Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Salesforce.com Rolls in Service Cloud: The Next-Gen Customer Service/Support Solution

January 15, 2009

Salesforce.com has lifted customer service, including technical support, literally to the next level, in the cloud. It has rolled in the Service Cloud: which combines live agent voice, e-mail, and chat customer interactions with social networks and communities and with hosted knowledge solutions to provide coherent, effective, and lower cost service and support.
 
Contact center agents and support reps will use the Service Cloud as a community/social network informal presence tool by quickly reaching out to experts in these communities and sites that will be created, defined, and limited by their organizations. Through these connections, companies will be able to funnel this information directly into their knowledge bases. The Service Cloud ensures that they will have the most up to date support information sourced from community experts.
 
Built on Salesforce’s the Force.com platform, the Service Cloud brings together cloud computing platforms like Google (News - Alert), Facebook, and Amazon.com to capture every conversation and leverage every community expert within them. Force.com provides the necessary building blocks to quickly build and run business applications including database, workflow, logic, integration, customization, mobile, and user interface capabilities.
 
“For the typical calls the agents are just fine, but for the complex, difficult calls, the advantage of the Service Cloud is that it provides a community of experts available to them,” explains Alex Dayon, Senior Vice President, Customer Service and Support Applications.
 
Taking customer service and support to the cloud also helps Salesforce.com (News - Alert) by opening a vast new market for its well-known, popular, and respected hosted CRM solutions. The firm clearly believes that the unique, customer-focused, and cost savings features of The Service Cloud and its ease of implementation will prove popular with existing clientele and draw new ones.
 
“Customer service and support is the largest segment of CRM,” explains Dayon, who is founder and CEO InStranet, a knowledge base management solutions firm acquired by Salesforce.com in August 2008.  “We see that as our next billion dollar opportunity.”
 
The Service Cloud solution has been developed in response to customer dissatisfaction with poor service and support delivered by organizations. That has led customers to obtaining the answers via their cloud-supporting networks, reports Dayon. Salesforce.com says already 50 percent of all service conversations are taking place in the cloud and expects that to climb to over 66 percent.
 
“The new generation of consumers trust content created by peers,” adds Michael Maoz Vice President and Research Fellow, Gartner (News - Alert). “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. 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."
 
 
 
The Service Cloud threatens to blow down the traditional and costly support level tiers and escalation processes between them. It rips apart the crumbling old pattern of call avoidance and minimization that have annoyed customers and endangered loyalty.

“Traditionally the focus of customer service and support spending has essentially been about lowering costs by deflecting calls to self-service,” explains Dayon. “There has been some $20 billion spent in technology to lower interaction costs. Yet the other side of the equation is the customer. Has that money spent improved customer satisfaction? The answer is generally been no. Now companies are realizing and struggling how to put the right information to the right channel. The Service Cloud is the answer to that huge problem.”

The Service Cloud can provide equivalent if not superior support at what Salesforce executives would say are ‘significantly lower costs’ than traditional solutions. The cost savings, they agree, may be enough to permit some firms to reintroduce or enhance live agent contact handling.

Products and services that have low pricepoints cannot be supported with live agents. According to The Complete Guide to Customer Support, business-to-business phone-based support requests cost about $33 apiece; the support costs for consumer hardware or software begin at $149 per unit: often exceed the costs of making them. Support can consume about five to 25 percent of corporate revenues.

The Service Cloud packages start at $995 per month, which includes creating a customer community with unlimited usage for up to 250 customers and a contact center with up to five agents. It also permits a connecting with native cloud computing sites like Facebook (News - Alert) and Google and inviting up to 5 partners to participate.

The Service Cloud supplies a framework to community/social network ensuring that the quality of customer service is consistent across every channel. Organizations can define the size, scope, and members of the community that the agents can rely on, rather than on the sometimes wild, wooly Internet with no assurance other than trust if the information is any good.
 
This feature enables firms to boost their Web marketing strategies. More times than not, says Salesforce, customers begin with a Google search to find answers to their questions. By creating an active online community with the Service Cloud, companies can ensure that their site is one of the top results returned in a customer's search. It is through the power of Force.com sites that the expert knowledge of the community is made available in search engine results.
 
The Service Cloud is customer-friendly. Companies can easily set-up and maintain an interactive cloud community for their customers by leveraging Salesforce CRM Ideas and Force.com Sites as building blocks.
 
The Force.com platform enables the Service Cloud to connect to leading social networking sites such as Facebook, community forums, and blogs. Using the Service Cloud, companies can also share all of the information in the knowledge bases quickly and easily with their partners. Salesforce.com easily and securely connects separate Salesforce CRM deployments, allowing companies to share cases, contacts, and company information, without the need for complex integration software.
 
“The Service Cloud is the first customer service solution that empowers companies to join and manage all service conversations happening in the cloud," says Salesforce.com chair and CEO Marc Benioff (News - Alert). “This has been made possible through the emergence of native cloud computing platforms like Force.com that are built to harness the power of other clouds like Facebook, Google, and Amazon.com.”

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet�s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan�s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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