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Rick Cook Living on Cloud 3: Salesforce' Service Cloud 3 Morphs Social and Support

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 By Rick Cook

Salesforce.com's New Service Cloud 3 Isn't Your Grandmothers Service Center

In one sense Salesforce' Service Cloud 3 (SC3) is merely the logical extension of customer services in the age of social media. In another it points the business of servicing customers in an entirely new direction.

Announced in March, Service Cloud 3 is an effort to tightly integrate social media into customer incident handling. However note the words 'tightly' and 'effort'. They are the key to the current situation.

While it has been possible to track social stream mentions on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, it has usually been an ad hoc effort, often done manually without consistency or predictability. Service Cloud 3 not only automates collecting this data, it provides the management tools to analyze it in the same way call center software analyzes data from phone calls. However it is still early days for the integrated service center and not even Salesforce.com has all the pieces in place. For example the ability to track Facebook was not part of the product on rollout and may not be available for some time. Early reports from different sources suggest everything from "the end of April" to "a year from now."

Salesforce.com may be the first major CRM announcement in the integrated service center area, but it won't be the last. Social media have simply become too important for companies to ignore in their customer service efforts. In these days of social networks and viral communications, mentions of a problem on Twitter can spread almost instantly to thousands of people and customers or would-be customers where an issue can start a Facebook page about your company in a matter of minutes. Beyond that, many customers, especially younger ones, prefer to communicate with the company via Twitter rather than email or telephone.

The planned outcome of Salesforce' Service Cloud 3 is to turn the old call center into a wide angle customer content and engagement organization where any social mention of a company or its products can be monitored, tracked and responded to by the support staff. The idea behind SC3 is, as Salesforce puts it, is to let companies engage with "any customer, any volume, any channel."

There have been business applications to track social media mentions before, such as as Salesforce.com's own Service Center 2 and its recently acquired Radian6 social monitoring tool, as well as CRM applications like RightNow that also use social media as s customer service tool. What is different about SC3 is the focus in bridging social media into the service center as tightly as customer telephone calls are tied today.

"Service Cloud 2 was about adding the first layer of social interaction" says Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group LLC, a Stoughton, MA, software analysis and consulting firm. "Salesforce Service Cloud 3 is the second level with things like forming social communities for service. By adding social analytics and a social knowledge base they turbocharge their knowledge base."

"Now with social analytics, the organization is better able to intuit things that the customer's going to need that the customer isn't even aware of," Pombriant says.

Strategically, Service Cloud 3 represents and effort by Salesforce.com to push further into the call center and service center space by leveraging its position in the CRM software field. This puts them in direct competition with vendors who are currently dominant in that market. That includes RightNow Technologies, which is currently the leader in the customer service market. The call center/service center industry is hotly contested, but Salesforce.com brings some strategic advantages to the table.

"[Salesforce.com] is trying to use their presence in CRM to further their ends in the cloud," says Laura DiDio, principal at Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, a consulting and high technology industry analyst firm based in Grafton, MA.

"Part of the appeal of Salesforce is everyone knows their name," DiDio says. She points out this is a critical advantage for a cloud provider since one of the big things potential customers worry about is the stability and future growth of the cloud partner. "Cloud computing is a form of hosting," DiDio says. "However when you do hosting, guess what? You have to worry about who's minding the store. You have to be sure you'll have access to the service and support you need within the time frame you need it."

"The appeal of Salesforce.com is that it's a known entity with a high level of credibility and trust," DiDio says. "It's not just viability, it's can they keep pace with their competitors and so forth."

How successfully Salesforce.com can execute the strategy remains to be seen, but clearly social media is going to be ever more tightly integrated into the business of engaging with customers. End

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Salesforce.com earned its first billion dollars in the SFA software market. Now the cloud leader looks to make the next billion in the service and call center CRM market. Service Cloud 3 (SC3) is far more than a call center software upgrade; It's an innovative solution that morphs traditional case management with social media for synergistic customer support and satisfaction. It's a CRM software release that is sure to be mimicked by an industry of followers.

 

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