Customer sues Salesforce.com over support service

An upgrade to Premier Support came with a higher price tag but not the expected benefits, one customer claims

Salesforce.com is being sued by a customer who claims the CRM (customer relationship management) software vendor's misrepresentations made their relationship go sour.

Bray International, a valve manufacturer based in Houston, first licensed Salesforce.com's software in 2009, paying US$88.75 per month for each license as well as related services, according to its complaint, which was filed last month in Harris County District Court and moved to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas last week. It later bought more licenses in order to use Salesforce.com throughout its global operations.

Before Bray made the second purchase, Salesforce.com "represented it had worldwide operations" and would be able to support Bray in China, Brazil and other countries, the complaint states. Bray also added Premier Support with Administration to its deal, a move that cost roughly $22 extra per license per month.

Salesforce.com promised Bray it could expect a "significant upgrade" to its services and support, including a drop in response time for tech support from two days to two hours, as well as annual on-site system training, according to the complaint.

"The 'upgrade' to the [support] program turned out to be anything but an upgrade," the complaint states.

For example, while Salesforce.com generally sent an automated email reply to service requests within two hours, "resolution of the issues typically took two weeks or more," it states.

Salesforce.com was also supposed to conduct an on-site "health check" for Bray every six months. But instead, "Bray did not receive its first health check until November of 2011, almost two years later than represented and only after Bray began arguing strenuously that Salesforce had grossly misrepresented the services that would be provided," the complaint adds.

Other problems centered on localization issues. Bray users in Brazil were required to call Portugal for Portuguese-language support, an "unacceptable solution" since the dialect spoken in Portugal is not the same as that spoken in Brazil, according to the complaint.

Bray's Chinese operations faced a similar problem as Salesforce.com routed its service calls to Singapore, it adds. "This solution too proved unworkable."

In May, Bray demanded in writing that Salesforce.com return all monies paid for Premier Support with Administration in 2011 and 2012.

But Salesforce.com only presented Bray with three options: to renew its current licenses with a 5 percent discount on Premier Support with Administration; to drop the extra support before the end of the contract in exchange for buying other Salesforce.com products of equal value; and to renew its licenses without Premier Support, according to a letter Bray's attorneys sent the vendor before filing suit.

"These 'options' are galling to Bray and completely unacceptable," adds the demand letter, which was also filed in court.

On balance, Salesforce.com's actions "have damaged Bray's reputation with its customers, and wasted Bray's time," its complaint states.

Bray has paid about $290,000 for Premier Support with Administration, according to a court filing. Its lawsuit demands the return of its fees along with interest, attorneys' fees and costs.

As of Monday, it did not appear that Salesforce.com had filed a formal response to Bray's complaint. Salesforce.com does not comment on pending litigation, a spokeswoman said.

Given that only half of the story is public so far, it's hard to conclude what really went on between Bray and Salesforce.com, said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research.

However, "response time and resolution time have never been the same," he said. "Most vendors count on the automated email as the response."

Language dialects, on the other hand, "are something to look out for in support," Wang said. "We often see this as an issue and counsel teams to validate this ahead of time. What would be interesting is to see the logs of the calls and see what happened and if resolution was provided or not."

Still, the matters referenced in Bray's lawsuit "are simple issues that could be resolved with visibility and attention from the executive team," he said. "This is why it's important to have an executive sponsor [at the vendor] if your organization is large enough or you've purchased a lot of licenses."

If a customer is too small to warrant an executive sponsor, it at least should determine who its direct account representative reports to, so it can escalate an issue to that individual if needed, according to Wang.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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Tags business issuesInternet-based applications and servicesapplicationsCustomer Relationship ManagementSalesforce.comCivil lawsuitssoftwareinternetcloud computingIT managementBray Internationalserviceslegal

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Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service

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