Chris Sortzi, VP Public Sector, RightNow Technologies

chris-sortzi-photo.jpg Ready for a Catch-22? Your client is a government agency with a shrinking budget, but a growing need: Every day, more constituents are calling, emailing, and IMing the agency, seeking customer service help. Can the government agency meet its customers’ expectations —maybe even surpass them? In the following Q&A, Sortzi discusses how RightNow has been able to create a market presence in the delivery of CRM solutions — and see a client renewal rate of over 90 percent.

Could you tell us your background and how you got to be vice president of RightNow?

Chris Sortzi: I’ve been in the IT space within the public sector for over twenty years. I’ve worked with large systems integrator companies and IT companies in and around the beltway. The opportunity to join RightNow was a great fit for me based on what I have been involved with as well as what the company is focused on with respect to delivering a great customer experience to constituents.

What does RightNow do?

Chris Sortzi: RightNow’s customer relationship management solutions (CRM) enable organizations to deliver a great customer experience by offering citizens the information they need quickly and accurately no matter how they choose to contact the organization­­­­­­ whether it be via the phone, email, chat or the web.

Who are some of your federal customers?

Chris Sortzi: We have a large presence in the public sector, including state and local, federal civilian agencies, and Department of Defense. RightNow CRM solutions are at work at nearly every cabinet-level department of the federal government. We serve more than 135 government agencies including USA.Gov, GSA, Social Security Administration, US Postal Service, US CENSUS Bureau , Health and Humans Services, EPA, USDA, HUD, the US Army, the Air Force, and some of the three-letter Intel agencies are using our technology as well. Our footprint of customers is growing as we continue to focus on helping those organizations provide a great customer experience to those they serve.

How large is the public sector division in relation to the rest of RightNow?

Chris Sortzi: Nearly 20% of the company’s revenues.

Is there a case study you would like to share?

Chris Sortzi: One of my favorite customer examples is the work we are doing with the EPA. Before our solution was implemented, they were challenged with measuring citizen satisfaction and capturing valuable feedback from citizen’s interactions with their agency. Also the EPA needed to respond to an overwhelming volume of emails, phone calls, and other inquires that came into the agency. RightNow helped the EPA implement an efficient method to quickly, and consistently respond to citizens while complying with the presidential mandate called CSLIC. The GSA’s Citizen Service Levels Interagency Committee (CSLIC) initiative set guidelines for organizations to best interact with the public with a customer service focus.

You are in a very competitive space – what is your approach to the market?

Chris Sortzi: Our approach is pretty simple. We focus on helping organizations deliver an exceptional customer experience. Government agencies are constantly faced with the challenge of meeting rising customer expectations across multiple channels such as the internet, email, phone, chat, and IVR with limited budget and resources. We feel that if we can establish a foundation with our customers that helps them improve their overall service to their constituents, then everyone wins.

We also see continued adoption of on-demand CRM solutions. The traditional method of buying software is being replaced. We offer our customers the ability to try our solution or “Pilot” the software before making a large investment. We all know that there are too many failed implementations or implementations that take a long time to roll out. Our “Pilot” approach removes the risk associated with trying a new solution and gives customers the opportunity to see real, rapid results as part of a “Pilot” in less than 60 days.

In the past RightNow has had more of a direct sales model, contracting directly with government agencies. As we move forward, we will also grow the delivery of our solution through Systems Integrator partnerships. Since the government is relying on the SI’s to deliver the task at hand, we feel partners will continue to play a prominent role in helping us achieve a more dominant market presence. At the same time, systems integrators and government agencies will both benefit from a solution that will let them see results in a much shorter time, while staying within budget constraints.

What is your biggest challenge in the federal space today?

Chris Sortzi: It is a continual challenge and goal for RightNow to help people understand our value proposition and what we can do for customers. Also how we can protect the knowledge that they have gathered and then help disseminate that information out to those they serve. Government agencies are constantly faced with the challenge of meeting constituent expectations across multiple channels such as the internet, email, phone, automated voice and chat with a growing volume and shrinking budgets. As more awareness of our value grows, we will be able to help more and more government agencies move from delivering constituent service to delivering constituent care – better serving their customers.

