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Crafting cloud communities

Crafting cloud communities 

Cloud computing is helping enterprises expedite and mobilize various daily functions, such as sharing and storing data. Today, businesses are taking it beyond those capabilities and turning it into a forum of collaboration, and Salesforce’s Community Cloud is facilitating that shift.

Recent updates to Community Cloud allow users to build digital communities within the cloud as a means of engaging business partners, customers and employees. The improvements include faster community launches with Lightning Community Builder and Templates and integration with Google Drive.

IT in Canada spoke to Mike Micucci, SVP of product management for Community Cloud and Michael Stone, SVP of marketing for Community Cloud to gain insight into why this model is becoming the new standard for digital community cultivation and engagement.

IT in Canada: What led to the development of Community Cloud?
We started working on Salesforce Chatter in 2009. Our customers were seeking a new way to connect together, with the emergence of Facebook. It was a really obvious model of how to connect your employees together around key business process, such as sales, services and marketing.

As soon as we launched it, our customers told us, “We love this for our employees, but how can we connect our customers and partners?” We immediately started working on a way to extend the social collaboration pieces to the business process.

The main issues were how they could collaborate with their customers around a business case, with a partner around a lead or an order, and with their employees around other business data safely and securely, and completely encapsulated within their brand. That led to the creation of Community Cloud, and we launched it in 2013. We built it off of Salesforce1, and it took off from there.

The last few years have been an amazing ride with the number of customers who adopted it for their employee communities, as well as for connecting partners up. It’s been an absolutely phenomenal experience.

Stone: It’s also worth noting that it took off so well for us and made such an impact that within a year, the company looked at what we were doing, said “We need to elevate that,” and made us our own cloud. We went from being a product team to being Community Cloud.

We’ve become core to the company’s positioning as a customer success platform now, so for us, it’s been a great ride driven by raw customer demand and creating the right products off of the Salesforce platform. It’s happened faster than we would have expected, but the impact that we’ve seen with our customers is what really makes us happy, and it’s been recognized across the company as an impactful new product line.

ITIC: Why is now the time for a product like this?
I think there are a couple of things driving that. One is that customer expectations for how they do business from a consumer perspective, or even B2B. Even if we’re doing a B2B engagement, we’re talking about a reseller’s engagement with a business that they’re selling products for.

On the weekend, they’re using Facebook or Yelp, and their expectations of how that should work are radically improved in terms of the availability of the information and the ability to interact with these different companies. The old-school static portal model is not quick enough to meet those needs and have that interaction that people now expect, whether they’re buying something as a consumer or doing business with another company.

Companies are seeing this as something they have to do. It’s gone from being something that was (perhaps) discussed in an off-site (meeting) to something that is a high-profile company initiative around customer (engagement) or upgrading the channel. It’s purely the expectation of how customers interact with businesses has radically changed, and a big part of that is the mobile model. They really want to be able to do this from anywhere, and still feel involved with the company.

The last thing is companies have gotten to the point where they’ve deployed a ton of new systems. They have things in the cloud that they haven’t moved up (there), and are still on-premises. Work has become more complex, and numerous systems they might be using to check for different information.

The strongest (attribute) of the Community Cloud is leveraging the platform to bring all of that information into one place to make it easier for partners, customers and employees to find the information that they need. They can use the Community Cloud as a way to expose multiple systems in one area to make people more productive and create transparency across the whole organization and across the business process.

ITIC: Why are digital communities becoming game-changers for businesses today?
I would say that if you’re going to win in today’s market, you need to place your customers, partners and employees at the centre of the journey. You need to connect with your customers and (integrate) them into the journey so they can get the most out of your services.

It’s your customer experience and success that drives your business, and they want to collaborate with you in the same way that they collaborate in the consumer world. That’s their expectation. Your employees are collaborating that way, as well as your partners.

Business is moving at a much faster pace, and if you don’t adopt these capabilities around cloud, social and mobile, you cannot move at the pace that your customers, partners and employees are expecting.

MS: One thing that’s different about Community Cloud is the interactive capabilities combined with the ability to put data and records right in front of the customer. For a long time, people have talked about extending the business process and using a portal-type model to do that. We’re not only extending the business process, we’re making it inclusive and transparent.

As an example, let’s say that under the old model, I had a customer service portal, and it had a very specific function. I could come in and check the shipping status of something I’m going to receive, or I could look at pricing information if I was a partner. The difference between that and a customer self-service community is that the customers themselves can answer each other’s questions.

This rapidly generates an entire library of user-generated content, and user-generated content is fantastic. Customers like it because it’s highly genuine; they see other customers who’ve had similar interests or concerns, and can interact with them in a way that is totally seamless and doesn’t have the company directly involved in the conversation. It’s a really different model in terms of not just extending the process, but enabling customers to interact around your company and help each other.

The same would (apply) to a partner model. Instead of (sending) out campaigns and training materials, you now have the ability to interact with the customers, get feedback from partners on new products and training that you’ve put out, to have them come in and work with you on deals, create a group within the community that might include a VAR, a systems integrator and a company rep who all work together in private groups to close a big deal.

The reason why it’s a game-changer is because it enables a lot more real work and collaboration to get done outside the company walls than a portal ever could.

ITIC: What does the future hold for digital communities?
The trend of cloud, social and mobile is going to drive near-constant evolution here. But what you’ll see is a near-constant mix of how you can bring business data forward in a mobile context, and quickly adapt to new business opportunities.

We saw an example of this at Dreamforce (last year). Honeywell used Community Cloud and Salesforce to create a community for their partners, and launched their Smart Thermostat. They used their community so their partners could get leads on people who needed help to install the thermostat. After the contractor would install the thermostat, they would ask the customer if they wanted to have their heating and cooling monitored because the thermostat connects to the partner community.

The contractor partner can monitor that through the community and be alerted if there is a problem with the customer’s system. This is brand-new; we are using a community to connect partners so that can get leads, (perform) installations and satisfy the customers and offer a whole new business service that didn’t exist (a few years ago).

That mix of cloud, mobile and social, allowing us to take a data feed from a thermostat, connect the partners using mobile is what you’re going to see (going forward). The trend is about how we use data and make sense of it, and this adds onto the intelligence features.

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