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The Selfservice Company from the Netherlands aims to do no less than solve the problem of information overload. An ambitious objective. They have understood that too much of anything is never a good thing, and offer to provide a road to rationalize how information is delivered to customers seeking assistance, which benefits both the customer as well as the company. More pertinent answers are obtained over time through a dynamic fine-tuning of the knowledgebase by both customers and staff, saving time and money for all participants.
The Selfservice Company was founded in 2005 by Jaap van Gent (CFO), Jeroen Brouwers (CTO) and Dirkjan Dokman (CEO) and their service provides a Virtual Assistant that can be integrated into virtually any type of website, from e-commerce to customer service. The main idea is to provide a user-friendly interface where a client can type in natural language questions ( English, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portugueuse, and French are supported) and then narrow to the answer that best matches their query. Simultaneously the online conversation between the Virtual Assistant and the customer is monitored so that a live assistant, meaning a real human being, can jump in to take over as needed. Selections and clicks made by customers are analysed and used to improve pertinency as well as the proposed 'customer journey'.
The power however is in what they call the Customer Information Hub and how it is fed and maintained. When it is set up, it can actually go into existing datastores such as an existing online community,an FAQ or a knowledgebase and use that as a starting point so that a new client does not have to start from scratch. Think of it as a layer on top of salesforce.com, Lithium, Oracle,and Kana, among others. The Virtual Assistantcan determine that the medium (e.g. online chat) may actually not be the most appropriate channel or may not meet the preference of the customer and will suggest links to better alternatives if need be.
The company is very confident in their solution as they project to grow their revenue 20-fold from $6 millionU.S. this year to over $100 millionU.S. in 5 years time. We consider that overly ambitious but not impossible, since other companies have done it. Currently the product answers 60 million questions per year, so it will be interesting to see how the growth in volume will be handled in the future. They have a strong market presence in The Netherlands, UK, and in German-speaking countries, and are looking to expand internationally with offices in the US, the Nordics and Spain in 2012. Partners (BPO) are sought for countries where they have no presence as of yet. Currently self-funded and profitable, they are nonetheless looking to obtain funding to make true on their ambitions.
Their strong points are in their ROI. They tell us that their customers almost immediately see a drop in email (30-50% less) and call volumes (5-20% less), leading to corresponding decreases in associated costs. They also claim that the conversion ratio in online sales improves by 200% and banner click-throughs by 300%. Impressive number, but the caveat is that they depend on thecompany’s existing situation before the roll-out of a Virtual Assistant solution.
During their presentation, The Selfservice Company seemed to have difficulties identifying who their competitors are as well as the potential market size as they believe they fall outside of the categories described for example by Gartner (which by the way does talk about the Customer Information Hub). We would suggest companies such as iAdvize, Autonomy, LivePerson and possibly IntelliResponse.
We feel that the next steps for The Selfservice Company are:
- to manage their online customer journey,
- to increase relevancy of the content provided within the context of the customer,
- to improve personalisation.
As judges we think they will likely need to work on deeper integration with existing CRM ('transactional') systems and take into account not only the multi-channel aspects but also the cross-channel ones in order to be able to meet this objective. We would also have liked to gain some more insight into the influence of that the chosen brand persona(e.g. Chief Marketing Officer) has on the results obtained – but unfortunately, the time wasn’t really there for that.
All in all, The Selfservice Company is a highly ambitious and strong contender with an interesting solution that distinguishes itself well with its positioning.We like them. But their inability to identify either a market or competitors indicates that they have to step up their analysis of their place in the business universe and be more fine-tuned in identifying where their potential growth is going to come from. To grow to the level that they want to, once they get this intelligence, they will need to be able to present what they do more effectively, and then improve their market presence. If they do that, we think they have a real shot at it.