This week, we published our evaluation of the customer service capabilities in Salesforce Winter ’13, the latest release of the CRM suite from Salesforce.com. These capabilities include account management, case management, knowledge management, process management, internal communities, and social network management. They comprise the broadest and deepest customer service offering that we’ve seen from any single supplier. Service Cloud is the Salesforce CRM application that provides the case management capabilities and serves as the anchor for a collection of tightly integrated but variously packaged and priced features and additional applications that provide the rest. All of the apps and features run on the Salesforce CRM platform, which provides a very large set of common, shared services, data, and tools.
These customer service capabilities are very, very good. Knowledge management capabilities are the most surprising strength. Salesforce.com’s developers have worked hard to improve what had been a major weakness of the offering when we evaluated the Winter ’10 release three years ago. Here are a few examples of what we mean.
- Change management facilities in Salesforce Knowledge have become comparable to those in full-featured, general purpose content management systems. The product has automatic versioning of knowledge items and facilities for publishing, reverting, and deleting knowledge item versions.
- Knowledge capture facilities let contact center agents and social network users contribute items to the knowledgebase. These items come in as drafts. Knowledge staff validates and publishes them. The new Article Validation attribute of knowledge items is the change management mechanism for ensuring that agent-contributed and customer-contributed content is correct and compliant.
- Knowledge management is tightly integrated with case management. As agents enter text into case fields, the Autosuggest feature automatically searches the knowledgebase using the terms in those case fields as search queries and presents as search results a list of knowledge items that may resolve the case even before it’s created.
On the other hand, analytic functionality (instrumentation and reporting) was the most surprising limitation. While the Analytics component of Salesforce CRM has excellent easy to learn and easy to use reporting tools and packages a huge set of predefined reports, analysis and refinement of the performance, efficiency, and effectiveness of deployed customer service capabilities is quite difficult. Why? Two reasons. First and most significantly, instrumentation (the data that Salesforce collects, stores, and uses as report input) focuses on logging changes to Objects in the Salesforce CRM database. Customer and agent activity at their UIs, collecting the content of agent’s search queries, for example, is not instrumented. Second, packaged and predefined reports focus on sales Objects—Forecasts, Leads, Opportunities, and Territories. There are no packaged and predefined report types on knowledge items, community posts and replies, or business processes.
These are the extremes. On balance, the strengths outweigh the limitations. Our evaluation of the customer service capabilities in Salesforce Winter ’13 against our framework for customer service is very positive. We really do recommend it, especially for businesses that already Sales Cloud customers.