The Mouseless Era
Like driving on the interstate, you can cross boundaries without noticing but after a while you just know you aren’t in Kansas any more. I had one of those moments the other day talking about mobile technology. It occurred to me that calling what we do on devices “mobile computing” was just wrong, at least linguistically, but also I think conceptually and that’s important.
Mobile has always meant a few things but mostly it implied some user at the periphery of a wireless network tied into a central server/database/hub. It was more of a master-slave relationship where the mobile user could use some but not all of the functionality available because it wouldn’t all fit on the small screen or small device. The implication was that the mobile app was a subset of the app that ran on desktops and laptops.
Gradually, mobile came to mean whatever you did on a mobile device with the understanding that devices were wireless and the apps you were using resided in a browser. It was cool stuff but over a short time, browsers have been pushed aside in favor of apps specific to a task. At some point, and I think it was when we went from web browser to app, we left Kansas and invented yet another kind of computing, which I am calling mouseless until something really sexy comes along.
A good example of mouseless computing can be found in the Salesforce Service for Apps announced this week. Powered by the Service Cloud, Service for Apps enables companies to embed customer service into apps running on mobile devices. The new designation does not come from where the apps run but what they facilitate and, to be clear, this mouseless computing is really about the ability to escape the confines of an office and a desk even if you never leave the building—perhaps especially if you never leave the building. An executive or manager with a device has the ability to run the business from the device, full stop.
There are five customer service channels or bits of functionality in the Salesforce Mobile SDK for Service for Apps that bridge computing, telephony, media, and social media and bring us to mouseless computing including: Chat; Tap to call; Knowledgebase; Case management; and a concierge service that the company continues to insist on linking with some form of disaster by associating the term SOS with it (Salesforce SOS for Apps).
A business can either build business-specific apps and embed Service for Apps into its larger CRM instances on mobile devices or it can add the Service for Apps SDK to existing business-specific mobile apps. How will this be used? Here’s what I think.
We call them apps but they are also the business ends—or customer ends—of specific processes designed to make life easier for customers. These embedded apps enable a vendor to let the customer decide when it might be necessary to step out of a more common service or support process and ask for specific assistance from a live agent or get content such as video.
Anyone worried that this technology will create a moral hazard by enabling customers to over-use live help should relax, no one (okay, no sane people) elects to get help for fun. Letting the customer decide when to jump out of an automated process is highly enabling, it tells customers that the vendor trusts them enough to let them make the decision.
It also lets the vendor off the hook for trying to come up with, and program for, every conceivable service situation. Instead, it lets the vendor say, here are our service processes, which cover most of the contingencies for this company and its products. If you need something else, please use one of these modalities to get action. This offers the real possibility that no one (okay, no sane person) will ever sully your reputation in social media or a sentiment site again simply because they were unceremoniously kicked out of a service process because no one on your side ever considered that a customer could do something unheard of in your service app.
I can see this technology used every day though not for rote processes. Its utility might be best underscored in a highly technical situation where the customer might be up to elbows in complexity and needs to access deep expertise in a context sensitive moment. I can see customers using the video chat functionality to show a service person some kind of abnormality or failure, for instance. The concierge service (SOS) may be the best example because the idea implies a high-end service for a limited number of situations.
At any rate, this constellation of functions and how they are delivered has caused me to think that we’re in new waters, thinking differently again about the vendor-customer relationship and how to solve for the customer. Did you know I wrote a book about that? It’s now available in digital form at Amazon. I have to admit though, I never considered the mouseless angle but there it is.
People keep calling me to ask what Salesforce is going to announce and Dreamforce. My standard answer is, how would I know? I get briefings like a lot of analysts but in a situation like this you usually have to promise to hold the news until the company makes its announcements. This is not new or unique to Salesforce, every vendor does this and I am happy to comply. But this is being written before my briefing so please do not think I am simply being coy. I am guessing here, based on my experience following the company.
My conjecture about what Salesforce is likely to announce is usually generally right and often underestimates what the company can do. Now that it has a two billion dollar run rate and the resources that such revenue implies, Salesforce can do a lot of development and make a lot of announcements. Add to that the company’s hard-core belief in delighting its customers and you can see that there’s always a lot to do but it’s easy to guess wrong.
But generally, Salesforce has a number of product lines and it is not one to miss the opportunity to make an announcement in each area. Also Dreamforce is where they tell you about the whole year ahead and they use subsequent events to deliver against the promises made at Dreamforce — another reason to cover all the bases. So, let’s look at the product lines and read some tea leaves.
Sales Cloud and Service Cloud have both been dipped in the social secret sauce over the last couple of years and I see nothing slowing in the social arena. So look for more social in each product line. Perhaps some news about social and Chatter would make sense. There was also some talk earlier this year about a Marketing Cloud and no one I know at Salesforce did much to discourage that line of thought so I look for some kind of marketing announcement. It would be a strange announcement though since Salesforce holds its marketing partners in high esteem and would be disinclined to look like it was being competitive with them.
