New Evaluation Framework

We used a new Evaluation Framework for our latest Product Evaluation Report, which is about Salesforce Service Cloud. We introduced the new Framework to make our reports shorter and more easily actionable. Shorter for sure, our previous report on Service Cloud was 57 pages including illustrations. This one is 22 pages including illustrations, shorter by more than 60 percent!

We don’t yet know whether the Report is more easily actionable. It was just published. But, our approach to its writing was to minimize descriptions and to bring to the front our most salient analyses, conclusions, and recommendations.

Why?

Our Product Evaluation Reports had become increasingly valuable but to fewer readers. Business analysts facing a product selection decision, analysts for bankers and venture capitalists considering an investment decision, and suppliers’ competitive intelligence staff keeping up with the industry have always appreciated the reports, especially their depth and detail.

However, suppliers, whose products were the subjects of the reports, complained about their length and depth. Requests for more time to review the reports have become the norm, extending our publishing cycle. Then, when we finally get their responses, we’d see heavy commenting at the beginning of the reports but light commenting and no commenting at the end, as if they lost interest. Our editors have made the same complaints.

More significantly, readership, actually reading in general, is way down. Fewer people read…anything. These days, people want information in very small bites. Getting personal, for example, I loved Ron Chernow’s 800-page Hamilton, but I have spoken to so many who told me that it was too long. They couldn’t get through it and put it down unfinished, or, more typically, they wouldn’t even start it. I’m by no means comparing my Product Evaluation Reports to this masterpiece about American history. I’m just trying to emphasize the point.

Shorter Reports, No Less Research

While the Product Evaluation Report on Salesforce Service Cloud was 60 percent shorter, our research to write it was the same as our research for those previous, much longer Product Evaluation Reports. Our approach to research still has these elements, listed in order of increasing importance:

  • Supplier presentations and demonstrations
  • Supplier web content: web site, user and developer communities
  • Supplier SEC filings, especially Forms 10Q and 10K
  • Patent documentation, if appropriate
  • Product documentation, the manuals for administrators, users, and developers
  • Product trial

Product documentation and product trial are the most important research elements and we spend most of our research time in these two areas. Product documentation, the “manuals” for administrators, users, and developers provides complete, actual, accurate, and spin-less descriptions of how to setup and configure a product, of what a product does—its services and data, and of how it works. Product trials give us the opportunity to put our hands on a product and try it out for customer service tasks.

What’s In?

The new Framework has these four top-level evaluation criteria:

  • Customer Service Apps list and identify the key capabilities of the apps included in or, via features and/or add-ons, added to a customer service software product.
  • Channels, Devices, Languages list supported assisted-service and self-service channels, devices attachable to those channels, and languages that agents and customers may use to access the customer service apps on those devices.
  • Reporting examines the facilities to measure and present information about a product’s usage, performance, effectiveness, and efficiency. Analysts use this information continually to refine their customer service product deployments.
  • Product, Supplier, Offer. Product examines the history, release cycle, development plans, and customer base for a customer service product. They’re the factors that determine product viability. Supplier examines the factors that determine the supplier’s viability. Offer examines the supplier’s markets for the product and the product’s packaging and pricing.

This is the information that we use to evaluate a customer service product.

What’s Missing?

Technology descriptions and their finely granular analyses are out. For example, the new reports do not include tables listing and describing the attributes/fields of the data models for key customer service objects/records like cases and knowledge items or listing and describing the services that products provide for operating on those data models to perform customer service tasks. The new reports do not present analyses of individual data model attributes or individual services, either. Rather, the reports present a coarsely granular analysis of data models and services with a focus on strengths, limitations, and differentiators. We explain why data models might be rich and flexible or we identify important, missing types, attributes, and relationships then summarize the details that support our analysis.

“Customer Service Technologies” comprised more than half the evaluation criteria of the previous Framework and two thirds of the content of our previous Framework-based reports. These criteria described and analyzed case management, knowledge management, findability, integration, and reporting and analysis. For example, within case management, we examined case model, case management service, case sources, and case management tools. They’re out in the new version and they’re the reason the reports are shorter. But, they’re they basis of our analysis of the Customer Service Apps criterion. If a product has a rich case model and a large set of case management services, then rich case model and large set of case management services will be listed among the case management apps key capabilities in our Customer Services Apps Table and we’ll explain why we listed them in the analysis following the Table. On the other hand, if a product’s case model is limited, then case model will be absent from the Table’s list of key capabilities and we’ll call out the limitations in our analysis. Just a reminder, our bases for the evaluation of the Customer Service Apps criteria, the subcriteria of Technologies for the old Framework are shown in the Table below:

Slide1Table 1. We present the bases for the evaluation of the Customer Service App criteria in this Table.

Trustworthy Analysis

We had always felt that we had to demonstrate that we understood a technology to justify our analysis of that technology. We had also felt that you wanted and needed our analysis of all of that technology at the detailed level of every individual data attribute and service. You have taught us that you’d prefer higher-level analyses and low-level detail only to understand the most salient strengths, limitations, and differentiators.

