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vr_NGCE_Research_01_impetus_for_improving_engagementOracle has a large and diverse set of products and now has most of its business applications operating in the private and public cloud. However, some recent acquisitions have enabled it to focus on cloud-based-products for managing the customer experience. Our next generation customer engagement research has found that customer experience is the top impetus for improving customer engagement as found by almost three quarters (74%) of organizations. Oracle has created a customer experience suite that includes marketing, commerce, service, sales, CPQ and social cloud. In particular the acquisition of RightNow has become the foundation of Oracle Service Cloud.

Service Cloud is a collection of products built on a common platform : Web Customer Service, Cross Channel Contact Center, Knowledge Management and Policy Automation. Each of these also has several components; for example, Web Customer Service is made up of Web self-service, Social self-service, E-mail support, Live chat, Virtual Assistant, and Smart engagement.  Self-service enables companies to build self-service Web pages which can be accessed on a laptop or a mobile device and can have embedded access to live help (a chat session) if customers need it. Virtual Assistant goes one step further and uses a rules-based engine to initiate a chat session based on the customer’s profile and data entered into the website, in order to provide more contextual responses. It can also be set up to automatically send a link to a document or send out a survey. All three cases make engagement more proactive and potentially more relevant to the customer.

Social self-service supports Facebook-like capabilities that enable companies to collaborate with customers, share information, or create and operate a closed social forum to, for example, gain input for product improvement initiatives. Live chat and Oracle RightNow Cobrowse Cloud Service provides extensions to Virtual Assistant and allows the agent and the customer to browse Web pages together. E-mail support provides standard email management capabilities but is linked with Virtual Assistant to provide more personalized responses; it also includes escalations and workflows to ensure that any required actions are carried out. Smart engagement pulls many of these capabilities together so companies can build guides that walk users through resolving issues, modifying the steps in real time as data is entered.

Oracle has built most of these capabilities on the original RightNow products. According to Oracle, customers can choose only those they need, which means customers and prospects have to understand exactly their business needs and carefully evaluate which products meet vr_NGCE_Research_09_plans_for_customer_engagement_systemsthose needs but there are so many products making it hard to find what you are looking for and understand all the capabilities. And Customer Service is only one-quarter of the customer experience portfolio. Cross Channel Contact Center is not a contact center in the usual sense. Its focus is systems to manage the operations of a contact center, as opposed to managing communications. Cross-Channel Contact Center does include integration capabilities to these technologies; it can, for instance, collect records of interactions that can be used in subsequent analysis and processes. It consists of nine components: Case Management, Guided Resolution, Social Engagement, Customer Engagement, Analytics, Telephony Control, Unified Agent Desktop and Mobile Desktop. Case Management is not for managing service cases but provides intelligent management of interaction queues; for example, it uses rules to route interactions to the agent mostly likely to meet a customer’s expectations. Guided Resolution enables development of scripts and prompts to guide agents through the process of resolving issues. Social Engagement allows companies to monitor social media activities and proactively reach out to help customers find information or resolve issues. Customer Engagement is what many people think of as customer feedback management; it uses rules to solicit customer feedback. Analytics provides canned reports and analysis, and capabilities that allow users to build their own to gain insights from a variety of customer data including across channels of interactions. Telephony Control provides integration with on-premises or cloud-based telephony management systems so that agents can manage calls from their desktop. Unified Desktop has development and integration tools so that companies can build a unified desktop that enables agents to access systems from a single desktop. Finally Mobile Desktop untethers the desktop from a laptop and allows any authorized user to access contact center systems from their smart devices. Mobile was one of the top areas planned for improving customer engagement (41%) as is analytics (38%) that can operate across channels.

Knowledge Management basically supports the end-to-end process of managing creation, distribution and access of content so the same content can be used by all the other systems, and Policy Management basically supports the end-to-end process of managing a company’s policies.

vr_NGCE_Research_08_systems_to_improve_customer_engagementThe Oracle CX portfolio consists of many products that support a very wide range of capabilities. It is true that customer experience management is not simple and requires multiple capabilities. My benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that to improve customer engagement companies have invested and today use a variety of systems; chief among them are CRM (48%), performance management (44%), business process management (43%) and Web-based self-service (39%). The same research also shows more companies looking for cloud-based systems (29%) and mobile systems (63%). My concerns about the Oracle portfolio is that it might be too broad and too complex for any but large organizations to understand; smaller companies with fewer resources might get lost trying work out exactly what they need. This is most likely a consequence of Oracle having to bring together various products from acquisitions. I suspect the same is also true in the naming of some of the products. For example, Web Customer Service doesn’t adequately reflect the capabilities it supports and Cross Channel Contact Center isn’t what many companies think of as a contact center. Companies that make the effort to work through these concerns will find many capabilities that are required to support what I call the omni-customer experience in which customers find it easy to engage with the company and receive personalized, contextual and consistent responses no matter what channel they use or who they interact with. Oracle has a robust portfolio of applications and technology for customer experience, just might take you a little longer to assess the portfolio and approaches.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

By its own admission, SAS has a very large software portfolio (of more than 250 individual products), and it continues to develop and release more products and updates to existing ones. Some of the products are sold alone, and others are bundled into “enterprise solutions”. Some are for technical users, and others are business applications. This complexity can make it hard to identify which product or bundle serves a particular need. Three are most relevant to my research practice: Customer Intelligence (CI), which I wrote about after attending the 2013 SAS European analysts event; SAS Visual Analytics; and a new one, the Customer Decision Hub that SAS has developed to support multichannel customer engagement.

