RightNow CX Takes the Road Less Traveled

At the RightNow Summit this week, held once again at the fabulous Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, Founder/CEO Greg Gianforte unveiled RightNow CX—”the customer experience suite.” CX solutions are mainly intended to help B2C companies deliver better web, social and contact center experiences.

RightNow’s strategy reminds me of The Road Not Taken, a famous poem by Robert Frost, which closes with:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Follow along and I think you’ll agree.

United breaks guitars, loses luggage

The highlight of the Summit for me was the opening, where a video of Dave Carroll’s United Breaks Guitars morphed into—OMG—the real Dave Carroll on stage performing the song live. Brilliant!

If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen this video, it’s a saga set to music of how an insensitive airline broke Carroll’s guitar and refused to fix it. The video has been played nearly 6 million times, becoming a public relations disaster for United that exceeds “Dell Hell.”

Given all this exposure, you’d think that United would be on high alert if anyone named Dave Carroll booked a flight. (“Mr. Carroll, could I carry your guitar for you?”) Apparently not, because he flew United from Canada to Colorado Springs and (I’m not making this up) they lost his luggage!

Hmmm, maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Is that a United baggage handler I hear snickering?

Later I got a chance to meet Carroll (a very nice guy in person) and chat with him. He said a third and final video will be released later this year, and don’t expect him to make nice to United. Can’t wait to see it!

RightNow CX: Vision vs. Products

Although the company describes the CX announcement as “ground-breaking,” my take is that it’s a natural evolution for a company that has made “superior customer experiences” its calling card for the past three years or so. The new news is the addition of a social solution due to the recent acquisition of HiveLive.

You can see from this diagram that RightNow is focused on three types of experiences—Web, Social and Contact Center—although to me there’s quite a bit overlap between the three. Doesn’t a contact center include chat? Aren’t social experiences done over the web?


RightNow CX

But still, it’s clear from this layout and comments from many RightNowians that they are making an effort to distance themselves from conventional CRM solutions that focus on internal issues. As I see it, the diagram is more of a reflection of their marketing strategy than a neat stack of modules and layers that IT people and analysts like to see.

The tricky part for RightNow will be balancing promotion of the CX vision (delivering great experiences) with the marketing of specific solutions. More on that in a moment.

Social experiences

RightNow’s Social Experience is really a collection of applications, including cloud (social media) monitoring announced earlier this year, plus HiveLive-powered support and innovation communities.

HiveLive is shaping up as a very astute move that will enable RightNow to surf the wave of social media hype sometimes called Social CRM. Gianforte says that “social” has been a hot topic of his customer calls the past few months, and expects to see strong demand for integrated customer community solutions.

I enjoyed spending some time doodling with John Kembel, HiveLive’s co-founder/CEO who now is General Manager of RightNow’s Social Solutions. Kembel told me that HiveLive’s key differentiation is the flexibility to be tailored to deliver exactly the right social experience for each situation. RightNow’s brand, with access to 1900 customers (60% of them large enterprise or government), is something standalone social business vendors don’t have (and former partner Lithium will miss).

As noted earlier this year in Web 2.0: The End of the Beginning, HiveLive is one of the newer social business software vendors. My take is that RightNow has a golden opportunity to take a fresh design and push integrated community applications into the mainstream. I believe this will spark a round of social acquisitions by CRM vendors in the months ahead.

Unpaved road ahead

Gianforte seems most comfortable when he’s not following the conventional path to software industry success. First by founding RightNow in Bozeman, Montana—not exactly a high-tech mecca. And then by pushing a customer-centric business theme around customer experience, when most vendors are hyping products and playing the game with analyst firms.

But RightNow’s CX strategy is not without challenges. As a vision, CX plays well to business executives who don’t care about the bits and bytes. Speaking with several RightNow customers, a common theme they mentioned was RightNow’s spirit of partnership in business success. Relationships like these will enable RightNow to expand business with existing customers. Integrated community application should drive incremental revenue in 2010, and provide a point of differentiation (until other vendors make their acquisitions).

However, marketing and sales execution for new business will be more difficult. Like or not, CRM is a dominant industry term and “social CRM” is rapidly becoming one, too. Many prospects will search for products to buy, not a vision. Analysts like to bucketize enterprise software and will probably continue to label RightNow a CRM vendor, which will clash with the company’s messaging around customer experience.

Still, the “road less traveled” should make for an interesting experience… for RightNow and its customers. Now, if they could just do something about United.

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