Salesforce.com Steps Up Service
Salesforce.com announced several new partnerships and programs at its industry luncheon and customer event today in New York, all tied to the expanding field of on-demand service and support. Chief among the partnerships and programs are Salesforce Service and Support 2.0, AppExchange Service, and Support 1.0 (a hosting service for Salesforce customers to provide a Web self-service portal to end users), and partnerships with outsourcing companies Stream and Sitel. Together, the announcements signal the on-demand leader's intention to make a name in customer service.
Salesforce.com Support and Service, launched last year as Supportforce, adds more than 50 new features to the on-demand customer service utility. Suggested Solutions adds the ability for end users to self-close their support cases by linking successful solution reports to particular types of cases. A self-learning engine and unified database of cases lets Suggested Solutions provide better answers over time, and also speeds the work of support agents. Another feature that makes service easier is the addition of asynchronous Java and XML (AJAX) support to the agent console. A third new feature is support for open computer telephony integration (CTI) via Appforce Telephony API 2.0, a modifiable adapter that comes preloaded with support for nine top telephony integrators. Service and Support 1.0 adds to the Salesforce.com-built feature set by providing access to additional functions like time tracking, RMAs, and integrated chat.
Salesforce.com has also partnered with outsourcing providers Sitel and Stream, enabling those companies' Web offerings. According to Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, Outsourcing on demand will make agents available much faster by providing their services through the Internet, enabling them to have service up and running within one week.
Benioff said that several companies have expressed interest in buying access to the AppExchange modules without being Salesforce.com subscribers. When asked to elaborate on the possibility, Benioff said, "At present a customer needs to be subscribed to access the AppExchange, but a single Team Edition seat is essentially a platform seat--it gives access to all of AppForce and AppExchange functionality," which suggests that the expense would not be significant. "We have a number of new products and new packages on the way, so we're looking at [direct AppExchange purchases] and are nearing a solution."
One particular new service, the ability for customers to host FAQs for their end users through Salesforce, costs a flat $65 per month for unlimited end-user access, the same as a single seat of Salesforce.com Professional Edition. "For the price of a single seat customers get a full self-service Web portal," says Bonnie Crater, vice president of service and support.
Analysts locked onto the features, noting that a streamlined agent interface is perhaps the most important part of the announcement. "The agent desktop upgrade is absolutely critical to contact center customers," says Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager at Yankee Group. "In fact, they probably need another rev for more streamlining, including more workflow management and integration with other contact center applications."
Kingstone thought that the expanded service offerings were an important plus for Salesforce.com, but also said the competitive threat from other vendors, especially rival on-demand provider RightNow Technologies. "RightNow is still very strong in customer service and support--it's what they're known for and where they came from. The Salesforce name isn't as associated with support," however, she says, both companies have value and presence. "But when I look at my models and talk to customers, the biggest issue is service--not the applications that enable it, but the actual customer service."
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