Oracle has built one of the world’s largest software portfolios through a combination of developing products in-house and acquisitions. In the last few years it has put great effort into transitioning from providing its applications as on-premises products to making them available in the cloud. It also has worked to add customer experience capabilities to its range of business applications. Improving the customer experience is a top priority as our next generation customer engagement research found in almost three quarters (74%) of organization. In doing so it has developed a common user interface across the applications to address modern user expectations and has built a platform to support common capabilities in all its products. Recently I had the opportunity to study the strides Oracle has made in these areas as well as to identify some issues that still need to be resolved.
With cloud computing achieving broad popularity, organizations today can choose from three approaches: private, public and hybrid clouds. The growing reliance on the cloud has made it necessary to focus on integrating cloud systems with each other and with on-premises systems. Oracle has developed a broad-based, pragmatic approach; it offers SaaS (applications as a service), PaaS (platform), IaaS (infrastructure) and DaaS (data). SaaS includes a range of business applications. PaaS contains tools to support application development, data management, operations management, analytics, integration, collaboration and mobility. IaaS provides hardware for processing and storage in the cloud so companies can run applications and develop software without owning on-premises hardware. And DaaS enables users to connect their own and external data for a complete view to help in making decisions and taking actions. Together these products allow organizations to develop, administer, manage and operate business applications all in the cloud rather than on their own premises. Deployment in the cloud greatly reduces the challenges of maintaining an in-house IT department, allowing companies to focus on how best to use applications to support their business.
Oracle’s approach also provides a foundation on which companies can address the goal of providing superior customer experiences, which as I recently wrote is no easy task. The Oracle CX Customer Experience Solutions reflect this complexity, being comprised of not one but many packages that provide choice for customers. The underlying platform, CX Foundation, provides common tools to enable mobility, analytics (including predictive) and integration, and there are six separate CX applications for these area of focus: Marketing, Sales, Service, CPQ (configure, price, quote), Commerce (personalizing customer experience across multiple channels) and Social (monitoring and responding to social interactions). The complexity doesn’t stop there; each of these solutions is made up of several products, which in turn support hundreds of capabilities. After my examination of these offerings, here are four key points:
- Together the solutions support the end-to-end business journey of the customer, which includes identifying, attracting and nurturing prospective customers; engaging with prospects to close business; and engaging with customers across multiple channels to provide personalized support through the customer’s choice of channel and time.
- The integration across solutions enables processes that cross business groups, so that internal journeys flow smoothly from, for instance, marketing to sales to service and other business groups involved with customer-facing activities.
- Oracle Service Cloud includes a key component of customer service, knowledge management. Whether a person is providing assisted service or a technology is delivering self-service, the outcome of the interaction depends heavily on the information provided to the customer. If it meets expectations, the person will be happy. If it is complete, he or she won’t have to engage again. The newest product, Oracle Knowledge Advanced, provides a complete set of tools to create, approve, manage and deliver various forms of information: forms, user guides, templates, preconfigured answers and others. The tools can deliver content to any device during any type of interaction. There are natural-language-based search capabilities so users can quickly find content relating to the subject they are dealing with, or content can be delivered automatically during an interaction based on data entered; for example, a user could type in a question on a mobile app, which would return the most relevant information back to the device, or responses could be generated automatically during a chat session.
- Oracle’s new user interface, Oracle Alta UI, is user-friendly in a modern way, with visualization, point-and-click capabilities, alerts and messaging. It is also what most vendors now call “designed for mobile first” so that key features can be accessed on mobile devices.
The business solutions and their comprehensive capabilities to support marketing, sales and customer service are built on what Oracle refers to as the CX Foundation. From our research into next-generation customer engagement and next-generation customer analytics. The next generation customer engagement research found collaboration, portal, mobile and social media as critical engagement methods. I’ve identified five capabilities that are keys to providing superior customer experiences: integration, collaboration, mobility, social media and analytics. Success requires multiple systems to manage a range of communications channels, business applications to manage customer data and transactions (including demographics, marketing campaigns, sales, service requests and cases, finance and knowledge bases) and various forms of analytics (applied to data, speech, text and processes).
The integration features in CX Foundation provide these capabilities, not only between the Oracle offerings but to third-party systems. Our research underscores that customer engagement is an enterprise issue – almost every business group within an organization is engaging with customers. Collaboration, including the ability to share information between groups, is essential to provide consistent experiences and resolve as many interactions as possible at the first attempt. Because both customers and employees now want to carry out tasks while away from their desks, support for mobility is a must. The same can be said of social capabilities as consumers look to social media to find information, resolve issues or voice dissatisfaction. Also critical is the platform’s support for analytics, including predictive analytics. I have written on several occasions that companies can’t provide superior experiences without a complete view of their customers and analyses of the channels they use for various interactions in the form of customer journey maps. Oracle CX Foundation has three components that allow companies to produce such analysis: data management to bring together all customer data, analytics, and predictive capabilities for gaining insights into likely future customer behavior.
In its totality the Oracle CX portfolio delivers many of the required customer experience capabilities. However, I also find room for improvement. Customer experience is about managing interactions as they occur and in any channel (such as a phone call, a chat session or a visit to a website) and delivering a personalized, relevant, consistent experience during the interaction. Integration of data and systems and the ability to process all forms of interactions is therefore key and although the Oracle platform enables development of these capabilities, I think more could be done in design to facilitate integration with the common communication platforms. I also believe it is essential to have one system of customer record, or at least the ability to synchronize data across systems. Again the Oracle CX platform provides tools to develop these capabilities, but it would be better for the business applications to work from a common customer database.
I also believe that Oracle Knowledge Advanced should support all the Oracle apps, not just Service, because it is essential that prospects and customers be given the same information no matter where they are in the customer journey. Our research shows that customer journey maps – a visual representation of the channels customers use in various interactions – are becoming a key part of any CX program. However, producing them requires overcoming a key challenge. Customer data is stored by necessity in multiple systems, and each may have its own identifiers: Among them are names and addresses in CRM, telephone numbers in the telephone system, email addresses, account numbers in financial systems and social media identifiers. To produce a complete view of the customer and journey maps, it is necessary to link all identifiers of a single customer to that individual so that all data can be included in that view. Again the Oracle platform has some capabilities to support this need, but many rely on manual processes and should be automated.
Customer experience is one of the most important ways a company can differentiate itself from the competition. As it stands, the Oracle CX platform does a good job of managing the transactional side of customer experience. It also has the advantage of providing customized versions for different industries and a packaged version for midsize companies, and the platform capabilities allow companies to customize them to meet specific demands. These features can help companies manage what I call the back end of customer experience. Either through development or partnering I recommend that Oracle do more to support activities at the point of engagement and help in both employee-assisted and self-service interactions. Oracle is a lot more advanced than you might think in helping organizations provide the best possible customer experience across any channel and device.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director