer service—finding answers and solutions or getting assisted-service when answers and solutions don’t exist or can’t be found.

Tools and Templates

By the way, Salesforce Communities includes tools and reusable templates that can make it easy and fast to deploy customer self-service communities. Community Designer is the toolset for building and managing the web pages of Communities deployments. Community Designer can also customize the three web page templates packaged with Communities—Koa, Kokula, and Napili. For example the web pages for the Koa self-service template contain facilities that let customers search for or navigate to Salesforce Knowledge Articles by categories called Topics or contact support if they can’t find answers or solutions.

Salesforce.com is changing and improving self-service with Salesforce Communities. What a good idea!

 

 

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.

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.

Product Evaluation: Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience

Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience 

Our evaluation of the August 2013 Release of Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience is this week’s report. You may be more familiar with the product by its former RightNow CX Social Experience or Oracle RightNow Cloud Service Social Experience names. Oracle acquired RightNow in January 2012 and, without a formal announcement, renamed the product sometime during 2Q2013. One other point about the acquisition, the former RightNow R&D team has continued to develop the product, has continued to work out of the former RightNow headquarters site in Bozeman, and has continued the regular, quarterly releases of the product.

Social Experience is one of three “Experiences” in Oracle Social Cloud. The other two are Agent Experience and Web Experience. Each is aptly named for the channel that it supports. The three share a base of common data (Customers, accounts, cases, and knowledge items, for example) and services including business rules, process management, user management, and reporting. Also, product packaging and pricing puts Social Experience “in the box” with Agent and Web Experience. So, social customer service is really built into Oracle Service Cloud and that’s its key strength and differentiator.

Social Experience has these three components:

  • Communities, which supports internal community capabilities of posts and responses on topic threads. Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience Communities is based on technology developed by HiveLive that the then RightNow acquired in 2009.
  • Social Monitor, which provides capabilities to monitor posts on the social web—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and RSS feeds as well as Communities, to analyze the content of monitored social posts, and to interact with social posters.
  • Self Service for Facebook, which lets organizations deploy Oracle Service Cloud web experience and Communities capabilities on their Facebook pages to help Facebook users access Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience Communities and knowledgebase as well as to create cases.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, RSS, and Social Experience Communities are the social sources monitored by Social Experience. While these are certainly the key social networks, the product does not monitor some sources that are critical to customer service, particularly external communities, forums, and blogs. These are sources that customers very commonly use to get answers to questions and solutions to problems. That Social Experience doesn’t monitor them is a serious limitation. Oracle already has the technology to address this limitation, technology that came with its June 2012 acquisition of Collective Intellect. Collective Intellect’s IP was social monitoring and analysis technology. Oracle told us that it’s working on integrating this technology with Oracle Service Cloud.

Twitter for Customer Service

On the topic of Twitter, last week, Patty Seybold published, “Four Reasons Why Customers Prefer Twitter for Customer Service,” a report about how businesses and their customers use Twitter as a key channel for customer service. Patty proposes seven best practices for Twitter-based customer service. Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience can help implement four of the seven—Treat Twitter as an Integrated Customer Service Channel, If You Have Lots of Customers, Establish Customer Service Twitter Accounts, Defuse Anger Publicly; Take the Issue Private, Gather Customers’ Ideas for Next-Gen Products. You’ll implement the other three—Set Customers’ Expectations Re: Times of Day You’ll Respond to Tweets in Real Time, Respond within Minutes, and Don’t Use Automated Responses!—with customer service policies, standards, and procedures. Here are the four with brief descriptions of how Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience helps implement them.

  • Treat Twitter as an Integrated Customer Service Channel

Social Experience Social Monitor searches Twitter for Tweets that are relevant to customer service. Agents and/or analysts specify search queries as strings of language-specific terms of 255 characters or fewer. Queries strings may include the exact match (“”), AND, or OR operators. Analysts can save search queries for execution at a later time or for (regularly) scheduled execution.

Social Experience Social Monitor can automatically create customer service cases from the Tweets in search results and automatically appends the info in subsequent Tweets from the same Twitter account to them.

Social Experience captures customers’ Twitter account info within search results and includes them within Oracle Service Cloud customer data.

  • If You Have Lots of Customers, Establish Customer Service Twitter Accounts

Social Experience supports multiple corporate Twitter accounts that it shares among its users. (It supports corporate Facebook accounts, too.) Businesses can create a hierarchy of corporate Twitter accounts for customer service, organizing them in any appropriate manner—by customer or customer company, by products, by customer service level, or by severity or priority, for example. And, Social Experience’s Corporate Twitter accounts can be set to follow customers’ Twitter accounts.

  • Defuse Anger Publicly; Take the Issue Private

Agents specify whether each of their Tweets on their corporate accounts is public or private.

  • Gather Customers’ Ideas for Next-Gen Products

Cases generated from Social Monitor search results can be ideas for next-gen products as well as the representation of questions and problems.

Pretty good, although a bit of content-based alerting on search results could automate Twitter monitoring. Note that these capabilities of Social Experience’s to support Twitter are capabilities that we’ve seen in other social monitoring and analysis offerings, offerings including Attensity Analyze, and Respond, Clarabridge Analyze, Collaborate, and Engage, and KANA Experience Analytics. All of these offerings have been available for a few years. They’re widely-used and well-proven. Any of them can help make Twitter an integrated customer service channel.

