S1 Corp. is giving customers of its Enterprise business line access to an online forum where they can seek advice from one another and provide input on updates for the products they use.
The Atlanta vendor's Resource for Enterprise Development, or Red, has been in beta testing for four to five months. This week it is being made available to all Enterprise customers, as well as S1's business partners, employees and prospective customers.
Trustmark National Bank of Jackson, Miss., an S1 customer since 2003 and a beta user of Red, said the vendor's customer service is generally quite good, with one notable exception.
"It's been a one-on-one relationship, and not a bad one," Joe Gibbs, the senior vice president of eBusiness services at the Trustmark Corp. unit, said in an interview last week. "They're very good at making you feel that you're the only customer in the universe, until we run into something and say, 'How does somebody else handle this?' "
S1, which is obligated to respect the confidentiality of its other clients, rarely can answer such questions, Gibbs said, but if the forum catches on among clients, this will no longer be an issue.
"In the Web forum, that's me putting it out there, … [saying] 'I think you should handle it like this,' and Bank X somewhere else says, 'I like that idea.' Now, S1 never violated any confidentiality of mine," he said.
Bankers often yearn for this kind of interaction, to see how their counterparts have solved similar problems, and Red will function much like "a micro version of an online banking conference," Gibbs said.
Jeff Schilling, the chief technology officer for the Enterprise line, said Red will "play the predominant role in our multimodal communication with our customers and prospects."
During the beta period 1,000 people were active on the Web site. About 700 of them were S1 employees; the rest came from customers and business partners, each of which, by Schilling's estimate, enrolled 10 to 15 people on the site. The Enterprise line has about 45 bank customers.
Though S1 clients will want to network with one another, the large proportion of S1 employees on Red has been critical to the site's success, he said, because they can hear discussions to which they may not normally have been privy.
"The majority of the conversations that we believe will occur in S1 Red, those conversations occur today, but they occur on a point-to-point basis," he said.
Having those conversations aired in a more public setting has already led to an update for S1's call center product; Red users said they had difficulty linking the product to back-office systems. "The developers took that and built a wizard" released in December "on how to set those variables up in a more straightforward manner," Schilling said.
S1 is also showing off Red to prospective customers, Schilling said; they get only limited access — for example, they would not be able to download software available to clients — but it gives them a taste of what to expect.
Gibbs said he uses only consumer and business online banking products from S1, so he has not seen the change made to the call center product.
S1 needs to maintain a strong commitment to Red if it expects the online community to thrive, he said.
"It's a pretty bold step for S1 to step out there and open up a social site of this nature," he said. "A number of companies have done that, but this is a thing where you're wondering if you're opening Pandora's box."
Others that have created social sites for customers include the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which offers swiftcommunity.net. Bank of America Corp., Capital One Financial Corp. and HSBC Holdings PLC also have networking sites for small-businesses.
Christine Barry, a research director at Aite Group LLC of Boston, said that S1's Red does more than most other attempts at online interaction with clients.
"A lot of technology vendors have intranets for their customers where they access information, but none of them are to the extent of S1's Red," she said.
Red's features feed directly into clients' passion to learn more from one another, she said. "They're recognizing that that's where the real value comes — by speaking directly to each other."
The launch of Red also reflects a transformation by S1 over the years to focus on customer service, Barry said.
In 2004 it changed the pricing for its Enterprise products to a monthly fee, whereas the client base was accustomed to paying up-front license fees. That experiment failed, and two years later S1 got a new management team and switched back to license fees for Enterprise products.
"The vendors, in the past, some of them have been criticized" for their inability to connect with clients, "and S1 was one of those vendors where a few years ago they were focused more internally on their own road map," she said. "In the last few years they've reorganized, and they're much more focused on the needs of their customers."