Salesforce’s Turns Any Employee Anywhere Into A Customer Support Ace

Desktop software is sold “by the seat.” But a “by the hour” pricing structure offered by cloud-based apps means smaller businesses can put everyone on customer support–even the CEO or the weird guy clinging to his red stapler.


Customers are increasingly expecting to get help from companies through social media, like Twitter and Facebook, in addition to traditional channels like phone, email, and web. That’s why Salesforce is launching a new application, called, aimed at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

advertisement expands on the suite of social applications for large enterprises that Salesforce launched last summer. Built on technology from Assistly, which Salesforce acquired last fall, lets SMBs manage requests for help wherever they start from–Facebook, phone, Twitter, web. It also has a mobile component, so staffers can support their customers even when they’re out of the office.

But what’s equally interesting is’s pricing structure. They have the standard “per seat” model ($49 per agent after the first seat, which is free). But they also have a “per hour” model for what they call “casual” customer support reps.

“We realized that small and medium sized businesses might have a small customer service department, but, really, everyone in the company is doing support,” Alex Bard, the former CEO of Assistly who is now vice president and general manager of, tells Fast Company.

He gave the example of a clothing company. A customer might post a note to Facebook with a complaint about a pair of pants. The company’s primary customer service agent might initially field the ticket. But they might also forward it to the product manager. The product manager might then pick up the phone to talk the customer, not just to help resolve the immediate problem, but also because, by hearing what’s not working with the current line of pants, they might get good ideas for the next batch.

For staffers like the product manager, who only do customer service a small part of the time, offers “flex” pricing at $1 per hour.


“That enables companies to create accounts for everyone in the system,” Bard said, but only pay for casual support reps’ actual usage. 

Such innovations are possible now that more and more software is being served in the cloud. With desktop applications, software companies by definition had to sell by the seat. But with a cloud-based application, like, which can track actual usage, companies like Salesforce can develop more innovative pricing structures based on real-world use–thus making them more affordable to a larger range of SMBs with smaller budgets.

E.B. Boyd is’s Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email

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E.B. Boyd (@ebboyd) has holed up in conference rooms with pioneers in Silicon Valley and hunkered down in bunkers with soldiers in Afghanistan