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Salesforce.com Rationalises InStranet Assets to Create Service Cloud

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Salesforce.com’s latest foray into cloud computing comes in the form of the Service Cloud. This is an effort to combine Google search, Facebook connections, online communities and discussion forums in a SAAS environment to improve customer services for enterprise applications users.

SAAS (software-as-a-service) pioneer Salesforce.com introduced Service Cloud last 15th January, an approach to customer service that leverages Google search, Facebook social networking and other services for its hosted software customers.

Service Cloud was created from the assets of the hosted CRM software provider’s $31.5 million (£21.6 million) purchase of InStranet. Customer services agents in companies such as 3M, Comcast and Business Objects use InStranet to access online reference and policy databases to answer customers’ questions.

Running on Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform, Service Clouds combine the InStranet knowledge bases with Google search, Facebook connections and other services to help businesses get better insight into their customer service channels.

By integrating these platforms into the Service Cloud, and letting customer service experts communicate with customers via phone, e-mail and chat, Salesforce.com believes it can provide a more intelligent, efficient support system over the Internet to customers who need help.

Alex Dayon, senior vice president and general manager for customer service and support at Salesforce.com, said Service Cloud marks a departure from traditional customer service, where customers sat by the phone, manning an 800 number to field complaints and support issues.

The Internet has broadened the customer service experience, enabling customers for search and find answers more easily instead of sitting on the phone for an hour to hopefully stumble upon an answer. Dayon, who co-founded InStranet, told eWEEK:

“Who likes to talk to an outsourced call centre? With the cloud, the customer has found a way to work around the difficulties, to work around this pain. What do you do when you have a technical problem with your cell phone? What’s the first thing you’re going to do. The first thing you’re going to do is Google your question, to go to the cloud for experts and engage in discussions with other people to get answers to your questions”.

This is happening now, Dayon argued, noting that 50 percent of customer service interactions were happening on the Internet, outside the traditional channels of customer service centres in 2008. Salesforce.com hopes to leverage this phenomenon by combining Google search with online communities, social networking sites, partner sites and discussion forums.

During a demonstration, Kraig Swensrud, vice president of marketing products at Salesforce.com, showed a scenario with European telco giant Orange, which uses the Service Cloud for its customers.

Swensrud showed an Orange Service Cloud screen that showed channel tabs for community, Google, Facebook, business partners and communications channels such as e-mail and chat.

Swensrud showed a current question posted by an Orange customer who connects to the Service Cloud through a Facebook community. Other Orange customers answer customer questions through Facebook, and this Q&A exchange gets stored inside Salesforce.com in real time. This is possible through Salesforce.com’s use of the Facebook APIs in Force.com apps.

When eight or more customers vote an answer as correct on the Facebook community, an Orange customer service rep comes into the Service Cloud and reviews that knowledge. If the information proves correct, the sales rep. can disseminate that knowledge to other Service Clouds. This knowledge gets funneled up to other Orange customers for whom the problem is relevant.

Customers can buy Service Cloud packages today, starting at £681 per month. The package includes the ability for customers to create an online customer community with unlimited usage for up to 250 customers; the chance to set up a contact centre with up to 5 agents; and the abiliy to invite up to 5 partners to participate.

Service Cloud highlights the growing momentum in cloud computing as an alternative to on-premise software downloaded to customer service agents. Just yesterday, Salesforce.com partner Google announced a reseller program to allow businesses to sell its Google Apps Premier Edition collaboration software to customers.