Salesforce.com launches Desk.com help-desk service

The service for small businesses is the result of Salesforce.com's Assistly acquisition

Salesforce.com on Tuesday unveiled a new SaaS (software as a service) help-desk application called Desk.com that can reach end users through social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Desk.com, which is based on Salesforce.com's recent acquisition of Assistly, can be deployed in a matter of days even by companies with no dedicated IT staffers, according to Salesforce.com.

Ample engineering work went into Desk.com since the Assistly acquisition in September, said Alex Bard, vice president and general manager of Desk.com, who served as Assistly's CEO. "This is fundamentally a brand-new product," he said. However, Salesforce.com carried over many of the workflow characteristics from Assistly, Bard added.

It's important to align help-desk software with social networks, given the sheer amount of time customers are spending on Facebook and other sites, according to Salesforce.com.

Companies are also facing pressure dealing with the "new social, global and mobile customer," given how easy it is for consumers to transmit their opinions about a product or service over the Internet to many people, Bard said.

The Facebook and Twitter integrations are standard and companies can tie their accounts on those social networks to Desk.com in just a few clicks.

Desk.com also includes an HTML5-based mobile interface for cross-device compatibility. The mobile experience provides users with ample functionality to help customers while on the move, according to Salesforce.com. For example, users can send responses to individual support cases, as well as apply other changes, such as raising the priority level or altering the status of a case.

Desk.com also allows companies to build out a knowledge base filled with answers to common questions, allowing customers to solve problems without the need for a human agent.

The Desk.com service is positioned within Salesforce.com's Service Cloud application lineup, which it has grown through other acquisitions, particularly the 2008 purchase of call-center platform vendor Instranet.

Assistly is used by some large enterprises but largely on a departmental basis, Bard said. The other products in the Service Cloud catalog are better geared for the needs of big companies, since they provide "much more ability to customize the experience," he said.

Pricing starts at US$49 per agent per month, with unlimited access. Salesforce.com is also offering "flex" pricing for $1 per hour for part-time agents. The mobile application is included at no extra charge for full-time users. Desk.com is set for release in the first quarter of this year.

With Desk.com, Salesforce.com will go up against competitors such as Zendesk, which has also rolled out integrations with Facebook and Twitter. Pricing for Zendesk ranges from $20 per year for a limited starter edition, up to $99 per user per month for an enterprise edition.

The companies' rivalry has been fairly friendly to date. Zendesk has been a longtime Salesforce.com partner and its website describes the companies' relationship as "fantastic." Zendesk has even pledged to raise some $1 million to support the building of a new children's hospital in San Francisco. In 2010, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and his wife gave that fundraising effort an early boost with a $100 million donation.

But Salesforce.com views Desk.com more as a potential competitor to more ad-hoc ways small-business owners are handling customer service now, such as through email, Bard said.

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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