Going forward, we’ll extend our framework for evaluating social customer service products to include Patty’s best practices as

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.

Analytics in Radian6

This week’s report is our evaluation of Radian6, the component of Salesforce Marketing Cloud that does social monitoring, analysis, and interaction. Its tight integration with Salesforce Service Cloud—automatic creation of Cases and Contacts—makes it the obvious social-service choice to add to the customer service application portfolio of Salesforce CRM users

Customer social-service is all about monitoring customers’ conversations in the social cloud, identifying customers with questions, problems, and issues, and then interacting with those customers to answer questions, solve problems, and address issues. The number of customer posts and conversations in the social cloud that may be relevant to a business can be very large, ranging to thousands or even tens of thousands per week and, in the extreme, hundreds of thousands per day. Monitoring and analyzing all of them, identifying the (few) posts that require attention, and then handling each one individually and handling all of them consistently are daunting and complex tasks, daunting because of the sheer volume and complex by the diversity and nuance of language, breadth of topics, and depth of emotion (sentiment).

Most social-service products use third parties to monitor social posts, to crawl and search the key social networks and the hundreds of millions of blogs and forums where customers ask questions, get answers, and make comments.  The value-add of these products is in their analytic capabilities, capabilities that can “understand” the content of social posts. Natural Language Processing (NLP), sometimes called text analytics, is the technology that they most commonly use. And, also most commonly, each of them is built its own NLP implementation. Their companies are built on it, too. These NLP implementations are frequently patented and almost always proprietary. They’re the crown jewels of analytics companies. So, the selection of a social-service application usually involves the evaluation and comparison of NLP implementations, a difficult selection of sophisticated and complex technology.

Not the case for Radian6. It takes the opposite approach. Rather than leverage the data collection capabilities of third parties and apply its own analytics, Radian6 does its own data collection (The current version searches and crawls over 650 million social sources.) and leverages the analytic capabilities of third-party analytics suppliers to understand the content of social posts. (Radian does a bit of its own analytics, too, although its analytics are a bit basic and are not built on NLP.) These 14, third-party analytics suppliers comprise what Salesforce.com calls the Radian6 Insights Ecosystem, Insights for short. They apply their analytic technologies to the social posts collected by Radian6.

The 14 are:

  • Bitext
  • Communication Explorer
  • Clarabridge
  • EpiAnalytics
  • Hottolink
  • Klout
  • LeadSift
  • Lymbix
  • OpenAmplify
  • Open Calais
  • PeekAnalytics
  • Soshio
  • The SelfService Company
  • Trendspottr

Let’s take a little closer look at three Insights to get an idea of their capabilities.

  • The Bitext Sentiment analytic perform Entity extraction and sentiment analysis for posts in Spanish (European and Latin American), Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Italian, and English using natural language processing technology (NLP).
  • Clarabridge provides two analytics. Clarabridge Link Sentiment provides sentiment analysis of social posts in Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish using NLP; Clarabridge Link Classification applies a Universal Category and Classification model to social posts in Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish using NLP.
  • OpenAmplify also provides two analytics. OpenAmplify Cust Svc uses NLP to identify social posts containing potential customer service issues and the topics of those potential issues. OpenAmplify uses NLP to identify sentiment, intention, and topics of social posts.

Salesforce.com offers these Insights like usage-priced cell phone minutes within the subscription licenses and their monthly fees for Radian6 Editions. (Editions are licensing tiers that bundle applications resources.) More specifically, Radian6 Editions include blocks of Insights partner credits. The analysis of one social post by a one analytic application from one partner costs one partner credit. At the low end, Marketing Cloud Radian Basic Edition includes 1,000 Insights partner credits. At the high end, Marketing Cloud Radian Enterprise Edition includes 500,000 Insights partner credits. Blocks of 10,000 additional Insight partner credits are available for a fee of $100 per month. Credits are expire every month (like cell phone minutes).

Insights’ suppliers set up pre-configured deployments of their analytic applications for access and usage by Radian6 licensees at runtime. That approach can be a disadvantage. For NLP based Insights, runtime access means that language models and processing configurations are those implemented by their suppliers for general-purpose usage, not language models and configurations of deployments tailored to the applications and vocabularies of specific businesses and their customers. For example, the Clarabridge Link Classification Insight uses a “Universal Category and Classification” to classify social posts. Analytic processing will still be quite useful, just not custom tailored.

There are also advantages to Radian6’s Insights approach of runtime access to analytic applications. Most significantly, Radian6 lets businesses easily combine and nest these analytics. For example, analysts might use the entity, fact, and event extraction capabilities of Open Calais to find posts relevant to a product launch and then use PeekAnalytics to identify the demographics of those posters. Also, specifying language models and processing configurations for NLP-based analytic applications is complex work, work that Radian6 users do not have to do to get much of the benefits of these sophisticated applications.

The approach to analysis in Radian6 is a significant differentiator and a key factor for selection. Radian6 delivers most of the power of a wide array of third-party analytic applications and the flexibility to use them separately or to combine their processing. Pricing is based on usage. Value is very good.