leader Salesforce.com upped its commitment to social media Thursday with the announcement of "the next generation of social contact centers." Service Cloud 3, unveiled at Salesforce's Cloudforce 2011 event in New York, updates the company's
-as-a-service platform, and it is being positioned as "customer service for the social era."
With more customers and potential customers regularly using social networking, the new version of Service Cloud lets organizations more completely engage them in such social communities as Twitter or Facebook. Salesforce said the Service Cloud platform is already being used by more than 15,000 companies.
'Changed the Game'
A key selling point of the new Service Cloud upgrade is that it allows companies to scale up quickly to analyze millions of conversations that involve their product or service. Real-time reports and customizable dashboards offer social-channel analysis, customer conversation analysis, and social dashboards for identifying trends. Comments in Facebook, for instance, can be filtered by the number of friends a commenter has, which may indicate how influential that person is. Facebook names can also be tied into customer records.
Alex Dayon, executive vice president of CRM at Salesforce.com, said "the explosion of social technologies has changed the game for customer service," including an expectation by customers that social customer service will be delivered in real time.
Service Cloud 3 lets companies monitor and capture conversations about their brands on Facebook, Twitter or other social communities, including blogs, forums, photo-sharing sites, and discussion groups. Agents can deliver customer service to customers using any device.
For example, Facebook wall posts and comments are converted into cases with Service Cloud 3, and Twitter conversations can similarly become cases -- with agents joining in the conversation.
Salesforce Answers allows customers to ask questions, offer answers, and vote on the most helpful responses in a Facebook-like interface. Also offered are high-volume business-to-consumer portals for case management, help and training. Live Agent offers live chats that can be embedded into a company's web site.
A new Service Cloud Console uses a tabbed screen for more efficient management, and agents can follow cases in real time or collaborate as a team with Chatter for Cases.
Chatter, released last summer, has a Facebook-like interface and interaction that allows employees to work collaboratively. CEO Mark Benioff has called Chatter Salesforce's "most successful product ever."
Social media have become a major part of many companies' approach to their customers. One of Salesforce's major competitors, SAP AG, announced earlier this week its SAP Sales OnDemand package, which it described as "Facebook for the " and which was seen by industry observers as SAP's answer to Chatter.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Corp, said the new emphasis on social media for customer service and intracompany teamwork is "not a frill, but a natural evolution for a company like Salesforce to differentiate itself from the competition."
She added that, if companies get too aggressive in intervening in customers' conversations, "it could backfire." The key, DiDio said, is "giving customers the option to turn things off."