RightNow CEO on Improving the Customer Experience

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RightNow Technologies CEO Greg Gianforte sat down with IDG Enterprise Chief Content Officer John Gallant to discuss how his company is dramatically improving the customer experience in all the places consumers touch organizations.

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For Greg Gianforte and his colleagues at Bozeman, MT, based RightNow Technologies, Inc., customer relationship management is so, well, yesterday. The key focus for companies today, Gianforte told IDG Enterprise Chief Content Officer John Gallant in this installment of the IDGE CEO Interview Series, is dramatically improving the 'customer experience' in all the places consumers touch organizations — from the Web to the call center.

Gianforte committed to the cloud delivery model early in the game, but he's an outspoken critic of how many software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors deal with customers and his firm is pioneering contract terms that make it easier for customers to pilot and expand their use of RightNow's customer experience suite with less risk and expense. In this discussion, he lays out how a customer-experience centered approach to business can change your company and what questions IT leaders should be asking their cloud providers today.

Give me one great customer story. Tell me about a customer who's changed their business using your product.

I think about Overstock.com. They're an online retailer, about a billion dollars in revenue. The National Retail Association does an annual survey of client satisfaction and the year prior to deploying us, they were not listed in the top 150 retailers based on client satisfaction. We implemented and the next year they were number four on the list, they then were number four one more year, then they jumped to number two of all retailers in the U.S. Now, they did some internal operational changes and other things in addition to using our technology, but their CFO said on their earnings call that "our earnings are up because RightNow technologies is saving us a million dollars a month and our client satisfaction is up because of this cross-channel customer experience approach."

What specific things were they able to do that they weren't able to do before deploying your product?

What are the questions the customer should be asking of their cloud providers?

They ought to know about price certainty. They might only be signing a one-year agreement so they don't think they are risking very much, but once these systems get installed, they're as sticky as traditional on-premise. It might be a little easier switch but not as easy as people might want to think. It's not like you just throw a switch on an enterprise application. If you're only signing a one-year agreement, sure you're not committing that much but once the thing is embedded, do you know what you're pricing is going to be in year four or five or six? That's an important question.

A second question is around security and reliability, particularly with Sarbanes-Oxley and a lot of the compliance requirements in large enterprise. This is a big concern to IT organizations. We were really the first cloud applications company to get a majority of our revenue from companies over a billion dollars in revenue and large government agencies. We're probably further ahead in our security and compliance work than a lot of other SaaS firms and certainly we've done things that other firms haven't even had to think about. For example, full HIPAA compliance, PCI compliance for the companies that need that, DIACAP certification for the Department of Defense. We're the first vendor to have a fully, multi-tenant deployment from the Department of Defense. We run that for Air Force, the Marines and a bunch of different people. Those are some of the things that clients ought to be asking about. And again, the flexibility items we talked about with the contracts.

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