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Salesforce.com launched more than 12 years ago as the founding CRM vendor in the cloud. Today it has grown to be the kitchen-sink vendor in the cloud. It seems every month it announces some new cloud service, and its services now cover almost the entire enterprise: sales, marketing, service, HR, finance and a list of supporting services that make it hard to determine just what the company now has to offer. Two things remain clear, however: Salesforce.com has established cloud computing as a credible way to source software applications, and all applications need to be socially enabled to keep up with new user and consumer preferences.

At a recent UK analyst event, I saw the company change its marketing direction and seek to establish Salesforce.com as the development and operations platform of choice. Indeed, the three Salesforce.com speakers, Peter Coffee, John Taschek and Allyson Fryhoff, left the assembled analysts in no doubt that the future is all about Salesforce as a platform, and the company bought along three customers to back up the speakers.

Coffee set the scene with a proposition that I wholeheartedly agree with, which is that it all begins with data. Over the years that I have been covering all things customer-related it has become clear to me that organizations have real issues with their customer data: It is stored in multiple systems, many of these are not synchronized or especially up-to-date, the data varies in quality and completeness, it is not shared across the enterprise, its large volumes are always getting bigger, and increasingly it is in multiple formats – both structured and unstructured. The net result is that organizations lack a single source of the truth about customers, which makes it hard to run focused marketing, sales, service or contact centers that between them deliver a high-quality, consistent customer experience across all touch points.

The foundation of the Salesforce platform is Database.com, which is the single source of customer data upon which all the other applications are built. It is available in the cloud, built on open standards, conforms with all the Salesforce security and reliability standards, and is of course socially enabled. It is the base for all Salesforce services, such as Sales Cloud and Service Cloud, and using it along with Force.com lets companies develop their own customizations or independent applications. Social enablement comes through Chatter, which has been described as “Facebook for the enterprise,” but Chatter goes beyond this to allow users to share data and to collaborate on tasks such as resolving customer issues.

The Salesforce platform consists of four other major components: Heruko, Site.com, Touch and Identity. Heruko provides an alternative to hardware servers as the platform on which customers can run their applications. One of the users at the analyst event was especially impressed that by using a simple slider he could scale his operating environment to match changing business requirements. Site.com provides the capabilities to build and deploy websites using drag-and-drop techniques, and to build once and deploy the sites at several locations – corporate, social and mobile. Touch Platform provides the capabilities for developers to build mobile applications and deploy them to any device, taking advantage of all the built-in capabilities of most mobile devices. Identity allows organizations to assign a single identifier to each employee, and lets employees securely sign in to every application they are authorized to use – something that is becoming increasing important in a world where users need access to many applications.

This combination of services, coupled with an increasing number of integration capabilities to both business applications and social media, make up the Salesforce platform, and are complemented by the AppExchange application repository. With these offerings, Salesforce is increasingly proposing it is the only environment companies need to support all their application requirements. Two of the users present agreed; working for relatively small organizations with little legacy, they had embraced Salesforce as their platform of choice. The other user had reservations, mainly because his company ran a considerable number of legacy systems that he felt it would never entirely replace. Having lived through eras where the mainframe died and client-server technology died, I suspect that very little in the IT world fully goes away, so I tend to agree with the latter view. I have also been somewhat skeptical of the “social enterprise,” but as I sit with more heads of contact centers and customer service, I see social beginning to have more impact, and social-enabled apps becoming more important moving forward.

The future of IT and the traditional IT department became the subject of quite a lively debate at the event. My research into the adoption of cloud-based contact centers shows that more companies are now prepared to adopt cloud-based systems, and several believe adopting a cloud-based contact center will help them address key issues such as supporting multiple channels of communication, supporting employees working in more locations and distributing interactions across the enterprise. Going this route requires less involvement from IT from both a development and operational perspective. Opinion was divided on what the likely future scenario will be, but it is safe to say that organizations need to adapt to the new business environment we all now operate in, and IT probably has to change its role and become more integrated into the overall business organization.

What impact are cloud-based systems having on your organizations? Could adopting platforms such as Salesforce.com change your whole approach to sourcing IT? Please share your thoughts with me.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Call Centre & Customer Management Expo has been running for several years now. The event provides an opportunity for contact center and customer service managers in Europe to catch up with all the latest and greatest going on in the market. At this year’s event earlier this week, as usual, I found the normal mix of presentations, vendor exhibition stands and other side events. The vendor show included a mix of core contact center vendors (interaction management, CRM, WFO, customer experience management, customer and contact center analytics), supporting vendors such as headphone suppliers and post code software, contact center media players and associated professional bodies. My primary interest is in the core multi-channel contact center market and vendors, and having attended for more years than I can remember, I look for emerging trends on what vendors are present and what they have to offer.