When I last wrote about Customer Intelligence I noted that it was designed mainly to process structured customer data (such as found in CRM and ERP applications and customer data warehouses) and the analysis it generated was largely for use in marketing. At this year’s analyst event SAS highlighted several developments, but most are to support marketing better, although some directly impact customer engagement. One of the challenges in understanding CI is that it is a bundle of 11 products, and that doesn’t include products that are part of the underlying SAS technology platform. Of the 11 business applications, six relate directly to marketing, and one, SAS Profitability Management, allows companies to understand and manage profitability at a detailed level. The remaining four products relate more to customer engagement: SAS Customer Link Analytics (designed to identify the communities in which customers interact), Real-Time Decision Manager (to deliver personalized offers derived from rules-based analytics), Adaptive Customer Experience (to create profiles of customers based on interactions and other customer data) and Social Media Analytics (to view and analyze customer activity on social media). Collectively the CI bundle of products supports the end-to-end marketing process, but a lot of the capabilities also relate to sales and customer service. The issue for potential customers thus becomes which of the products directly serve their business objectives and what impact picking among them has on pricing, implementation and ongoing operations.

SAS Visual Analytics is a product that makes it possible for business users to create and run their own analytics. This is especially relevant in the contact center and customer service business units. My benchmark research into next-generation customer analytics shows that unlike most other business units, these tend not to have data scientists or analysts to help them produce analysis of customer-facing activities. Instead they rely on managers to produce their own reports and analysis, and as the research shows, they rely heavily on spreadsheets to do this. After IT sets up access to the right data stores, Visual Analytics helps business users create their own analysis requirements and run these against the data sources to produce the analysis and metrics they need. It thus enables managers to keep up with the ever increasing demands of customers and to base decisions on the most up-to-date information, without having to rely so much on IT assistance.

My benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that customer engagement is a multichannel task that is carried out by multiple business units, which CI and Visual Analytics both support. Companies thus need to recognize that vr_Customer_Analytics_09_technology_used_for_customer_analyticscustomer engagement is a cross-business responsibility that should be based on a single view of the customer, be rules-based to ensure consistency and the best possible outcomes, and should use multiple forms of analytics, on all sources of customer data, to provide the analysis and metrics to monitor and assess past performance and influence future actions. My benchmark research into next-generation customer analytics shows that many businesses have not made this transition yet and still rely on tools not suited for these tasks. The most common tool (used by 52% of companies) to monitor and assess customer-related activities is spreadsheets; only 26 percent have deployed a dedicated customer analytics tool. While spreadsheets have their place, they cannot process unstructured data and cannot work in real time to provide advice such as next best actions a contact center agent should take while talking to a customer.

To meet these requirements SAS has developed its Customer Decision Hub. This bundle of products can help businesses achieve an omni-channel experience ­– that is, consistent, personalized and in-context experiences at all touch points. It includes APIs that allow businesses to capture all customer interactions in real time or batches, regardless of channel, including unstructured interactions such as calls, email, text messages and social media posts. The hub can also capture data about marketing, sales, service and other ad hoc actions. It uses this data to produce analyses, insights and metrics about those actions, put them in context and show history, risks and potential opportunities. The hub also has a rules engine that can recommend actions and the channel through which to communicate with the customer; among the focus of rules are priorities, strategy, constraints, customer preferences, channel restrictions, budgets and contact permissions. The optimization engine is set up using SAS CI Studio, which uses drag-and-drop techniques to create intelligent, rules-driven workflows to create more relevant, personalized customer experiences. The hub thus links external, customer-related interactions and internal processes to provide the analysis and orchestrate actions.

This combination of products, if used properly, could help companies improve customer experiences that cross the boundaries between marketing, sales and service. However, as with CI the Decision Hub includes many applications and capabilities, and much of SAS’s messaging relates to marketing, which I don’t believe does the package justice. Potential customers should make the effort to understand what products are included in Decision Hub, what is involved in running it and the impact it is likely to have across the organization.

One of the strengths of SAS is its range of products, but this can also be a weakness. In their own right, each product supports a robust set of capabilities, but choosing the right set to meet a specific business need seems to be a complex process that often involves third-party consulting services. My colleagues wrote about SAS recently on its focus on business analytics and it work to unify big data across business and IT that also demonstrate how they are bringing many products to a singular focus for business and IT. Also in my view both SAS CI and the Customer Decision Hub focus too much on marketing and not for use across the business. Anything to do with customers is an enterprise issue, not a departmental one. Improving the customer experience is now such a critical issue that companies should look beyond some of the marketing messages and carefully evaluate how SAS can support their customer interaction and overall engagement efforts.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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