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Customer service moving further online

In recent years companies have been moving more and more of their customer service towards a self-service model that allows customers to get their support and help online. Obvious examples are FAQ’s, live chat services on corporate websites and so on. The purpose: reduce customer service costs, offer a better service through online media and allowing customers to find solutions or answers themselves whenever they need them or in other words: customer-centric thinking.

Moving online also allows companies to better track the service needs of customers and, if well implemented, offer the possibility to have a more holistic view on the customer through an integration of customer data and information on contact moments across all divisions and channels.

Many companies, however, don’t use the possibilities of online tools, social media and new communication services enough yet. One of the reasons is probably because they simply don’t see them.

Micro-blogging and online communities for customer support purposes

In recent days and weeks a number of evolutions occurred that might convince companies to provide a more advanced self-service model to their customers. Several CRM vendors have in fact announced initiatives that should enable their customers to do right that. Interestingly, but also quite obviously, most of these evolutions occur in web-based or on-demand application environments, better known as Software as a Service or SaaS, currently the most popular cloud computing service.

SaaS sales force automation and CRM vendor, Salesforce.com, announced a second version of its Service Cloud. It includes integration with Twitter, thus allowing the social micro-blogging service to be used as a way to improve customer support online. Note that Service Cloud also offers integration possibilities with Facebook.

Salesforce.com also announced Salesforce Knowledge, a knowledge base that allows companies to make their knowledge base articles public and searchable online. The company is also testing Salesforce Answers, a service that will allows customers to ask questions and community members to answer them. The service would be available in 2011.

Integrating CRM and customer service from a customer-centric perspective

Another SaaS vendor that had news in the web-based customer support field is RightNow Technologies, which acquires HiveLive. This will allow RightNow to build and manage customer communities (including forums, blogs and Q&A sites) but also to monitor other communities such as Facebook.

The third vendor that came with an announcement was Oracle that said it is integrating its on demand CRM offering with the self-service applications of specialized vendor InQuira.

Oracle thus wants to provide an integrated customer service over websites, social networking tools and telephone. This combined offering will be available on-demand (SaaS) but also on-premises.

The moves show that companies are trying to move towards an integrated approach on customer service, CRM, call centres and online channels.

The main motivation, besides the already stated ones, is clear: being more customer-centric.