SoundBite and Mindshare, SugarCRM, Microsoft, SPSS, Destination Elevators?

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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SoundBite and Mindshare, SugarCRM, Microsoft, SPSS, Destination Elevators?

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius's debut album, cleverly titled Jaco Pastorius. Guess whose picture is on the cover:

Folks, First Coffee's as much in love with technology and its advance as the next guy, but there are some technological innovations we don't need. "Destination elevators" are such an example. Battery "operated" hand razors are another.

You might have seen the news Stefanie Viscusi reported yesterday on SoundBite Communications Inc. and Mindshare Technologies, announcing a "partnership to develop and deliver on demand Customer Experience Management and Monitoring" products for enterprise organizations.

The partnership uses what SoundBite officials describe as the "virtually unlimited telephony capacity" of their hosted customer contact product with Mindshare's survey and real-time analytics expertise to "provide businesses with immediate customer experience feedback."

Chris Selland, Vice President of Business Development at SoundBite told First Coffee that "this partnership is important for a few reasons," first of all that "we've found that automated messaging generally performs muchbetter," with the emphasis on "much," than live operators "for companies who are seeking honest feedback from their customers."

Quite simply, Selland says, "people are much more willing to be more direct with a machine than they generally would be with a live agent." Stands to reason, especially if the agent is one of those "virtual reps."

Selland pointed out that "the feedback we get is near-immediate -- we can survey the consumer right after they've had the experience, when it's most fresh in their minds.  And, if there's a problem, we can resolve it -- right away."

Indeed, the example Selland uses is Asurion, a provider of specialty insurance, warranty and other marketing services to the wireless telecommunications industry, who's using the new SoundBite-Mindshare product to continuously survey and measure customer experience with its Roadside Assistance Service.

Asurion's services include towing, lockout assistance, tire changes and much more. Customers requesting roadside assistance are provided with an estimated time of arrival of the service provider. Ten minutes after the estimated arrival time, the customer receives an automated voice message asking him to confirm that help has arrived and invites him to participate in a brief survey about his experience with the service. If a customer indicates that help has not arrived, he's immediately connected to a live agent for assistance.

Donna Drehmann, Asurion's Director of Customer Satisfaction said they're using the Mindshare and SoundBite tool to "immediately survey our customers so we can ensure that they received the best service possible as well as learn ways in which we can further help them." The ability to continuously measure performance and respond to real time customer feedback "in an automated and cost-effective manner" is "invaluable" to their business, Drehmann said.

"Mindshare and SoundBite have highly-complementary capabilities," Selland explained. "Our ability to contact the customer and initiate the survey and their experience and capabilities in conducting and deeply analyzing the results are basically a perfect match. 

And, last but not least, this isn't just a hypothetical offering -- we're already out there delivering today."

Using automated voice messages in a hosted environment "allows businesses to reach customers faster without the need for live agents or on-premise hardware and software," partnership officials contend, calling it "a cost-effective survey that can be applied to virtually any type of customer service initiative that is supported by a call center."

"Customer experience continues to play an important role in brand preference and customer loyalty," Selland correctly points out, saying such information is "compelling" for businesses that "want to immediately understand how their customers perceive the service experience, and respond in real-time to enhance satisfaction and loyalty."

SugarCRM Inc. has announced its membership in the Interop Vendor Alliance with Microsoft. 

The Alliance was established to "connect people, data and diverse systems through better interoperability," according to SugarCRM officials. SugarCRM, a vendor of commercial open source products for both on-site and on-demand CRM, has joined with member companies to ensure interoperability for its customers.

In February of this year, SugarCRM and Microsoft announced a technical collaboration project when SugarCRM became the first commercial open source application vendor to adopt the Microsoft Community License and introduced a Windows-based distribution of SugarCRM. 

Today nearly 35 percent of SugarCRM's customer base runs on Microsoft Windows Server.

Today at Microsoft TechEd: IT Forum 2006 in Barcelona, the Little Ole Software Company From Redmond announced the formation of the Interop Vendor Alliance, which they describe as "a global, cross-industry group of software and hardware vendors that will work together to identify opportunities for enhancing interoperability with Microsoft systems on behalf of their customers."

Customers are telling Microsoft that interoperability is as important to them as security and reliability, company officials say, adding that "because of this, Microsoft is seeking to proactively work with partners and competitors alike to help reduce the cost and risk associated with integrating diverse systems."

Founding members of the alliance include Advanced Micro Devices Inc., BEA Systems Inc., Business Objects, CA, The Carbon Project, Centeris Corp., Citrix Systems Inc., GXS Inc., IP Commerce Inc., JNBridge LLC, Kernel Networks, Levi, Ray & Shoup Inc., Microsoft, NEC Corp. of America, Network Appliance Inc., Novell Inc., Q4bis, Quest Software Inc., Siemens Enterprise Communications, SOFTWARE AG, Sun Microsystems Inc., Symphony Services Corp., Xcalia, XenSource Inc. and the aforementioned SugarCRM.

Microsoft officials say the notoriously go-it-alone vendor "has increased its efforts to deliver interoperability by design," with commitments to open specifications that include Web services, open document formats, virtualization, anti-spam technologies and technical collaborations with open source providers such as Novell, Zend Technologies Ltd. and XenSource, as well as significant interoperability testing for applications and hardware for Windows Vista and 2007 Microsoft Office system releases.

SPSS Inc., a vendor of predictive analytics software, has announced that AIDA Cruises, which offers holiday cruises based in Germany, has purchased SPSS' predictive analytics applications to "optimize yield management of its ships and better serve its passengers."

AIDA, part of the American firm Carnival Corporation & plc., is currently operating four international cruise ships and will expand its fleet to seven ships in the coming years. As it will be more than doubling its cruising capacity, the company decided to implement SPSS' predictive analytics software to "enhance its marketing processes in support of this objective," company officials say.

SPSS' PredictiveMarketing software will allow AIDA to better target, plan, execute and report on its direct marketing campaigns.

Björn Conrad, Manager of CRM and Direct Marketing at AIDA Cruises, said with SPSS "we'll be able to do personalized offerings that are tailored to the preferences of our passengers."

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