The clear winner this year was the customer interaction management space, with a mix of established, primarily on-premises  players such as AspectAvaya and Cisco and the rapidly emerging cloud-based vendors, of which there were more than ever – including Altitude,  Enghouse InteractiveInteractive IntelligenceGenesysmplsystemsNewVoiceMedia and Vocalcom. Each of these provides cloud-based systems that manage inbound and outbound interactions through different communications channels – telephone, email, chat, web, text and social media. Each of course has slightly different sets of capabilities and different strengths and weakness. However, they all support a growing trend that emerged from my recent research into the contact center in the cloud, in that companies must now support multimedia customer engagement (service), and the only practical and affordable way to do this is by using fully integrated, cloud-based interaction management systems as offered by these vendors. Indeed, after better, more focused training for employees who handle interaction, the next best action for nearly half of companies that responded to the research was to investigate using such services. That’s good news for these vendors and not so great for on-premises vendors that are struggling to come up with a cloud-based strategy.

The other technology category to stand out falls within what I term customer experience management; that is, systems that directly impact the customer experience at the point of engagement. The most common on show was the agent desktop – systems that support agents or other employees as they engage with customer to try and solve their issues. These desktops came in many guises. The two truest stand-alone desktop vendors were Kana with its newly acquired Ciboodle products and Oracle with its relatively newly acquired RightNow product. Both have systems that allow organizations to build a desktop that makes it easier for agents to access the systems and information they need to resolve customer issues, including the capability to guide agents on the next best action. Two of the cloud-based interaction management vendors, Altitude and mplsystems, also offer desktop systems that support similar capabilities; in particular they allow companies to surface multimedia interactions onto agents’ desktop. Last but not least was Salesforce.com with Service Cloud. The company doesn’t market Service Cloud as a desktop, but at its core is a desktop that allows companies to surface Salesforce.com information and interaction details (including social media) to agents or other employees handling interactions. Just as with the interaction management products, each of the customer experience management products includes slightly different capabilities and has different strengths and weaknesses. However, as my research into customer relationship maturity shows, managing the customer experience is vital to retaining customers and driving repeat business, so these systems and services are ones companies should take a careful look at.

These two sets of vendors so dominated the show that no other category really stood out for me in my analysis for those that lead customer service. There were very few core workforce optimization who help with managing agent performance vendors present – Calabrio and NICE Systems were the only ones I spotted. I also saw few analytics vendors; one I did see was Avaya, with its Aurix speech analytics product, and I found some interaction management vendors that have analytics embedded in their products and services. The lack of WFO vendors perhaps reflects my research into agent performance management, which shows that the WFO market is now quite mature and most companies have deployed their call recording, quality monitoring and workforce management products. The dearth of analytics vendors reflects my research into customer and contact center analytics, which shows this market is at the other end of the maturity model and is at yet quite immature.

Although I wasn’t surprised to see these two categories dominate, I was surprised not to see more vendors promoting mobile customer service apps. After a flurry of announcements early this year, I expected such applications to be more visible. Although vendors such as Aspect, Genesys and Interactive Intelligence were present, they weren’t featuring mobile apps as prominently as I expected.

In a slightly different space, Nuance Communications clarified what Nina really is – Siri for mobile apps. In the same way that Apple has built Siri into the iPhone, Nuance provides tools that allow companies to embed voice activation into their mobile apps, so for example a user could just say “pay this bill on this date using this credit card” without having to tap on a smart device’s screen.

After all the hype at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference, there wasn’t nearly as much at the show about the social enterprise. Overall I would say this was a more down-to-earth show with vendors showcasing how to support multi-channel customer engagement and how to improve the customer experience.

The final highlight for me was a tremendous customer experience. I have always used headsets from Sennheiser. A pair I recently bought went wrong, so as the company had a stand I thought I would ask if it was a known problem and where I could send them for repair. Instead, within minutes I walked away with a new pair. That’s a great customer experience, and a great way to get a positive acknowledgement on social media. If you missed the event, this will provide you some of the highlights, and if want more details, just let me know.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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