What the New Salesforce HR Platform Means for Customer Experience

In a move that analysts found surprising but not entirely unexpected, Salesforce.com introduced a suite of human resources solutions aimed at providing employees with the “same kind of experience that brands expect to provide to customers,” Jim Sinai, senior director of the Salesforce AppExchange and product marketing, says.  Though it’s primarily a tool for employees, Sinai is confident that a better experience for employees will translate into a higher level of customer experience. Analysts, however, have some doubts.

The first release of Salesforce’s HR suite consists of four products that leverage the capabilities of the company’s existing marketing, sales, and service clouds as well as its recently introduced Wave Analytics platform. The Employee Journeys application serves primarily as a cloud onboarding and ongoing management tool, and is made up of the same technology that facilitates customer journeys in the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. The Employee Communities solution also relies on a Marketing Cloud backbone, but incorporates elements of Salesforce’s enterprise social tool, Chatter, as well. Another component is the HR Helpdesk software, which was built on Salesforce Service Cloud customer service software to serve as a support channel for handling specific employee questions. The fourth and final element is Salesforce HR Analytics, a measurement tool that uses the Salesforce Wave platform to help HR staff track employee engagement metrics. Together, the tools enable employees to keep in constant contact with human resources staff as well as with each other.

The reason for the major push into HR, Sinai says, is that while growing customer expectations have forced companies to improve the quality of service experiences for customers, the employee experience has largely been neglected. Because the two are “inevitably connected,” Sinai says employee software and processes have to be improved to keep customer interactions consistently outstanding.

“We know that 70 percent of employees are typically not engaged at work, and that translates to customer service,” Sinai says. “When you look at customers, there’s this ‘do it for me culture’ and this high level of expectation, and brands have been trying to deliver experiences to meet these expectations. But when you look at the employee experience, employees walk into their office and it’s like they’re traveling back in time. The technology is outdated.” According to Sinai, existing solutions are difficult to navigate, offer little integration within the network of HR resources, and aren’t mobile-friendly.

Sinai maintains that by delivering more intuitive and seamless technology for HR basics such as employee communities, the suite of solutions will generate more employee engagement, which will ultimately improve the service they provide to customers. “Engaged employees are going to go the extra mile to deliver better service. Often they’re frustrated by the amount of friction they have to deal with when it comes to [HR technology], and eliminating that friction will result in better end experiences for consumers,” he explains.

But analysts are skeptical. According to Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research, Salesforce’s move is more of a surface play than a serious commitment to the Human Capital Management (HCM) market, and isn’t enough to put Salesforce in competition with true HCM providers.  While the company has made HCM investments in the past, its suite of offerings is still fairly limited.

“In another sign that HCM software is a hot and growing market, Salesforce once again threw its hat into the HCM market,” Mueller says. “Ironically, Salesforce was already in the market after acquiring Rypple and creating Work.com,” but rather than build out a full HCM suite, the company is “packing existing CRM capabilities towards an HCM automation pitch ... solely using the mantra of what is great for customers is also great for employees. … It is [simply] an attempt to get more usages out of the Salesforce1 platform and Wave.”

While Mueller agrees that employee satisfaction is closely tied to customer experience, Salesforce’s HR ecosystem doesn’t yet offer enough functionality to have an impact on either. Competing in the space will be a challenge for Salesforce because the company doesn’t provide any of what Mueller calls the “tectonic” pieces of an HCM suite, including core HR, payroll, talent management, workforce management, and benefits solutions. To supplement its modest suite, Salesforce will be relying on strategic partnerships in the space, including ones with Workday, Lumesse, and other partners that use Salesforce’s Force.com development platform to build HR applications.

The promise of better customer experience via more employee engagement may be “a nice tag line,” Mueller says, “but at the end it is the core platform capabilities that dictate user experience both for customers and employees.” With so many missing pieces, the capabilities just aren’t there for the time being, he says. Still, there is room for optimism, according to founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, Ray Wang. “It’s only version one,” he says. “There’s a lot more for them to do, but who knows, version two might go a lot further.”  

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