RightNow updates CRM suite, adds telesales application

RightNow Technologies Inc. rolled out the latest version of its hosted CRM (customer relationship management) software service this week and introduced two new add-on products aimed at expanding the company’s telesales and customer self-service offerings.

RightNow 7.5 encompasses about three dozen updates, all of which were developed specifically to address customers’ feature requests, according to RightNow Chief Executive Officer Greg Gianforte. The new version tightens integration between RightNow Sales and Microsoft Outlook and improves data synchronization in RightNow’s offline client. New features in RightNow Marketing include the addition of SMS (Short Message Service) marketing as a delivery channel and more granular response-tracking mechanisms that can be embedded directly in e-mail messages and other customer communications.

Bozeman, Montana-based RightNow releases a major update of its marketing, sales and customer service applications about once a year. Unlike most hosted software providers, it does not automatically upgrade its 13,000 customers: It allows customers to remain on old versions indefinitely, until they choose to upgrade.

RightNow is also introducing two new add-on products, RightNow Telesales and RightNow SmartGuide. The first was designed in conjunction with customers who wanted better outbound call tools, Gianforte said. The software enables managers to create and assign call lists, distribute call scripts, and initiate follow-up communications such as e-mail messages. “Historically we’ve handled a lot of inbound call centers,” he said. “Our clients were coming back to us and saying ‘we also have telesales environments.’ So we went off and studied that.”

RightNow’s other new offering, SmartGuide, is aimed at organizations such as service providers that handle a high volume of customer inquiries and troubleshooting requests. Using a template companies populate with their product service content, SmartGuide prompts users with a series of questions about their issue to guide them toward relevant information. One early customer is Australian telecom Telstra, which uses SmartGuide in its broadband business. The software’s cost varies depending on the size of the deployment, Gianforte said; some consulting services are needed to help customers set up their templates.

One RightNow customer, Karen Brinson Yates, has been testing RightNow 7.5 and is eager to get her company’s deployment into production next week. Yates is the application coordination manager for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Beco Holding Co., an industrial supplies wholesaler. The company began using RightNow Marketing last year to manage the newsletters and product pricing e-mail campaigns it sends to its list of 40,000 customers.

Yates particularly likes the way the new version of RightNow handles e-mail response tracking. The software now automatically tracks clickthroughs on any URL (Uniform Resource Locator) included in an e-mail message, where before users had to manually create tracking links.

“I pulled up a document I sent out and I could see the tracking link report by clicking right on the actual document — I didn’t have to go looking in a second report,” Yates said. “To be able to have that in an e-mail blast is fantastic. We really couldn’t afford a tool to do that on our Web site.”

RightNow is one of a pack of ASPs (application service providers) that are reshaping the midmarket applications field by taking software out of customers’ data centers and managing it from their own. The company went public last year and reported a profit of US$3.5 million in its last fiscal year, ended Dec. 31. In its most recent quarter, RightNow generated revenue of $21.1 million and net income of $1.6 million.

It also completed its first acquisition during the quarter, of voice-automation software maker Convergent Voice. Gianforte said his company will keep an eye out for acquisition opportunities, but he declined to name any areas where RightNow is looking to pick up new technology.

“We’re going to continue to go deeper in CRM and really focus on business processes for specific business,” he said.

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