Kana Exec Sees Need To Call Channel For Support

As a provider of CRM software for enterprise call centers, Kana has focused mostly on direct sales to the Fortune 1000. But more recently, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company has begun partnering with IBM, which in turn is introducing the ISV to IBM VARs targeting the midmarket. Brian Kelly, executive vice president of corporate strategy and business development at Kana, explains the company's approach to automated service resolution management and how it's delivering its software in a more channel-friendly manner in an interview with Editor in Chief Michael Vizard.

CRN: Why is IBM hooking up Kana with its reseller partners?

KELLY: IBM set us up with the right companies and made introductions. What we're doing is taking our e-mail product and working with an IBM partner called Continental Resources Inc. The way they're explaining it to us is that as an IBM hardware reseller, you have to sell a solution. You can't just sell the hardware. This is making IBM partners very motivated to be educated about our solution. What we're creating with them is an appliance for our e-mail solution. In this case, the IBM resellers preload, preconfigure everything.

CRN: What exactly is the e-mail application?

KELLY: We have Response, which is an e-mail response management application. Customer-service organizations get inundated with e-mail. Our product will literally parse the e-mail, by subject line or even the message text itself, to look for certain keywords. Based on those, it will route it to the right department or the right individual, and then it will also try to automatically reply or respond to the e-mail. Instead of an agent having to answer every single one, we're attempting to turn the e-mail into an actual self-service application. We also have a chat product that is a self-service application. We're differentiating ourselves on creating a space around what we call service resolution management. We basically automate, if you will, and guide the agent through the resolution problem.

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CRN: What's the value proposition of doing that?

KELLY: We train agents on a process. Based on the case being handled, they can view the right information in due process. Using workflow and rules, you can capture the best-practices resolution processes and deploy them broadly. Instead of the agent sitting there with his Post-It notes around his screen and his scratch pad and asking the guy across the hall, they have a now repeatable process that gets you the same answer regardless of the agent that you happen to be talking to. A repeatable, streamlined process is what companies are going for to reduce the amount of time it takes to handle a call and reducing the number of calls that get escalated to tier-two support. And the whole time, you're increasing customer satisfaction and reducing costs.

CRN: Are there any other business benefits?

KELLY: By solving the customer's problem faster, more accurately and more consistently, you're at least creating the opportunity to sell them something. If I solve your issue in 27 seconds in your favor, and it was a good experience and I do that every time you call, I got an opportunity to sell you something vs. where you're on the phone for 17 minutes and you're on hold three times. Call centers are, in fact, turning themselves into profit centers.

CRN: Do you think this type of solution can now play outside the Fortune 1000 space?

KELLY: I think the delivery models enable us to provide these products in a cost-effective way to the midmarket. It's coming down to the software, the service and the appliance model. We have a Response Express product designed for small to medium business. It's a different pricing model, absolutely. Selling Fortune 1000 basically meant plan on a million bucks at least, and now it's turn it on for $200 per user, per month.

CRN: That sounds a lot like a software-as-a-service offering for the SMB space. Is it?

KELLY: We actually offered our software prior to this service six years ago, and the market wasn't ready for it. We actually pulled the plug on it. Now our market is ready for it, so we reinitiated it. But it's a complete change in your business model as well. We've got numbers that we have to hit, and we don't want to turn these million-dollar enterprise deals to a point we're all of a sudden we're just getting $300 a month. In the long run, it's going to be much better because it's much more predictable and repeatable vs. these lumpy deals all over the place throughout the year. The business model would be better, but it's hard to make the switch.

CRN: Why is Kana just discovering the SMB market now?

KELLY: We've been talking about it and strategizing around it for a long time. You can't just take an enterprise-class product and ship it to an SMB.

CRN: Kana went through some rough financial patches. How are you doing today?

KELLY: We've hit the bottom. It's just been survival mode through three years. It's just been extremely difficult conditions out there. We're not selling software that is absolutely critical to run a company. It's just an extremely difficult environment. I think we did survive, and I think we're positioned very well. IBM has been just a phenomenal partner for us, and we've invested so much time and energy into that.