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Salesforce.com delivers mobile customer service apps

Mobile chat, communities, screen-sharing and more are on tap from Salesforce.com

Salesforce.com is planning to add a series of mobile applications to its Service Cloud line of customer service software, in a response to the rampant rise of mobile devices both in the consumer and business worlds.

Dubbed Service Cloud Mobile, the new offerings include a "co-browsing" capability, which allows end users to share a screen with a call center agent from their mobile device. For example, a customer interested in purchasing custom-fitted clothing could walk through an online catalog and find the correct sizing together with the agent, with both parties able to click on buttons and links, said Alex Bard, Service Cloud senior vice president and general manager, in an interview and demonstration prior to Tuesday's announcement.

While screen-sharing is not a new concept, Salesforce.com's offering has an edge because it doesn't require a local install, according to Bard. It's the result of Salesforce.com's acquisition of GoInstant last year.

Salesforce.com is also rolling out mobile chat. Bard demonstrated how a bank could add a chat button to its online banking application, allowing a customer with questions about their account to instant-message back and forth with an agent while looking at the account information. The capability is the same as that found in Salesforce.com's Live Agent software, but with support for mobile devices, Bard said.

Another product announced Tuesday, Service Cloud Touch, allows the creation of touch-based customer service applications for Kindles, iPads and other mobile devices. The idea is to give sales agents, such as in a retail store, the ability to tap into systems and answer customer questions on the spot, rather than sending them to wait in a customer-service line, Bard said.

Finally, Salesforce.com is announcing Mobile Service Cloud Communities, for access to customer service and online help forums on the go.

The co-browsing feature will be generally available in the second half of this year, with pricing announced at that time, Salesforce.com said.

Mobile Service Cloud Communities is available now and comes as part of a Service Cloud Enterprise or Unlimited subscription. Service Cloud Touch is also available and is included in all subscription levels.

The mobile chat offering is available as well, priced at US$50 per user per month for Service Cloud Enterprise and Unlimited subscription customers. Bard declined to comment on whether Salesforce.com will at some point offer a lower-priced version of the chat service aimed at smaller companies.

Mobility is part of a fourth wave of change for the customer service industry, Bard said. Decades ago, the first wave began when companies began putting toll-free customer service numbers on their products, he said. The arrival of the Internet ushered in the era of multichannel customer service, spanning phone calls, websites and other avenues. Social media sites such as Facebook brought about yet another way to engage with customers, and now the prevalence of mobile devices has changed the way customers want to interact with companies, Bard said.

Salesforce.com is undergoing some changes of its own. At an event in New York Tuesday, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is expected to discuss the company's new marketing message, "customer companies," and how Salesforce.com's clients can become ones.

This is a shift away from Salesforce.com's previous tagline, "social enterprise," which Benioff had pushed hard in a long series of road shows and keynote addresses. Last year, Salesforce.com withdrew a trademark application on the phrase after pushback from social and environmental agencies.

Apart from that controversy, it wasn't clear how well Salesforce.com's broader customer base had embraced the social enterprises concept.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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