Following on from the announcement of its new customer service initiative, called the Service Cloud, Salesforce.com has announced that it will add integration with Twitter to this solution, adding to its existing integration with Google and Facebook. This solution connects social networking with client interaction processes, utilizing forums and search engines for customer feedback. The integration with Twitter will be available from summer 2009, allowing automated searches of Twitter content to be pulled into Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM). Twitter has recently improved its search capabilities; after acquiring Summize in July 2008, Twitter now offers users the ability to search all updates to find relevant words or phrases. This technology will be utilized by Salesforce.com customers who will be able to select appropriate phrases or words to create records in the Service Cloud.
Many large brands have begun to use Twitter as a customer service tool, such as Bank of America, Comcast, JetBlue, and Zappos. These companies are offering customers advice in response to queries and providing information about new products and services. This allows companies to make information more readily available and, additionally, customers are sharing advice and information among themselves. Using Salesforce.com, these brands will be able to set up alerts when someone mentions the company name in order to track sentiments. Salesforce.com will offer analytics capabilities for customers to find trends and data patterns.
Salesforce.com is the first CRM vendor to announce integration with social networking websites to its Service Cloud. It has approached the market early before customers are fully aware of the need for this type of integration. Datamonitor believes this timing is right because websites such as Facebook and Twitter are undergoing a rapid uptake in users. According to TweetRush, a service providing estimated statistics on Twitter usage, in early February Twitter had around 400,000 active users per day; this figure had risen to over 600,000 active users on average per day by the end of March. Facebook now has 175 million active users and, interestingly, from the website’s own statistics page, more than four million users become fans of Pages each day.
This is particularly relevant for Salesforce.com, which is utilizing brand Pages to push information to Google through the Service Cloud in order to provide information to its customers and push customer information back to the brands. Salesforce.com’s clients need to develop brand equity and focus on improving customer service and customer retention rates, particularly in this slow economy. Twitter is an open web service with information available to all internet users. It was a logical next step for Salesforce.com to add this to its Service Cloud. Datamonitor believes that the Twitter integration is even more relevant than the previously announced Facebook integration, which relies on customers joining Facebook groups or Pages.
Salesforce.com has been early to market with the announcement of social networking integration for CRM, and appears to be one step ahead of its competitors. It has also gained significant publicity through these announcements, something at which the company excels. However, there will be challenges with integrating the data and ensuring its customers can utilize the information fully. Although integration with Twitter has been announced, the solution is not yet available. There could be delays in ensuring seamless integration of data.
There are also concerns around security in sharing and integrating information from Web 2.0 channels. At the moment, it is difficult to validate the authenticity of postings and advisors, and data ownership. Analyzing the continuous flow of information could prove challenging for Salesforce.com, which is not traditionally an analytics or business intelligence (BI) company. The company may need to form further partnerships with BI or analytics vendors to enable customers to get the best presentation of information and this could also be costly for customers. However, Salesforce.com does have a large pool of AppXchange partners with the ability to create a social networking-specific analytics tool, and should encourage development of this type of application.
In addition, the post length of 140 characters may not be enough for customers to provide full information on problems or even positive feedback. The Service Cloud relies on customers posting useful information and it may be difficult to find value from the vast amount of data provided on Twitter, particularly as the numbers of customers grow. The reliability of Twitter is questionable, with information being updated very slowly and error messages often occurring. These problems are likely to increase as it grows to support more users. Twitter is not currently a money making business, rather a social networking experiment, and is still in the research phase. Until the technology matures, these problems are likely to remain. This may be an issue for vendors such as Salesforce.com that are integrating their applications with Twitter, and it could potentially cause delays with development of joint solutions.
Salesforce.com customers will expect a quality service with real-time information feeds. Twitter also needs to remain free to consumers and open so that people can continue to access the information. There have been suggestions of Twitter getting business users to create paid accounts, and this may hinder growth of the service. Companies may be waiting for active references before they adopt Salesforce.com’s Service Cloud, and the difficult economy could mean customers are hesitant over investment decisions without proof points.
This announcement is positive for Salesforce.com’s customers who will be able to access more customer information in real time. It will be able to provide faster reactions to customer problems and thereby better service. However, it is still very early going, maybe too early to truly predict how successful the solution will be and who will begin to use this service. The software-as-a-service model makes sense for customers wishing to trial the solution, but minimum contract lengths could be an issue. Datamonitor believes Salesforce.com will be successful with its Service Cloud as its customers view the benefit of information from social networking.
CRM competitors are likely to follow closely behind. Oracle and SAP have begun to consider this but have so far been more tentative than Salesforce.com. Oracle is offering the option for enterprises to publish information from CRM OnDemand directly to Twitter, and SAP has demoed Twitter monitoring as a part of its Business Suite 7. Unified communications and telephony vendors are also likely to form relationships, with Avaya having just announced integration with Facebook for its new Aura platform.
Datamonitor expects more announcements of integration with social networks from both CRM and analytics vendors, but vendors need to be innovative in their use of these technologies rather than jumping on the bandwagon. Vendors should spend time thinking of ways in which social networking integrations can benefit customers from either a cost savings or business process improvements perspective.