David Tebbutt, Teblog

Interesting that Marc Benioff (boss of Salesforce.com) should choose to announce the addition of Twitter to its Service Cloud on Monday. Why? Because it won't be available until the summer. Part of me suspects that the reason was simply because Twitter is a very hot topic today and it might be tepid by June. The official reason, I think, is that the deal with Twitter had just been inked.

The news might have passed me by had we (Freeform Dynamics) not received an official announcement from the company. The covering letter said, "…enabling companies to search, monitor and join conversations taking place on Twitter…" Without being a Salesforce.com expert, I was worried that a whole bunch of sales types or, worse, machines would start trying to insert themselves into Twitter conversations.

In fact, the pitch is somewhat more genuine than that. It suggests that organisations can monitor Twitter (a free addition to the $995/month 'Service Cloud' which already provides access to a number of online services such as Google Search and FaceBook) for mentions and, when they relate to problems, do something about them. That something will end up as either a comment to the Tweeter with a link to a solution to their problem or, if lots of people have the same problem, a general announcement-type Tweet. (Or maybe a bunch of direct messages – I don't know if the Service Cloud can do that. Nothing, apart from the tedium, to stop the help desk people doing it though.)

All sounds pretty reasonable, right? Back there in Salesforce.com land, the client organisation will have a whacking great database of customers, prospects, queries and answers. Each can be clothed instantly with relevant Tweet threads. I quite often appeal for help online. If someone were to help me, and I said "hooray, it worked!" or similar, then this thread would be collected for future reference by support staff. A bit cheeky perhaps, but quite understandable. It expands the company's own knowledge base at little extra cost.

Getting a bit more sinister, it would be possible for a sales person with access to the Service Cloud to hoover up personal information about a prospect before making a call. ("Sorry to hear about your recent illness. How are you feeling now?") These things aren't impossible today, but because it's built right into the Salesforce system, it is actually quite powerful. A tremendous aid to fake sincerity.

And this is the point, isn't it? If the service is used for the genuine benefit of the customer, then people will welcome it. If, however, it's used to exploit the Tweeting public, then the backlash will be swift and unstoppable.

But who will the backlash be aimed at? Twitter for allowing access? The Salesforce customer for abusing the system? Or Salesforce itself for providing the Service Cloud?"

Any thoughts on that, Twitter?

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