Salesforce.com Adds Service to the Cloud
The software-as-a-service CRM vendor's new Service Cloud solidifies crowdsourced customer support.
Posted Jan 15, 2009
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Salesforce.com has another innovative addition to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry, this time in a field the company's applications have not often addressed: customer service. This morning the company unveiled the Service Cloud, a unique approach to customer service and support that leverages social networking and trusted sources to aid customers online. The announcement will be part of a corporate event taking place in San Francisco beginning at 3 p.m. ET, at which Marc Benioff company cofounder, chairman, and chief executive officer, is expected to present.

The Service Cloud captures conversations from Web-based sources such as Facebook and Google, and lets customer service organizations turn those conversations into assistance. A demonstration delivered to destinationCRM and CRM magazine focused on a user trying to get a Bluetooth headset to work with a particular mobile phone service. The user might put the question to friends in an online community focused on that service, or that headset. If an answer resolves the problem and receives enough positive feedback, a cloud service manager (Salesforce.com's coinage for an agent who works with Service Cloud) with either the product manufacturer or the service provider can make that exchange part of its own Web self-service and agent knowledge base, and even share the conversation with partners for their own help systems. This expands the reach and value of community expertise, and helps ensure that service is consistent across all channels.

The service is priced at $995 per month, for which subscribers will have access to their own online customer community with unlimited usage for up to 250 customers, as well as five agents and five partner organizations. Built on Force.com, Salesforce.com's SaaS platform, Service Cloud includes complex and sophisticated workflows for finding, rating, and sharing help items.

"Salesforce.com has been investing in customer service and support for some time," says Alex Dayon, senior vice president of Salesforce CRM customer service and support. One of those investments was the August 2008 acquisition of InstraNet, a company whose service management capabilities form the backbone of Service Cloud, and of which Dayon was founder and CEO. He notes that spending on customer service technology hasn't always been in step with customer trends; while $20 billion was being spent on contact centers, people were turning to the Web and social networking to address their problems. "When you need to know how to fix something, what's the first thing you do? You google it."

"The new generation of consumers trusts content created by peers," said Michael Maoz, vice president and research director for analyst firm Gartner, in a statement. "This consumer expectation that they can create answers and content as part of a community will lead businesses and other organizations to adopt similar techniques to succeed." Like Dayon, Maoz sees the trend of community-based service and support emerging in a big way: "Ultimately, organizations will have to change their singular emphasis on tools for agents, to a broader strategy that also supports the role of community experts."

In providing Salesforce.com a fresh path to the contact center -- a part of CRM that many have felt the company lacked -- Service Cloud may be the final piece of the puzzle for the complete software-as-a-service CRM suite. "It's a very good complement to what they have today," says Chris Fletcher, research director with analyst firm AMR Research. "Service Cloud is a good extension of Salesforce.com's service and support capabilities, and using them makes better sense than ever before." Even so, Fletcher says, a full cloud-based customer service solution is "not there yet." (In its marketing materials for Service Cloud, Salesforce.com cites a Gartner projection that, by 2012, 65 percent of all service queries will take place in the cloud.)

"There's community software and there's service and support software, but Salesforce.com has packaged it all together," says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research for analyst firm Nucleus Research. "I think it's pretty well baked, [but] the challenge for any CRM is moving beyond the initial point of contact with the customer to other areas."

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