Salesforce.com on Wednesday announced the debut of the Salesforce1 Community Cloud. The product is launching as a new division for Salesforce.com, on par with its Sales, Service and Marketing Cloud offerings, said Lisa Hammitt, vice president of business operations for Salesforce1 Community Cloud.
Built on the Salesforce1 Platform, Community Cloud connects to Salesforce CRM and related business processes to help users build a community for customers, employees, resellers and partners. In fact, it can be used for just about any scenario that calls for an online connected community, Hammitt told CRM Buyer.
Sales staff can use Community Cloud to update leads and share tips with one another, and service employees can use it to create and escalate cases. Customers can use it to help one another with issues or to share tips.
Community Cloud is launching with 34 updated features to customize the community according to its intended use, ranging from gamification to experts to templates. These can be leveraged to build just the community a company or entity needs, Hammitt said.
“We believe the community will be at the epicenter of the new battleground for sales and the customer,” she said.
Salesforce.com first introduced the community collaboration concept a few years ago; Communities went live last summer. It has been tweaked multiple times, taking into account user views and feedback, as well as its own development pipeline.
For example, Salesforce.com last year rolled out Chatter Topics and Expertise, and then incorporated it into Communities.
The feature, which is now part of Community Cloud, allows users to find information and related resources, and to identify experts based on topics of interest. The core mission remains the same — to create social communities using business data and processes for a specific group of users, no matter how small or discrete.
There have been about five Salesforce.com communities created every day since Communities’ launch, Hammitt said.
The city of Philadelphia, for example, connected its local organizers and volunteers through Communities.
It has been deployed for a range of uses — from Philadelphia’s community organizers to more commercial projects such as a mobile banking app or video game development project.
The new features in Community Cloud are the result of Salesforce.com’s doubling down on its investment on the product, Hammitt said.
The gamification feature, for example, rewards contributors based on their level of expertise or other activities, such as how many posts they have made or questions they have answered. “It is meant to give them a certain status within the community.”
Templates let users customize profiles and processes within the Community. Say a university uses Community Cloud for its alumni network; the template feature allows it to create a way to plan a reunion, for example, or interact with job placements or sign up for various volunteer activities.
“The university can tailor the experience based on the needs of the alumni and the school,” Hammitt said.
There is also a mobile version.
The rollout of Community Cloud is timely, given this is a burgeoning trend in CRM, Denis Pombriant, principal of Beagle Research, told CRM Buyer.
Community setups are beneficial to companies at least in part because they can help deflect service requests and keep costs down.
However, companies are realizing they can reap far more from an organized online community than just cost abatement, Pombriant pointed out.
“One of the major benefits of an online community is that it gives companies a way — for the first time in a long time — to listen to customers in real time or near real time and understand what their issues are,” he noted.
Companies used to be able to do that when customer relationships were more one-to-one, before the advent of social media.
From listening to its customers in a community, a company could realize that a feature was not working properly, for example, or perhaps was missing entirely, Pombriant said.
Salesforce1 Community Cloud is currently available, and the new advances are expected to be generally available in October of 2014.