RightNow, coming from being based in Montana, how did that work in terms of your federal business?

Chris Sortzi: Prior to coming on board, there were a handful of direct sales executives throughout the country that were focused on the public sector business. They did a great job of establishing the RightNow solution in numerous departments within key government agencies.

In order to take our public sector business to the next level the company made a tremendous investment so that we could further our presence in this space. Since coming on board, we have hired over 40 people to support our sales activities in all areas of the business including sales, professional services, pre-sales engineers, marketing, business consultants, and others. We also recently opened a office in Herndon, VA that is focused on the public sector market, specifically the federal government. This increased presence allows us to better serve our customers located in the area as well as the business partners who also focus on this market.

What hot trends are you tracking that will impact your customers as you see it in the next 12 months?

Chris Sortzi: There’s a couple. Within the higher education side of our public sector business we’re seeing a shift in how and where constituents want to interact with an institution.

Today’s millennial generation expects to be interacted with differently. They expect to interact with an institution like they would a company – with personalized and diverse interactions across many channels. Students are no longer seeking emails and traditional methods of communicating and are heavily using social networking. One trend in particular that is growing is social networking. We are working to continue to develop and grow our Higher Education solution to help institutions continue to meet the needs of their constituents with highly personalized, great constituent experiences across the recruitment, retention, and advancement lifecycle.

The other trend I see on the federal side, is Federal agencies are putting more demands on System Integrators to deliver solutions that are based on a firm fixed price, as well as meeting service level agreements. To be able to deliver exceptional customer service in a Call Center environment System Integrators need a solution like ours that will enable them meet the service levels contractually required, at a lower cost. The time to implement our solution is quick thus allowing System Integrators to compete on fixed price. At the same time the agency can see the benefits and better serve their customers in a much shorter time.

Additionally, Software as a Service (SaaS) is maturing. Many government agencies are now comfortable with SaaS because the reliability and security issues are being addressed. SaaS is making it possible for more government agencies to deploy CRM solutions because of the low cost, ease of deployment, and subscription model. By moving to an on demand model (SaaS) government agencies can speed up the deployment of these CRM initiatives and eliminate the upfront and infrastructure costs associated with conventional, internally deployed applications.

What’s something that most people are surprised to learn about RightNow?

Chris Sortzi: Our ability to quickly deliver value is one. Also our extensive solution capabilities and our comprehensive approach as it relates to focusing on the customer experience. Because of our focus on the customer we have a client renewal rate of over 90%.

The other area is our pricing model. We allow our customers to use our technology on a subscription basis thus giving them the ability to scale up or scale down based on actual usage versus making large investments up front with the hopes that all of the licenses that are paid for will actually get used. This is very attractive to our clients and partners who are conscious of deployment expenditures.

What we’re finding also is many of our customers like the fact that we offer them the choice for us to host the application or we allow them to deploy the application on the customers premise as well. Today about 85% of our public sector clients are hosted by us, which helps with the capital cost associated with purchasing hardware etc to host the application in a public sector environment.

What is an example of what you do to give back to the community?

Chris Sortzi: I love coaching and mentoring young kids through youth sports.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Chris Sortzi: Adaptive to the person or people that I am leading. I am a believer that different people need different coaching and mentoring and a good leader needs to recognize when to apply the right technique to the varying degree of people that we are leading.

Are you a sports fan? What teams do you follow?

Chris Sortzi: Huge sports fan! I am an avid Dallas Cowboy fan, love the Boston Red Sox because of where they came from and what they have overcome as an organization and I also follow the Washington Wizards.

What are some of the most recent books you’ve read?

Chris Sortzi: Blown to Bits by Thomas Wurster and Phillip Evans, Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles

What is something most people don’t know about you personally?

Chris Sortzi: I enjoy watching old time Elvis movies and I enjoy keeping up with the latest lingo as it relates to my kids. I like to show them that I may be their dad, but I can still be cool if they let me. Which is not very often.

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