Targets Service and Support

The company's updated offering adds 50 functional enhancements and an ecosystem of partners.

NEW YORK— is taking on virtual customer support and call center operations with the introduction of new technology and services aimed at the services and support sector.

The company kicked off its Service & Support launch event in Manhattan Tuesday with two announcements: the second iteration of its on-demand Service & Support offering, and the 1.0 version of AppExchange Service & Support.

Service & Support 2.0, initially launched last year, brings a broader partner ecosystem and about 50 functional enhancements for users. Salesforce has eight new partners for infrastructure, seven for software and six for integration and outsourcing.

The latest functionality includes an Agent Console, available for pilot in Salesforces Winter 06 release, that consolidates customer service agents important information, such as contract details, customer assets and orders, on a single screen. A new Suggestion Solutions functionality utilizes a self-learning engine to let users self-close their open cases, and lets agents tap into previously closed cases to glean information. Salesforce is also offering another self-service capability through its FAQs product—an online portal that companies can customize to provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

By bringing in components and applications from AppExchange Service & Support 1.0, users are able to extend the functionality of the core 2.0 support application. AppExchange, announced last month, lets users share applications and components from Salesforce, third-party vendors and independent developers in a sort of online marketplace—what CEO Marc Benioff likes to refer to as the eBay of the software world.

What AppExchange Service & Support 1.0 brings to the table—besides a section of AppExchange dedicated to support—is a bundle of add-on functionality. To this end, Salesforce announced more than 20 new applications for AppExchange, geared toward service and support, which range in functionality from time-tracking to chat, and utilize Salesforces underlying Appforce platform for their integration capabilities.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read a commentary by John Pallatto on Salesforce.coms aspirations.

The upgrades are, by and large, Salesforce.coms push further into the services arena. While the company has previously released its Sales & Support module, this second revision—and the addition of AppExchange—represents a more concerted effort, according to at least one partner.

"They started with one area—sales —and they grew," said Alok Misra, principal at Navatar Group, a Salesforce implementation partner with expertise in the government and not-for-profit sectors. "With support, theyre trying to get there. The features [Salesforce] announced today are around managing big call centers that are over distributed areas where there is lots of complexity. The reality is they are trying to play in a different space, but theyre not there yet."

Misra, based in New York, believes Salesforce needs to do a couple of things to move to the next phase of its evolution.

"They need to think more about how they want to grow from a $300 million company to a $1 billion company, which is what they want to do. They have a good product, but they need to figure out how to take it to the enterprise level," said Misra. "They also need to do a better job of leveraging partnership capabilities to grow."

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