Salesforce.com began with a simple message: On-premises CRM has come to the end of its useful life, and the way forward is cloud-based CRM. I have written several times that the company has won this argument, and my research into contact center in the cloud confirms this: 63 percent of participating organizations said that adopting systems in the cloud is one of the key ways to improve customer engagement. Furthermore, this vendor’s success pressurized many other companies to move into the cloud, and not just for CRM. Salesforce.com itself expanded from cloud-based CRM to create clouds for sales, marketing and service.. This transition continued in the middle of last year when it surprised the market by announcing it would add a development platform in the cloud to provide tools for creating mobile apps. To further these aims, it recently announced the first release of Salesforce1 Service Cloud, calling it the “Service Platform for the Internet of Customers.” I had several questions about what this really means going into a recent briefing.
First, what is the Internet of customers? This seems to be a variation on a theme I discovered in my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement and wrote about late last year. The research finds that because consumers have changed their communication habits, companies now support an average of seven or eight channels of communication and some as many as 17. Unlike the long-established channels of telephone, email and printed letters, many of the emerging channels are electronic and rely on the Internet, mobile devices or both. The research also finds that most business units in an organization now interact with customers. Therefore it has become essential for companies to connect their communication channels and employees across business units; if they don’t, customers will not receive consistent, accurate responses to their interactions and become frustrated. Salesforce1 is salesforce.com’s response to help organizations achieve these connections.
Salesforce1 is a major undertaking, comprised of a platform, a set of development tools, core services such as workflow and identity management, and APIs with which companies can develop mobile apps. Those mobile apps enable users to access other systems and information through an intuitive user interface while on the move. This has potential to simplify the complexity of accessing all the systems most companies now use. They have business application such as ERP and CRM that employees use every day to carry out various tasks; communication systems that manage the different interaction channels; third-party systems used by partner companies; and increasingly smart machines that produce data useful for interacting with customers (for example, a mobile phone producing location information). Each of these systems has a different interface and produces data in its own formats; connecting them and making them accessible through a mobile app is thus very complex.
Other vendors have tools that allow access to systems and data, and still others help companies build their own smart mobile apps. Salesforce1 brings these two diverse capabilities together so users can develop mobile access to connected systems. The apps can be used by employees requiring information and/or access to systems while on the move, including salesforce.com systems such as Sales Cloud and Service Cloud, and apps available in third-party online stores; alternately, apps can be built to give consumers similar access while mobile. They therefore support a dual purpose because as consumers become familiar with mobile apps, even if only to search for information or play games, they come to expect the same capabilities at work so they can work away from their desks but have access to systems and information at the touch of an icon.
The Salesforce1platform goes a step further. My research finds that most companies recognize the customer experience as the only true differentiator – the competition can replicate products and services almost at will, so it is how companies engage with customers that makes the difference. This engagement requires two essential features for customers: ease of engagement, which includes multiple channels, especially mobile, and consistency, receiving the same information, ideally up to date, regardless of the channel. One way Salesforce1 addresses the issue is to provide capabilities to create internal communities. These, for example, help a user find an expert no matter where the person sits within the organization and share information to resolve a customer inquiry. Doing this quickly can improve the customer experience, increase efficiency because more interactions are resolved at the first point of contact, and increase effectiveness because the customer gets the right answer at the first attempt.
More than three-quarters of companies in my research said it is very important to improve customer engagement; to do that many are investing in collaboration, in their customer portal, in mobility and in social media. Connecting their business processes and these technologies to deliver high-quality customer experiences is no easy task, but the Internet, mobile technology and social media have made it necessary for companies trying to keep up with customer expectations. The same is true of supporting employees who want to work on the move. In all of this, for me the critical requirement is to build mobile apps with the user in mind and not just automate an existing, perhaps outdated process. Gaining insight from analytics is also critical. In this area salesforce still needs to invest more to better support these needs and connect this type of information with the applications that our research finds essential to promote engagement and improve the customer experience. Even so, Salesforce1 is a progressive cloud platform that can help enterprises interact directly with customers. If you are looking for new approaches to build and use applications in the cloud and on mobile devices, Salesforce1 is one to evaluate.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director – Customer Engagement