The lesson that we’ve learned from you can be found in a new generation of Product Evaluation Reports. Take a look at our latest Report, our evaluation of Salesforce Service Cloud and let us know if we’ve truly learned that lesson.

Remember, though, if you need more detail, then ask us for it. We’ve done the research.

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Salesforce Service Cloud

Evaluation of Service Cloud Winter ’15

This week’s report is our evaluation of Salesforce Service Cloud and its collection of tightly integrated but variously packaged and priced features and add-on products—Service Cloud, itself, for case management and contact center support, Salesforce Knowledge for knowledge management, Live Agent for chat, Social Studio for social customer service, and Salesforce Communities for communities and for customer self-service. Winter ’15 is the current release of the offering and the release that we evaluated in this report.

The offering earns an excellent evaluation against the criteria of our Framework for Customer Service Applications. We found no areas where significant improvement is required.

We had last published an evaluation of Service Cloud Winter ’13 on January 24, 2013. Winter ’15 is the sixth of the regular cycle of Winter, Spring, and Summer releases since that date. Every new release has included significant new and/or improved capabilities.

Salesforce Communities – a New Platform for Customer Self-Service

Salesforce Communities is one of the new capabilities in Winter ’15. It packages an attractive set of facilities, facilities that let customers perform a wide range of collaboration and self-service activities and tasks. However, none of these facilities use new technology; all of them have been existing features of Salesforce applications. What’s new and what’s innovative is their use as the platform for customer self-service. With Communities, Salesforce.com has extended the customer service provider-centric, web content-intensive self-service of portals with social and collaborative self-service that lets customers (and customer service agents) answer and solve customers’ questions and problems. Here’s what we mean.

Customers can use Communities’ packaged, portal-style facilities to perform these self-service tasks:

  • Search a Salesforce Knowledge knowledgebase to find existing answers and solutions for similar questions and problems
  • Browse a hierarchy of “Topics” to find existing answers and solutions to their problems in the knowledgebase or within community content.
  • Create new Service Cloud Cases when they can’t find answers and/or solutions via searching or browsing a knowledgebase, or by browsing Topics and community content.
  • Note that during the case creation process, Communities uses Automatic Knowledge Filtering, a Salesforce Knowledge feature, that automatically suggests knowledgebase Articles relevant to the content of the fields of the new Case.
  • Contact support for escalation to assisted-service

Customers can also use Communities’ packaged social and collaborative facilities to perform self-service tasks.

  • Post their questions or problems on a threaded, post-and-reply forum to solicit answers and solutions from other customers or from customer service staff members who monitor community activity. Note that Communities’ threads are implemented with Salesforce Chatter Feeds. Feeds are Twitter-like stacks of posts and replies/comments.
  • Search post-and-reply Feeds to find existing answers and solutions or previously posted questions and problems and replies/comments about them.

You may have read these lists of bullet points and said, “So, what. There’s nothing new here. We already have these facilities on our portal and on our community.” Exactly right, but that separate portal and community approach forces customers to go to two places to find answers and solutions, and, based on the experience that you’ve given them, they go to one place or the other depending on the type of question or problem they have or the quality and usefulness of answers and solutions that they’ve found. Salesforce Communities gives customers one place to go for self-service answers and solutions. One place not two makes it easier and faster for them to do business with you and makes it easier and more efficient for you to do business with them.

community.seagate.com

For example, Seagate Technology LLC, the provider of hard disk drives and storage solutions based in Cupertino, CA, has a Salesforce Communities-based self-service site. Its home page is shown in the screen shot below.

seagate blog1

As a Mac user needing some advice on drives for backups, I clicked on the Mac Storage Topic and was taken to the Mac Storage products page shown below in the next screen shot. This page presents a list of combined questions, (Salesforce Knowledge) Articles, Solved Question, Unsolved Questions, and Unanswered Questions in the center with a drop-down at top of the list to filter the presentation. Links to product-specific pages are at the left.

seagate blog 2

At the bottom of the Mac Storage Product Page are links to additional customer service facilities, including, “Get Help from Support.” We show them in the screen shot below.

seagate blog 3

The Seagate community offers a complete set of easy-to-use self-service facilities. Community-style self-service gives customers everything they need for customer service—finding answers and solutions or getting assisted-service when answers and solutions don’t exist or can’t be found.

Tools and Templates

By the way, Salesforce Communities includes tools and reusable templates that can make it easy and fast to deploy customer self-service communities. Community Designer is the toolset for building and managing the web pages of Communities deployments. Community Designer can also customize the three web page templates packaged with Communities—Koa, Kokula, and Napili. For example the web pages for the Koa self-service template contain facilities that let customers search for or navigate to Salesforce Knowledge Articles by categories called Topics or contact support if they can’t find answers or solutions.

Salesforce.com is changing and improving self-service with Salesforce Communities. What a good idea!