Salesforce.com shows how in-app customer service expectations will escalate

Editor's Corner
Shane Schick

If your idea of offering customer service to app users is putting up an e-mail link that begins "[email protected]," Salesforce.com has just made you look really, really small-time.

Last week the company announced new features and functionality for its cloud-based contact center system that will extend its reach into mobile devices. I sat through a demo and saw a couple of things that made me realize that what sometimes seems like a level playing field among developers may change soon. By that I mean it's possible today for anyone with basic programming expertise (and sometimes less than that) to create an app, submit it to the app stores and compete, at least theoretically, with the major publishers. While those major publishers have a lot more resources to market their apps, there's a gold-rush mentality that even a one-man shop can create a hit. Quality is the differentiator. As apps become more widely adopted, however, customer service may be nearly as important.

Here's an example. One of Salesforce.com's features is called "co-browsing." Imagine someone using an app to shop for clothes, but they can't quite find what they're looking for, or need inspiration. Clicking on a "help" button will take them to a customer service agent employed by the app's creator, who can then request permission to essentially take over the navigation of the app on their phone and show them how to locate a particular item or resolve a problem. If you've ever worked in an office where your desktop malfunctioned and you called the IT department, you might have experienced something like this: the IT support staff simply kept you on the phone instead of stopping by or fixing your machine remotely. Co-browsing may seem a bit invasive to consumers who aren't used to it at first, but over time it strikes me as a great way to offer personalized attention. However, most smaller developers would not be able to compete with this kind of responsiveness.

Salesforce.com is also offering a live chat feature that it demoed in a mobile game, where users who weren't sure how to move up to the next level or complete an in-app purchase could post questions that get answered near-instantaneously via communities of experts within the game publisher's firm or even by other experienced users. This is a good reminder that "customer service" is not just about fixing bugs but driving engagement through on-the-spot education.

Of course, Salesforce.com and its rivals are aiming their products and services primarily at enterprise customers, and price it accordingly. Though they may scale down eventually, developers should start preparing a customer strategy today that gives them the ability to better support their users with what's already available. Social media is one option--encouraging users to tweet questions or concerns is becoming easier via social integration tools. There are also old-fashioned tools like 1-800 lines and traditional Web forms. But no matter what the approach, great customer service begins with setting expectations among your audience. They should have a ballpark of how quickly they can expect a response, which should be included with all contact information. They should have access to tools like FAQ lists that will allow them to resolve issues on their own. They should not be limited to one channel of communication but have options to whatever is reasonable to ask of a developer. Above all, any customer service issues should be met with professionalism and deep gratitude. Those are the other differentiators that even Salesforce.com cannot automate.--Shane

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