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Can Salesforce Turn Customer Service Agents Into Salespeople?

How can companies turn their best support agents into members of the sales team?

It’s a question that has kept the team behind Salesforce’s customer service system preoccupied for months. Now it’s proposing a solution—at least for small and midsize businesses—in the form of a product update that gives customer service agents a view into historic sales data.

The new capability is part of Desk 360, which will be available broadly during the second half of 2016. (Salesforce (CRM) will make the service available for beta testing in several months.)

The idea is pretty simple: When an agent picks up an incoming call, he or she is presented with notes about past customer service interactions as well as information about orders. If the call is about a package delivery issue, for instance, the customer service representative can see whether this has happened before and how frequently this person places orders.

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The idea is to provide better context so individual agents can make conversations more personal. The resolution suggested to a frequent buyer—free shipping, as an example—might be different from what is otherwise recommended.

“The days of someone following a script are coming to an end,” said Leyla Seka, senior vice president and general manager for the group. “This person is going to be the face of your company, the interface to the customer, the living embodiment of your brand.”

The catch: The new service-plus-sales insights feature will be available only to customers of the highest tier of, which costs $140 per agent per month.

One of’s most visible rivals is Zendesk (ZEN), which is also investing heavily in software to transform customer-service interactions. Last December, for example, Zendesk paid $45 million to buy BIME Analytics, which will allow it to produce far more detailed reports for its customers.

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The rise of social media as a customer service channel is inspiring many organization to rethink how they handle comments, complaints, and other customer feedback.

Apple (AAPL) even recently established Twitter (TWTR) as an official support channel. Integrating social data so agents have a full view of interactions is tough to do using legacy technology but only a very small piece of traditional contact centers use cloud applications like or Salesforce’s penultimate product, the Service Cloud. That number will accelerate this year, reaching closer to 13% by December 2016, according to estimates by research firm Gartner.