Also, Chatter is now a default part of the baseline product with over one hundred thousand companies using it or at least having access. It would surprise me if they didn’t make some announcement about making Chatter more elaborate. How that happens is a guess because it seems like they’ve rolled it out to everyone inside the organization who might be able to use it. It would behoove them to find a way to sell more seats though because the Street is already wondering when they’ll get to $3 billion and every seat helps.
Salesforce also has a big development suite that includes the Force.com platform, database.com (introduced last year) and Heroku for building Web apps. There’s also the VMForce product for moving Java applications into Force.com. That’s a lot of development capability and it represents one of the biggest growth opportunities for Salesforce so I would expect multiple announcements around the development suites. It’s a wild guess but this might be the Dreamforce that gets dominated by development. Maybe. I would expect that before that happened that Salesforce would break off a separate show just for developers. I don’t think we’re there yet though.
Beyond the pure product announcements I am sure Marc will probably have a few comments about the foundation or the children’s hospital or the new headquarters campus. Maybe they’ll have some architectural drawings, that would be nice. Then there’s Metalica and all the entertainment that’s planned. But this is a digression of sorts.
There are also multiple user group meetings going on early in the week as AppExchange partners take advantage of the location and the customer traffic to bring their users together. Zuora and Cloud9 have told me they are holding events and I am sure there are others. Perhaps that’s why Dreamforce starts in the middle of the week.
So that’s what I know, or rather these are my hunches. After more than a decade, this company is still growing like a weed, customers give it high approval ratings (which I have checked), the company keeps on innovating and Dreamforce has become one of the milestones on the IT calendar. Bring it on.
The Case for Massive Collaboration
Sometimes I feel like we’re stuck in the weeds with Social CRM. Hopefully I will get a lot of mail for this, LOL!
No, really. Sometimes I feel like we’re missing the bigger point of social CRM because we’re spending so many brain cells focusing on the technology and not so much on what it does beyond the basics.
I know, there are plenty of examples of analyses that say what a wonderful job social media does in connecting everyone or improving the customer experience, but the discussion tends to stop there. If it went on, which I admit it sometimes does, it would talk about the wonderful reasons for caring to connect everyone, namely the opportunity for mass collaboration.
I have been guilty of coming from the other direction for a long time and talking almost exclusively about mass collaboration. Neither has been terribly useful IMHO though the technology approach at least got a lot of people to try it out while the mass collaboration approach is known to a smaller group of technology aficionados.
The “Gee isn’t this cool technology” approach is a phase but so is the other. Cool technology launches early adopters and who is to say they’re wrong? They are the folks who actually come up with the practical applications for a technology that guys like me write about. We’ve been in the cool technology phase for a while now with Social and perhaps that time has been extended by the recession. Fewer companies are willing to take on something that has little track record when the name of the game is revenue.
Perhaps that’s why I am becoming such a fan of Chatter from Salesforce. It’s not a perfect product, but for something so new it commands a lot of attention. It’s often compared to Twitter or Facebook but for the enterprise. Not a bad strategy for a new category—compare it to something that is popular—but the comparison leaves Chatter at a disadvantage because it’s more than that.
While Facebook and Twitter enable a certain kind of mass collaboration, it’s all personal—you and your friends massively collaborating about things tangential to or part of your life, pretty much. Chatter does the same thing but if we leave the discussion here, we miss much. In a business context massive collaboration has an output associated with it called co-creation of value.
Co-creation of value is most commonly surfaced when we talk about interactions with customers that surface unmet needs and desires. But the massive collaboration within an enterprise can be just as powerful if it surfaces needs that exist in the moment and if those needs can be communicated to all those who have a stake in a customer outcome.
Salesforce’s approach to capturing input through social media in ways that can be monetized goes deeper than Chatter to the Sales Cloud and the Service Cloud. In their own ways, these tools capture input from sales people and customers respectively that can do much more than trade information about personal matters. They all create some form of intellectual property that is of value to the organization.
This is all a long way from being “like” Facebook or Twitter and it’s a dividing line between social media for personal use and social media for corporate use and that’s why I say Chatter is a new category.
Even more important than figuring this out—I am sure you already did, I am just slow—is that for social CRM to be an important attribute leading us out of the recession, it has to be able to show an ROI and I think this is how you do it. Massive collaboration leads to unique intellectual property. What could be better?
Well, have you seen at gas prices lately? They jumped twenty cents at the beginning of October in my neighborhood and they were already in nosebleed territory when I was in San Francisco for Open World. Four bucks a gallon was a contributor to the recession and we’re getting back to that range now.
That price won’t stop people from driving totally but the Transportation Department did note that we drove 122 billion miles less in the year when gas prices spiked, so it had some effect on business. Add to that jet fuel prices synch with gasoline and you get some worrying signs.
If we’re heading toward costly transportation in the near future, we’ll need some help replacing transportation with the next best thing. To my mind that isn’t massive adoption of Skype video calls, though that’s a good idea too. To me the no-brainer is enabling massive collaboration throughout your shop.
I just wanted to share this with you—and I do not own any Salesforce stock by the way (NYSE:CRM).