eService Vendor Guide: Kana, Oracle, RightNow, SAP, Siebel and more
eService Vendor Guide: Kana, Oracle, RightNow, SAP, Siebel and more
By Donna Fluss
eService or web based self-service, solutions that allow customers to help themselves, are a requirement for all web sites. Without them, an enterprise is going to generate customer frustration, consternation and nasty calls and emails. Consider eService as a common courtesy in the era of the World Wide Web.
The eService market has matured quickly since the first vendors introduced basic offerings back in late 1996. Product functionality is now good, even if there is still room for improvement (as there is in all markets). The market has undergone a couple of rounds of consolidations and failures and is still evolving and unstable, as many of the vendors remain small and financially challenged, a situation unlikely to change during the next few years.
Despite the market challenges, customer service via the web is increasingly seen as a differentiator for companies. It’s obvious to most web site visitors which companies have given thought to their eService needs and which simply want customers to go away. Sites that offer compelling eService environments that are easy to use and navigate keep their customers online longer than those that, by default, force their customers to abandon the web site in order to call and ask a question.
Building a compelling and friendly eService environment requires a great deal of analysis and understanding of your customers’ needs (what information they want to be available online and how they want to interact with it), long-term planning to lay the foundation for addressing current and future corporate needs, and then finding appropriate solutions. Below is an analysis of some better-known vendors and solutions currently available in the eService market.
eService Suite Vendors
eGain: eGain Service 6 Solution was introduced in February 2003 for its ERMS product. The rest of the suite is expected to be re-introduced in its new architecture throughout 2003. eGain’s eService suite is the result of a number of acquisitions made during the past few years and until Version 6, functioned mostly as individual components with multiple administration and development environments. With Service 6, eGain introduced its new internet architecture coded in J2EE-compliant Java. The final product is supposed to have a single administration and development environment, simplifying the administrative overhead previously associated with its solutions. eGain’s UI is up-to-date, easy to use and navigate and has the look and feel of Microsoft XP. Suite functionality includes: ERMS, chat, web self-service, knowledge base (KB), FAQ and Virtual Bot (Vbot). In release 6 eGain has added a powerful workflow environment that can be defined graphically or with drop-down menus.
The company broke even for the first time in Q4 of 2003, but had to take an additional loan from one of its founders in 2002 to survive to that point. As of the end of March 2003, eGain had $3.2 million cash in the bank. eGain’s reputation as an engineering-oriented company is reflected in its new architecture, which appears to be significantly more advanced than other eService offerings in the market. eGain both sells and hosts solutions but claims to have flat growth in its Application Service Provider (ASP) business.
KANA: iCare Service 8 became generally available in June of 2003. This is the first release of KANA’s new consolidated suit, the rest of which KANA has promised by the end of Q3 2003. KANA’s product, like eGain’s, is the result of many acquisitions. Release 8 represents a shift from KANA’s old naming convention to a new one that reflects three core components: Service, which includes its contact center (contact management and UQ) and ERMS products; KM, which includes KANA IQ; and Marketing, which includes KANA Marketing Automation and KANA Connect (its email campaign management system). Once completed, KANA Release 8 is intended to have a single administration and development environment. KANA’s new architecture will support Linux, J2EE and Mircrosoft.NET and is SOAP/Web Services compliant. KANA’s new UI is a vast improvement over its prior version.
KANA has yet to realize its first profitable quarter, even though it has drastically altered its business model and reduced its staffing levels to approximately 200 people (down from over 1500) to improve its financial position. In the quarter ending December 2002, it had a tiny positive of ½ cent per share before special items, but after special items it still lost $0.22 per share. KANA has spent a great deal of its cash during the past two years and as of the end of March 2003, had $31.7 million remaining in the bank. With KANA’s new business model, 95% of revenue comes from licensing and maintenance and only 5% from service, including implementations. KANA is concentrating on licensing revenue and is leaving the implementations to its partners.
RightNow: Release 5.5.5 became generally available at the end of the first quarter of 2003. The company claims over 1000 customers, 80% of whom take advantage of RightNow’s hosting option. RightNow is a privately held company and claims 18 consecutive quarters of revenue growth and 5 of cash-flow positive operations. While it is the only vendor in this market that claims four-plus years of continuous revenue growth, it has undergone very significant downsizing during the past two years, as have all of the other vendors in this market, but plans to double its sales force over the next four quarters. RightNow began as a solution for small and mid-sized companies and is pursuing larger enterprise deals.
