SAN FRANCISCO--Call centers, abound in Asian countries such as the Philippines and India, must retool and adopt social networking applications to maintain their competitive edge, say executives from Salesforce.com, which this week launched its own social network tool.
Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff said, during his keynote Thursday at the company's Dreamforce conference here, it was unfortunate companies, particularly call centers, have invested in traditional software only to realize that customers are venting their frustrations and leaving comments in social media sites and online communities.
"I know more about strangers on Facebook than my own employees," Benioff said. "Facebook has made us smarter through social networking, but why aren't we getting smarter in our companies?"
He added that it was ironic that companies were "disconnected" from their own workers. "We've been eclipsed by consumer applications like Facebook and Twitter. Aren't we ready for a change in enterprise collaboration?" he questioned.
Call centers, which main purpose is to cater to the needs of customers, have not adapted their business practices to move in line current customer demands, he said. "It's time for a change in the industry," he added.
To tap this trend, Salesforce today launched its Web-based social networking service, dubbed Salesforce Chatter. The new tool integrates the functionalities of Facebook and Twitter into an interface for corporate users.
Time to retool
Jim Steele, chief customer officer and president for worldwide sales at Salesforce.com, said call centers, including those based in Asia, need to retool and adopt social media to stay relevant and competitive.
"Customer service and retention are paramount in this age. If you're not listening to them, you're missing an opportunity," said Steele in an interview.
The Asian region, he noted, is a dynamic market with customers habitually changing preferences. Customer engagement, he added, is therefore a crucial element for success.
Benioff billed Chatter as the company's "biggest breakthrough ever" as it combines "the magic of Facebook and Twitter [for] the enterprise."
He said the new product is an evolution of "years of social computing", which started from "workgroup computing in the 1980s, to intranet computing of 2000s, to today's social computing".
Similar to those found in Facebook, Chatter also features user profiles, status updates, real-time feeds, groups, social applications, and business content such as documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
As with other Salesforce applications, the new tool will be available on the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and iPhone platforms, the company said.
However, Chatter will not be available until the early part of 2010.
Company executives said independent software developers will be allowed to use the Chatter platform to build social enterprise apps, which they can then sell via the company's app marketplace, AppExchange.
To underscore the tractions made by cloud computing, Benoiff said Salesforce has racked up US$1.3 billion in annual revenues from 67,000 paying customers. "Cloud computing now serves all parts of the markets, not just small businesses," he said.
Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines. He filed this report from Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.