Salesforce.com announced the rollout of Service Cloud 2, the update to its Service Cloud originally released in January, on Sept. 9. This new version includes three new features designed to leverage SAAS (software-as-a-service) capabilities to customer-service interactions for both the enterprise and SMBs (small and midsize businesses).
The first new feature, called Salesforce Knowledge, has been built on Salesforce.com's Force.com, its enterprise platform that allows users to run Websites and build Web applications using cloud-based resources. The automatically upgradable, Google-accessible knowledge base - i.e., a database for company-specific knowledge management - can be accessed through mobile devices and public Websites. The knowledge base can be customized for specific company use, and the overall goal is to allow service agents to access specific information quickly.
The second feature, Salesforce Answers, attempts to filter more useful information into an enterprise or SMB through the cloud. Companies can create a customizable Website where they can post questions and other data, in the hopes of encouraging a dialogue with the community that uses their product. That information can then be filtered into the Service Cloud's knowledge base. In addition, Salesforce Answers facilitates the creation of a company Facebook page.
The third feature, Salesforce for Twitter, leverages the popular micro-blogging site. This particular innovation had previously been announced as an element in the Salesforce.com ecosystem; on March 23, the company first announced it would begin integrating Twitter into the Service Cloud, blending that social-networking service into a platform already containing Google search, Facebook connections, online communities and discussion forums.
The Twitter tab, accessible from the Service Cloud dashboard, allows users to "Search Twitter for Service Issues." By typing a product name into the search bar, such as "Xbox 360," the user can view public conversations about said product in real time. From there, individual Twitter conversation threads can be followed within the Salesforce.com interface, and the original conversation starter can be "tweeted" (i.e., sent a message) about any product issue.
Service agents can use the feature to post a message to the Twitter community about an issue, after using a Salesforce.com database to discover a solution to the problem. A Twitter Support Channel allows a company's customer-service division to also instantly create a case within the Service Cloud, and then utilize their own internal pathways to put the issue before the appropriate service representative.
Although the ability to monitor conversations and then rapidly post solutions is of obvious utility to the enterprise, the integration of social networks and applications into business-centric software platforms has led to a great deal of debate over whether such tools are truly effective in a corporate context.
"With Service Cloud 2, Salesforce.com is doing for customer service what we did for sales: proving that the cloud is a better way. The customer service market is being held back by traditional technology," Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, said in a statement paired with the release. "With two-thirds of customer service interactions moving to the cloud and the popularity of social networks, it is high time for a change."
While Salesforce.com has been leveraging both its Service Cloud and Sales Cloud, which allows clients to manage their sales contacts and forecast sales, to expand aggressively in the cloud-computing arena, much of its efforts have also focused on Force.com.
In June, the company announced that it would release a stripped-down, zero-cost version of Force.com, which allows users to deploy newly built Web applications to up to 100 users, in addition to giving access to one Website with up to 250,000 page views per month, 10 custom objects/custom database tables per user, a sandbox development environment, free online training, and a library of sample applications.
That announcement came in the wake of May's news that Salesforce.com and Google had partnered to release Force.com for the Google App Engine, which allow for Web-based application building on cloud infrastructure provided by both companies.
The regular Force.com pricing begins at $25 per user per month. A Salesforce.com Service Cloud costs upwards of $995 per month to run. It allows users to create an online customer community with unlimited usage for up to 250 customers, as well as a contact center with up to five agents.