RightNow’s eService suite includes: Web self-service, frequently asked questions (FAQ), chat, ERMS, basic collaboration (can push a browser to a client), surveying and a locator. While RightNow doesn’t share information about usage of its modules, it appears that the primary use is for web self-service and FAQ. RightNow’s application has an Incident Console that collects and stores all web self-service, email and chat inquiries. Agents responding to customer inquiries can’t differentiate the source of the inquiry from the Incident Console. The company’s UI gets the job done but would benefit from a more updated look and feel. RightNow claims that its average implementation is one month to 35 days including loading of the web self-service KB. Although RightNow loads the KB, it does not get involved in cleaning up KB content.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Vendors
The three major players in this market, Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP have taken very different approaches to delivering eService functionality.
Oracle: Oracle continues to struggle with its CRM development initiatives, but its bid for PeopleSoft make is clear that it wants to be a player in the broader CRM market, one way or another. Oracle provides eService capabilities but it is not as functionally rich or broad as those of the eService suite vendors discussed above.
PeopleSoft: PeopleSoft purchased Vantive a few years ago and has incorporated and enhanced the eService functionality from Vantive onto its new platform. The latest release is 8.8, which became generally available in November 2002. PeopleSoft’s eService applications reflect its deep understanding of how its customers want to do business and its UI and administration screens have a very comfortable, open and uncluttered look and feel, making navigation relatively easy. PeopleSoft offers ERMS, chat, a UQ for the channels supported by its applications (not phone), web self-service and KM. The ERMS servicing environment is the same as is used to handle phone calls and it incorporates customer history. PeopleSoft has standardized on the Verity engine for search and, while it scales well, it is not the most effective technology for more advanced natural language processing-oriented KM and eService requirements. To address this weakness, PeopleSoft has formed an alliance with a natural language processing provider and is planning on embedding this technology into its next CRM product release.
SAP: SAP, whose primary customer base is business-to-business, is slowly delivering eService products, but its offerings still lag behind eService suite vendors, eService point solution providers and some of the ERP vendors. My SAP 4.0, which became generally available in Q2 2003, includes enhancements to the rudimentary eService functionality in Release 3.1. In My SAP 4.0 customers should expect to see a KB that can be accessed by customers and internal agents (the same KB that is available throughout its suite), web self-service, FAQ, ERMS (Extended Inbox), chat and collaboration. Much of this functionality is very basic and is expected to be enhanced in future releases.
CRM Suite Vendor
Siebel: Siebel’s eService solution in Release 7.5, which became generally available in September 2002, is one of the most functionally rich and mature in the market. The current eService release is a major improvement over prior versions. Siebel offers ERMS, web self-service, chat, KM and has a UQ. Siebel has invested significantly in upgrading its KB during the past 18 months and has achieved its goal of offering a variety of different types of KBs through its partnership with Banter, a provider of NLP technology.
Siebel continues to be challenged by complaints of difficult implementations and maintenance and in Release 7.7, due out in Q1 2004, it plans to address these challenges by enhancing the application’s performance, scalability and redundancy. It is also planning to offer out-of-box task wizards intended to increase the speed and ease of customer implementations and to simplify application administration. The last 18 months have taken a toll on Siebel, as they have on all vendors in the CRM market, but there is no question that Siebel remains the most viable of all the CRM suite providers.
Contact Center Infrastructure Providers
Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Nortel and many others offer a variety of eService functionality, although these vendors generally concentrate on the transaction processing component of eService. All of these vendors offer some form of ERMS, for example, but if you want to do any kind of advanced content-based or NLP-based analysis, you will have to integrate a more sophisticated ERMS product, available from stand-alone vendors, eService suite vendors, ERP vendors or CRM suite vendors. The good news is that all of these vendors have pre-existing, out-of-box integration software to link the various systems. Most of these vendors also offer chat and web call-back.
eService is a core component of every organization’s servicing infrastructure, but just as with classic” phone-based service, implementations vary based on the priorities of each company and the needs of its customers. Service is increasingly viewed as the best differentiator between otherwise indistinguishable products and services. Organizations that want to use service to gain a competitive advantage must first analyze their customers’ needs and wants and then identify products and services (whether purchased or leased) that meet those needs. In order to succeed with eService and realize the greatest returns, organizations must put their customers’ needs first so that their products will be compelling, well-received and frequently used.