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Customer service software rankings look familiar

The customer service software suites rankings have few changes, and tough economic times demand more investment in the customer experience, according to Forrester.

Difficult economic times call for a renewed focus on customer service and the customer experience, but CRM software buyers aren't going to find everything they need in one application or suite.

That's the conclusion of the latest ranking of customer service software suites from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. Recession or not, companies should be prepared to spend, now more than ever, said Natalie Petouhoff, senior analyst with Forrester and author of the report.

"You can't be completely irrational," she said. "Because customers are so important and customer service is so bad in this economic time, you have to spend. You need to spend now -- quickly -- and spend wisely."

Differentiating their companies based on the customer experience is something many are thinking about but few are doing, according to Forrester. A recent survey of decision makers by the research firm found that 91% thought customer experience would be very important or critical to their business, but half lacked any kind of clear customer experience strategy.

Part of the reluctance is due to the technology. According to the survey, 60% of executives said implementing technology was the second biggest obstacle to launching customer experience-based initiatives, just behind "getting organizational alignment."

Making wise customer service technology investments requires correctly identifying your organization's needs and preparing the organization for change.

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According to Forrester, customer service software falls into three categories: interaction-centric -- focused on multi-channel customer service and better suited for companies running services across multiple channels that need to implement an application in shorter time periods; record-centric -- typically CRM suite vendors linking CRM data to customer service and relational databases, which requires more time to implement and more customization; and process-centric -- oriented toward repeatable processes.

No one vendor effectively serves all three categories, Petouhoff said.

"Most overlap," she said, "but when people come to us and say, 'What software should I buy?' we tell them no one has cornered the market to provide all of those."

Forrester evaluated 29 CRM vendors across approximately 180 criteria, measuring vendors' current offerings, strategies and market presence. Among the interaction-centric vendors, eGain, Kana Software, RightNow Technologies and Talisma were the leaders. LivePerson, Genesys, Knova and Inquira were competitors, and Numara Software and FrontRange Solutions trailed, according to the report.

In the process-centric category, Sword ciboodle (formerly Graham Technology) was the leader, the report says, while Pegasystems, Chordiant Software and Consona CRM were strong performers.

Among record-centric customer service software offerings, Entellium, Microsoft and Salesforce.com provide low-cost, quick-to-implement applications. The report does note that software buyers should be cautious, given the recent scandal involving Entellium and charges that its CEO kept a separate set of books and may have embezzled money from investors.

Oracle's Siebel and CRM On Demand applications and SAP CRM had the broadest functionality among record-centric vendors, and NetSuite and Maximizer scored well for usability, cost and time to value, the report says.

Petouhoff said she expects organizations to continue spending on customer service technology despite the economic slowdown because of the potential for returns.

"Almost everything you can do in the contact center has an ROI," she said. "Just do not cut change management out of it. It's really a risk assessment."

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