Customer service is a disciplined and exacting affair — part art and part science, it makes many demands on agents and their organizations and requires a good deal of automation to support numerous activities. Historically, there have been many software companies offering a part of the overall solution that call centers pick from to produce solutions that meet their distinct needs. However, quite often an organization fails to achieve its goals. It runs out of money for this or that application, decides to build it “someday” or figures out a workaround — too often involving a spreadsheet.
The results are uneven. One call center might excel in training its agents while another might be superior in first call resolution or call deflection to other channels. Too often the result is customer dissatisfaction but the dissatisfaction is often unique to the particular call center. The idea of buying or building a call center system and then supplementing it with point solutions has been around a long time and while it might have been a good one a decade or more ago, it has taken us as far as possible.
The call/contact/service center is too important to a company’s mission today for it to fail for lack of tools that can make the difference for customer experience and, ultimately, loyalty. Also, most call centers have so much invested in both time and money that changing out their systems is something they must consider carefully. So improving an existing solution is a logical step.
Stone Cobra is a solution that fills in the gaps, where they exist in call center systems in use today. The company’s unique idea is to build a complete suite of relevant applications that complement core call center functionality (or replace complicated, unused processes) and to pre-integrate them with popular systems (e.g. Siebel, Salesforce’s Service Cloud). The result is a layer it calls Systems of Engagement (SE). The SEs accesses data held in CRM, communities, Knowledge Management systems and other enterprise applications (Figure 1), process it and present the most relevant information to the agent.
Figure 1 Systems of Engagement. Source, Stone Cobra
The idea that a system of engagement can provide a layer between systems of record and the user is not new. For instance, two decades ago products like PowerBuilder emerged to present a GUI interface for mainframe green screens. While this analogy may be imperfect it can provide a good metaphor for what Stone Cobra does. The idea coincides with the research of at least one of us (Esteban Kohsky described Customer Service 4.0 involving mashups in 2010).
Stone Cobra is all about providing a Web 2.0 experience for the user, which enables better employee engagement and may lead to greater customer satisfaction. The product is designed to reduce or eliminate mouse clicks and to anticipate some of the information that might be required in a customer interaction that often may need to be culled from multiple systems. There are seven applications or systems of engagement in the product. Briefly they are:
- High Volume Case Responder
- Knowledge Centered Support
- Advanced Case Management
- Agent Productivity Tools
- Real-Time Training & Coaching
- Problem Management
- Kepner-Tregoe Resolve
Without a doubt a company can buy these kinds of solutions from multiple vendors and while Stone Cobra’s products are good what differentiates them are their integration with each other and their out of the box integration with Siebel, Salesforce Service Cloud Inquira and Instranet.
The company is made up of CRM industry veterans, mostly from the call center space and includes co-founders Amanda Roberts (CEO) and Scott Sanders (CTO) they have a pedigree that goes back to Octane, a call center application that was bought by Siebel about a decade ago. The cash from that deal combined with the co-founders’ reputations have enabled the company, in its early stages, to sell without a formal sales team and enabled the company to refrain from taking on venture capital.
The product is built as a native Force.com application and is therefore delivered as a cloud-based solution. Stone Cobra says it has built all of the applications it intends to so the product is complete though innovation will continue. The close relationship with Salesforce means the company also tries to match subscription pricing terms, price and discounts when selling into that community. Pricing tiers are: two applications $39/user/month, four applications $69/user/month, all apps $99/user/month. Still the company derives most (70%) of its revenue from consulting, not product sales, a condition it expects to invert in the near future.
We think this solution has legs and the company has legs owing to its veteran leadership and deep experience. The big issue we see is that the company will always need to react to changes in the underlying products’ functionality. Any vendor could decide to add functionality that directly competes with Stone Cobra if it wants to. Also, any of the call center products could age out or otherwise cause customers to consider migrating away. But if Stone Cobra is as in tune with customer-centricity as it presents then it should be able to weather any such difficulties because it will have a loyal following.
Get Satisfaction provides a platform allowing companies to build online communities in order to facilitate conversations between companies and their customers. Founded in 2007, the San Francisco based company has approximately forty employees, and targets customers of all sizes with their community platform. Get Satisfaction recently closed a $10M round of Series B financing, to bring their total of capital raised to $20.9M.
Get Satisfaction gets its customers create online communities where their customers can post questions, comments, and complaints that all community members can read. GS clients can respond to posts directly, and their customers can respond to each other. Community members can rate the responses based on how helpful they are.
Get Satisfaction provides its customers an easy to use platform that allows them to encourage community participation, provide valuable customer insights, and enhance customer loyalty.
The approach GS takes to finding customer insights is to analyze the wealth of unstructured conversation data generated in their communities by adding metadata around it – things like keywords, products, sentiment, and other attributes. The metadata is oriented around conversations in the form of the topics, of which Get Satisfaction collects 1.8 million topics a month across their roster of client communities. Information they attach to categorize conversations include:
- Topic Type
- Title of Topic
- Topic Sentiment
- Topic Product/Service
- Keywords assigned by moderator
Adding this information makes conversation data more usable to enterprise line of business applications, like those of integration partners including:
GS makes it easy for community members to search knowledge bases and leverage dynamic FAQs to find answers to problems on their own, or by leveraging the knowledge of community members in real time conversations. Widgets are also provided to place access to knowledge base information on websites, Facebook, and on mobile devices – making the information more accessible to people looking for solutions.
Get Satisfaction includes tools to collect and prioritize product-specific customer feedback by adding a feedback tab to any (or every) page of a customer’s website. And it recently upgraded its integration with Facebook by making it possible for administrators and customer service agents to take data from a wall and channel it into a Salesforce.com and worked as a case.
Get Satisfaction powers sixty thousand online communities, with a total of 2.5 million registered members. They are adding 106,000 new registered users a month. 12 million unique visitors come to their communities every month, generating 30 million page views. Thirty percent of network traffic comes from outside the US.
There are different levels available to fit a variety of budgetary and functional needs:
- Free (adding 1,600 a month))
The majority of their customers are B2C companies. Approximately 2,360 of the 60,000+ communities are fee-based; including 120 enterprise customers. The average enterprise deal size is $27,000, and they average closing eight enterprise deals a month with a 27% conversion rate after prospects sign up for a 15-day free trial. The close rate for standard community deals is 75% after trial signup, averaging 244 monthly conversions.
The application is built on a multi-tenant architecture with Ruby on Rails, using Amazon cloud services. Serving the community needs of a number of Fortune 500, as well as tens of thousands of smaller companies, the application is built serve a huge (and growing) number of members.
All in all, the competition in the online community space is only going to get more intense. Players like Lithium, Jive and a few others will provide stiff competition, particularly at the high end of the market. But Get Satisfaction has what it takes to be among the leaders. They have an offering for all levels of business, which allows them to grow relationships with companies that can start at one end of their community offerings and move up as they mature. And their recent deal with Salesforce.com to become a reseller allows them to offer CRM with community management and workflow – all in one single solution.
The company has a lot of momentum, and we expect that to continue into the foreseeable future.