A few weeks ago I wrote a blog discussing salesforce.com (SFDC) Chatter and the buzz the technology is making in which one of my biggest questions was how a non-SFDC customer could justify purchasing Chatter. Well I finally got to speak with someone who has paid at least partially for Chatter. I say partially because this particular customer already has several hundred licenses with SFDC (which entitle them to use Chatter for free) but has paid for several hundred other users to also have access.

If you aren’t familiar with Chatter, it is basically Facebook for the enterprise; it looks like Facebook, it supports similar functionality, and it works in the same way, but because it is inside the enterprise firewall it is more secure. Chatter provides three core functions: a means to communicate, a means to collaborate and a means to tag files so that authorized users get automatic notices when the file is changed. But except for the extent of collaboration, most companies already have systems in place that supply these functions. So why spend on Chatter?

The customer I spoke with mostly confirmed what non-paying customers previously told me: It is extremely hard to put together a solid financial case for investing in Chatter. This particular customer based the case on things such as it would save money spent on having geographically dispersed groups physically get together because they could communicate and collaborate remotely, and it would reduce the volume of e-mail.

The common theme in all my conversations about this is that the case revolves around collaboration and the change of corporate culture that brings about. I have written many times that a big issue with customer experience management is that customers interact with different lines of business and through many channels of communication, and these interactions are not handled consistently simply because of barriers that exist between the lines of business – including the contact center.

Chatter could be the tool that finally resolves that issue. It makes it easy to communicate with like-minded people who are working on similar issues. It makes it easy for groups to work on common tasks such as sharing best practices. It makes it simpler for people to share information, such as when putting together a proposal. It gets everyone using one source of information – for example, the corporate sales presentation or even corporate key performance indicators. In general terms it breaks down barriers and makes it easier for a company’s employees to work as one, or as one person recently put it, it lets big companies work like small companies, no matter how geographically dispersed they are. It also can link your set of applications and systems to provide notifications on orders processed to customer complaints through what my colleague recently covered with iWay Software (See: “iWay Software Connects Salesforce Chatter to the Enterprise“)

Once Chatter is implemented, said every customer I spoke to, paying or not, with the support of a few power users adoption rates are amazingly high (and not just for Generation X users) and there would be a riot if the company turned it off. Nevertheless it is not evident what the business case is – what makes Chatter worth spending money on. Yes, people cooperate more, and so outputs are improved and tasks accomplished more quickly. People are more aware of what others are doing because they share more. But there is nothing on which to quantify dollars and cents. So from my perspective, companies have to think outside the box to make the case for adoption. If it breaks down barriers so a company works more efficiently – and in particular if customer service becomes more effective through increased collaboration – then I think alongside other initiatives to improve performance, companies should take a look at how Chatter might contribute.

Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Regards,

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director