I don't know about you, but I hate calling a customer service line these days. Dealing with the voice recognition systems (IVR) alone is enough to make you scream (actually I remember an incident not long ago where I tried unsuccessfully for 30 min to get to a person to ask a simple question, in the end the call deteriorated to me yelling code words at my mobile phone, like PERSON, HELP, TALK TO SOMEONE, etc., and well a few other words I won't repeat here. A pitiful sight.) What's the answer? Well, I know I try every online avenue before picking up my phone to dial the offending company. I Google, ask questions on Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, the companies web site / knowledgebase, anything but deal with that damned IVR system. "listen closely, our menu options have recently changed"…pleeeeease, do you rotate these things every week!?!
Well, today Salesforce.com provided a compelling alternative to all this ugliness and carried its platform relationships with Google and Facebook to the next level by announcing a new Service Cloud offering. At the lunch briefing salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff & company announced and demonstrated the new approach to capturing conversations and interacting with customers through various different sources. The offering is build on the Force.com platform and leverages salesforce.com CRM Ideas, Force.com Sites, and the Amazon, Google and Facebook platform integrations to create the ability to capture conversations and provide the vehicle to deliver the expertise of the community to customers, partners and agents in a device and location independent way in the "cloud". Salesforce.com claims that over 2/3's of all customer service conversations will take place in the cloud and this offering then captures the customer service process of the future…it sounds good, but how does the process flow / work?
Its probably easier to explain the offering by using an example (the one they used today at the briefing). The scenario is that you have just switched your iPhone over to Orange for service and bought a Plantronics Bluetooth headset. When you get home you can't get the headset to pair successfully with the phone so you eventually decide to try and get help. Now you could call Orange or Plantronics but you probably won't (I wouldn't anyway, because I do fear the dreaded IVR), so instead you use a channel you're more comfortable with, and post a question on Facebook. Now because Orange is a Salesforce.com customer the question you posted gets forwarded to a customer service representative (CSR) at Orange. The problem is similar to something in the knowledgebase so the CSR cuts / paste the suggested remedy into Salesforce.com, which then forwards the answer back to the Facebook question stream (this uses the Salesforce.com CRM Ideas product). You try the solution, it works, and you post a thank you (or perhaps vote a thumbs up on the suggestion, if the suggestion gets a certain number of thumbs up, it is sent to the company as a knowledgebase addition). All in the cloud and all using a method you feel comfortable with.
It's a very compelling approach and is novel in several ways. In this iteration, you can set up the process only with the existing companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook) but in the future it could be possible to capture (or scrape) conversations from almost any place on the Internet. I went into this briefing not expecting a lot, I left pretty impressed. This to me, is a great example of "social CRM"…using existing tools (search, social networking, etc.), trust relationships and methods to solve customer problems and build customer relationships.