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Social Media Is Changing CRM

Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels are changing the way companies interact with customers, says Alex Dayon, executive VP of customer relationship management at Salesforce.com.

David F Carr

March 25, 2011

6 Min Read

Customer service features for social media are on the way for Salesforce.com customers, but they can't come soon enough. The features for tighter integration with Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels Salesforce previewed as part of its Service Cloud 3 announcement earlier this month are eagerly awaited, said Alex Dayon, executive vice president of customer relationship management at Salesforce.com.

"We have regular meetings of our major customers for the customer service product, what we call our customer service executive council, and we've been asking them about social media: Is it really something strategic now? Is it just hype? Or is it 12 months, 18 months down to road? And the answer is always -- yesterday," Dayon said in an interview. Though a social media presence is usually launched by the marketing department, it invariably attracts some fraction of unhappy customers whose complaints need to be addressed by the customer service organization.

The Service Cloud 3 edition of the Salesforce customer service application is available now, with better integration with Twitter and Facebook to roll out over the next few months. Salesforce also is working in partnership with social media monitoring and engagement service Radian6 on an add-on product, to be available in the AppExchange marketplace, that will connect with many more social media channels.

Dayon was previously president and CEO of InStranet, which Salesforce acquired in 2008 for its customer service knowledge base technology. In this Q&A, he discussed the evolution of the Salesforce product line being driven by social media trends. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Carr: How does social media fit into customer service, as compared with the call center?

Dayon: The call center, while still an important part of the business process, is just one component today. That's where lies the opportunity for vendors like Salesforce. The traditional vendors -- Siebel, SAP, Microsoft -- have their software powering the screen of a call center agent. Most of those products are really focused on the phone. But the world of customer service is being changed by two big other areas. The first one is the Web, how you interact with people on your Web site. The other big area is the social world.

Today, do you start with the phone, or do you Google your question? You Google it, right? You may find your answer in the knowledge base article on the Web site -- that could be somebody else's Web site, too. So the world of customer service now is really one where you need to connect all those different channels together. The majority of the interactions are actually outside the traditional channels of customer service.

That's why we have created native connectors for Twitter and for Facebook, and why we have Radian 6 building connectors to more than 75 types of social media, including blogs. Some of those people posting may be unhappy customers, and we want to know about that. The Radian 6 app will help us with capturing 100s of millions of post a day and figuring out what makes sense to highlight out of that vast sea of discussion. Carr: How is dealing with customers through social media different?

Dayon: The first way is volume. It's a very different world from having a phone queue to manage. The second one is that it's public, which is very important. The major thing we hear from these companies is they feel the loss of control -- where now their customers can talk about them. In the past, we could put them on mute and talk about them. Now, they can talk to all their friends.

One company we work with that had a customer snafu -- I cannot mention the name -- but they had this incident that got people talking on Twitter. And within 7 hours, there were more than 20,000 people on that twitter feed.

Carr: I'm sorry, did you say 20,000? Was this a profile set up specifically to air a complaint?

Dayon: Well, people started to write in -- that's the viral effect of this social world -- and within 7 hours, this individual had 20,000 followers. That's the real challenge, the way things can snowball at a pace we've never seen in this social world.

That's why customer service organizations are under stress, first of all to connect to this world, and secondly to have realtime analytics.

We already have some companies managing customer interactions on Twitter, like BofA [Bank of America] and KLM, the Dutch airline.

The answers provided by the company aren't being entered into Twitter, they're coming from Salesforce. They're using an agent console the same way they would use the console to answer email. You use the same business processes and all the analytic processes and also can keep track of interactions. If you call someone later, they will know you had this problem on that social channel.

Carr: Isn't part of the theory also that if you respond well, you can turn your critics into your biggest fans?

Dayon: Usually, the story is more like Comcast, which is one of our customers, which started its social media strategy after someone published the YouTube video of the Comcast technician sleeping on the couch. Or the "United Breaks Guitars" video, where after this guy goes to customer service and gets no response, he comes up with this very funny song, and now he has 10 million followers.

Usually, how people start is they realize they've suffered huge damage to their brand. But very quickly, as you say, they start to look at the positive side. There's a kind of maturity path.

Social media strategy starts out reactive, because they realize they're losing control and they need to do something. Very quickly they realize service needs to be part of the mix because they need to take care of the unhappy guys.

Carr: What's the next step in how you will address this in your product line.

Dayon: Well, Dreamforce is where we usually announce new capabilities. But I can tell you a little about where I see this world evolving. I think over the next year we're going to see amazing business stories around the value of customer engagement through social media. The conversation is going to shift from "I need to do it because I've lost control of my brand," to "I need to do it because this makes sense for my business."

Going forward, social is going to be part of pretty much every product.

About the Author(s)

David F Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and was the social business track chair for UBM's E2 conference in 2012 and 2013. He is a frequent speaker and panel moderator at industry events. David is a former Technology Editor of Baseline Magazine and Internet World magazine and has freelanced for publications including CIO Magazine, CIO Insight, and Defense Systems. He has also worked as a web consultant and is the author of several WordPress plugins, including Facebook Tab Manager and RSVPMaker. David works from a home office in Coral Springs, Florida. Contact him at [email protected]and follow him at @davidfcarr.

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