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Salesforce.com renews push into customer service

Salesforce.com will make a series of announcements regarding its Service Cloud customer-service applications, which are a major part of the on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) vendor's long-term growth plans.

First unveiled in January, the Service Cloud strategy presumes that in order to find answers to product and service questions, customers are increasingly using means besides traditional call centers, such as search engines or social-networking and messaging services like Facebook and Twitter.

Salesforce.com has already publicly discussed some of the technologies being announced Wednesday, but is providing some pricing and delivery-date information and introducing a new service called Answers.

The application is a response to traditional Web site forums, which provide some customer self-service functionality but tend to get overwhelmed by long, meandering threads that obscure the most valuable answers to particular questions, said Kraig Swensrud, vice president of product marketing.

Web sites such as Yahoo Answers, where community members rate and rank answers to questions, are a better solution, and Salesforce.com's software will work much the same way, he said. It will also be available as a Facebook application that connects back to the Salesforce.com system. It is scheduled for release in the first half of 2010.

Meanwhile, a knowledge base application called Knowledge, derived from Salesforce.com's 2008 acquisition of InStranet, will be available sometime in the fourth quarter at a cost of US$50 per agent per month.

Salesforce.com has taken the InStranet code base and rebuilt it on top of its Force.com development platform, according to Swensrud.

The idea is to make the tips and how-to information commonly found in knowledge bases available through multiple channels, as well as use those channels to procure additional useful material.

For example, an agent who spots a particularly popular response to a question posed through Salesforce.com Answers could choose to pull it into a new file for the knowledge base.

In addition, Salesforce.com will announce that its Service Cloud Twitter integration, announced earlier this year, is now generally available.

A company can use Twitter to track conversations about its products, or set up a Twitter channel dedicated to fielding customer service requests.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is expected to discuss the announcements at a company event in San Francisco.

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