Salesforce adds features to automate field service and empower the end customer

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright October 28, 2021
Summary:
Salesforce announces new Field Service capabilities including better scheduling, remote virtual assistance, customizable mobile apps and contract integration

Field technician on ladder installs new connection to a residence © Valmedia - shutterstock
(© Valmedia - shutterstock)

Have you ever had an engineer turn up to install something in your home and they've discovered something else should have been fixed first? Whether it's a broadband connection, solar panels or a smart meter, the rising complexity of our homes, offices and factories today demands increasing sophistication in how field service teams are managed, and businesses have to keep pace. Salesforce is announcing new features in its Field Service offering today to help businesses keep improving the efficiency and responsiveness of their service operations.

Paul Whitelam, SVP & GM of Field Service Management at Salesforce, highlights several trends affecting the industry that the announcements speak to, ranging from concerns around compliance and data privacy to an ongoing skills challenge. The broader picture is the universally felt need for organizations to be agile and respond to change, which includes meeting customers where they are and working more collaboratively. Capabilities such as remote assistance and self-service scheduling are a response to customers expecting better engagement, as he explains:

The empowerment of the customer is a really big part of this, in that they don't have to just wait until somebody knocks on their door and rolls up to see what's happening. They can really be quite very proactive about getting a diagnosis, understanding the nature of the problem before they decide anything. That's really quite changed the dynamic, I think, a little bit in the service provider relationship.

Announcements in full

  • Scheduling and optimization is gaining the ability to manage service jobs that require several steps and different technician capabilities, such as upgrading the external supply to a home before installing new equipment with a higher rating, or arranging a compliance inspection before commissioning new works. Now in beta, this enables companies to chain these steps together so dispatchers can see complex jobs in their entirety and better manage worker capacity.
  • This enhanced scheduling and optimization engine will run on the new Hyperforce public cloud infrastructure, giving customers the ability to choose which region their data is stored in.
  • Lightning Web Components are coming to the Field Service mobile app, giving more flexibility to customize the technician experience with advanced features and workflows. Currently in pilot, this will allow enterprises to customize the mobile app with their own workflow automation, or to support variable processes for different regions and markets. Partners and system integrators will also have the opportunity to create industry-specific applications.
  • Appointment Assistant has been extended to allow self-service scheduling by customers. Now generally available, this gives customers the ability to follow the link notifying them of their appointment time, and then schedule, cancel, confirm, or reschedule that appointment or appointment window. Behind the scenes, the system automatically calculates technician schedules and service resources to offer revised appointment times that are efficient for the service provider.
  • Visual Remote Assistant has added two-way video so that agents and customers can collaborate over a video connection to troubleshoot issues. This is augmented with features such as barcode and character recognition, along with the ability for an advisor to annotate a screengrab. Also now generally available, this can be used as a triage step, automatically triggered based on the characteristics of a support ticket, with the agent giving step-by-step guidance to help the customer resolve the issue without requiring an engineer call-out. Technicians can also use the feature themselves when on-site to get on-the-job training or to consult co-workers for advice.
  • Following yesterday's announcement of an expanded DocuSign partnership with Salesforce, a new integration with DocuSign Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) will connect contract data on warranties and service level agreements (SLAs) directly into Service Cloud. This will allow customers to automate how they track, enforce, and update contract terms across departments and while in the field, ensuring that service is delivered in compliance with those terms.

Empowering the customer

The advantage for service providers of customer-facing features such as remote assistance and self-service scheduling is that they help conserve resources. Whitelam explains;

You don't want the customer not to be able to change their appointment, otherwise, you're going to roll the truck, and they're not going to be there. So you need to give them that option ...

The end is ultimately to fix that asset or deliver that service. If you can do that through a visual remote assistant capability, rather than roll a truck, obviously, that's great for everybody. It's great for the service organization in terms of cost, and it's great for the customer.

Remote assistance also helps make the most of skills and knowledge that are in short supply. He elaborates:

Skilled technician capacity is dwindling as the workforce ages, and so forth. So it's all the more important to be able to bring in knowledge to solve a particular service issue — it's also about getting that intelligence where it's needed instantly.

So the digital channels and in particular Visual Remote Assistant, enable that ubiquity of these rare skills.

Although Salesforce's field service offering is most often associated with large field service teams at utilities and the like, it also has a large number of midmarket customers with as few as 25-50 seats. It's particularly relevant where the service is not highly repeatable or encounters a lot of variations on site, such as roofing or lawn care services. He explains:

When you haven't got fungibility of resources, and you need to make sure that you've got the right person in the right place with the right parts at the right time, then that becomes a much more challenging problem that lends itself to the automation and the artificial intelligence that we've packaged and made available to the smaller organizations ...

They absolutely need to have visibility into where their mobile workforce is, and have some understanding about what they need to solve the specific problems that are coming in on a daily basis.

My take

At one point in our conversation, Whitelam mentioned that some in the industry are debating whether remote assistance even counts as field service anymore, since the engineer is no longer out in the field. I thought that was an interesting insight into the enterprise-centric thinking that still surrounds many longstanding functions. From my perspective, it's quite clear. The customer is still in the field, and so is the asset. Of course it's still field service, even if the engineer is sitting at headquarters or even connecting from their own home. And if you do strip out that enterprise-centric mindset and become more XaaS in your thinking, then you start to consider new ways of helping the customer achieve the best outcome, including working collaboratively to solve their issue, or even — revolutionary though this is — empowering them to solve the issue for themselves, perhaps next time without even having to log a service call at all.