June 27, 2017
by Tom Pick
The emergence and spread of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has dramatically changed the game for both B2B vendors and customers. Producers of a wide array of products—from vehicles to machine tools to jet engines to officer copiers—now have access to the kind of user and usage data that, not long ago, only SaaS software developers could capture.
For suppliers, that means a vast new stream of data that can be used for marketing, warranty, maintenance, and other purposes. But it also means a dramatic leap in customer expectations.
Professional customers (i.e., those in business/industrial firms, government agencies, non-profits, educational institutions, financial services, and healthcare) are well aware of the data they are providing to vendors, just through normal product usage. They don’t mind giving up their data—as long as that leads to better support and product development.
They also expect service and even vendor engagement options far beyond phone calls and email. The ten tools here enable vendors to extend their support offerings to social media, online knowledge bases, and web chat. Some go even further, empowering customers to collaborate with vendors, and with each other.
Customer Service Management Tools
Google Review Count: 344
Email-based help desk software with performance reporting and integrations to popular web chat and voicemail apps. Includes searchable knowledgebase of articles and documents.
Sample review: “These top customer support tools will help you grow…(check out) HelpScout for nurturing and improving relationships with customers.” — Marketing Insider Group
Pricing: free or $20/$40 per user per month
Showcase reviews: Marketing Insider Group
Google Review Count: 168
Email-based help desk software with performance reporting and integrations to popular web chat and voicemail apps. Includes searchable knowledgebase of articles and documents. Zendesk expanded its product by acquiring live chat software provider Zopim in 2014.
Sample review: “Zendesk is all about bringing harmony to your help desk and is designed to streamline your customer support system with neat features like ticket views, triggers, and automations.” — AppStorm
Pricing: five levels from $5 to $199 per agent per month
Showcase reviews: AppStorm, Marketing Insider Group, StoreYa Blog
Google Review Count: 145
Simple help desk software with ticket management for teams, a knowledgebase, support widgets, live chat (through Olark), email integration, and reporting.
Sample review: “Like Zendesk, Groove is another helpdesk that helps you offer awesome support. If you are a smaller business (and are not a tech guru), then Groove might be a better option for you.” — StoreYa Blog
Pricing: free or $15 per agent per month
Showcase reviews: Marketing Insider Group, StoreYa Blog
Google Review Count: 141
Multi-channel help desk software with ticketing, case management, self-service support, and reporting. Owned by Salesforce.com.
Pricing: $20/$60/$100 per agent per month
Showcase reviews: AppStorm
Google Review Count: 114
Multi-channel customer support software incorporating IT help desk with ticketing, CRM, live chat, in-app chat and support for mobile apps, a self-service portal, and performance reporting.
Sample review: “Freshdesk is an efficient customer service management application that features a collaborative shared inbox, automatic ticket creation in your helpdesk and the ability to categorize, prioritize, and assign tickets to your team. This transparent approach to customer service makes sure that two agents are never working on the same issue at the same time and ensures tickets get solved quicker, thus increasing customer satisfaction.” — AppStorm
Pricing: free or four levels from $19 to $89 per agent per month
Showcase reviews: AppStorm
Customer Engagement Platforms
Google Review Count: 210
A social community builder tool; create a community site for your brand with features including likes and share, member categories, blogging and commenting, social sign-in (members can sign in through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google), sharing to social media sites, content moderation, and privacy controls.
Sample review: “It probably won’t be the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster any time soon, but the Ning platform allows you to create your very own Facebook. The app helps you play Mark Zuckerberg for your own online community of other professionals, clients, and business owners in your field. In this online space you can share ideas and network without the cocktail hangover.” — Social Media Explorer
Pricing: $25/$49/$99 per month
Showcase reviews: Social Media Explorer
Google Review Count: 185
Tools to acquire (website chat), engage (targeted emails and in-app messages), educate (knowledgebase), and resolve issues for (team chat customer support, email, social, help desk) customers.
Sample review: “Intercom.io allows you to send targeted personalized messages to users of your apps. Be more social with your subscribers! The best tool I’ve found lately is Intercom; a sort of CRM tool for SaaS software companies that makes it easy to see user activity and communicate with…application users.” — RazorSocial
Pricing: $49/$98/$110 per month
Showcase reviews: Marketing Insider Group, RazorSocial, StoreYa Blog
Google Review Count: 120
MindTouch repackages user manuals, FAQ content, product documentation, sell sheets, engineering specs, and other existing content into bite-sized, semantically rich microcontent—much easier for customers to search and work with, and more search-engine-friendly as well.
Sample review: “The idea is to make customer support proactive and not reactive by ‘stopping customer problems before they occur,’ MindTouch says. The company calls it, nebulously, a ‘product experience platform.’ Here are some concrete facts about it: it’s in the cloud; it’s got a web-based, self-service help center component; it integrates with SAP, Salesforce and Zendesk; it alllows for collaborative authoring; and it uses HelpRank machine learning to get smarter. ” — ZDNet
Pricing: contact vendor for quote
Showcase reviews: ZDNet
Google Review Count: 108
WorkOutLoud is a secure, private, collaboration platform that lets you essentially create a private social network for your customers. It includes tools for blogging, group collaboration, surveys, and other functions that help customers “connect, self-organize, collaborate, present challenges, and share solutions” to improve customer retention.
Sample review: “(WorkOutLoud) has produced a platform where a company’s customers can connect with other customers through a digital community. In addition, users can view and interact with an event calendar built by the host corporation…Cultivating brand loyalty through the platform will hopefully reduce customer turnover for the businesses using it…Besides fostering brand allegiance, WorkOutLoud can also be used to gather data about a company’s customers and how those customers are using the platform.” — TECHdotMN
Pricing: contact vendor for quote
Showcase reviews: TECHdotMN
Google Review Count: N/A
Engage is a personalized one-to-one messaging / web chat app for digital sales enablement. Unlike typical web chat tools, Engage lets site visitors browse real profiles of your people, choose who to engage with, re-engage with the same individual on return visits, and know they are having an authentic interaction with a real, identifiable person. While standard web chat tools can be effective on sites with a high volume of low-value transactions, Engage is designed for account-based marketing (ABM) and high-value, considered purchase environments.
Sample review: “The legacy live chat you see on websites hasn’t seen significant innovation in the last decade. The idea of being in a chat queue or speaking with someone you don’t know in a tiny chat box is outdated. Engage…enables organizations to put their customer-facing professionals on their website in an authentic way. Visitors and customers see pictures, names, and job titles, they do not have to wait in a chat queue, they get to choose who they speak with, and they can come back at any future point and start a chat again with the same person.” — FinancesOnline.com
Pricing: $9 per user per month
Showcase reviews: FinancesOnline.com
Google Review Count: 81
SherpaDesk is an all-in-one professional services automation (PSA) platform the incorporates help desk ticket management and routing, remote desktop sessions, time tracking and invoicing, project budgeting and tracking, and a customer engagement/support portal. It also provides customizable reporting, and integrations to accounting and CRM systems.
Pricing: free or $39 per agent per month
This post first appeared on the Webbiquity blog.
Photo credit: Flickr user Farid Iqbal Ibrahim
About Tom Pick
Tom Pick is an independent digital marketing consultant, focused on helping b2b technology clients improve their online visibility and business results. In his more than 20 years of b2b marketing experience on both the corporate and agency sides, Tom has won numerous awards and helped clients ranging from single-person businesses to $1 billion+ corporations improve their online visibility, web traffic, visitor engagement, and lead generation. He writes about content and social media marketing topics on the Webbiquity blog.