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Salesforce.com's recent unveiling of the Service Cloud, an offering that taps the Web for information to improve customer interaction, is a good first start in expanding beyond the traditional channels used in customer service, an analyst firm says.
The overall vision of the Service Cloud, launched this month, is to redefine the contact center to include not just phone, chat and email, but also search engines, social networks, Web forums and business partners,Datamonitor said in a recent analysis. Salesforce.com launched its service with integration with Facebook and Google's search engine.
"Given the popularity of those two companies' services, they make a patently great place to start, but Salesforce.com clearly has more ground to cover before enterprises can truly tap into 'customer conversations no matter where they take place,' as the company's marketing materials would have it," Datamonitor analyst Ian Jacobs said.
In time, Salesforce.com would like to be able to draw information from any Web site where a company's products and services are discussed. Information drawn from such conversations could help improve customer support and give businesses an opportunity to address problems at an early stage. Today, companies are often unaware of the criticism or praise their products are receiving in many corners of the Web.
Salesforce.com executives have hinted at implementing some form of text mining that would be added to pull information from more unstructured conversations on the Web, Data Monitor said. Such plans, however, are sure to spark controversy.
"When tapping into any conversation anywhere is the aim, however, privacy issues will inevitably crop up," Jacobs said.
Nevertheless, such issues can be addressed successfully.
"The company has, in essence, laid out a vision and convinced clients to begin to think about ways to reorganize their ideas about customer service and support," Jacobs said. "Even if the Service Cloud solution itself is an early-stage offering, it points in the direction of the changes that enterprises will face in the coming years and gives them an anchor around which to begin their planning and process amendments."
Among the most important achievements in the Service Cloud is the recognition that Google and other search engines may well be "the most prominent customer service channel in existence," Jacobs said.
"Actively using the search engine as a way to directly provide support to end users could mark a great leap forward in customer self-service," the analyst said.
In helping businesses to eventually to join the Web conversations around their products, Salesforce.com is leveraging technology it gained through the acquisition of knowledge-management specialistInstranet last year. Alex Dayon, former chief executive of Instranet, heads Salesforce.com's customer service and support business, which marks an attempt by the software-as-a-service vendor to move beyond its traditional roots in automating sales organizations and processes.