Salesforce.com just announced the “Service Cloud,” an Internet-based solution that, yes, does customer service. But, the key is the potential leverage with social computing platforms like Google and Facebook, to enable the emerging world of “social business.”
As CEO Marc Benioff said at the announcement in San Francisco on Jan. 15, the point of the Service Cloud is to “enable businesses to join the conversation” that is already happening on the Web, often without any involvement by the company. Currently about 50% of the time (Gartner), when someone needs help the first step is to Google for an answer, which could lead to forums, groups and social networks where customers/users help each other.
That’s certainly been my experience. Formal support channels are often too complicated. If I can get a few helpful hits after a Google search, why waste time searching a complex knowledgebase or submitting an incident?
The problem is, the company is out of the loop. It doesn’t learn from the community insight and doesn’t get engaged until the customer decides to contact the company or submit a formal incident.
Or, worse, until a problem becomes a PR embarrassment after a blog or YouTube video goes viral. By then (just ask Dell), it’s too late.
Essentially, Salesforce.com is expanding the definition of “multi-channel” beyond traditional phone, email, chat and web interactions to also include the outside world of search engines (e.g. Google), social networks (e.g. Facebook), online communities and even partners.
Is the Service Cloud Groundbreaking?
“Cloud computing” has become the latest buzzword to describe computing on the Internet. But the concept goes back into the late 1990s under the term ASP (Application Service Provider), to be followed by “on-demand” and then SaaS (Software as a Service). Web-based CSS is hardly a new idea.
What about CSS functionality? Frankly, I think it’s a stretch even for the bombastic Benioff to claim that Salesforce.com is “the enterprise standard” or in the “leadership position” for CSS, as he did in his announcement speech. Salesforce.com’s CSS app has improved in the past couple of years, but it’s lightweight compared to other CSS-focused vendors like eGain, KANA and RightNow.
Forrester analyst Natalie Petouhoff writes in her Q4/2008 CSS “Forrester Wave” report, that Salesforce.com is classified as a leading “record-centric” CSS solution and (along with Microsoft and Entellium) offers “sufficient technical capabilities to handle simpler customer service requirements and package these features in low-cost solutions that are quick to implement.”
That’s being “damned with faint praise,” in my book. Translating the analyst-speak: Salesforce.com is not ready for complex CSS applications in large enterprises.
Targeting the $3 Billion CSS Market
Still, Salesforce.com claims 6,500 CSS customers, a significant number even if they’re small. Gartner says the CSS market is a $3B opportunity, and Salesforce.com can’t flog the SFA horse much longer to keep growing a $1 billion per year business.
So, CSS appears to be a strategic priority for Salesforce.com. The $31M acquisition of Instranet last year probably was the start of a big push. Now we have the Service Cloud.
In the future, I’d like to see text mining integrated, so that insight can be gleaned from analyzing unstructured conversations. Salesforce.com’s CSS head honcho (and former CEO of Instranet) Alex Dayon hinted this may be coming.
The Service Cloud is a brilliant marketing and strategic move. It’s not about fighting the CSS feature/function wars. Rather, it’s about capitalizing on the wisdom of crowds in the cloud, which could help companies gain more insight and save money in customer service. What could be more important in this economy?