New Kids in the Customer Interaction Management Space: Salesforce

By Nicolas De Kouchkovsky
12 Jun 2018

Referring to Salesforce Service Cloud as a new entrant in the customer interaction management space is almost an oxymoron. With a run rate of over $3 Billion, it looks more like a gorilla. Yet, Service Cloud is mostly known for case management. I spoke with Bill Patterson, who became its General Manager last summer. He agrees that the market is not well aware of its interaction management capabilities. Let’s explore what it has to offer.

A Brief History

Service Cloud is the second product line of Salesforce, or “cloud” to use its parlance. Its success was not immediate. It required several iterations for the company to start scaling its customer service business. Service Cloud took off after the 2008 acquisition of Instranet, a knowledge management provider, for $32 Million and under the leadership of Alex Dayon. Salesforce only discloses segment revenues since its fiscal year 2015 but you can estimate the trajectory over the past decade:

An Impressive Channel Lineup

Salesforce entered the customer interaction management market with the Activa Live Chat acquisition in 2010. It made over the years several tuck-in acquisitions:

  • Radian6 (March 2011) brought social monitoring
  • GoInstant (July 2012) added co-browse
  • Assistly (Sep 2011) strengthened help desk capabilities
  • HeyWire (Sep 2016) added text SMS and messaging

The company didn’t just do acquisitions but also expanded its channel roster organically:

  • Video and later in-app mobile with SoS unveiled at Dreamforce 2014
  • Internet of Things introduced in September 2015
  • Apple Business Chat announced at Apple WWDC in June 2017

In 2017, Salesforce released its field service component. Voice is the only interaction that Service Cloud doesn’t support natively. The same year, it added a dialer to its Sales Cloud. Rumors of acquisitions surface regularly, but the company continues to partner to add telephony to its customer service offer.

Salesforce wants now to power the digital transformation of enterprises. With many businesses transitioning from selling goods to offering services, Service Cloud’s ambition is to allow them to up-level their service experience across all parts of the organization. Salesforce has been sharing as a poster child of such a journey the story of Kone, evolving from a manufacturer of elevators and escalators into a company improving the flow of urban life.

Lightning

In 2014, Salesforce introduced a new front-end called Lightning. To grow its presence in the B2C space, the company had to deal with the proliferation of applications residing on the desktops of customer service agents. This was a key driver to build Lightning as a component-based framework. It was a massive undertaking that took a few years to roll out. It is now the Salesforce default interface.

Lightning enables the creation of highly customizable desktops that can federate third party applications. It came at the price of a certain complexity and Salesforce had to focus on simplifying it. It is now part of Essentials, its entry-level customer service application, successor to Desk.com.

Lately, Salesforce has been adding workflow capabilities. Besides the call scripting module it acquired with Informavores, Lightning now features Flow for business process automation and App Builder for low-code application development. Lightning has morphed into a platform to enable digital transformation.

Enter Omni-Channel Routing

In 2016, Salesforce released a new module, Omni-Channel Routing. It enables the distribution of any work item to an agent. Omni-Channel Routing includes an agent capacity model, a push mechanism, and skills, all prerequisites for distributing interactions. It can route leads, cases, chats, SOS video calls, social posts, orders, and any custom objects.

The first versions of Omni-Channel Routing only supported simple distribution to queues. The Summer 2018 release added support for skill-based routing. Salesforce also released in beta an External Routing feature. It allows third party applications to submit their interactions to Omni-Channel Routing. Salesforce is working on deeper omni-channel integrations with several contact center providers including Amazon Connect, Avaya, NewVoiceMedia, and Twilio.

Salesforce Einstein

It is not possible to write about Salesforce without discussing Artificial Intelligence (AI). Unveiled at Dreamforce 2016, Einstein is Salesforce’s initiative for embedding a comprehensive range of AI capabilities into its platform. Service Cloud was the left-behind child of Einstein. This is changing with the Summer 2018 release that includes Einstein Bots for handling routine service requests. The company has also announced Einstein Answers for classifying inquiries and providing answers when possible and Einstein Agent for assisting customer service agents with relevant recommendations. 

Salesforce wants to leverage its platform to bring service information back to products and create close experience loops. For example, Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer is using the platform to gather usage data from its planes around the world. The rich sets of data collected by its platform and a solid knowledge component are giving Salesforce a leg up. They are indeed two essential ingredients for making AI projects successful. The company has also the opportunity to up its game with Service Analytics. 

Service Cloud has become much more than a combined customer support and digital interaction management application. Salesforce was one of the first companies to understand that the customer experience imperative will have enterprises seeking to overhaul their service experience holistically. It has assembled a platform to help them offer a consistent experience across all customer-facing departments and touchpoints.

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