Is This Steve Jobs' Heir Apparent?

Few CEOs have ever been so personal about customer service as Steve Jobs. The mercurial executive would obsess over product details, call dissatisfied customers, and answer emails, all for the sake of creating a remarkable experience with Apple products.

Will anyone ever meet this standard now that Jobs is gone? Marc Benioff is giving it a go. The salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM  ) chief executive responded personally to a complaint on Twitter last week:
 

Source: Twitter.


Benioff took more than six hours to respond. But when he did, it was without excuse. The next day's response from Twitter user @GitaB should be a lesson to all entrepreneurs and investors.

"I'm eating my words. SFDC senior support team swooped in [and] made it right. THAT'S how you make customers for life. #sfdcRocks! #happycustomer." An unhappy customer is transformed into a customer for life. Does it get much better?

Importantly, this is precisely the sort of engagement salesforce.com has pitched in selling its Service Cloud integrated online support system. It also speaks to the “Social Enterprise” drumbeat Benioff kicked off at September's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

And that's important. It means “Social Enterprise” isn't just a blunt instrument; it's a way to differentiate salesforce.com from competitors that aren't as engaged on the Social Web. Think about the last time you saw Oracle's (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) Larry Ellison or Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Steve Ballmer publicly engaging customers online. When was it? Never, you say?

Here's the point. For as much as skeptics tout Microsoft's Dynamics and Oracle's on-demand customer relationship management software as alternatives, neither embraces social integration the same way that salesforce.com has.

What's more, by engaging directly, Benioff isn't just setting his company apart. He's also proven that salesforce.com staff are willing to eat their own cooking. Investors should appreciate the recipe; it's easier to sell a strategy employees believe in and use.

Benioff also deserves kudos for recognizing the forces shaping his industry. Twitter and Facebook have become default platforms for expressing dissatisfaction. Failing to engage on these networks is tantamount to ignoring customers when they're shouting at you. (My own complaints on Twitter have yielded surprisingly good results.)

Which brings us back to the question posted in the headline. Is Benioff the next Jobs when it comes to personal engagement with customers? It's probably too early to tell, but I'm glad to see it's an area he takes seriously -- especially when the effort wins a customer "for life." Well done, sir.

Which companies do you consider customer service champions? Please weigh in using the comments box below. You can also add salesforce.com to your Foolish watchlist for up-to-the minute coverage.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple and salesforce.com at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home, portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle, Microsoft, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Salesforce.com, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended shorting salesforce.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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