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Salesforce.com adds customer support product

Barney Beal

Hoping to find the same success in the contact center as it found with the sales force, Salesforce.com today added Supportforce.com to its application arsenal.

"We're delivering all the major functions, all the things you need for customer service, and we're delivering it with the ease of use that Salesforce.com has pioneered," said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of the San Francisco-based company.

Salesforce.com, which has grown to 168,000 subscribers with its sales force automation offering, is now branching into the customer service arena of CRM. The move puts Salesforce.com in direct competition with established vendors in the hosted customer service space.

"They're going head to head with RightNow [Technologies Inc., a hosted customer service provider based in Bozeman, Mont.]," said Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager with Boston-based Yankee Group. "This is what RightNow does."

To compete functionally, Supportforce.com will need to bulk up its e-service functionality and offer rich, proactive service in a hosted environment the way RightNow does, Kingstone said. Something she believes Salesforce.com will eventually do.

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Supportforce.com brings with it support from Avaya Inc., in Basking Ridge, N.J.; Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif.; Alcatel, in Paris; Aspect Communications Corp., in San Jose; and Genesys, an Alcatel company.

Partnering with the top contact center infrastructure companies was the right and essential move for Salesforce.com, Kingstone said. The company needs partners to be able to provide a multi-channel contact center.

The changing landscape of business applications due to the Internet and changes to the contact center as a result, made customer service a natural fit for the on-demand model, Benioff said. Supportforce.com can be used in a centralized or office environment, by home or remote agents and even by "Benedict Arnold" CEOs who offshore their customer service, he said. This is just a start, however.

"They still have to build out a lot of functionality with the application layer -- the search, workflow with analytic cross sell," Kingstone said. "This is just one step. If you want an IT help desk, they have that. If you want in-context information delivered at the agent desktop, they'll need to develop that."

The application features a multi-channel Web services interface with functionality for customer support, help desk, knowledge and e-mail management, Web self-service and performance metrics. The performance analytics feature functionality like case response times, first call resolution rates, agent monitoring and service performance dashboards.

Users can also customize Supportforce.com's user interface, workflow and data model. The application will integrate with products from companies like Avaya, Cisco, Alcatel, Aspect and Genesys through the newly released Sforce Telephony API (Application Protocol Interface) toolkit, a version of Salesforce.com's development tool.

Benioff predicted the appeal of Supportforce.com would range across the business spectrum, similar to Salesforce.com, which has one-third small customers, one-third midsized and one-third enterprise customers. Yet, small and midsized businesses, those who have yet to invest in VoIP, are the most likely to see the appeal of the release, Kingstone said.

With the customer service and sales areas of CRM now addressed, don't expect to see a Marketingforce.com, Benioff said. The company will stick to its strategy that marketing doesn't provide enough users to offer a separate product and will instead rely on partners.

Supportforce.com is available to all existing Salesforce.com customers at no additional cost, sticking to a strategy of not charging customers for upgrades and increased functionality, Benioff said.

Supportforce.com is accessible in 11 languages: Brazilian Portuguese, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Swedish.

Pricing for the complete suite of Salesforce.com products is $65 per user per month and $125 per user per month for the Enterprise Edition.


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