RightNow’s pre-emptive strike

Opinion: The already competitive SaaS CRM market is getting more so. At least, that’s if my reading of the news coming out of RightNow Technologies annual customer conference is accurate.

The Bozeman, Mont.-based RightNow has repackaged its SaaS offering as RightNow CX. It’s pushing more customer self-service tools and improved “social” widgets that, in theory, make consumers happier, better, stickier customers.

Tish Whitcraft, senior vice president customer experience at MySpace/Fox Interactive in Beverly Hills, has been a RightNow user for nine months. She dropped Salesforce.com for RightNow because “of the social nature of our business.”

One aspect that’s paid off is RightNow’s smart assistant, she says. It’s been able to answer user questions well enough so that in the past eight months MySpace has “deflected,” or reduced, 25 percent of e-mails to the company’s customer support center.

Whitcraft also tells me that the smart assistant tool has helped MySpace redefine its password-recovery process. Starting in the next couple of weeks, MySpace users will be able to get new passwords via SMS.

David Vap, RightNow’s chief solutions officer, calls RightNow CX “a pre-emptive strike” in the online CRM battleground. He claims CRM-centric thinking is so last decade. The future for online services companies like his is to build tools so that its customers (like MySpace) can get ever more entwined in their users’ online lives.

“Customer empowerment means you need to infuse social capabilities everywhere in a Website,” he says.

That also means more mobile tools. As such, Vap says 2010 will see RightNow apps for iPhone and Android as well as widgets for the top mobile browsers.

And while cutting its subscription rates isn’t being discussed (that would certainly fire up the competition), RightNow is adding a “customer success manager” to each account. These are RightNow staff who get their bonuses based on customer satisfaction. A nice idea.

But its laser-like focus on the social aspect of the service sets RightNow apart from its competitors. That could be a gamble if social networking fades as the hot new thing.

For Whitcraft, of course, social networking is the business, so she’s fully on-board with RightNow CX. “If you sell to consumers, you have to have a social networking strategy,” she says.

RightNow is certainly betting you do.