Salesforce.com shakes up Standard support plan features

The company has pledged that an improved self-service experience is on the way

Salesforce.com has made a series of changes to its support services that include the removal of certain features from the Standard tier, but which the company says overall will provide a better experience for customers.

First, phone support for Standard support customers will be now be focused on "severity one" issues, such as if no users can access the system, said Dean Robison, senior vice president for global services, in a video interview posted this week on an official Salesforce.com blog.

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Standard plan customers can submit critical issues via phone during regular business hours, with a response time of two business days.

"But if it isn't critical, the best way to get in touch with us is our Web portal," Robison said. "And on the Web portal, we will deliver an experience where they log a case, we know what type of category that case is, and what skill that requires."

That's going to be better than in the past, where "you hit our phones and you might get somebody who's not an expert, and it's not the best service experience in the world," Robison said. "We want to change that. We want to make sure that when you log a case, you get an expert."

That's not to say that Standard support customers can only call if they have a critical issue, just that they're being encouraged to limit calls to such matters, said Salesforce.com chief operating officer George Hu, in an interview Wednesday.

"What we saw was the opposite issue," Hu added. "People were taking critical issues and logging them through the portal. If it's a real critical issue, we want you to pick up the phone and call us." Still, "I think you could talk to us for any issue," he said.

Salesforce.com is also "scaling back, or better refining" its developer support capabilities, Robison said in the video interview. Standard support customers will be able to log development bugs and issues with Salesforce.com, he said. "We'll capture that and get the information back to you when and if we are able to solve and remove that bug."

Meanwhile, Premier support customers still get a higher level of support, including code troubleshooting. "So it's a little bit better of a clarification and a differentiation between Standard and Premier," Robison said.

Thirdly, Salesforce.com is taking the resources it had devoted to its Standard support chat channel and diverting them to the Premier channel, he said. Chat will no longer be an option for Standard support customers.

Finally, Salesforce.com is changing the way password resetting is done. "We used to handle password resets on behalf of all of our customers. What we found is customers were actually relying on us a little too much," Robison said. "We don't think that's a really safe way to go."

Salesforce.com has developed some "amazing tools" that customers and their IT staffs can use to conduct password resets, he said. "We're going to be coaching and suggesting that customers do that in the future."

A "significant" amount of support resources was being spent on password resets, and all customers will be redirected to the self-service tools regardless of their support plans, Hu said.

The support changes went into effect on Feb. 2, according to the blog post.

Along with these changes, however, Salesforce.com's self-service capabilities are going to dramatically improve, according to Robison.

All customers "can expect to see a better portal experience including localization in numerous languages for our customers around the world," he said in the blog post. "Ultimately, we look to have one seamless, consolidated post-sale Web experience where all of our vibrant communities, customer forums, and support expertise blend together. We believe this will truly give anyone who needs answers and expertise the most efficient and effective experience possible."

Standard support is included at no charge with all Salesforce.com editions. Premier support costs 15 percent of license list price for Professional and Enterprise Edition users, while a Premier+ tier costs 25 percent of license list for Professional and Enterprise and is included with the Unlimited edition, according to Salesforce.com's website.

Premier plan users get around-the-clock phone access with a two-hour response time, as well as expanded training resources, according to Salesforce.com's website. They may also get an assigned support representative if they have enough CRM (customer relationship management) licenses or subscription fees. Premier+ adds in a series of administrative services.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has long positioned SaaS (software as a service) as a superior alternative to on-premises software, asserting that it's easier to deploy and upgrade.

But Benioff has also decried the long-standing practice of annual maintenance payments for on-premises software, which typically run 22 percent of license fees, even calling for "the end of maintenance" in a 2009 internal email that made its way to the media.

It was not clear Wednesday whether Salesforce.com's decision would generate widespread push-back from customers, as occurred with its recent announcement of an Analytics Edition that originally would have cost users extra money.

Customers complained about the analytics pricing, saying that the functionality was long-needed and should have been included in base subscription fees. Salesforce.com quickly relented and said the features would be rolled into some versions at no additional charge.

Salesforce.com is an "adaptive company" that takes customer feedback seriously, Hu said.

Still, "if you're a Standard customer, you're getting great support," Hu said. Salesforce.com's own internal surveys find that Standard support receives on average of nine on a scale of 10 from customers, he added.

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

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