Salesforce.com tackles customer service with the Service Cloud

It’s time to inaugurate a new era of customer service in the Internet cloud, says Salesforce.com. To that end, it’s launching a new product called the Service Cloud.

Traditional customer service channels, such as a phone number or an email address, are increasingly cut off from where the real conversation is, says Alex Dayon, Salesforce’s senior vice president of CRM customer service. Rather than contacting your company when they have problems, users are searching for answers on Google or asking for help on their social networks. Even web-based customer service offerings focus on building support sites or forums — in other words, they force customers to come to you. (That seems like an accurate description of Parature, a startup offering customer service software via online subscriptions, which was described by venture backer Accel as the potential “Salesforce.com of customer service.” )

“What we want is to connect the dots,” Dayon says.

What does that mean? Well, allowing companies to build customer service sites — in this case through Salesforce’s website-building tool called Force.com Sites — is still a core part of the offering. But layered on top of that is an application that tracks customer service queries wherever they’re made, be it on Google, Facebook, partner sites, your own website, or traditional channels like phone and email.

The Service Cloud lets you move information between those locations. For example, if someone uses a Force.com application to ask a customer service question in Facebook, that gets logged in the Service Cloud. Then the question and answer can be posted on your own website (making them visible to Google) and to partner sites. Your own customer service representatives can view the information when they’re answering questions over the phone.

Now, a lot of these features already exist. As noted earlier, you can already build a customer service site with products like Parature or Force.com Sites, and you can answer questions in Facebook through Salesforce’s integration. But the Service Cloud is compelling because it acknowledges that there’s no longer a single solution or location for customer service; instead, it connects all your solutions together and lets you monitor all of them within a single product.

Pricing starts at $995 per month.

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