7 Vendors Top the Forrester Wave for Customer Service Solutions

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At a time when seven out of 10 online shoppers complain of unsatisfactory experiences, which vendors stand out as offering possible solutions? The authors of the latest Forrester Wave Customer Service Solutions for Enterprise Customers Q2 2014 (registration required) rated customer service vendors against 83 criteria and identified seven leaders.

According to the report, the vendors with the best strategy pursued excellence in a limited number of areas and avoided over diversified, Jack-of-All-Trade scenarios.

Customer Engagement Strategies

Seven vendors pushed their way into the Leaders segment of the Wave, something that primary author Kate Leggett and co-authors Stephen Powers, Michael Facemire and Victoria Boutan noted requires thought and strategizing in a mature market. According to the report, the Leaders moved to the front by catering directly to their customers' needs. 

While all the listed vendors offer a check list of features and functions that appeal to customers,buyers should keep in mind that feature-heavy platforms are not necessarily better. Sometimes the extra features are just that -- features with little use for the customer.

Service Your Market

According to the report, customer service organizations of all sizes need to understand the market segment they service and ignore the rest to be sure they provide for their core market. This does not preclude vendors from developing new areas of interest or expertise to expand business reach, but those new developments need to be accounted for in business plans.

In a customer service space characterized by consolidation, the solutions fell into two main categories, though the distinction between the two categories has become less pronounced in the past three years:

  • Enterprise services: These are solutions for organizations larger than 1000 customer facing agents that offer strong case management capabilities. These solutions can also scale larger and are normally offered through on-premises solutions, though some are now available as SaaS solutions.
  • SMB services: Built for the Small-to-Medium (SMB) market these solutions service companies that typically employ less than 1000 customer facing agents. Some vendors target their solutions at divisions of customer service organizations that have dedicated teams for digital and social customer service within a larger contact center.

Business-to-business (B2B) companies have different needs than business-to-consumer (B2C), so it is up to customers to outline which components are required. Among the components of note  are:

  • Case management: Some of these include solutions that can bring agents through predefined workflows and push relevant contextual data and information to agents.
  • Multichannel management: Provide solutions that manage all customer-facing channels. The report warns against using all channels and advises that companies identify the most suitable for their business.
  • Business intelligence: Customer service is all about the metrics and measurement of the success of your operations. Business intelligence features are included in many platforms that range from simple, real time analysis for SMBs to full scale solutions for enterprises.
  • Usability and cost: All organizations require solutions with modern user interfaces and user experiences which help reduce training time and increase job satisfaction with the tool set.

Top Customer Service Vendors

After considering 83 different criteria, Leggett and her co-authors identified the following vendors and products as market leaders:

1. Oracle Siebel CRM

Oracle Siebel CRM, a key asset in Oracle’s customer experience portfolio, leads the market. It includes broad, deep functionality and the ability for extreme customization. It is Oracle’s most fully featured CRM solution that supports over 20 different verticals, typically used in enterprises with over 500 customer-facing agents.

It has strong case management and business process management capabilities as well as workflow tools, business reporting and analysis capabilities. It integrates with Oracle Social Relationship Management for social listening and chat. According to the report it is a good fit for global, high volume business-to-consumer service organizations.

2. Salesforce.com

Salesforce’s reach into the customer space is unmatched by any other vendor. It has a clear vision of where it is going and sound execution. Its vision is of the “connected customer” where customers control the interactions with the enterprise. To ensure this, it provides pervasive social and collaboration capabilities in the Service Cloud.

In addition, Salesforce provides very strong case management capabilities, social customer service and social listening. It has a deep knowledge base and overall sound multichannel capabilities, along with strong reporting capabilities. Salesforce has segmented its sales and support functions into two business units -- one dedicated to enterprise accounts, and one to midsize accounts.

3. Oracle Service Cloud (OSC)

OSC provides strong support for B2C enterprises. The report identified it as an easily configurable solution, particularly in cross channel customer experiences and multichannel functionality including chat, email response management, social customer service, knowledge management and social listening. 

The solution is available in a SaaS deployment, offering quick time-to-value and making it ideal for companies with less than 250 customer facing agents. Customer service organizations use it as an enterprise-wide customer experience service solution. Oracle gained this software through its 2012 acquisition of RightNow Technologies.


SAP’s strategic approach to CRM is to build a comprehensive product portfolio with a strong focus on customer experience as well as operational, interaction and decision competencies.

Learning Opportunities

Its customer base has grown significantly in recent years, mainly in the large enterprise space as a result of SAP enhancing usability and offering new solution packaging and cloud-based complementary solutions.

SAP CRM has well-rounded customer service capabilities. Its platform and architecture are suitable for global deployments, and it offers a broad array of industry specific solutions. The report stated that some customers complain of its cost and long deployment times.

5. Pegasystems

Pegasystems enablescustomer service organizations to predictively engage customers. Pega CRM couples its strengths in business process management to provide agent guidance across communication channels. It has strong multichannel management and knowledge base capabilities as well as enhanced usability from prior product versions.

According to the report, Forrester clients view Pega CRM as an expensive solution to purchase, deploy and integrate, yet one that yields a quantifiable return-on-investment (ROI) based on process improvements.

6. Microsoft

Microsoft Dynamics offers a flexible cost-effective customer service solution. The primary buyers of Microsoft Dynamics CRM are upper mid-market and enterprise customers requiring easy to use, flexible customer service solutions that yield productivity gains.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides strong customer service capabilities with high marks for usability (based on the familiar Office UI look and feel), delivered via a robust, scalable platform and architecture suitable for global deployments. It offers very strong support for native business process management and provides strong support for case management for phone agents.

Dynamics CRM is relying on its acquisition of Parature to provide support for multichannel customer service, knowledge management and social customer service. It also relies on its Netbreeze acquisition to provide social listening capabilities. Dynamics CRM is best suited for B2B companies that have made a commitment to the Microsoft technology stack and that require integration with other Microsoft solutions, such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Lync.

7. Kana

Kana Enterprise is a product built via acquisition and delivers a solution that combines the strength of its two parents — the multichannel and knowledge capabilities of the historical Kana Software products and the business process management engine from Sword Ciboodle.

It provides consistent customer engagement across all channels through predefined process flows that display contextual information and data to agents at the time of need.

Kana is focused on the enterprise buyer and has an average deployment size of more than 2000 agents. It has made recent strides in creating a partner network with a number of system integrators on board too.

And those are the Leaders. However, as with all Waves, Forrester recommends that you look at other vendors before making a decision about what system is best for your enterprise.